Cycle touring with an infant
Good Morning All,
My partner and I have just had our first baby, a 6 wk old girls, and we cannot wait to plan and disappear on our next tour - with the baby of course.
Any help with the following would be awesome,
Have you cycle toured with a young family?
How old was your baby when you first went?
How did you carry them?
Where did you go? How long for?
What sort of challenges did you encounter?
Any firsthand experience would be valued greatly.
I am open to general discussion about when would be a appropriate age to start touring again with our little girl and what particular equipment would be necessary, baby carrier/trailer?
We plan on beginning with shorter tours, building from weekends, to week long, to massive tours covering thousands of kilometers in countries far and wide.
Thanks for your help
Donnie, In spite of what may've been seen in some videos, an infant shouldn't travel on a bicycle, or in a trailer, until they can control their head. This will be close to one year of age, give or take. A better answer would come from your pediatrician.
give it a year .. then ask again ..
The youngest bike tourist I ever met was two-years-old the first time she went on a tour. I met her when she was five and had moved out of the trailer and onto her own bike. Her parents took their four children and several others from the neighborhood touring every summer. They couldn't always manage the miles between permitted campsites when in national parks, but they told me the rangers always gave them a pass when a small child appeared at the tent entrance.
Well, our experiences from the early 90's are a little aged, like my wife and me, but lessons we learned then are still relevant now. Also, allow me to apologize in advance for the length of this reply, I thought I only had a few quick comments to make, but...
When our 1st daughter was around a year old my wife took her for a week-long self-contained tour from Spokane, WA to Glacier National Park in Montana, towing Genny in a Burley trailer. What was especially note-worthy for this trip was the fact that in addition to the "normal" camping / cycling gear, my wife was also carrying cloth diapers, and of course taking care of the necessary laundry duties for such. Around a year later, shortly after our daughter turned two, my wife and I headed out on another trip with Genny, touring from Spokane, WA to El Paso, TX. This was a 2-month self-contained adventure, again with Genny in tow in her Burley trailer.
Without getting caught up in the day-to-day activities, here are general guidelines I would share based upon our experiences.
Help your child become familiar, and comfortable with as many aspects of bicycle touring as possible, prior to leaving on an extended trip. For us, this wasn't necessarily as much a challenge as we had been hauling Genny in her trailer since she was strong enough to sit up on her own and support her head. Genny rode in the trailer pretty much daily. My wife and I worked alternating shifts at the REI in Spokane so, for example, my wife would hook up the trailer, bike to work with Genny, switch the trailer over to my bike and I'd head home with Genny. Sometimes, she would just sleep through this "transfer". And on most days either my wife and/or I would take Genny out for longer bike rides as well or to run errands. So, Genny was fully used to being in the trailer and with few exceptions enjoyed it. We also had taken Genny out for some (car) camping trips, so she had some experience sleeping in her own sleeping bag and in a tent.
In our situation, touring with a trailer, we needed to make sure that our daughter had plenty of things within easy reach to keep her entertained. This meant toys, coloring books, and her favorite stuffed animal, of course. Also, we made sure that the tent we traveled with was large enough for Genny to have room to move around (run around?), and could keep some of her toys with her.
As much as possible, interact with your child while pedaling. Although while in the trailer Genny was basically staring at my back, my wife and I would talk with her, sing with her, and make frequent eye contact with her. We would point things out as we were passing them, and as much as practical, would stop to let Genny out of the trailer for frequent breaks. During our longer trip, this was especially important, because Genny was almost done with potty-training so we wanted to give her every opportunity to take care of business. Also, we learned an important lesson. When on a tour, when you are biking for pretty much the whole day, without these frequent stops your child is not getting the same opportunity as you are to expend energy. You will likely find that at the end of the day, after you have setup your tent, are tired (exhausted?) and are ready to relax and call it an evening, don't be surprised that your child is rearing to go, and wanting to play and have fun with you.
