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Are We There Yet?

Make your next long-distance bike trip a family affair.
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Before they were married, Nancy Sathre-Vogel and her husband, John, spent a year biking the Indian subcontinent. After 16 years of teaching school in the United States and abroad, the couple decided to set out on another yearlong bike tour--this time with their twin sons, Daryl and David, now nine, in tow on a triple tandem. The family left its home, in Boise, Idaho, in June 2006, and planned to arrive in Connecticut June 10. Although they've dealt with their share of tired legs and sibling rivalry, they've also experienced "sheer magic," Sathre-Vogel says. "There's something about touring by bicycle with kids that draws people toward you, and brings out the good in people." Here are her tips for taking family vacations on two wheels.

COMFORT IS KEY A tour is no place to try out new equipment or clothing. Before you take off, be sure your children's bikes fit properly, and that their gear will perform adequately in rain and cold.

LAY DOWN THE LAW When possible, set the rules in advance. Plan on no junk food? Let the kids know you won't be stopping at McDonald's--and stick to it. Soon they won't ask to visit each time they pass one.

KEEP 'EM IN THE LOOP--AND PUT 'EM TO WORK Whether you'll be getting up at 4 a.m. to take advantage of the morning cool, or putting in an extralong day due to a lack of accommodations, explain the plan to your children in advance. Kids are amazingly adaptive and can deal with almost anything if they know why they need to do it. Include them in the decision-making process whenever possible: Should we ride two short days in a row or one long day followed by a rest day? Should we eat rice or pasta tonight? And give them jobs of their own, such as finding a campsite in the evenings.

DON'T GO THE DISTANCE While you might be comfortable putting in 70- or 80-mile days, your kids most likely will not. Daily distances of 30 to 40 miles allow more time to stop and climb a tree, explore tidal pools or go for hikes. Take advantage of the time--and be aware that the breaks will probably become the highlight of your child's day.

BORED? FAKE IT. No matter where your tour brings you, there are sure to be times when it isn't particularly interesting. But an appreciation for nature can be learned, and you can help. Passing through boring desert? Don't apologize to your child; instead, point out all the plants and help him understand how they've adapted to the desert. Make the scenery special even if you don't necessarily feel it is.

TRY A TANDEM In addition to giving tired legs a boost, a tandem or triple lets kids while away the hours by chatting with a parent or each other. When it's time for the captain to enjoy some peace and quiet, give your little stoker an MP3 player loaded with audiobooks and the child's favorite music.

NO SUCCESS IS TOO SMALL Seek out opportunities for celebration. Managed to make it 7 miles before needing a break? Woohoo! Pedaled to the top of the hill? High five! Keep the praise coming, and they'll keep pedaling.
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