As a bike tour operator, I’m often asked at what age parents can take their kids on a bike trip with them. The answer depends mostly on the kids and somewhat on the parents. For me – as a keen cyclist and father of two bike-crazy boys – the answer was, “As soon as they could support their heads.”
For my wife and I, the appeal of a family cycling vacation is that we get to do something we love while the kids enjoy fresh air and a little adventure. And, if the shouts and giggles from behind me are anything to go by, at least for now, they seem to share our passion for travel on two wheels.
For our trips, we use a trailer and a tagalong (AKA a trailer bike). To help other parents, I’ve collated some simple DOs and DON’Ts to consider when planning a trip. However, you know your children better than anyone so my main advice is to follow your instincts.
10 Top Tips for Bike Tours for Families with Young Children
DO make sure you are confident riding alone before adding a child in a trailer or on tagalong.
DON’T compromise on safety. Helmets, bright clothing, safety triangles and flashing lights are all a must. We find drivers slow sooner and give us a wider berth when we’re all sporting our safety triangles.
DO practice in your local neighborhood before venturing further afield. The first ride my eldest son took on his tagalong was to the end of our 200-yard street. He decided that was far enough. Very gradually, we built it up over the weeks. He can now happily go for an hour or more.
DON’T be too ambitious. A three-day trip – one day out, one rest day and one day back is a big achievement with kids.
DO lay down the law. While my eldest son still can’t sit still through a whole meal or tidy up his Lego, he will pay attention on his bike thanks to constant encouragement, repeated reminders, and “consequences.”
DON’T try to ride all day. Take lots of breaks and have something fun to do on arriving at your destination. A hotel pool is great for this.
DO remember to stay hydrated. Kids are generally forgetful when it comes to eating before being hungry and drinking before being thirsty. Even a mildly dehydrated kid can become moody and bad tempered – and all for want of a sip of water.
DON’T ignore them. It sounds obvious but if you’re huffing and puffing up front you can sometimes forget the kid behind you. If using a tagalong or tandem, they’ll stay more alert if you keep chatting to them or sing songs together. Personally, I love the constant stream-of-consciousness banter from my kids when we ride. Of course, if they are in a trailer, it can also be a great time for them to nap.
DO use a local cyclist or guide service to help avoid routes that aren’t suitable for your group. You don’t want to find yourselves riding into town on a busy highway where there is suddenly no shoulder.
DON’T give up – but have a good plan B. Not all our trips with the kids have worked out as planned. Have a guide company with a van or a family member with a car available in case it stops being fun. Even if you don’t get as far as you planned, declare success and try another day.
DO look for car-free options. In Oregon, the Banks-Vernonia trail (nr Portland), the Historic Columbia River Highway (nr Hood River), and the Covered Bridges Trail (nr. Eugene) are great for riding with young kids. The Katy Trail in Missouri is a great multi-day option.
DON’T forget your camera to help remind yourself what a blast you all had!
Finally, consider using a guiding service: either a private trip with a dedicated guide or join a larger group. If you’re doing the latter, you might want to make sure your family is a good match for the group – and not a posse of empty nesters celebrating being kid-free at last! Self-guided trips are also a great way to go with guide briefings and support vans on call as needed; they also take care of moving your luggage.
If you’re planning a trip with older children, check out our Bike Tours for Families with Teenagers posting.