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You Are Viewing Bicycle Touring With Kids

One More Kid On The Way (And Possibly A Bike Too)

Posted March 8th, 2015

Three years ago our son Luke was born and our lives changed. When we started bike touring, it was hard to imagine that a few years later we’d be taking a third little cyclist along for the ride on weekend trips, across Europe and even as far away as Cuba.

Family bike adventures are certainly a far cry from the expedition-style touring we did during our world tour. We’ve swapped the 100km days of yesterday for half the distance or less, with plenty of stops at playgrounds, ice cream shops and swimming pools along the way.

This might seem boring to many but we love it. As fellow bike tourist Willie Weir says:

How many places have I sped through because there was no physical impediment to my fast-forward progress? How many interesting sights and experiences have we missed in the pursuit of arriving somewhere else? Bicycles are amazing when they are moving fast, but they are usually the best travel vehicles when moving slow.

bellyAnd it’s a good thing that we’ve settled happily into this slower routine because this year we’re likely to slow down even a bit more. TravellingTwo is expanding. Yes, that’s right — Luke is about to become a big brother early this summer.

This exciting development has us reconsidering our family bike touring plans (we’re hoping to sneak in a lazy autumn tour when the little one is 3-4 months old) and our mode of transport.

Our current bikes aren’t designed to carry two kids and while we could pair a touring bike (with child seat) with a trailer — both of which we already own — we find this a bit cumbersome for daily commuting.

Instead, we’re looking for the holy grail: a bike which can be used for touring as well as commuting, which can carry a baby safely from infancy onwards and which will allow us to transport two kids plus a little bit of luggage such as a tent or some groceries simultaneously.

Does such a bike exist? Maybe. At least we’re about to find out.

Onderwater Family Tandem

This weekend we’ve been testing out an Onderwater Family Tandem and while it’s not perfect, it’s the bike that so far comes the closest to meeting all of our requirements.

Onderwater Tandem with bak

Here’s what we like about it:

  • Can be used from approximately 2 months old with a special cargo box + car seat (with suspension under the cargo box to minimise bumps).
  • Can carry up to 3 kids, with room left over for shopping. Many configurations are possible, including an extended luggage rack for a back seat + panniers.
  • As kids grow, they can cycle too! The front seat allows a child to pedal from about 4-5 years of age. A smaller child’s seat, without pedals, can be added behind the parent’s handlebar for kids from about 3 years old.
  • Can be taken on trains in Europe — maybe not every train but enough to give us some options if we want to travel further afield.
  • Weighs “just” 30kg (approximately). This is clearly far heavier than most touring bikes but it’s not massively heavier than other longtail cargo bikes (they tend to weigh about 25kg) and is a good 15kg lighter than the lightest bakfiets-style cargo bikes (these can weigh anywhere up to 60kg).
  • Broadly high quality parts, though we’d upgrade it in a few places (see below).
  • Electric assist available, if you want it. We are leaning towards getting an e-bike version of this tandem, simply because we will want to do longer distances and e-bike charging points are reasonably easy to find now in Europe.
  • High re-sale value. If we want to go for another bike in a few years, we can recoup most of our money by selling the bike on to someone else.

On the flipside, here’s our list of concerns and potential upgrades:

  • The saddle that comes with it is terrible! Definitely needs an upgrade to a Brooks (or your favourite saddle). The brake levers and pedals also seem to be on the cheaper side.
  • The handlebars feel a bit cramped for our riding style. We’d like to replace them with something closer to the ones on our touring bike.
  • Only available with a maximum of 8 speeds, which is okay for touring in Holland and other flatter destinations but (combined with the weight of two kids + luggage) is unlikely to get us very far if we try and tackle the Alps.
  • We wonder if we could make the whole bike a bit lighter by getting a different back rack (the standard one seems quite chunky and heavy), seatposts and handlebars.
  • If we use it to carry an infant in a car seat, we’ll have to work out a way of protecting the baby from wind and sun. Protection from the elements would be better in a trailer or a bakfiets-style cargo bike.
  • The long wheelbase means that taking sharp corners isn’t as straightforward as with a shorter bike but the Onderwater tandem is surprisingly nimble for its length, far more so than we first expected.