Make sure you are focused on providing the "basic needs" to your child. While this seems obvious, it can be the deciding factor in whether you are having a good day, or a bad day with your child, and can directly impact her experience on the road. This means make sure your child is dressed appropriately for the weather conditions, is adequately sheltered from the weather, and has food and beverages available. As much as possible, keep a consistent schedule for eating and have a menu that your child is familiar with, and enjoys. And as mentioned above, whenever I heard Genny say, "potty stop", I would stop the bike as soon as I could find a safe place for her to get out and go to the bathroom. Yes, she was extremely comfortable taking care of business wherever.
Be flexible in your expectations / schedule. While this is good advice for any bicycle tourist, I feel it is especially important when touring with a child. If you come across something that will be of interest to your child, stop to check it out. Acknowledge that when you are touring with a child, you will likely be viewed differently by others, versus when just you and your partner / spouse are touring. Generally, this is a positive thing. Other people will want to talk with you and will be curious about your adventure. For us, this literally opened some doors that perhaps wouldn't have been available if we weren't traveling with Genny. People offered their homes to us, offered to transport us over some stretches of road that were less "appropriate" for touring with a child in a bike trailer. And also, obviously, you will be more aware of your surroundings with an emphasis on ensuring you and your family are as safe as possible while on the road. In general, though, make yourself open to new experiences that may present themselves as a result of you traveling with your child.
Be willing to stop earlier in the day than expected, if someone just isn't having a good day on the road. That could be you, your spouse, or your child. Perhaps the weather has turned for the worse, and while you may be willing to just put your head down and plod ahead, think about the effects of your child. Again, this experience is everyone's, and as a family on the road there are different dynamics coming into play.
Lastly, I would encourage you to journal, blog, and/or photograph as much of your trip as possible. I say this primarily because in our situation, our daughter was two years old during this epic adventure. She, of course, has no memories of it now. However, we feel that it definitely contributed to her overall experiences growing up, and played a part in the woman she has become. Our trip was before the digital era, so I certainly didn't take as many photos then as what I likely would have done now. We really have very little material content we can share with our daughter, mementos from that trip. The few items we have we treasure, like the hand-made Native American doll that was given to Genny when we stopped at a road-side gift stand on the Navajo reservation. Also, my wife recently came across the journal she had kept, and we were both surprised at how short some of the entries were, although, that was likely due to how little free time she had to write. But, as we read through it, reliving some of those day-to-day experiences, we realize, and now more fully appreciate 20 some-odd years later how challenging that trip really was, for all three of us. Due to some of the remote areas we traveled through, it was necessary to put in some long days in the saddle, we encountered a wide variety of weather conditions, and at times it was a very taxing, both physically and mentally. There were many parts of the country that we had never cycled through previously. However, that only reinforces the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment we take from that, knowing that we were up to the challenge, that we were strong enough and brave enough to even consider such an adventure with our 2-year old daughter. Although, truthfully, I wonder if we were actually brave, or perhaps more na´ve, young or foolish. But, for the purpose of this post, let's call it brave.
Congratulations to you and your partner, and good luck in your adventures!
No one carries the DogBoy
This is what our pediatrician said, but added "control their head while wearing a helmet." I never took the kids on tour, but I waited until about 18 months before they got in the trailer.
Originally Posted by bradtx
Originally Posted by westrid_dad
Thanks for taking the time to write such a great response. I appreciate it. We were hoping people with real experiences of touring with their young would contribute something meaningful. Your experiences and ideas will have positive influence when our little girl is ready for her first adventure.
A few summers ago we were cycling around New Zealand when we meet a young couple from somewhere in the US and they had had their 12 mth baby with them. They had similar experiences to you and also had some great advice. One of the problems/challenges they experienced was the their trailer had two wheels and if there was insufficient shoulder on the road, their baby was bounced around all over the place as one wheel tracked thorough all sorts of rough terrain, water washouts and rocks. They also mentioned how tired they were in the evening and that they needed enough room in the tent so their little one could play while they had a bit of a recovery shut eye.
I imagine that we will begin to plan our first shorter tours, weekend and what not, when our girl is about 12 months old and gradually build-up from there. In the mean time I am designing a unique, multipurpose trailer that will (hopefully) house our daughter as she sits in her car seat and allow us to carry touring equipment, panniers and tent. This gives me plenty of time to complete the build, test and improve the trailer prior to hitting the road. I figure that if the car seat is a safe place for our girl in the event of a car accident then surely it must be a good place for her to sit while in the trailer.
