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You Are Viewing Bicycle Touring With Kids

Baby On Board: Lessons From Our First Family Bike Tour

Posted May 22nd, 2012

Camping and bike touring with a 3 month old baby: a crazy plan? Perhaps. At least that’s what some of our friends thought. 

Crazy or not, the fact is that we were itching to go touring. We’d had a sedentary autumn and winter waiting for Luke to arrive and our last night in the tent was nearly 6 months ago.

It was the middle of May before the right factors came together: a baby that was (mostly) sleeping through the night, warmer evening temperatures and a good weather forecast. We packed up the bikes and set off. It had been ages, but the wait was worth it.

The roads were quiet, smooth and lined with spring flowers. This was bike touring in the Netherlands at its best.

Heading out on the quiet roads with Luke's trailerSpring touring in the Netherlands: glorious!

We cycled about 100km over two days (see the GPS track). It was fantastic, and we learned a few things about family bike touring along the way. Here are our main learning points for the next tour. Maybe they’ll help other families also planning to take a young child on tour.

1. Research The Route Carefully. The route we planned wasn’t as well laid out as it could have been. In a few places the bike paths were unpaved or very narrow. We didn’t want to jostle Luke around too much so we went slowly and occasionally walked the bike.

A very narrow path!We could have made some changes to our route to avoid ending up on small, bumpy paths.

We also ended up on a few roads which were a touch too busy for our liking. As single tourers, these roads wouldn’t have bothered us at all but as new parents we (unsurprisingly) felt very protective of our new little boy and more sensitive to traffic. For future tours, we’ll be researching the roads better to avoid these kinds of situations.

2. Divide and Conquer. A baby needs a lot of attention and it quickly became clear that the only way to get anything done around the campsite was to have one person take care of the baby while the others set up camp, did the cooking and took over any other tasks that needed doing. Happily, we had our good friend Alicia along for the ride and she was happy to take turns entertaining. That was a huge help!

Entertaining Luke
Entertaining Luke: someone was always on duty.

3. Go Slowly. With a baby in tow, it’s the baby that sets the pace and that’s unlikely to be anywhere near as quick as your pre-kid touring days. We only cycled 40km on Saturday because Luke was a little fussy. We didn’t want to stress him out so we stopped for plenty of play breaks and breastfeeding on demand.

On Sunday, we rode 60km and that was plenty. Andrew really noticed how much the extra drag of the trailer was wearing him out. For our 3 week bike tour later this summer, we’re planning on an average of 40km a day. That’s half the distance we were used to doing without a baby.

Chilling Out
Luke, just chilling out on his sleeping mat.

4. Expect The Unexpected. We didn’t have too many unexpected occurrences during our trip but one thing caught us off-guard: Luke’s bedtime. He normally drops right off to sleep at 8pm at home. When we put him in a tent at 8pm, however, it was still very bright out and all that sunshine meant he didn’t want to go to sleep at all. It took twice as long to get him to sleep as normal and that was initially a bit stressful.

Thankfully, once he dropped off he slept like a log. The next morning, we woke up to find that Luke had already been awake for some time but had been kept quietly amused by the patterns of light and shadows on the tent walls.

Luke going to bedPutting Luke to bed took longer than expected.

Overall, we had a wonderful time and we can’t wait to do more bike touring trips with Luke. Here are some more of our favourite pictures from the weekend…

Alicia making supper
Alicia making supper.

Asparagus!
Asparagus! We bought it from a roadside farm stand.

Friedel & her cheese
Cheese that we bought from a small cheesefarm along the route.

Andrew with the Chariot
Andrew towing Luke’s Chariot trailer. Luxury travel for a baby!

Deciding On Baby’s First Bike Ride

Posted April 16th, 2012

Luke in the ChariotAny bicycle-loving parent will be familiar with the debate that is currently happening in our home: when can we take baby Luke on his first bike ride in a trailer?

If you’re from a country where cycling isn’t a mainstream form of transport, the idea of putting an infant in a bicycle trailer may be shocking. Internet searches reveal plenty of people concerned about harm to the baby from vibrations and the risk of accidents but little in the way of actual data to back up these fears.

One American website suggests two ways of checking to see if your child is ready to ride in a trailer. It starts off sensibly enough:

We would recommend that you do two things before using a trailer: ask your pediatrician if the child is ready.

Put a check mark beside point one. We’ve done that. But then, they recommend this….

If you can find one that accommodates your weight and size, ride in a trailer yourself for at least 10 miles, at the speed you expect to travel. At least put a jar of milk in a trailer and ride as you will with the baby, checking the foam level when you stop.

Click to read the full post on babies and cycling…

Baby’s First Bike Tour: At What Age?

Posted April 16th, 2012

Luke in the ChariotAny bicycle-loving parent will be familiar with the debate that is currently happening in our home: when can we take baby Luke on his first bike ride in a trailer?

If you’re from a country where cycling isn’t a mainstream form of transport, the idea of putting an infant in a bicycle trailer may be shocking. Internet searches reveal plenty of people concerned about harm to the baby from vibrations and the risk of accidents but little in the way of actual data to back up these fears.

