Bike Touring With A Baby

Pedal Powered FamilyMore and more families are heading out on bicycle tours, but what is it like to travel by bike with a baby?

Some people will tell you it’s impossible or, at the very least, impractical but we’ve found a few parents that prove travel with young kids is more than just feasible. It can be a lot of fun too.

As you’ll see from the case studies below, all the families had positive experiences and have tips to share about distances, routines and special packing lists for bike touring. Their answers vary, although one clear winner here seems to be the Cougar Chariot bike trailer ($437.93 from REI). It comes in a single and a double version and is used by 3 of the families featured here. The fourth family also uses a Chariot trailer.

If you want to see more than the case studies below, check out answers about bike touring with babies in detail from the families.

We also enjoyed a story about “Cycle-Toddling” from Stuart & Kristie’s Family Adventure Project website.

BIKE TOURING FAMILIES – 4 CASE STUDIES

Case Study #1 – Elle (mother), Jose (father) and baby Lennon
The Tour: 2 weeks In Oregon (see their journal Lennon’s First Road Trip)
The Baby:11 months old

rest stop

In 2009, the Bustamante family hit the road for a two week tour of Oregon, including baby Lennon, who was 11 months old at the time. Lennon rode in a Cougar Chariot trailer for the 600 mile trip. His first trip in the trailer was at 6 months old.

I did a lot of research and made the decision after talking with our pediatrician and making sure Lennon’s neck was strong enough to hold up a helmet and his giant head. Also, I picked the Cougar Chariot because it was the only trailer that had suspension as vibration is a main concern for babies and biking.

Once on the road, Lennon loved the trip and enjoyed spending time in the trailer, though there were some difficult moments.

There were times when Lennon would be having a melt down after a long day (we’d all be feeling that way) but we’d only have a few more miles to go or we couldn’t stop safely. It was added pain to the tiredness of the ride but in the end, the second Lennon was out of the trailer, he’d be happy as can be. Babies are incredibly resilient and forgiving. We just had to keep that balance, patience and flexibility and listen to his needs.

As for special equipment, Elle recommends disposable diapers for convenience (although they normally use cloth), teething tablets and a picnic blanket to make rest breaks that much more enjoyable during the day.

Case Study #2 – Reuben (father), Heidi (mother) and baby Eden
The Tour: Eight days in Southwestern Ontario (see their website Pedal Powered Family and their journal of the trip)
The Baby: 16 months old

Pedal Powered Family

Reuben, Heidi and 16-month old Eden set out in 2008 on a 650 kilometer journey around Southwestern Ontario. Eden rode in a trailer and the family mostly free camped along the way, instead of taking paid campgrounds or hotels.

They say Eden adapted well to the touring lifestyle, and as parents they took special care to work in plenty of stops at playgrounds and schoolyards along the way.

Making time for her to run around during the break and play on the slides and jungle gyms was extremely important. As time went on, she learned the rhythm of the days and would climb back into the trailer on her own when she was ready to get going again. Some times, she wouldn’t even want to get out when we arrived at camp for the night!

Among the things they packed were small toys and books for Eden, plenty of clothes (in case they couldn’t clean or dry out soiled ones), and a wide variety of food, so Eden wouldn’t get bored with the same thing every day. They also brought a thermal sippy cup filled with milk, which let her “drink on demand” in the trailer.

They urge parents thinking of a trip with a baby, to just get out there and do it.

As with anything in life, you will never be able to make your trip with-baby 100% predictable or 100% safe. You will also never be 100% prepared. Don’t let those worries hold you back. Just get out there and adventure with your kids while you can. You will both love it as long as you remain flexible.

Case Study #3 – Robin (father), Erin (mother) and baby Ronan
The Tour: 2 weeks In Iceland
The Baby: 18 months old

Family camping and bike touring in Iceland

This family of Canadians, including 18-month old Ronan, did a 14 day tour of Iceland. To keep things manageable, they tended to do a couple relatively short biking days (40-60km), followed by a rest day and they also occasionally used buses to bridge the gap between destinations.

Robin & Erin were initially worried about how Ronan would feel spending so much time inside his trailer but a few trial runs before going to Iceland helped reassure them.

“Prior to going we travelled around home and found that after a while he loved his trailer. He’d point to it and our bikes in the garage and say ‘ride’. Mostly he gets lulled to sleep or just looks out the windows and ponders. Sometimes we’d hear him ‘talking’ to his duck and we’d try and talk to him as we went so he knew we were still there,” says Robin.

Because their trip to Iceland involved a big time difference from home, they also started adjusting their eating and sleeping times before leaving.

To make up for the 6 hour time difference, we started getting up earlier and earlier for the week before, 45 minutes at a time. We shaved off 4 or 5 of the hours before we left. It helped Ronan adjust and hit the road running. Any amount of preadjustment is probably worth it depending on schedules or plan to scrap a day or two on the other side.

They also recommend planning days around the routine of the kids, including working in time for an hour or two or play once you arrive in camp.

Another great tip involves getting your trailer on a plane, without extra charges. It’s all in the wording!

Don’t pack a trailer. Pack a stroller with a bike attachment. Then it doesn’t cost as much! It’s all the same but clerks don’t know.

Case Study #4 – The Londahl Family
The Tour: 40 nights and 1,535km through Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.
The Baby: Two kids: 2-1/2 years old and 4 months old

Martin's family bike touring setup

Martin sent us this story, after we originally published the 3 case studies above.

There were four of us: my wife and I, and our two kids Sarah and Isac, at the time of leaving 2-1/2 years old and 4 months old.

