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You Are Viewing Bicycle Touring With Kids

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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Six Days, Four Countries, Four Bikes and a Toddler

Posted May 11th, 2014

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.

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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.

Climbing a steep hill in Luxembourg - not technically part of the Vennbahn, but a taste of what was to come.

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.

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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.

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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.

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On most nights, we didn’t make it much past Luke’s bedtime.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

cooking with nettles

We encouraged Luke to walk up the steepest hills, when pedalling became impossible.

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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.

 

Tips For Cycling The Vennbahn Rail Trail

Posted March 30th, 2014

Cycling the Vennbahn, an easy ride on one of Europe's longest rail trails.

Cycling the Vennbahn, an easy ride on one of Europe’s longest rail trails.

The Vennbahn is a 125km rail trail that runs through Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany. It’s one of Europe’s longest rail trails and is quickly becoming known as one of the nicest bike paths in the region.

We’re going to see what all the hype is about. Our plan is to take the train from our home to Luxembourg City and then to use the Vennbahn plus other local bike trails to ride back home.

Below we’ve listed some helpful information, in case you’re planning a similar trip. You can also check the official Vennbahn website.

1. Get A Free Map – Download a free map of the Vennbahn rail trail (complete with accommodation and sightseeing information) in English / German or in French / Dutch. You can also order a free paper copy in English by emailing [email protected] or online from the “Tourist Shop” of the regional tourism office (in German, Dutch or French only).

Vennbahn Map

Order a free copy of the Vennbahn Map from the East Belgium tourism office.

2. Use Bike Paths To Connect Luxembourg City With The Vennbahn - Luxembourg City is 60-90km from the start of the Vennbahn (depending on which route you take). You can take local bike trails much of the way there. We found two main options:

  • Option A:  Take PC2 (a rail trail) east out of Luxembourg City to Echternacht, then PC3 (the Trois Rivières bike path) and PC22 (the cycle path Des Ardennes) north, along the border with Germany.  This leaves you with roughly 30km to cycle on local roads before you hook up with the Vennbahn. PC22 is listed as “difficulty: Exigent” on the Luxembourg tourism site.
  • Option B: Take PC15 (the Alzette rail trail) straight north out of Luxembourg City and then connect with PC16 (the Moyenne Sûre bike path). Again, there’s a gap between the end of the bike paths and the start of the Vennbahn. You’ll have to improvise on local roads.

You can use the Waymarked Trails site to get a good overview of the various options.

3. Make Life Easy. Take The Train. If you don’t want to ride between Luxembourg City and the Vennbahn trail, you can easily take the train. This will save you some route planning, some hill climbing and 1-2 days of riding. Tickets cost just €2 and your bike rides for free. Trains leave once an hour (look up schedules on the Luxembourg Railway site). We picked up this tip from the European Cycling website.

4. Bring Your Tent. There are plenty of great campgrounds in the area. We’ve plotted a few on this map.


View our VennBahn map in a larger size.

We also found this list on the website of the Wereldfietsers (a Dutch bike touring club). For those who don’t speak Dutch, we’ve translated it.

Aachen
Aachen Camping (1.5km from the start of the Vennbahn, can be busy in the summer)
Branderhofer Weg 11
Aachen
Tel. 0049-(0)0241-60880 57
[email protected]

Hauset/Hergenrath
Camping Hammerbrücke*
Hammerweg
B – 4710 Lontzen
Tel. 0032-(0)87-78 31 26
*To reach this one, you have to leave the Vennbahn when you get to Raeren. It’s just before Hergenrath, near the big train bridge over the Geul river. It could be a bit difficult to find.

Monschau
Camping Perlenau (nice tenting field but can be very full in high season or soaked with water after a hard rain)
D-52156 Monschau
Tel. 0049-(0)52156 Monschau
Tel. 0049-(0)2472-41 36

Küchelscheid
Camping La Belle Vallée (just over the border, by the former station of Kalterherberg)
Küchelscheid, Rickshelderweg, 6
B-4750 Bütgenbach
Tel 0032-(0)80 44 60 57

Robertville
Camping La Plage*
Route des Bains 33
B-4950 Robertville
Tel 0032- (0)80-44 66 58
*To reach this one, you have to leave the Vennbahn at Sourbrodt.

Amel
Camping Oos Heem (on the Vennbahn itself, near the former Montenau station)
Deidenberg 124A
B-4770 Amel
Tel 0032-(0)80-34 97 41

Sankt Vith
Camping Wiesenbach (on the Vennbahn, near a swimming pool)
Wiesenbachstrass 65
B-4780 Sankt Vith
Tel. 0032-(0)80-22 61 37
Email: [email protected]

Ouren
Camping International*
Ouren 14,
B-4790 Ouren,
Tel. 0032 (0)80-329 291
*You have to cycle about 8km off the Vennbahn to reach this one but it’s an easy ride along the Our.

Troisvierges
Camping Walensbongert
Rue de Binsfeld
L-9912 Troisvierges
Tel 00352-(0)99-71-41

5. Cafes & Supermarkets Are Few And Far Between - According to the same thread on the Wereldfietser website, cafes and supermarkets aren’t very common along the Vennbahn. Therefore it’s good to know where they are so that you can plan for a tea break!

