How I Got My Family Biking on Vacation
I love bike riding. From the moment we began teaching Tiny Traveler to ride a two-wheeler I have been dreaming of family bike trips through Tuscany or Alsace or even just the Hudson Valley, two hours from home.
I’ve had to downsize my biking dreams a bit in the short term. After a summer of learning to ride Tiny Traveler is still a long way away from all-day rides…and road biking…and hills. But we did manage to bring bikes with us on vacation this summer. We discovered trails we wouldn’t have explored on foot and she finally discovered that bike riding is fun. That’s a start! (Read about family cycling trails in Australia.)
From buying a bike rack, to finding kid-friendly trails, here what I’ve learned about traveling with bicycles to help get you started on your own bike riding day trips and cycling vacations with kids.
6 Tips For AFamily Vacation With Bikes
Look at racks in person
There is a range of bike racks out there, with different modes of attaching the rack to the car and the bikes to the rack. We quickly ruled out a roof rack for large, heavy adult bikes. If you have too many bikes to put on trunk rack, I might consider a roof rack for kids’ bikes.
Shop around—in stores— to see how different brand’s sizes and systems compare. We chose a *Thule trunk rack because we trust the brand and it was one of the few I found for a reasonable price that could hold three bikes. It was pretty easy to attach to the car and has a lot of redundancy built in, which helps us feel secure about heading onto the highway with bikes stuck to the back of the car.
Try Out Your Rack Before You Leave
Don’t wait until you are doing your final packing to try putting your rack on the car or the bikes on the rack.
The Thule was easy to mount on the car but with six straps to adjust it took a few minutes of fiddling to get it just right. Once we had it fitted, taking it on and off was pretty easy. We learned though, that we always had to readjust the straps after adding the bikes.
Adding the bikes took some doing. Putting three slim racing bikes on a rack is probably no sweat. But hybrids and mountain bikes can have wide handlebars and chunky bodies, and kids bikes can be quite chunky and irregular. Getting a racing bike, a hybrid and a kids’ bike with a curved crossbar to fit into the rack’s fixed grooves took some trial and error. I removed my front basket and rear child seat and it definitely made it easier to fit the bikes around each other. For your first few trips I recommend stripping your bikes down to their slimmest and lightest.
Note on Women’s Bikes
Women’s bikes don’t have crossbars so I had to buy a *removable adaptor bar to use with the bike rack (They’re about $18-$45). They don’t make adaptor bars specifically for kids bikes (though some brands do make shorter ones), so you might have to be creative getting those bikes to fit on the rack.
Pack A Few Tools
I recommend carrying a pocket tool or portable tool kit with pliers, a few screwdrivers and an Allen wrench or hex keys in case you have to make some small tune-ups along the way.
No matter how well you do taking your bikes on and off the rack, handle bars are going to poke through spokes and get tangled in wires. At one point my front breaks got pushed out of place. If we didn’t have pliers in the car it would have been hard for me to ride that day.
Patch Kit or No Patch Kit?
I got a free flat-fix kit at a bike event and carried it everywhere for a few months. Then it occurred to me that I don’t know how to patch an inner tube and don’t carry a hand pump. The kit now sitting in my hall closet.
As long as we’re riding on trails where we can walk a flat tire back to our car or lodging, I probably wouldn’t bother carrying a patch kit. If and when we start to ride for hours or between destinations, I would pack one. I would also make sure everyone in my family knows how to patch or replace an inner tube and fill it with a hand pump (which isn’t easy!). I might even consider packing the smallest foot pump I could find since they’re a bit more effective than hand pumps.
Have a Plan for Overnight Storage
We packed a light chain and lock so we could secure our bikes to the trunk rack. It wouldn’t have stopped a really determined or experienced thief. But our bikes are not expensive and our hotels were off the beaten track, so we thought it was enough this time around.
If you’re traveling with expensive bikes and/or staying in the middle of town you need to think about what you’ll do with your bikes overnight. The Berkshire Mountain Lodge outside of Lenox, MA has ample bike racks in their parking lot, but not every hotel does. Some people bring their bikes into their hotel or vacation rental. It’s worth calling your hotel to ask how they can accommodate bikes securely —do they have racks or storage or first-floor rooms you can roll them into? And you might want to invest in a decent chain and lock for securing the bikes overnight or in public places.
Start with Short, Easy Rides
With her 20” bike tires my daughter pedals two or three times for each one time I pedal, so she tires faster than we do even on easy trails. And with no gears, even short hills are challenging. We focused on rail trails, which tend to be paved, wide and relatively flat and usually have scenic stretches. They were a good bet and provided new places to explore in familiar destinations.
Most of our rides this summer took an hour to 90 minutes with stops– a lot of stops. Tiny Traveler can’t yet bike one-handed so we had to stop if she needed to scratch an itch…or fix her helmet…or drink some water…or get hair out of her face…. She also wanted to pause to pause to throw rocks in a lake, wade in a river, explore short side paths on foot and so on.
Had we planned longer stops and brought snacks we probably could have stretched a few of the rides to two hours or so, but this was our introductory experience and the point was not to see how far or long we could go. It was to get her to see the fun in family biking and like it. For her, the stops are part of the fun so we’re rolling with them.
4 Bike Rides We Like
• The Putnam Rail Trail (Putnam Co., NY): 12 rolling miles along the former York Central Rail line. We park in Carmel , roughly mid-trail and then ride south.
• The Riverfront Trail (Dutchess Co., NY): Start from Scenic Hudson’s Long Dock Park in Beacon, NY and head south on packed dirt trails along the river. It’s steps from the Metro North Train station and there is a playground at the north end of the park, too.
• Ashuwillticook Rail Trail (Lanesborough, MA): It 11 flat. curving miles from North Adams southward past two reservoirs and ends in a shopping area. Park mid-trail along Route 8 to bike along the water. Parking areas are well marked.
• Still River Greenway (Brookfield, CT): It’s only two miles long, but if you’re nearby its’s a quiet and very kid-friendly ride. A dirt path connects the mid-trail parking lot to big, fairly new playground near city hall.
How to Find Good Trails
I’ve learned that there are long scenic bike trails that are worth driving to for a day’s ride. And then there are functional trails that are handy for local people who want to ride for exercise or to get around. Websites that list greenways and rail trails don’t distinguish between the two.
So, the best way to find scenic bike trails that are good with kids is to ask people who live in the area. And if that fails, ask the local tourism office to recommend a scenic ride.
And I mean ask: Stop in or call and talk to a person so you can describe what you are looking for. Keep in mind that some trails can be 10, 40 or 50 miles long. They might start out in town or even in an industrial area but also have more bucolic stretches. If you are only doing part of a longer trail you want to know where to park to access the prettiest and easiest segments.
The most inclusive website I found for bike trails across the country is TrailLink, but its information is so-so. The summary at the top of a trail’s page and the maps are both lacking in detail. So read the written descriptions carefully and pay attention to any reviews, which will give feedback on the difficulty or the scenic factor from people who have actually ridden the trail. If you get a trail idea off of a local tourism website, check TrailLink for reviews before you head out.
And have a great ride!
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