Caution: this post is being written to the soundtrack of the Teletubbies. As parents of a two-year old, free time is a precious commodity. Bribery is frequently required.
Since an episode of the Teletubbies only lasts 24 minutes, we’ll keep this short and sweet. It’s the story of our Easter tour: six days through Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, including most of the Vennbahn rail trail.
We were cycling with two good friends, Shane and Stijn. As a group, we looked a bit like a bicycle circus with touring setups in all shapes and sizes.
We started with the Vennbahn because it was easy to reach by train from our home and was supposed to be flat. We aren’t scared of mountains but flat terrain is unquestionably a great advantage when you’re adding a toddler, a bike seat, a trailer and various child-related goodies to the standard bike touring setup.
What’s that? Flat you said? Ha ha. Try again. As it turned out, the trip involved a fair amount of climbing. Our workout began in Luxembourg City — not technically part of the Vennbahn (the trail begins about 70km further north) but a popular kicking-off point for many people.
For us, the steep climb between the campground and the train station signalled the start of a weekend which was great fun but also harder work than we expected. The Vennbahn is largely flat but it also threw a few curve balls our way: unexpected hills, detours where parts of the trail were closed (this led to more climbing) and strong headwinds.
We look cheery in this photo, taken on one of the Vennbahn’s easy and paved sections, but the truth is that we’ve never been so exhausted from cycling 40-50km a day.
Normally we’d manage this distance easily but now we were carrying the extra weight of a toddler and all the associated luggage (toys, clothes, diapers). At the end of the day we weren’t resting, we were chasing a toddler around the campsite. This photo is a rarity: it shows one the few moments when Andrew got to sit down.
Luke could occasionally be bribed into relative quiet with a pastry. As on so many bike tours in the past, bakeries quickly became a mandatory, twice-daily stop.
On most nights, we didn’t make it much past Luke’s bedtime.
When we weren’t chasing Luke around, we were marvelling at our different touring setups. We each had a different strategy, to meet different needs. Here’s Shane, with his Brompton folding bike and Cyclone trailer from Radical Design — the perfect combination if you need to take trains and buses as part of your bike tour.
Stijn was riding a titanium tourer of his own design with fat tires and a minimum of luggage. He’s preparing for a trip to Iceland later this year and wants a bike that is lightweight and handles well on dirt roads. In 2011, we interviewed Stijn about lightweight bike touring in this podcast.
As for us, Friedel was on a classic steel touring bicycle, built in 2005 by Robin Mather. This is the bike she rode around the world. The bike is great but we had to accommodate Luke’s Yepp bike seat on the back, and this made it complicated to carry any other luggage. To be honest, we didn’t do a very good job of loading up this bike. We’re still working out the best way to pack and carry gear, while also having room for Luke on the back. More on that later.
Andrew rode a Santos Travelmaster 2.6 Alu and piled it high with all the junk that Friedel couldn’t fit on her bike, including an 89L Ortlieb Rackpack. Yes, we said 89 litres. That’s not a typo. We should have put a front rack on this bike to better balance the load but ran out of time before we left. Behind the bike is a Chariot trailer — Luke’s place to nap and hide out from bad weather.
A picky person could probably find fault in our packing styles and choices but at the end of the day we all made it and we all had fun. Isn’t that what counts? The most important thing you can pack for a successful tour is enthusiasm and we had that in spades.
Over the next few days, we crossed borders.
We experimented with wild cookery. We picked some stinging nettles and threw them into a pot with red peppers and onions. When cooked, they taste like spinach. What a great base for a pasta sauce or soup!
We encouraged Luke to walk up the steepest hills, when pedalling became impossible.
And after 6 days and 250km we returned home. We learned a lot from this first cycle-toddling adventure, for example:
- 40-50km a day is the maximum distance we should plan on cycling. If the terrain is hilly, we need to cut this distance further.
- Bike touring with a toddler requires a different packing setup. We’re considering a trailer for our next tour.
- A small bag with toys is a must-have. Luke has a little backpack which he’s allowed to fill with books, dinky cars and other favourite items.
- Falling asleep in a tent can be difficult for little ones. Be patient and be prepared to extend bedtime.
Now it’s time to prepare for our next tour: Switzerland! Yes, that’s right, after complaining about hills on the Vennbahn we’re going to one of the hilliest countries in Europe. What’s life without a good challenge? We’ll fill you in on that trip when we return in June.