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You Are Viewing Bicycle Touring With Kids

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

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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.

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#4. Eureka El Capitan 4SUL

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 the El Capitan 4SUL from Eureka, we might have been tempted to spend a bit more. In contrast to our summer-only Decathlon tent, the El Capitan is a solid 3-season tent with a very roomy sleeping area. It weighs under 3kg.

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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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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!

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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.