Family Travel by Bicycle

Family Travel by Bicycle

Posted on June 23, 2017   •   Written by

Most adults can’t quite remember the day they learned how to ride a bike. But if they have kids who are solid on two wheels, they certainly recall the glee of the first moment when each little one’s balance kicked in. That glee was anchored in a sense of accomplishment, of course, but also of movement, speed… and independence.

A family of cyclists on the Virginia Capital Trail

The Virginia Capital Trail is a multi-use paved trail in Virginia connecting Jamestown and Williamsburg to Richmond along Scenic Route 5. Photo courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

For a great many people, cycling retains its magic even as the years pass. It continues to be liberating for adults too — a plunge into motion, self-reliance and sometimes exploration, perhaps even down memory lane.

“There is something nostalgic about being on a bike. It takes us back to simpler times,” says Rafa Mayer, Founder and CEO of Say Hueque, which specializes in customized tours for independent travelers in Argentina and Chile.

As a lifelong fan of bicycle touring who has pedaled many more miles than he has driven (in more than 40 countries), including as a bicycle tour operator/guide and bike expedition leader, I wholeheartedly agree.

So do growing numbers of families who take off each year on some multigenerational trip by bike, aided by tourism professionals who have turned their own freewheeling passions into businesses that serve those families.

Good for the Whole Clan
“Traveling by bicycle is an excellent way for families to slow down and connect with one another,” advises Charles R. Scott, aka the Family Adventure Guy. As a father who has pedaled over 7,000 miles with his young children across Japan, Iceland, Europe and the U.S., Scott speaks (and writes, including two books) with confidence about this and other virtues of the experience.

Charles Scott and his two children on their cycling adventure in Iceland.

Charles Scott and his two children on their cycling adventure in Iceland. Photo courtesy of Charles Scott

For example, another family cycling benefit is “the sense of shared accomplishment that comes with many active vacations,” emphasizes Jim Johnson, President of BikeTours.com, which offers more than 200 cycling tours across Europe with opportunities galore for families. That accomplishment is something families can revel in whether they conquer a long climb together or roll in as a group after a long day in the saddle.

An interesting counterpoint to the exertion is the “meditative aspect to traveling by bicycle that doesn’t emerge on other journeys,” comments Gina Vercesi, Founder of Kids Unplugged, a blog featuring off-the-grid family travel adventures.

Whatever the specific desired or acquired outcomes might be, bike trips are definitely “a particularly good entry point for families trying out a fitness vacation,” shares Liz Schnabolk, Senior Editor of FamilyFun Magazine, a guide to creating the experiences parents and kids will remember forever. “The two-wheelers are already familiar to your kiddos.”

Perfect for Balance and Flexibilty
Cycling certainly improves one’s physical balance and flexibility, but there’s much more to it than that. Cycling holidays in and of themselves are about the holiday sweet spot that so many families crave.

“Cycling vacations for families are wonderful because they offer such flexibility,” offered a spokesperson of I Love NY (New York State Division of Tourism). “You can travel at your own speed, or the speed of children at different ages. You can stop when you wish and for as long as you wish.”

Just as important is the degree to which one can balance “riding time with city exploration, history, or outdoor activities,” adds Amy Whitley, Founder of Pit Stops for Kids, a family travel blog. In other words, time off the bike should be as valuable as time on it.

Family travel by bicycle: Kids on a bike in a vineyard

Family travel by bicycle on the Danube. Photo courtesy of the Austrian National Tourist Office/Mooslechner via BikeTours.com

Of course, “It’s not just about the sights you see but also about the many kind and interesting people you meet along the way,” reminds Johnson, placing human interactions at the heart of family cycling holidays. “Chance encounters just aren’t possible when you travel by faster means.”

And lest anyone forget, those human interactions are as meaningful with family (and perhaps friends) in the travel group as people met on the road. “Family biking trip itineraries [should] balance quality time together and apart,” suggests Liz Einbinder, Public Relations Consultant for Backroads, the world’s #1 active travel company.

All Good Things in Moderation
Like any family vacation, however, taking into account everyone’s limitations and desires is essential to a journey’s success, perhaps especially so on an active, fitness-focused holiday.

Moderation is the operative word. “Don’t try and tackle too much, and enjoy the ride,” urges Dan Austin, President of Austin Adventures, a global tour operator.

