Family Bike Trip – First Time

By Andy Schmidt

I saw a grassy opening in the forest off the side of the road up ahead, with a stream and a pebble beach. I was about to suggest we stop for lunch, but my wife beat me to it. “I’ve got a flat,” Lucy announced from a few bike lengths back.


Making a stop along the Oregon Coastline for a family photo moment

We were in the middle of an eight-day bike camping trip on the Oregon coast. Lucy was on her city bike, and I was biking with the two kids, ages 5 and 6, on a tandem with a trail-a-bike attached. By this time, the kids had perfected their self-eject technique: They didn’t wait for me to stop before they jumped off their seats to explore. Lucy and I rolled to a stop.

We couldn’t have planned a better place for a midday break. The flat tire could wait. It was lunch in paradise.

My family and I had been on several short bike camping trips over the last few years, short jaunts close to our home in Portland, Ore. This past summer, we stepped it up a notch to spend a week on a family bike tour. It was the vacation of a lifetime.

As with any family vacation, a trip by bike will inevitably involve tears and disagreements. Flats happen. Headwinds blow. Climbs outnumber descents and no matter what the mode of travel, our kids intuitively know the least opportune moment to ask, “Are we there yet?”

But in the end none of that matters, because something magical happens on a bike trip. It’s condensed quality time. Every day seems to contain a week’s worth of perfect moments. A grassy patch by the side of the road becomes an ideal place to stop and eat an orange and a handful of almonds while the kids run. Bliss is found and that’s the type of memory that lingers.

With some smart planning, a little gear and a “take it as it comes” attitude, a bike trip could be your next — and perhaps most memorable — summer vacation.


Selecting an off road family bike vacation is another option

The obvious first step is that you need bikes for everyone. We used a standard bike trailer for our first couple of trips, when the kids were small. We moved up to a longtail cargo bike (a bike with a longer frame designed to be loaded) after we decided that we liked family biking, both in the city and on trips.

When we started looking into a longer tour, a friend let us borrow a tandem outfitted with a special set of pedals on the back position for short legs. We added a trail-a-bike for the second child. It functioned as a triple bike — dad plus kid plus kid — which worked well for our eight-day trip, riding about 40 miles a day.

To help figure out your family’s bike needs, one strategy is to attend a family cycling event where you can meet other families that bike and see their setups or a family oriented bike shops is another valuable resources.


With the bikes loaded with gear, dismounting and walking through irregular stretches is a safe way to go

If you want to go the bike camping route, you will also need camping gear and racks or bags to carry it. Gear does not need to be new, high tech or ultralight, but weight does matter. Backpacking gear, even if outdated, is more practical to carry than car-camping gear. We were able to fit gear for four people into eight panniers (four per bike) on our big coastal trip.

Kids’ gear is important, such as their own headlamp or handlebar-mounted water bottle holder. One of the best gear investments we made was a small handlebar bag for each kid. The kids can put whatever they want in it: toys, rocks, leaves.

For more on off-road family bike trips read, Chilcotin  3-lakes tour.

Test rides

Now that you’re outfitted, take some time to play around with loading the bikes and taking short rides. When we borrowed the tandem, we did a few loaded trips to the park to get used to the bike. Test rides can also give you a feel for what mileage you are comfortable pedaling daily.

To find a short bike trip research nearby destinations. How are the roads to get there? Is there a low-traffic alternative route? Are there any services along the way? Can a regional trail be incorporated into the route? Where will you stay? Hotel? Campground?


Family time, in a wilderness setting is what makes a bike vacation magical

For our first bike overnighter — when the kids were 2 and 3 years of age — we drove with another family to a forest road near Portland that was closed to motors but open to bikes, horses and hikers. Lacking proper panniers or racks, we piled all of our gear into our trailer with the 2-year-old. The 3-year-old had to ride her balance bike.

We had more enthusiasm than knowledge or equipment, but after cycling three miles in we found a nice spot and stayed for two nights. We played in the river, hiked, caught frogs, climbed rocks and watched stars. Before the trip was over, we were talking about the next one.