Other alternatives for touring families might include the highly praised Hase Pino, Bike Friday’s family tandem, the Yuba Mundo or Surly’s Big Dummy. We’ve ruled all of these out for various reasons. In a few years they might be great but for the immediate future, none of them are capable (as far as we know) of safely carrying a baby in the way that the Onderwater tandem or a standard bakfiets cargo bike can, and this is an essential part of everyday family life in the Netherlands. We don’t have a car and we need a way not only to tour but also to make daycare, work and shopping runs as a family.

If you have another idea, let us know. Otherwise, it’s likely that we’ll be on an Onderwater tandem before too long!

New Gear From Europe’s Biggest Bike Fair

Posted February 1st, 2015

We just spent a day wandering around one of Europe’s biggest cycling fairs, the Fiets en Wandelbeurs in Amsterdam.

Three-year-old Luke was tagging along and this limited our time to look around. We couldn’t honestly say that we stopped at more than half of the stands but we still managed to make a few discoveries, between snack and play breaks.

Here are four pieces of kit that caught our eye. More discoveries (in the form of bike paths and resources) will follow in another blog post.

#1. Sea to Summit Mats

Sea to Summit Mats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sea to Summit has just brought out a new line of sleeping mats. These rainbow-coloured mats come in a range of weights, from 325g for the smallest, ultra-lightweight model to just over 1kg for the biggest, most insulating model with an R-value of 5.

Perhaps most interesting is that the red and silver mats (in the Comfort Plus category) have two inflatable layers, one on top of the other. Sea to Summit say that this has two main advantages:

If you are on uneven or bumpy terrain, then you can inflate the bottom layer of the mattress very firm at higher pressure as a barrier. You can then adjust the upper layer, using the fine tune valve, to a lower pressure to feel softer and more comfortable. The Dual Layer design also ensures a level of built in redundancy. If you do end up with a puncture in one layer of the mattress, then you can still get through the night with the other layer of the mattress intact.

#2. Frog Lightweight Bikes for Kids

Luke is just about ready for his first bike with pedals and of course we want to get him a high-quality bike: one with real brakes and one that isn’t too heavy for him to ride over longer distances. We were very impressed with bikes from British company Frog Bikes. They told us that on average each bike will last 2-3 years before the child outgrows it. Luke seemed to enjoy his first test ride on one of their balance bikes.

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#3. Helinox Ground Chair

We’ve been fans of Helinox chairs for a few years now, so it was interesting to see the company’s new ground chair. It weighs in at just 520g — a full 300g lighter than the Helinox Chair One model we fell in love with three years ago.

Helinox ground chair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#4. Nigor Oriole 3

When we decided to upgrade to a ‘family sized’ tent this year, we had a tough time finding one that was roomy, lightweight and affordable. We finally settled on Decathlon’s Quickhiker Ultralight 4 but had we known about Eureka’s Nigor Oriole 3, we might have changed our minds.

Nigor Oriole 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sleeping area in the two tents is roughly the same (in other words, the Nigor Oriole 3 is HUGE for what’s labelled as a 3-man tent) and the Oriole 3 has the advantage of being lighter (3.2kg vs 3.9kg for the Decathlon QuickHiker Ultralight 4), designed for colder weather and made of better materials. The trade-off is the price. If you want a cheap tent, then the QuickHiker is probably still your best option but if you can afford to pay €800 then the Oriole 3 is definitely worth a look.

Alpa Adria Radweg: One of Europe’s Best Bike Paths

Posted January 11th, 2015

Have a week free this summer? Then you might want to check out the Alpa Adria Radweg, which runs 410km from the Austrian city of Salzburg to Grado in Italy, on the Adriatic coast.

Alpa Adria Bike Path

It’s just been named one of Europe’s top bike paths by the Fietsenwandelbeurs — a major, annual fair held in the Netherlands and focused on cycling and walking adventures.

The route is described as one that mostly leads cyclists over dedicated bike paths, and as one of the easiest routes over the Alps, thanks to an 8km long tunnel under the highest hills. The Austrian portion of is partially made up of the Tauernradweg and the Drau Radweg, while the Italian section follows an old railway line (rail trail).

The Italy Cycling Guide (itself a good resource) also highly praises the trail.

This is one of the very best of Italy’s long-distance cycleways with a high proportion on well-surfaced traffic-free cycleways. Centrepiece of the route is the cycleway on the old rail line between Pontebba and Chiusaforte, as it follows the river, criss-crossing it on a series of restored railway bridges. The cycleway takes you through a series of historic towns including Venzone and Udine, and on to Grado on the Adriatic coast via the World Heritage site at Aquileia.