One American website suggests two ways of checking to see if your child is ready to ride in a trailer. It starts off sensibly enough:

We would recommend that you do two things before using a trailer: ask your pediatrician if the child is ready.

Put a check mark beside point one. We’ve done that. But then, they recommend this….

If you can find one that accommodates your weight and size, ride in a trailer yourself for at least 10 miles, at the speed you expect to travel. At least put a jar of milk in a trailer and ride as you will with the baby, checking the foam level when you stop.

We find this ridiculous. How are we going to find a trailer big enough to fit an adult? Even if we could, how is that in any way comparable to what a baby would experience?

As for the froth on a bottle of milk, well let’s just say it’s not quite the scientific indicator we were hoping to find when looking for data on babies and cycling. How much froth is too much? And how would we compare that to the vibrations experienced by a baby in a carrier or a stroller or even in a car? Car rides are not always perfectly smooth and safe affairs.

We don’t have a car, so we can only make some comparison with what we see when we take Luke for walk in his stroller or sling. Even when walking slowly and despite our best efforts, Luke’s head inevitably bounces a bit as we go over curbs and uneven sidewalks. These sorts of small bumps happen to any baby unless they are confined to the house and yet we see no warnings about taking baby out for a walk.

The Dutch Way
Let’s move away from the American view to the Netherlands, where we live. Here, there’s still no data on babies and cycling (at least none that we’ve found) but the risk assessment is quite different.

First of all, concerns about traffic and being hit by a car are negligible. The safety record is exceptional (according to some statistics, we’re more likely to drown than die cycling) and we can go almost everywhere on exceptionally smooth, separated cycle paths. Most paths in our area are far less bumpy than the sidewalk!

The Weber baby seatIt’s common here to see young babies travelling by bicycle.

They’re usually in a car seat, which is then mounted in the box of a cargo bike or a bicycle trailer. They may also be in a special sling or seat for babies, such as the Weber baby seat seen in the photo to the right.

As far as we know, there has been no elevated rate of shaken baby syndrome here, despite all the parents who regularly cycle with their babies.

We wanted to be sure, however, so we asked 3 paediatricians, several nurses, 2 midwives, a children’s physiotherapist, several keen cycling parents and a few people working in the bike manufacturing industry for their opinion.

There was no particular concern about taking a young baby on a bicycle, starting from about 6 weeks old, with these caveats:

  • The baby should be in a car seat mounted in a bakfiets, or in a high quality trailer.
  • Routes should be chosen to avoid cobblestones and other rough surfaces.
  • Speed should be moderate.

In addition:

  • Hold off on longer trips.  Our doctor recommended waiting 3 months before doing any long bike trips, to make sure the baby’s back develops properly. Note: she was not overly worried about vibrations to his brain; an oft-cited fear when parents talk about the effects of cycling too early. She said it was okay to start with short trips at an earlier age as long as we picked smooth bike paths and not bumpy cobblestones.
  • Don’t put a helmet on a very young baby. If the helmet doesn’t fit properly or if the baby isn’t strong enough to hold up his head with the weight of the helmet, the helmet will do more harm than good.
  • A lot depends on your local conditions. Do you have a good bicycle trailer that absorbs shocks? How are the cycling facilities? Is the baby happy being on the bike?
In particular, we received some valuable first-hand experience from the Hopkins family (read their tips for touring with babies and tour journal).

Tallin & Zali
Tallin & Zali in their bike trailer.

We went on our first bike trip with Tallin when he was 7 months old. Zali will be 5 months old when we head off in June to Sumatra. However, we had them both in the Chariot on smooth roads at around 8 weeks old, in the infant sling. We also removed the padding from our carseat and this adds extra support for their head. So, in short, they were both around 8 weeks old and we stuck to smooth roads. Every time we ride they fall asleep with the motion. – Christine Hopkins

What We Decided
After much debate, we tried a first ride with Luke in his bike trailer when he was 7 weeks old, with the infant sling (not officially recommended for cycling). We decided to do this based on two main factors:
  1. Luke is very big and strong for his age. He holds his neck well and – at 7 weeks old – was as big as an average 3 month old boy.
  2. We have a very good trailer and excellent, smooth bike paths in our area.
When we set out, we went very slowly (about 10km/hour), picked only smooth bike paths and cycled less than 10km in total.

In the chariotOn the road with baby in tow.

Dad pulled the trailer and mum rode alongside to watch Luke’s head and see how he was enjoying the ride. Our impression was that he was comfortable, stable and not suffering any more vibrations than when we walk his stroller over some of the sidewalks in our area.

At 8 weeks old, we took Luke on a 40km bike ride. Again, we went very slowly (the ride took us 6 hours to complete, including a stop for coffee) and picked our paths carefully.

Our plan from here on in is to take a day trip each weekend, as long as the weather is nice. We’ll build up to a camping trip late next month or in early June. We hope to take a longer bike tour in July.

