Family Bike Travel Tips
Many people believe that once children come along, their bike touring days are over, or at least seriously curtailed. But all the things you love about bicycle travel — the freedom, the relaxation, the exercise — can be shared and enjoyed with your children. In fact, family bike travel can be a huge benefit to kids of all ages and an unforgettable family bonding experience.
Right now, all over the world, bike tourists are pedaling with their children, sometimes even toddlers.
Manageable Bike Trips for the Whole Family
We specialize in manageable trips for full families and a trip on the Great Allegheny Passage is a great way to start.
Here are some of our top tips for family bike riding to make sure you and the kids have a great time.
Before the Trip:
- Mechanics. Make sure children have bikes that work well and are comfortable. Sort out any mechanical or fit issues well before you go. Pay special attention to the contact points — saddle and handlebars. There are good bike shorts and gloves available in children’s sizes to make things feel great, and to help the kids feel like “real” cyclists. As with many new endeavors, you may have to do some detective work to sort out real complaints from whining.
- Ride Time. Start off with shorter day trips. This will help you continue to sort out bikes and gear, get the kids used to pedaling for an extended time, and get all of you used to working together as a team. Take frequent breaks, at least once an hour, to keep their attention and keep it fun. From these trips, you can gauge kids’ capabilities and plan accordingly. You don’t want to suddenly increase mileage by a lot; aim for increases of no more than 10% is a good rule for kids (as well as adults).
- Planning. Start the team effort by getting kids involved with planning for the “Big Trip” — what to carry, mileage each day, where to stop, etc.
On the Trail:
- Break Time. Plan to take lots of breaks — aim for stopping every hour to keep things from getting monotonous. Some kids have a longer attention span and can handle longer stretches of pedaling; use your best judgement, but err on the side of frequent stops to keep it fun.
- Incentive. Use rewards — plan favorite snacks to motivate mileage (and make sure everybody is eating enough), or some off-bike time (see below).
- Off the Bike. Plan some fun activities other than riding, based on your childrens’ interests: walking around to look at things, swimming in designated areas, hiking to overlooks, visiting events or historical sites.
- Snap Shots. Let the kids take pictures, too. This gets them more involved, and you might find they have an interest in documenting the trip. Children often have an interesting perspective with a camera. You can still buy single-use, waterproof film cameras, or inexpensive but durable digital cameras.
- Outdoor Classroom. Take opportunities to learn. There is so much history along the GAP and C&O, and it sure beats sitting in a classroom. There is also a lot of natural wonders to observe. Bring along a guidebook or two, depending on your kids’ interests, and perhaps some binoculars for bird watching.
- Go Team! Remember that the trip is a team effort and let the children contribute. They can help with bike repair (even just handing off wrenches to the designated mechanic), follow along with maps, keep track of stats with their own cycle computer, and contribute in many other ways.
After the Adventure:
Have a “family meeting” to debrief. You can have each child tell what they enjoyed most, what they learned, and what could be improved for next time. Once again, this keeps them involved and enthused to do it again.
Then use that information to plan your next trip!