Needless to say, location has a lot to do with it. It’s vital to “find a relaxing and safe location for a biking vacation,” says Katlyn Richter of the Department of Tourism in South Dakota. “Find a trail that is appropriate for all ages. Be sure to locate routes that are on dedicated biking or recreation trails in order to avoid roads and traffic.”

And, as mentioned earlier, attention should be given to “locations that offer exciting and family-friendly activities in addition to excellent bike trails,” prompts Anna O’Donnell, Public Relations & Earned Media Specialist at the Montana Office of Tourism.

Family travel by bicycle with Backroads in the Loire Valley of France

Family travel by bicycle with Backroads in the Loire Valley of France includes fairy-tale castles, chateaus and beautiful countryside. Photo courtesy of Backroads

Independent or Organized?
There is no one right way for a family to take on family travel by bicycle. Managing it independently will suit some families, while putting the organization in the hands of experienced professionals will be appropriate for others.

On the one had, for the self-sufficient, it is critically important to “know yourself and do research,” counsels Scott, The Family Adventure Guy. Biting off more than you can chew — or biking off more than you can shoe — can lead to major family friction if spouses or kids are not up what’s been organized. Underestimating family members should also be a concern.

On the other hand, for anyone who is not experienced adventure cyclist, an organized ride may be best; the route is chosen, a guide leads the way, food is prepared and a van carries gear. There is still work to be done in advance of entrusting one’s precious vacation to a tour operator. “Make sure you have reviewed and understand the particular tour you’re signing the family up for,” suggests Mayer of Say Hueque. After all, not all tour operators are created equal and one family’s specific desires can’t be met equally by all service providers!

No matter what avenue is best, “Bicycle tours are a great way for parents to change their kids’ lives through travel: by helping them gain an appreciation for foreign lands, cultures and peoples,” concludes Johnson of BikeTours.com. “We like to think of it as a long-term way of bringing peace across the planet — one revolution at a time. Wheel revolution, that is.”


In Their Own Words

The 11 experts who shared their thoughts have all been introduced above, but what follows below is more of what they had to say about family travel by bicycle.

WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES CYCLING VACATIONS SPECIAL FOR FAMILIES?

You Get Up Close and Personal with New Places

Cycling is a great way to see a region or city up close and personal, with an entirely different perspective.
— Amy Whitley of Pit Stops for Kids

Walkway (and bikeway) over the Hudson State Historical Park

In the Hudson Valley Region this walkway (and bikeway) passes over the Hudson State Historical Park. Photo courtesy of I Love NY

Everyone can get a whole new appreciation for a destination’s culture when they explore it on a bike.
— Liz Schnabolk of FamilyFun Magazine

It is easy to explore attractions along the way – a museum, carousel, a walking trail, or pick apples, get lost in a corn maze or an appealing shop.
— A spokesperson for I Love NY (New York State Division of Tourism)

If parents are trying to expose their kids to the world, cycle tours give them a feel for a country, its terrain and its people more so than most other means. You see vineyards stretching across the rolling hills of Provence, smell the fresh-cut hay in an alpine pasture, hear the bleating of sheep you startled as you rode by, and, perhaps most important, taste a well-earned pastry at a local patisserie. Bicycle touring is also the perfect pace to meet local people. And the more kids get to meet people from around the world, the more accepting they become of different cultures.
— Jim Johnson of BikeTours.com

It’s just a great way to see so much more when visiting any area or region of the world. You can drive through a small village in Europe or you can cycle through it. Or should I say cycle in it. You are much closer to the real day-to-day.
— Dan Austin of Austin Adventures

It’s easy to pull over when you spot interesting animals and plants. This triggers children’s natural curiosity and leads to fun, educational conversations and often some memorable photographs.
— Charles R. Scott, The Family Adventure Guy

Montana is home to a number of interesting cities and charming small towns, so the fun doesn’t stop on the trail.
— Anna O’Donnell of the Montana Office of Tourism

You Connect Better with Nature

I think any time families spend together, being active outdoors, is special.
— Rafa Mayer of Say Hueque

Cycling in Torres del Paine, Chile

Cycling in Torres del Paine, Chile. Photo courtesy of Say Hueque

A cycling vacation is special for families because it gives them the opportunity to spend time together while being active, exploring the outdoors, connecting with each other and nature
— Katlyn Richter of the South Dakota Department of Tourism

