The Family Ride on Tour. TFR wants to inspire family bicycle travel, so what better way to spread the word than taking a bicycle tour? In 2013, our family rode over 2,000 miles through the Rocky Mountain West starting in Durango, Colorado and wrapping up in Missoula, Montana. Folks were often curious about the following:
Family Touring Frequently Asked Questions
Do your kids like it? That’s a tough question, sometimes yes, sometimes no, but we think it’s shaping them in a positive way. Just like home, you have good days and not-so-good days. But unlike home, they are ‘unplugged’, constantly outdoors, have unstructured free time, and are forced to be imaginative at play. Natural lessons and consequences make parenting much easier. We have to work hard on the bikes to reap the rewards of play at camp or a sweet treat. We have to work together as a team, and our kids are learning to be more responsible. My 7-year old is a mother-in-training and extremely helpful with my 2-year old Emmett. Clara assists with chores, fetches water, washes dishes and tries to help Mark with bicycle repairs. Both girls are becoming more social, as they meet new people daily and have to seek out other children for companionship. People have been wonderful to us, so our children have learned that ‘strangers’ are generous, friendly and kind. This topic deserves many future blog posts.
How many miles do you travel each day? We typically travel between 20 and 40 miles per ‘riding day’. In Colorado, our averages were even lower and we took a lot of rest days. Long distances between services in Wyoming national parks challenged us to ride further and rest less. Our longest day so far is 90 miles. For our kids sanity, we target 4-5 hours of riding over the course of an average day, but sometimes circumstances require long days in the saddle. We’ve learned to be flexible with our expectations when riding with kids. It’s those days when we don’t make it to where we planned that are often the most memorable. We write about this here and here.
Where do you sleep? We camp, stay with friends and family, or wonderful people we meet along the way. Sometimes we use Warm Showers: a website connecting touring cyclists with hosts. In reality, most days you wake up not knowing where you will spend the following night. This can be stressful at first. On our first night of this tour, we stressed about setting up a tent near a “no camping” sign. We felt the need to be stealthy, and packed up at first light in the morning. By the second night, in a similar situation, we were at ease. No one was around, and we cleaned up after the other slobs who had littered there before. By a few weeks in, it’s nothing to go door-to-door asking for a yard to camp in. When campgrounds are full, we ask to share a site. Something always works out, but you do have to gather your dander and ask.
What do you eat? As much as possible. Between grocery/convenience stores, restaurants, farmers markets and freeze-dried meals, we get the calories we need, but it does require some creativity. We write more about food in this post.
What are you riding? Are those bikes custom? Erica has a Surly Big Dummy cargo bike with a Burley Piccolo trailer bike attached (see this post for more on the attachment). She can carry up to three kids using this configuration. On the deck of the cargo bike rides Emmett, who’s two, and sometimes one of the girls. They have a safety straps and a handlebar rigged to the seat post. The older girls take turns riding the trailer bike. Mark rides a Surly Ogre with a Surly Bill trailer attached to it. It’s a flat bed, and he turned it into a wagon. That’s where the dog rides 90% of the time, when he’s not trotting alongside. The girls love to be in the trailer too, so we ‘reward’ them with a rest in the trailer after they’ve pedaled hard on the trailer bike. The key to making miles with children is to have multiple options. We sometimes need to switch as often as each turnout along the road. We would like to have two Xtracycles but we are waiting for a way to pull the Surly Trailer behind an Xtracycle bike. Check out our gear page for more details on the bikes.
How much do your bikes weigh? A lot. Including our own weight, we’re definitely in the 400-pound range. Mark tips the scales with the trailer, dog, and the majority of the heaviest gear, tools and food. Erica carries ‘personnel’, clothes and sleeping bags. She has two panniers and two dry bags in the Xtracycle. Ultra light is impossible for us, after all, we are carrying an 80-lb dog, 120 lbs of progeny, their gear, food and toys. More on what each of us carries in a future blog post.
And then there’s Hayduke. He’s a big dog! At 80 lbs, yes he is, but he’s lost 10 lbs since we started this tour! On our first family tour in 2010, we left Hayduke with Erica’s brother, but this made it difficult to keep riding. The tour couldn’t be open-ended. We also felt bad about leaving the dog behind. For this trip, we wanted to be self-contained. He’s part of the family, and we are going slowly anyway. When we’re going up a steep climb, he gets out and walks or runs next to the trailer. More on the pros and cons of traveling with a dog in this post.
How do you afford it? We are a pretty average American family, and money is as much of a concern for us as it is to most people we know. Currently we are traveling on a small amount of savings that we hope to make last through the end of this summer. We are finding that you can spend surprisingly little on the road if you camp a lot and budget grocery costs carefully. We opted to rent our house in Durango and put the bulk of our stuff in storage. This arrangement costs us a couple hundred dollars each month, and it was our best solution to get us riding relatively quickly. We only had a couple of months to plan. To pay closer attention to our purchasing habits, we’ve learned to avoid the credit card and start using cash. For some reason it is harder to part with dollar bills than it is to swipe the card and as a result we find ourselves behaving more conservatively with cash purchases. After a few weeks on the road, the concept of an open-ended ride seemed more possible, and we are currently discussing how to handle our remaining stuff and how to earn enough to sustain us on the road. It will be a challenge, but the only way to morph touring into a lifestyle.
Do you worry about riding in traffic? Ideally, we’d be able to travel on bike paths, facilitated or low-traffic back roads, but that’s not always possible. Taking a course like the League’s Ride Smart is absolutely invaluable. Mark and I have both taught courses in safe cycling for the City of Fort Collins. Most of the time, we stay out of the way of cars and on the shoulder, but there are circumstances when it’s necessary to take the lane and ride with traffic. In terms of high traffic and lack of facilitation, the most dangerous section of road we have encountered thus far was in Yellowstone National Park. When Mark shouts, “Get right, it’s gonna be tight!” we simply ‘mountain bike’ our rigs into the soft shoulder or down into the ditch to make as much room for passing traffic as possible.
What do you recommend for people who want to try bike touring with kids? Start small. Ride from your home to a nearby destination and camp overnight. Talk to the friendly folks in your local bike shop for suggestions on routes that are facilitated or low-traffic. Ride with friends who have kids that want to try family bike touring too. If you’re still not feeling all that comfortable with biking it but want to try, ask a friend or relative to check up on your periodically with an automobile. They can carry gear, shuttle kids (or tired adults) and offer you security or shelter from weather. It’s a supplement- and you’re awesome for being on your bike and trying! Campgrounds are a great place to meet new friends, but some of our best miles were those pedaled with a family of companions–more on that in a future blog post.