Guest Post by Mike McLeish of the bicycle blog Pinch-Flat
Cycling holidays are an excellent way to spend time together as a family. If both parents are into cycling then getting the kids involved is a great idea! The following are some tips for things to remember when taking children on a bicycle tour and a few ways you can help to make it an enjoyable experience for all the family.
1. Start Slow
It’s up to you how young they start, but there’s no reason why small children can’t go on a cycling holiday. You just have to bear in mind they probably won’t be ready for touring the slopes of Kilimanjaro just yet.
When taking very young children (let’s say under two years), you want to start small. Rather than diving in at the deep end and taking the whole family on a two-week bike tour, let them into it gently by taking them on cycling weekends, and maybe don’t go too far from home. Since in the early days the parents will be doing all of the cycling, it makes sense not to try and do a long journey. No matter how fit Dad thinks he is 😉
2) Pack the Right Equipment
If going on a bicycle tour with children under two, you’ll want to have the right equipment. A baby will probably need a trailer to ride in, while a three year old might like a tandem so they can be on the bike where the action is.
After the age of five, there is a trail gator attachment which allows you to attach a smaller bike to yours when the child gets too tired to cycle by themselves. There are also racks and panniers that can be attached to the bike, making towing a trailer more comfortable for the parents.
More stable than towing a trailer is a cargo bike, or even a small tricycle for the slightly older children. If you decide to cycle to your campsite, the tactical guru has an awesome article on flashlights and things like decent tents and warm sleeping bags are essential.
3. Let The Kids Decide
After a certain age, the children will want to have more input on where you go on your bicycle tours. Don’t be afraid to consult them when picking a destination and even planning a route, since this is an excellent opportunity to teach them skills like map reading and journey planning.
When you hit the road, you’ll want to let them decide how far they can cycle unassisted, and when they need to rest. This shows you trust them to know their limits and helps them feel more independent.
4. Choose the Right Destination
Similar to the above, you want a destination that will allow you to have the best experience as a family. If the children are very young, you might want to look at interesting places close to home, whereas later on as the family gets more adventurous, you can investigate destinations further afield.
5. The Journey Matters
Just as important as the destination is the actual getting there. Obvious precautions such as checking the weather forecast can help to ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey. When on the ride, remain open to doing whatever the children might want to do. If they want an unscheduled break, take a break. If they want to stop and look at that interesting ruin you’ve just passed, go ahead. It’s not enough just to pick a great destination,
6. Keep the Kids Entertained
Similar to the above, bear in mind that even older children will have periods of the journey where they aren’t cycling. To avert the risk of boredom, make sure there’s stuff they can do when they’re not cycling. A lot of children these days have a Smartphone or a tablet, though in places where internet WiFi is scarce these may only go so far.
A more reliable form of entertainment would be to have them take pictures with a camera or a phone, allowing them to document the journey. You could even give them GPS devices to track how fast they’re going! There are also portable speakers you can attach to a bike and play music, keeping everyone entertained on tour.
7. Take Plenty of Breaks
Whatever the age of the children, you can never have too many breaks. If cycling with very young children, you’ll be pulling a trailer along behind you and so will want to rest and recuperate more often. When the children are older and have their own bikes or tandems, they’ll need more regular breaks than an adult, even for the periods when they’re not cycling. Think of it as another way to enjoy the journey. If the scenery is nice, you can stop and explore or just enjoy the sunshine if the weather is agreeable.
8. Different Ages Have Different Needs
Equipment, breaks and the length of holidays will depend entirely on the ages of the children. If your plan is to go on a yearly bicycle tour, be prepared for the possibility that what worked last year may not work the second time around. Children grow, and so their needs change. You will hopefully find that the holidays get even more enjoyable as the children grow older, but it’s okay to find them more challenging as well. It’s simply about being adaptable, which brings me to my next point.
9. Be Adaptable
Any parent knows that parenting is just making things up as you go along, and the same is true of bicycling holidays. This article will hopefully be useful in giving tips on equipment and ways to keep the children interested and engaged, but there will always be surprises along the way. The main thing is to keep an open mind and be prepared to change your plans in a split second.
10. It’s Okay to Cycle Solo
Plenty of couples go on bicycle tours together, so it makes sense that they want to get the children involved too. It’s usually easier to have two adults, for one thing, they can alternate towing the trailer or tandem. But sometimes things won’t always work out that way, and the good news is that plenty of people have had a great time cycling solo with their children. It can still be a very enjoyable experience, so don’t be afraid to go solo with the children if you have to (or want to!).
More Bike Resources to Check Out
Travelling Two – These guys originally started off with two but officially become travelling three with the birth of their son!
Camping guide with kids – Camping is a topic all on its own. Check out this guide to see if there’s anything you’ve missed
Bike size chart – If you’re looking to get a bike for yourself or your kids you’ll want to make sure it fits!
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