Many people think they have to wait until their children are teenagers before heading out on a bike tour with them, but touring with small children can be a fabulous experience for all involved. There are a number of options available for a bike tour with young children.
There are many trailers available for hauling young children behind your bike and these are great for kids up to about age five. Until around age 3, they are the only option possible, but some kids prefer trailers to other means until a bit older. Pay attention to the needs of your child when making the decision.
Trailers are great in that the child can sleep while you are pedaling. When he wakes up, he can either watch the world go by or play with toys. In addition, you can store additional gear in the trailer.
Starting at age 3 or 4, you may be able to transition your child onto a trailer bike. A trailer bike is a one-wheeled contraption that hooks on to your bike, and has the advantage of allowing your child to help you pedal.
Trailer bikes, as good as they have become over the years, are still not terribly efficient and you’ll lose energy to the connection. Over time, that leads to a tired parent! Also, the cheaper trailer bikes do not have gears – your child will need gears if he is to help pedal up the hills.
The Burley Piccolo is the best of the bunch. They’ve done a great job with the connection system and it’s nearly as stable as a tandem.
Cargo bikes like the XtraCycle are becoming more and more popular. For very small children, you can mount a seat on the rear; older children can sit comfortably on the rack.
An added advantage of the cargo bike is that there is plenty of space for gear, so there is no need for a trailer.
The tandem is the best option for kids old enough to help with the pedaling, but they don’t come cheaply. They are much more rigid and efficient than trailer bikes, and have the added advantage in that you are teaching your child proper cadence and traffic safety as he pedals in sync with you.
In order to extend the life of the tandem, you can buy one that is very large for your child and put a “kiddie crank” (child stoker kit) on it. The kiddie crank raises the pedals up to where his feet are and can be lowered as he grows – until you take it off completely. In this way, your tandem can fit you both for many years.
Coupler with child’s bike
Another option is to hook your child’s bike on to the back of yours with either a Trail Gator or Follow Me coupler. This is a fantastic option in that your child can ride his own bike when conditions are safe, but can be securely attached to you while in traffic.
I have heard reports that the TrailGator isn’t all that stable, so I doubt I would want to go on a long tour with one. The Follow Me, however, is getting great reports. I know one family who cycled the length of Argentina with their son using the Follow Me.
Bicycle touring as a family is a great experience for all involved and you’ll have a bank of wonderful memories forever!