The kids were fine and adjusted rather quickly to life on the road. There were some problems in the beginning with Sarah, who found out that she could stop us by saying “I need to pee” and then spend some time running around with no pants. She did not use diapers, except at night, at the time. Luckily she quit this behaviour within a week.

Isac was only a small baby and slept whenever he got the chance, and then was happy whenever we woke him up. There were times when Sarah treated him rather roughly, to say the least. This was our main problem: since they were both sitting in a single carrier there were times when we hardly could do anything about it.
Most of the time we could cycle in 40-50 minute intervals with breaks in between for playing. Near the end of the trip, however, the nights were really cold (almost freezing) and Sarah didn’t sleep very well since she refused to have her sleeping bag closed.  This made her quite tired during the daytime, from which Isac suffered. As the nights became warmer again Sarah slept better and the problem decreased.
Last summer we went on a one-week trip with the kids, and this time managed to separate them. Sarah rode in a bike chair and Isac in the carrier. This really made a big difference and so I would really, really recommend it. It’s difficult to fight if you can’t reach your adversary.
Concerning packing, packing for the kids was not much different than from ourselves: clothes, sleeping bags etc.
Was it fair to travel with such small kids? Yes, I definitively think so. For 40 days we spent day and night together, with no distractions from work. They enjoyed that, for sure. And they certainly enjoyed all the coffee breaks. Sarah ate cookies every single day, which she hasn’t done ever since.
Would I recommend it? No. At times it was really tough, and so I won’t give a general recommendation to do it, trusting that if you really want to go, you won’t listen too much to me, but go anyway.

Would I do it again? Definitively yes, yes, yes! But with the kids separated…

Want to know more? See detailed answers about bike touring with babies.

Comments

  1. Cathryn Ramsden
    13th June 2010 at 9:54 pm #

    Thanks for a great article – really useful. Particularly love the tip about packing a ‘stroller with a bike attachment’ as that was one thing I was trying to get my head around. Hmmm…let’s go cycling!

  2. Stefan Helgi Valsson
    14th June 2010 at 2:15 pm #

    Amazing, bicycling around Iceland with a baby!

    Never thought of that yet, even though I work as a bicycle guide in Iceland.

    My girlfriend and I run Reykjavik Bike Tours, guided tours on bicycle around the capital city of Iceland. We take our 4 year old along in our trailer all the time.

    For our guests with children we have a trailer and a baby seat, both available for guided tours and for rent.

    Happy cycling!

  3. Grace Johnson
    20th June 2010 at 11:31 am #

    We don’t have kids ourselves but I do know that on the Dutch website “fietsen met kinderen” (bicycling with children) they have a lot of information available over bicycle touring with children and babies. Click here for the English translation for this website: http://translate.google.nl/translate?hl=nl&sl=nl&tl=en&u=www.fietsenmetkinderen.info%2F

    • friedel
      21st June 2010 at 11:36 am #

      Great link, Grace! I should have known the Dutch would have a site for that…

  4. friedel
    30th June 2010 at 8:55 pm #

    Bike tourist Stephen just emailed me a link to his blog, with great photos and an account of bike touring with a baby:

    http://tober-zambrano.blogspot.com/2008_05_01_archive.html

  5. Martin
    4th February 2011 at 10:38 am #

    My family can provide you with a fourth case study. Last fall we cycled 1535 kilometers (960 miles) through Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and then Germany again. 31 out of 40 nights were spent in our 3-man tent. When we set out our son was four months and seven days old, while our daughter was almost two and a half. And as everyone else, we had the kids in a Chariot Cougar XL. It sure wasn’t vacation, but a journey indeed…

    • Bree Smith
      3rd May 2011 at 2:48 am #

      Is this Martin who was an exchange student in Mississippi in 1998? If so, please email me at [email protected].

      • Martin
        22nd May 2011 at 7:28 am #

        Yes, it’s the Martin who was exchange student at Riverside High School. I’ve written you, but gotten no reply. Maybe my mail was caught in the spam filter?

    • Danny
      24th June 2015 at 9:07 pm #

      Martin,

      My wife and I plan on setting out on a journey–as you call it–next summer. We’ve cycled a lot with our first, starting at about 4 months as well, but sadly, no touring. However, we did take her backpacking–so we have experienced the pleasures of camping with an infant. We’ll have another (child, that is) before setting off for the extended tour we have planned for next summer, who will be approximately 4 months old when we start.

      We’re wondering if you’d be willing to let us field you some questions as we prepare for next summer. Please send us an email if you wouldn’t mind us asking some questions. Thanks!

      -Danny
      dcardoza [at] byu [dot] edu

      • andrew.grant
        28th June 2015 at 7:36 am #

        Hi Martin, never mind answering questions time permitting, but we now have a newborn and a 3-year old so we’re woefully behind on emails. Still, fire away…

  6. DD
    11th March 2012 at 7:17 pm #

    Thanks for putting this content together! We have a 8 months old and are also considering starting to do some more serious cycling with him. It is very encouraging to read stories about other parents and their experiences. Very helpful tips!

  7. Rhonda
    9th February 2014 at 11:34 pm #

    we are considering a trip to England, but none of the bike shops in the district rent chariots… How did those of you doing international trips pack your chariot? Just a big box? Thanks!

    • friedel
      10th February 2014 at 7:10 am #

      On most trips we didn’t pack it – we took it as a ‘stroller’ and walked it to the gate. Other times we did have to check it (it was too big to gate check) but then we just folded it up and strapped it together with a compression strap.

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