There are food shops in: Kornelimünster, Roetgen (just over the Belgian border), Monschau, Waimes, Sankt Vith and Troisvierges.

There are cafes in: Kornelimünster (former train station with patio terrace), Roetgen, Monschau, Küchelscheid (just over the border near Karterherberg in an old railway carriage), Waimes (Konditorei Heinrichs), Montenau, Sankt Vith, Burg-Reuland (just off the route and down into the town, follow the main road and to the right you’ll see a bakery).

We hope you find this helpful. We’ll update this page when we’re back from our trip!

Europe’s Best Bike Routes In 2014

Posted January 23rd, 2014

It’s almost that time again, when the annual Fietsenwandelbeurs takes place in Amsterdam.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of going, let us explain. This is a huge two-day exposition, dedicated to everything for cyclists and hikers. We go every year to check out new gear, the latest bikes and of course to get inspiration for future bike tours.

Ahead of the fair, the Fietsenwandelbeurs nominates bike routes for the “Route of the Year” award. This year there are four nominees:

#1. The Pirinexus (through Spain and France)

The Pirinexus is a 350km loop, of which 280km are in Spain and 80km are on the French side of the Pyrenees.

Pirinexus Route

At the moment, it’s southern Europe’s longest marked bicycle route. The route is mostly flat, taking in a part of the Costa Brava and former railway lines. That said, you will have to climb a couple mountains with peaks of 1,000-1,500 meters. The roads leading up these mountains aren’t too steep, however. Part of the Pirinexus also tracks EuroVelo 8 from Athens to Cádiz. Read more…

#2. The Tour de Manche (France and England)

The Tour de Manche is a bike route around the English Channel. Ferry services help you make the connection between England and France. In total it’s a route of 1,200km but there’s also a smaller version of 440km, which takes in the Channel Islands.

Tour de Manche

The Tour de Manche doesn’t always follow the coast. Sometimes it uses old railway lines and small tracks to cut across Normandy. The English section involves a few steep climbs. On the return leg, you get a wonderful view over the cliffs. You can also use the Tour de Manche route to hook up with the Vélodyssée, which runs down the coast of France towards Spain. Read more…

#3. Valsugana (Trentino, Italy)

The Valsugana route follows the Brenta river valley between Pergine Valsugana and Bassano del Grappa. It’s fairly short at just 80km. You bike nearly entirely on dedicated bike paths. The route climbs very gently (you’ll barely notice it). It the Western part you can take on some extra loops around local lakes.

The Valsugana Route

The Valsugana connects to the Adige (Etsch) cycle path from Austria to Verona and the Via Claudia Augusta, going towards the Adriatic coastline. Read more…

#4. Vennbahn (Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg)

The Vennbahn is a dedicated bike path that follows old railway lines from Troisvierges (Luxembourg) to Aachen (Germany). It’s 125 km long.

The Vennbahn

Leaving Aachen, the route climbs to 500 meters but the grade is never more than 2% so it’s a gentle climb. Save your energy! There’s a 10% climb just before the Luxembourg border. As far as the landscape goes, the bike path mostly goes through green areas and there are many signs of the area’s railway history. We’ll be cycling this route over Easter, so there’s more information to come! Read more…

WeeHoo Bike Trailer For Kids

Posted June 15th, 2013

Last weekend we were out cycling when we spotted something different on the bike path: a recumbent-style trailer for kids.

We weren’t quick enough to get a photo of it but later we searched online and discovered that we’d seen the WeeHoo trailer.

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Weehoo trailer in use. Photo by SheBicycles on flickr

We’re still getting a lot of use out of our Chariot Cougar 1 trailer but the WeeHoo is an intriguing solution as Luke grows up. In another year or so (when he’s 2+ years old), we think he’d love this. We like the look of it better than a standard tag-along bike because it would allow him to relax (read, sleep, play) while riding.

It’s also reasonably affordable: $298.93 from REI.

From what we’ve read so far, the trailer gets fairly positive reviews online. We’ve seen comments such as:

I cannot stress enough how much my kid loves this thing. Between the harness and the pedal straps I’m not worried about her at all. We whip through curvy sidewalk approaches, ride over and off of curbs, hit potholes, have managed to hit 28 mph… all without the first sign of problems.

My daughter is strapped in with a nice, comfortable harness in a cushy seat. Her weight is down low where it doesn’t affect the feel of my bike. The hitch is completely different from other trailers. It uses your seat post as an axle which eliminates almost all loose play. It comes with bags which, while not as quality as nice panniers, are great for putting your kid’s stuff in. Not only can your kid snack while peddling, the Weehoo comes with a cup holder and pocket for snacks that your kid can reach. My daughter can take a little snooze after a long day.

The main downfall of the WeeHoo seems to be its weight: it’s a hefty 15kg or 35 pounds. Tackling the Alps with this trailer might be out of the question but it but it should be fine for touring around the flatter parts of the world. On the other hand, some people don’t seem to take any notice of the weight!

And, for families with more than one kid, WeeHoo’s Facebook page suggests that a new double trailer will be hitting the market soon.

WeeHoo Double Trailer

Do you have any experience with the WeeHoo trailer? Leave a comment.