You feel closer to the natural world, as your senses come alive with the varying sounds and smells you’d miss if you were tucked inside the capsule of a car.
— Charles R. Scott, The Family Adventure Guy

You can drive along the roads with thousands of your closest friends or you can cycle along trails closer and more connected.
— Dan Austin of Austin Adventures

Mountain biking on single track trail can be a great way to get into the wilderness easily on a trip.
— Amy Whitley of Pit Stops for Kids

For parents trying to raise kids who are environmentally aware, bicycle tours are a form of sustainable tourism that has negligible impact on the environment. By booking clients on tours operated by small, local companies, we help ensure that most of the tour cost stays local rather than in the hands of big-budget North American operators.
— Jim Johnson of BikeTours.com

Everyone (Adults and Kids) Learns More About One Another

Children gain confidence, improve their physical conditioning, and feel like explorers out on an expedition of discovery.
— Charles R. Scott, The Family Adventure Guy

Family travel by bicycle in France

Family travel by bicycle in France. Photo courtesy of Kids Unplugged

There’s a meditative aspect to traveling by bicycle that doesn’t emerge on other journeys and a multi-day family cycling adventure allows everyone to find his or her groove both individually and as a part of the larger group. Parents pedal with kids, kids pedal with siblings. And at some point, everyone has the chance to pedal alone for a while, lost in thought, at one with the bike and the outdoors.
— Gina Vercesi of Kids Unplugged

Family biking trip itineraries balance quality time together and apart, with opportunities for everyone to take a break and recharge, which is something that’s virtually impossible to achieve when vacationing on your own.
— Liz Einbinder of Backroads

Setting a good example of healthy lifestyles and positive choices is a great way to show that vacation is an extension of your overall health and wellbeing.
— Katlyn Richter of the South Dakota Department of Tourism

It’s also important that the destination has fun things to do off the trail for when little legs get tired!
— Liz Schnabolk, Senior Editor, FamilyFun Magazine

You Learn More About Being a Family (Without Other Distractions)

Trips are fun, adventurous, can captivate everyone in the family and most importantly give parents a chance to connect with their kids.
— Liz Einbinder of Backroads

The whole thing feels like an adventure, slowing down time and offering a set of memories children will carry with them into adulthood.
— Charles R. Scott, The Family Adventure Guy

Fitness-centered vacations give kids and parents little victories and big kicks that will cement family memories for years to come.
— Liz Schnabolk of FamilyFun Magazine

It’s a deep and often intense and intimate shared experience, as all your senses are exposed. There’s also the sense of shared accomplishment that comes with many active vacations — making it to the top of long climb, reaching your next overnight location, and, after days or riding, reaching your ultimate destination.
— Jim Johnson of BikeTours.com

It requires families to focus solely on the task at hand, so unlike road trips in cars, there’s very little in the way of distractions such as screen time.
— Amy Whitley of Pit Stops for Kids

Enjoying the South Dakota sunshine on the Mickelson Trail

Enjoying the South Dakota sunshine on the Mickelson Trail. Photo courtesy of the South Dakota Department of Tourism

It gets everyone away from the business of life to enjoy the moments spent together.
— Katlyn Richter of the South Dakota Department of Tourism

Minus the distractions of screens and the pressures of daily life, families can truly slow down and connect with one another during their time on the trail in ways that might not happen on a more traditional family vacation.
— Gina Vercesi of Kids Unplugged

Cycling combines heart-racing adventure and scenic views. Ranging from beginner-friendly trails to more challenging treks, cycling trips offer something for the entire family.
— Anna O’Donnell of the Montana Office of Tourism

SHOULD YOU GO INDEPENDENTLY OR WITH A TOUR OPERATOR?

Considerations When Going Solo

Know yourself and do research. I love physical challenges and being in charge of my itinerary. So I’ve taken my kids on “unsupported” rides in which I am responsible for every aspect of the trip: deciding the route, carrying all our gear in bike bags, figuring out where to sleep (I bring a tent but stay in a hotel when we feel like it) etc. That approach requires a lot of research.
— Charles R. Scott, The Family Adventure Guy

Save the century rides for Olympic training days; focus on riding less, but enjoying more. Make sure you have the right bike for the conditions and the participants. ‘A bike is a bike’ doesn’t work. Fit is key. Plan a layover day or two to get off the bikes. And of course think through how you are going to handle luggage transfers and other details past riding.
— Dan Austin of Austin Adventures

