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Disclaimer: what we tour with is atypical, even laughable. In order to accommodate three children and a dog on essentially two bikes requires some creativity. This is the caravan we came up with for this ride.
Bikes: Surly Big Dummy and Surly Ogre
Our touring rigs are what we assembled by equipping the tough Surly bikes we already owned. Fortunately, Surly builds their bikes to be ready for just about anything, so have been putting them to the test- and they have been up to the challenge. A lot of families are touring on tandems, triplets or even longer bikes. We have considered a hand built tandem like this one, but we’ll see what the future brings as our children grow bigger and stronger.
We’re pretty big into Surly bikes. Almost all our bikes are made by Surly. Surly represents an attitude about biking that we can relate with- practical, versatile, tough. We do not ride the lightest rigs out there, but we’re almost always traveling with a load and very often it is precious cargo. If life is a race, consider us the ‘brew crew’ that brings up the rear, enjoys making new friends, has a great time and finishes whenever the hell we like.
When we’re not on the open road we’re often rolling on Surly Big Dummys around town. We also have a Fatback fat-tired bike, but we’re hoping to swap it out and eventually get ‘his and hers’ Surly Moonlanders…. they are the ultimate fat bike, with clearance for monstrous 4.8 inch tires that float over sand, snow and round rocks with ease. What can you do on a fatbike with your family? Read about that here.
If you’re into utility or year-round cycling, a touring bike, a cargo bike and even a fat bike can be great choices- they are versatile, built strong and not ‘performancy’ and restricted to one particular task in the cycling world. If you’ve got a dual suspension downhill super bike, or an all carbon triathlon bike, ride it! A bike is a bike, and they are capable of much more than you’d think.
Components- the parts that make dependable bikes:
We’ll have more on this subject soon. Stay tuned!
Trailer Bike: Burley Piccolo
Eva and Clara take turns helping Mama pedal on the Piccolo. They can be surprisingly helpful when they are putting some effort into it. Fastening the Piccolo to an Xtracycle takes some DIY ingenuity, but more on that in a future blog post.
Multi-Purpose Trailer: Surly Bill
Mark built up the Conestoga wagon on a flatbed trailer by Surly. Surly makes two flatbed trailers, this is the longer of the two: The Bill. Hayduke and “The Blue Bin” ride in the trailer most of the time. When climbing a pass, Hayduke gets the boot to trot on foot, and one of our girls gets in to lessen Erica’s load. Although giant and heavy, this trailer is invaluable. A mobile playpen, a storm shelter, a bike tow truck, you name it. If we ever settle down someplace, this trailer will be essential to a car free or car light existence.
Chariot Carriers- a versatile, high end child trailer that will get the job done.
We have owned Chariot trailers since 2005 and they have been well-worth their salt. Our pick is the Cougar- they can be equipped to stroll, bike or even nordic ski. Our kids love the protection and comfort of Chariots, no matter the activity. Chariot was recently acquired and rebranded as Thule Chariot. We hope Thule maintains the quality we’ve come to know with Chariot. It may be time to reconsider Burley.
Back seat riders: Let them get out and see stuff and enjoy some fresh air.
Shortly after we got into biking around with our families we discovered Bobike seats. They are a Dutch company that has been developing child mounted seats, both on the front and rear of an adult bicycle. With some tinkering you can typically mount them in conjunction with a rear cargo rack and bags, so you can do a grocery run or a day ride with your little person perched above it all.
Bags: Ortlieb, UpSki, Sealine & Oveja Negra frame bags offer waterresistant protection that is durable and relatively light. Check out TFR’s review of UpSki ExtraHuge bags here.
Tride and true. Ortlieb panniers are a touring industry standard. Ours are durable, and remained waterproof after many years of use.
Sealine Wide Mouth Duffle bags are rafting bags by trade but fit Xtracycles well and are durable and can be rolled down to smaller sizes when not in use.
Frame bags are a terrific and waterproof way to store stuff- large and small close to the core of your bike, minimizing shifting weight and bulk.
Tents, Bedding and Pillows
There are a lot of great shelter products out there these days, and with a reasonable investment you can find yourself in a light, water-tight, breathable tent with head room, space for gear storage and built with durability in mind. We’ve had luck over the years with brands like MSR, The North Face, Big Agnes and Kelty.
Big Agnes Copper Spur UL4. Erica takes a break at Lizard Creek Campground in Teton National Park.
The girls have The North Face kid’s bags that have held up very well over the years and keep them plenty warm. Erica and Mark share a Big Agnes King Solomon with Emmett, the toddler: a 2 person down bag with many handy features to keep you warm or cool depending on the temperature. We pack a few little REI pack pillows with us to add some comfort.
An inviting little bedroom when you’ve had a long day on the road. We try to minimize our waking ours in the tent until bedtime, unless weather or other circumstances compel us to take shelter.
Rocking the modern day Sacajawea
One piece of essential equipment when traveling with little ones is a good, sturdy child carrier. We look for comfort, ease of operation and durability with our carriers. Over the years, we’ve had great luck with both Boba and Beco carriers. On tour, we started out using our Boba 3G organic cotton carrier, and eventually swapped it out for Boba’s lighter, more space-conscious carrier, the Boba ‘Air‘.
The Boba Air is much more compact than other soft carriers. The entire carrier can be stuffed into its back pocket.