It’s time to hit the road. But what if you have kids and you cannot wait to share the experience with your family? I have kids myself and even before that I’ve put quite a few people on a bike. So, let me share a few dos and don’ts because what you really don’t want is to give your kids a stressful experience that will deter them from coming with you ever again.
Choose the right bicycle setting
Bikepacking with kids has many aspects because they come in different sizes and ages.
If your kids are very young, you will want to use a trailer. Using a trailer will not allow you to mount a saddlebag. I partially solve that by attaching a large frame bag to the trailer as shown in the picture below.
If your kids are already cycling but they are still riding small bikes, there are a few very cool options. This is where I am now with my older kid who is four. For longer trips, I have a tag-along bike so my kid can pedal when he wants to but is always attached to the back of my bicycle so we can cover some decent distance. If we are going for shorter trips, I like to let him use his 16” bike and when he is tired, I just attach him to my bike with a tow bar. I personally use one called Trail Gator and it works with kid bikes ranging from 12” to 20”.
If your kids are already older, they can join you on their own 24” bike and you can start to put bikepacking bags on their frame too.
Start with short routes
It is very important to not to overdo the mileage. Always start with distances the kid can handle well and let him/her ask for more. Choose flat routes if possible and if you have the option, some that are well connected by trains so you can skip parts or shorten the trip if needed. Plus kids love to ride on trains! Every country has some perfect family routes. If I think about Italy, Val d’Adige and Alpe Adria immediately come to my mind. In Austria, I rode the Danube route with my family and I especially loved the section that goes through the Wachau valley. In Czechia, the Elbe Trail from Prague to Dresden and Czechia Around Loops are great. In Germany, the Rheine Cycle Route has some easy and very family-friendly stages. In France, I loved the Castles of the Loire route.
Make the ride full of surprises!
Kids love to play and their concentration span is very short. This also applies to cycling. So, it is very important that you fill their bikepacking days with a lot of extra activities. You need to stop often and let them do something else than biking. Beaten paths are full of attractive things like playgrounds, ice cream shops or sights. When riding off the beaten path and when there is not much else to do in terms of extra activities, we have been lately enjoying geocaching. Also, enjoy the elements with them as much as you can. Put your feet in a stream, swim where you can, pick apples on the way, light a fire and cook with it. Every time you start riding, you need to immediately set the goal for the next stop so the kids stay super motivated.
Don’t let them go hungry!
Make sure you keep feeding your kids. During my first bikepacking experiences with them, I just assumed that they would ask for food when they were hungry. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that, especially with younger kids. They just get grumpy not knowing why and soon enough, you get super frustrated. So, make sure you hand them food frequently. My rule is that at each stop (which is quite often as mentioned before), I give them water and something to munch on.
Don’t overload their bike
Bikepacking with kids will not only train your patience but also your legs! It is important to make them carry something so they feel a little adult but you cannot load their bike too much or your ride will not last long as you will need to carry their extra weight sooner or later. And what should they carry? Of course, it depends a lot on the size of their bike. For younger kids, just anything will work. For older kids, I think a good compromise is to let them carry their clothing. I would give them a small frame bag or a very small handlebar bag. Also, remind them often that the bike behaves differently when loaded. Be especially careful to slow down when going downhill so they won’t get a speed wobble.
Respect their natural rhythm
Kids are creatures of habit and you need to remember that also when bikepacking. In particular, I am talking about sleeping. Try to keep the same regular schedule you have at home so they will always be fresh and in a good mood. It is OK to break it for one day but if it becomes frequent, it can compromise your adventure. One of my kids doesn’t care about naps but the other really needs it. Once we skipped it for two days in a row and believe me – the price was far too high.
Find out how they like to sleep outdoors before it is too late
For Christmas, we got my older son a beautiful sleeping bag. It is specifically designed for kids so you can adjust the size of it. He loved it and was very excited about it. Unfortunately, on our first trip, we found out he cannot stand being inside a sleeping bag as he moves a lot while sleeping. So, it ended up with him sleeping in mine and me freezing. So, don’t be like me and experiment with camping in your garden or somewhere close to home before you hit the road. In the end, I found out that the best way for him is a pair of heavy merino pyjamas and a small duvet.
Colourful plasters work miracles!
Kids fall from bikes. Some less than others but it is a divine rule. You cannot escape it. Just accept it and be ready. Have some colourful kids’ plasters ready as they will switch their attention from the pain. Later on, the scrapes will be worn as war scars to be proud of.
I hope you have found these tips useful. Enjoy your next adventure with your family. Build some amazing memories. Forge the cyclists of the future!