Find a trail that is appropriate for all ages. Be sure to locate routes that are on dedicated biking or recreation trails in order to avoid roads and traffic.
— Katlyn Richter of the South Dakota Department of Tourism

You’ll want to look for places that offer mostly flat trails for beginners, but that also have options for shorter rides and longer loops so you can scale your activity up and down based on what your crew is game for that day.
— Liz Schnabolk of FamilyFun Magazine

Family travel by bicycle on the Sagres BMX Pump Track in Portugal

On the Sagres BMX Pump Track in Portugal. Photo courtesy of Martinhal Family Hotels & Resorts

Choose a road grade commensurate with the family’s bicycling experience and capability, safe roads with space for bicycles or a designated bicycling path, towns or attractions along the way, family hotels (often with pools) along the route.
— A spokesperson of I Love NY (New York State Division of Tourism)

We love rail trails and urban bike trails for this purpose, and have added cycling to trips to New York City, Boston, PEI, San Juan Island, Black Hills, and more.
— Amy Whitley of Pit Stops for Kids

Prior to biking, make sure to check trail availability, particularly when visiting Glacier and Yellowstone National Park. When biking, remember to always be aware, not approach wildlife, and to carry bear spray.
— Anna O’Donnell of the Montana Office of Tourism

Things to Think About on an Organized Tour

Read the 7 Top Questions to Ask Yourself When Deciding on a Family Bike Tour by Jim Johnson of BikeTours.com.

Pick an experienced cycling tour operator who designs the itinerary and has a vehicle to transport luggage.
— A spokesperson of I Love NY (New York State Division of Tourism)

Generally speaking, make sure you have reviewed and understand the particular tour you’re signing the family up for, such as difficulty level and duration. You’ll want to plan accordingly, based on your family members’ ages and skill levels. We also recommend checking reviews on sites like TripAdvisor to get honest feedback from previous customers.
— Rafa Mayer of Say Hueque

Specifically, talk to the bike company personally before booking to ask about levels of riding experience and what is required in terms of children’s ages and ability levels. Also find out how many hours per day the cycling vacation requires families to be on bikes, versus planned stops en route, and determine how much or little support the company gives each day: do they trail you in a van for assistance if a child gets tired of riding and navigational help, or do they meet you at each evening’s destination? It’s also important to find out information about fellow riders in any cycling group (who you may not know). We like to ask when booking about the experience level of others in the group, because it’s always good to be in a group of similarly experienced riders. You don’t want to slow down a group who is keen to go swiftly, nor do you want to be held back. Good cycling companies will ask these questions for you, but travelers shouldn’t count on it; be your own advocate.
— Amy Whitley of Pit Stops for Kids

Pedaling along the Mickelson Trail in South Dakota

Pedaling along the Mickelson Trail in South Dakota. Photo courtesy of Pit Stop for Kids

Look for a bike trip with flexibility. Make sure that the companies have multiple vans, leaders, route options (for those who might want longer or shorter riding). At Backroads, we do everything ourselves instead of using subcontractors. This enables consistent, high-quality trip offerings no matter what part of the world the trip is being run in. Backroads is also up front about everything before the trip begins. We work with our guests to put them on the trip that is right for their family – are they staying in the type of lodging that they want (casual, premiere, camping), are the other families and kids on their trips of similar ages? We run a trip segment called Family Breakaway that is designed for older teen and young twenty-something aged kids and their parents. Also ask about what kind of bikes you will use and how they are maintained. Find out what the ratio of trip leaders to guests is — more leaders means that there are more options and that all families don’t have to do everything together. All of these questions are important to know when researching a family bike trip.
— Liz Einbinder of Backroads

Not Sure You’re Up to Either?