Obviously this is a decision that will be different for every parent, depending on the conditions in your area and your baby.

What do you think? If you’ve cycled with a baby, we’d love to hear your experience. How did you decide when was the right time to ride together?

Further Reading: 

We found these articles interesting.

Coming Soon: Our Next Big Adventure

Posted September 30th, 2011

Since returning from our world bike tour, we’ve become relatively settled. Full-time jobs. An apartment. A routine. And yet, the same question keeps returning: “When’s the next big adventure? Isn’t it time for you to take off again?”

Today we can reveal what our next big adventure will be, and it might not be what you expect…

Baby Bump: TravellingThree is on the way

Yes, that’s right, we’re going to become parents. In early February, we’re expecting a little boy to arrive in our lives. TravellingTwo is about to become TravellingThree (and no, we’re not changing the website name).

The decision to settle down – at least for a while – and start a family wasn’t an easy one for us. It involved many months of debate. Can we? Should we? Will we be any good at this? Wouldn’t it just be more fun to cycle off into the sunset forever and become permanent nomads?

Baby BumpIn the end, we decided to make the leap. We’ve been inspired by the experiences of people like Family On Bikes, Linda, Phil & Luca and PedalPoweredFamily (to name just a few families on bike tours) and we’re excited about the adventures  ahead.

What does it mean for you, our readers? Well, we plan to keep expanding this bicycle site but please be patient if things slow down over the coming months. New articles may not be as frequent as in the past, and we hope you understand.

In the short term, we won’t be doing as much bike touring but we think we’ll still have plenty to share with you as we plot a return to our bicycles in 2012.

We’ll start with short trips in Europe sometime next summer (as soon as our baby is strong enough to spend a few hours on a bicycle) and, if all goes well, we’re planning a longer winter tour towards the end of 2012 – perhaps to Cuba or Southeast Asia.

If you have ideas for a good first destination for bike touring with a baby, please share! Links to blogs about bike touring with very young kids would also be greatly appreciated, or personal tips that you might like to share.

Of course, we’ll be blogging our experiences as we go. We know these new adventures by bicycle with a baby won’t always be easy. Diaper changes and night feeding sessions in the tent could be interesting, and we’ll definitely be going a bit slower than before, but we’re not about to give up our fun on two wheels just yet.

Stay tuned for the next chapter!

A List of Inspiring Family Bicycle Tourists

Posted August 5th, 2011

A few days ago on Twitter, someone asked us which sites to check out for information about bicycle touring with kids. We thought for a few minutes, and then we realised just how many great families are out there pedalling around.

What we really admire about these families is that they’re not waiting for ‘someday’ to travel with their kids. They’re getting out there and making it happen, despite the often cited idea that once you have kids you have to ‘settle down’ and ‘be sensible’ – in a very traditional sort of way.

So, if you’re looking for some bike touring inspiration for you and your children, look no further than these blogs.

Pedal Powered Family1. Pedal Powered Family

This family is made up of dad Reuben, mom Heidi, 4-year old Eden and 2-year old Harper. They’ve done a number of shorter tours, and are currently on a 20,000km bicycle tour around North America, Mexico and Central America. They call their trip an ‘exercise in adventurous living’ and ‘a way of increasing and strengthening the simplicity in our lives’.

What we learned from them: You can use cloth diapers, even on a bicycle tour! We checked with the Pedal Powered Family about 3 months into their tour, and they said the cloth diapers were working out great.

Linda, Phil & Luca2. Linda, Phil & Luca

In 2010, Linda and Phil took advantage of a 3-year career break from Phil’s work to embark on a world bike trip with their son Luca. They puttered around Europe for a while, and then flew to Southeast Asia, where Luca has been treated like royalty everywhere they’ve been.

What we learned from them: That it’s possible to bike tour while you’re pregnant and that the BoBike Junior seat is one of the few bicycle seats for kids that will fit with panniers.

Family On Bikes3. Family Adventure Project

Not one or two kids, but three kids! Kirstie and Stuart have been cycling with their growing family since the first one was just 3 months old. They have heaps of stories from their family bike trips and an equipment list for what they call ‘Cycle Toddling’ and this summer they’re cycling across Europe.

What we learned from them: That you can take even a young baby cycling (with a car seat in a trailer), but you might need to modify your routine a bit!

pedouins4. The Pedouins

Imagine one bicycle, with mom, dad and 3 daughters! That’s the Pedouin family, and they’ve pedalled all the way from their home in Kentucky to Alaska on their quint bike. It’s no light rig either, with 5 riders and all their gear!

What we learned from them: That life on the road has lots of lessons for kids; learning isn’t just for school.

Family On Bikes5. Family On Bikes

This family, including twin teenage boys, has just finished cycling from Alaska to the southern tip of South America. They’ve got a host of resources, including making the decision to go, homeschooling and what young kids get out of bicycle touring.

What we learned from them: That sometimes making the decision to go is scary but it’s also very rewarding.

And a few more to check out:

Do you know of another impressive family on tour? Leave a comment and share your favourite family bike touring blogs.