Alpa Adria Bike PathThere’s a free information folder you can download, though at the moment it’s only in Italian and German.

German speakers can also buy a Bikeline guide to the path, and the official website offers a free download of the GPS track.

If you’re interested in more great bike paths through Europe, see last year’s list of nominees for Europe’s best bike path.

15 Tips For Happy Bike Tours With A Toddler

Posted January 4th, 2015

In May 2014, we spent 3 weeks cycling around Switzerland.

Since we were with Luke (2 years old), our pace was quite slow. We had no fixed destinations and rarely covered more than 40km a day, leaving plenty of time for playground stops, flower picking and other distractions.

Now, some 7 months later, we’ve finally found time to put together a little film of our trip: 15 Ways To Entertain A Toddler On A Bike Tour.

Decathlon Quickhiker Ultralight 4: Our New, Cheap Tent

Posted October 27th, 2014

For years now, our trusty tent for bike touring and camping has been Hilleberg’s Nallo 3GT but this summer we retired our Nallo 3GT in favour of something bigger: the Decathlon Quickhiker Ultralight 4 tent.

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Why the switch? The Nallo 3GT was simply too small for our growing family. We needed more space for the extra trailer and gear we’re carrying around. We also wanted a roomier porch, where mum and dad could hang out on rainy or cold evenings while Luke snoozed in the sleeping compartment.

Deciding that we wanted a new tent was easy. Figuring out which tent to buy proved a bit trickier.

We generally believe that investing in high-quality gear pays off, so at the start of our hunt we looked at reasonably expensive tents (eg. the Nallo 4GT, the Safir tipi tent and the MSR Papa Hubba). Ultimately, however, we decided that these tents were too expensive for what we needed.

Unlike in the past, we are not currently planning any long-distance, extreme bike trips. We don’t plan to take this tent through rain, snow, hail and sleet.

Instead, we’re aiming mainly at spring and summer touring through Europe, with perhaps a trip to South Korea or Japan next year. If the weather gets really bad, we’ll take a hotel and that means our tent doesn’t have to live up to expedition-quality standards.

The Quickhiker Ultralight 4 met all of our needs:

  • Affordable. It costs €269.95 in Europe.
  • Lightweight. The tent weighs 3.9kg (not including the groundsheet). That’s just 300g more than Hilleberg’s Nallo 4GT (which would have been a logical upgrade for us from the 3GT).
  • Roomy. It’s 15cm higher than the Nallo 3GT and nearly a meter wider.
  • Guaranteed. It comes with a 2-year guarantee.

So far, we’ve used it about 20 times. Are we pleased? Absolutely.

The space inside is as valuable as gold for our growing family. We can sit up easily anywhere in the tent (in our Hilleberg, we could only sit straight up in the middle of the tent) and we can fit our 3 sleeping mats side by side without being squeezed up against the walls of the tent.

There’s even room left over for toys, clothes and random treasures like sticks which Luke regularly picks up, and plenty of gear pockets to keep things organised inside the tent.

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The large back, mesh window of the tent is another favourite of ours. Since we’re doing more summer camping now, the nights can be warm and with this tent you can open up the back of the tent entirely for excellent airflow.

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Of course, as you’d expect with a relatively cheap tent, this one isn’t perfect. In fact, it’s missing a few thoughtful details that made our Hilleberg such a delight to camp in. The two main problems we have with the tent are:

  • No tensioners on the pole sleeves. This makes setting up the tent a bit of a struggle. It’s a tight fit to get the poles into the sleeves and seated in the grommets. We find it easiest to lay the tent on the ground, put the poles in while the tent is flat and then stake it out and erect it. Over the winter, we may try to add our own tensioners.
  • Door to the sleeping compartment can’t be totally closed off. Once inside the porch, there’s a second door that leads to the sleeping compartment. The top half of this door is made of mesh, so on cooler nights it’s impossible to entirely seal yourself in (in order to keep the temperature higher). That’s one reason why this is not a good 3-season tent.

Overall, however, we’re very pleased. When you consider the price, this tent is good value and perfectly suitable for summer bike tours. If you want a family tent without blowing the budget, we’d recommend this one.

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