I’d add that for families not sure about a complete biking holiday, it is easy to add a day of biking to almost any family trip to get that perspective and see the destination in a new way.
— Amy Whitley of Pit Stops for Kids

General Issues to Review in All Cases

The ages of the kids affect how you should travel by bike. If a child is under 5, I recommend putting him/her in a bike trailer with a seatbelt. Ages 5-10 can ride a trailer cycle connected to the adult’s bike. Starting around age 11, a child can probably handle cycling for many days in a row on his or her own bike. The key is to go at an easy pace, take plenty of breaks, and keep the fluids and calories coming throughout the ride. At age 11, my son cycled for two months across Germany, Switzerland, France and England. A kid can do a whole lot more than most adults think. But it is up to each parent to use good judgment about what is appropriate for the child.
— Charles R. Scott, The Family Adventure Guy

If you are bringing your own bicycles, take a test ride before you begin your trip. This will give you time to discover any problems with your bicycles and correct them. Be sure to pack repair supplies as well so a flat tire doesn’t interrupt your vacation.
— Katlyn Richter of the South Dakota Department of Tourism

I would suggest a simple pre-trip training program. Not training for a marathon, just making sure everyone has time in the “saddle” as a way to get ready to spend more time on the bikes. Everyone should be up to the challenges.
— Dan Austin of Austin Adventures

It’s not a bad idea to do a few training rides prior to your trip. Practice getting a feel for your bike with any extra gear (panniers, kid trailers, baby seats, etc.), on a few shorter outings before you hit the road. Get the kids’ bike legs in shape by taking a few progressively longer rides to get them acclimated to being in the saddle for longer stretches of time.
— Gina Vercesi of Kids Unplugged


Read More!

Austin AdventuresAustin Adventures
* Family Biking
* Travel Planning Resources

Visit here for more about Austin Adventures. Read Dan Austin’s favorite places for family travel by bicycle.

 

BackroadsBackroads
* Biking Tours
* Family Tours
* The Most Fun for Families

Visit here for more about Backroads. Read some favorite Backroads places for family travel by bicycle.

 

BikeTours.comBikeTours.com
* Bike Tours for Families
* Tips on Bike Touring with Your Family
* Free Guide: How to Choose the Bike Tour of Your Dreams

Visit here for more about BikeTours.com. Read some favorite BikeTours.com places for family travel by bicycle.

 

FamilyFun MagazineFamilyFun Magazine
* Vacation Spots for Outdoorsy Families

Visit here for more about FamilyFun Magazine. Read some favorite FamilyFun places for family travel by bicycle.

 

 

Kids Unplugged
* Québec’s P’tit Train du Nord – The Perfect Family Bike Trip
* Biking the P’tit Train du Nord Trail (via the Sierra Club)

Visit here for more from Gina Vercesi at Kids Unplugged. Read Gina’s favorite places for family travel by bicycle.

 

MontanaMontana
* Bicycling in Montana
* Bike Routes (Half-Day and Day Rides)
* A Ride for Every Season

Visit here for more about Montana. Read some favorite places in Montana for family travel by bicycle.

 

I Love New YorkI Love NY
* Hiking & Biking in New York State: Fact Sheet
* 12 Amazing Bike Trails for Every Level of Cyclist
* Family Travel in New York State

Visit here for more about New York State. Read some favorite places in New York State for family travel by bicycle.

 

Pit Stops for KidsPit Stops for Kids
* Black Hills (South Dakota) Mountain Biking for Families
* Summer at Park City Mountain Resort (Utah): Mountain Biking Trails
* Family Mountain Biking Tips and Gear

Visit here for more from Amy Whitley at Pit Stops for Kids. Read Amy’s favorite places for family travel by bicycle.

 

Say HuequeSay Hueque
* Mendoza Bike Tours
* 7 Reasons to Bike in Buenos Aires
* Beyond Hiking – Alternative Torres del Paine Day Tours

Visit here for more about Say Hueque. Read some favorite Say Hueque places for family travel by bicycle.

 

South DakotaSouth Dakota Department of Tourism
* Biking in South Dakota
* Featured Family Fun Listings
* Rabbit Bicycles and Black Hills Shuttle

Visit here for more about South Dakota. Read some favorite places in South Dakota for family travel by bicycle.

 

Rising Son by CHarles ScottThe Family Adventure Guy
* Urban Cycling with Kids: Gift or Gamble?
* New York City to Niagara Falls by Bicycle … with Kids
* Rising Son: A Father and Son’s Bike Adventure across Japan

Visit here for more from Charles R. Scott at The Family Adventure Guy. Read Charles’ favorite places for family travel by bicycle.

 

Walking on TravelsWalking On Travels
* Hop on a Versailles Bike Tour to Receive the Royal Treatment in France
* Tips for Exploring the Palace of Versailles with Kids in France
* Would You Bike 20 Miles for a Cookie?

Visit here for more from Keryn Means at Walking on Travels.

 

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