Thanks again for your story,
While preparing for a trip in 2009 I came across a CGOB journal kept by a woman who was cycling with a group that included her young child. The child was riding in a two-wheeled trailer. She noted a similar problem with rumble strips, which have become commonplace in many areas of the country and in Canada.
Originally Posted by Donnie Johnson
Originally Posted by Donnie Johnson
Originally Posted by indyfabz
Re: the two-wheeled trailers, yes with the increase in the use of rumblestrips on US highways, that may be a concern re: positioning of your bike/trailer on the road, potentially causing you to ride further out in the lane of traffic than what would be preferable. Even back when we were touring with the trailer, we did encounter situations where I had to move out into the road a bit due to some rumblestrips and/or sections of broken pavement. Obviously, same situation if you're cycling on roads with a very narrow or non-existent shoulder.
I haven't really looked at how current trailers are constructed, in terms of the harness systems. That is one thought that comes to mind when you comment about building your own trailer and using a child seat. When we initially started carrying Genny in the trailer, she was small enough that we did just strap in the child seat, however, it was definitely more of a challenge to get a secure fit as our Burley had a very basic 3-point harness system. I should take a look at some of the newer trailers, it would be interesting. We still have our 25 year-old Burley. With all the memories of hauling both of our girls (and stickers on the Windows) we just can't part with it.
Great thread, great question and great responses. My wife and I are also expecting our first child this year and I'm already looking forward to sharing my experiences with my future boy or girl. While I sometimes dream of a "coast to coast" tour, in reality, my wife's work schedule as well as mine will not permit that, so a standard 2 week tour should suffice, especially for a young child. I was thinking the same thing; and that is to start touring with our baby when he she is around 3 years old. At that age you can get a little feedback and be able to interact a bit better when it comes to activities. Anything under that is a bit young for bike touring. Sure a few hours to the city park is okay, but not a 500 km ride through Loire Valley or along the Danube to Vienna...
I started each of my children on extended touring when they reached 6 years old and could ride trail a bikes. (We did extended day rides on a TAB when each had reached 4 years old.) I was not comfortable touring with them at any younger age. For me, I wanted to start touring with them at a younger age, but considered the down side too great (diapers, cranky kids, bad child experience, injury, etc). I know that others have done this at a younger age, but for us that was the best answer. My oldest is now 13 and loves touring and has thousands of miles in. My youngest is about to turn 9 and also loves touring. I am glad we started them touring at 6. I have a friend that tried to start his son at 15 and he will have nothing to do with it. Last summer was the last year for my oldest on the tandem with me and my youngest behind the tandem on a TAB. This summer the oldest will be on his own bike with his own equipment and the youngest ditches the TAB and jumps up to the tandem with me. Good luck with your decision. My concern was that younger kids in a trailer day after day would be okay for the parents but boredom and a bad experience for the kids. I wanted them to be powering the trip, not just a passenger and my kids seemed to think the same.
We've tour with our boy 2 years ago, in France. He was 16 months old then.
Points to consider:
- You should wait until she's a year old, or close to that. Before this age her neck muscles are too weak to support the head properly.
- A trailer is safer than a bike child seat, and gives the infant protection from sun, wind or rain.
- Finding a proper helmet is a challenge. You might find that using a baby supporting kit works better (example of or Chariot accessory: Thule Chariot Baby Supporter | Bike Kid). It's not as safe as a helmet, but when helmets are un-wearable, this is better than nothing.
- Trailers are not suitable for hot climates. The cheap ones have almost no ventilation, the good ones have adequate ventilation for warm (not hot!) weather.
- When you tour with an infant, choose the safest route: avoid main roads at all costs. We toured on bicycle roads or narrow secondary roads, which had almost no traffic.
- Don't choose a rough off-road rout; your infant will suffer from this. You can go on smooth gravel roads.
- Boredom: the child can get bored inside. It's very important to do long stop where she can walk, crawl and play. Also, climbing great mountain passes is not a good option: it will take you too long, the infant will get bored, the weather on the pass will be harsh, and the descent will be scary. => Look for a route with smooth, rolling hills.
- We found that around 16:00 the boy have had it, and tried to planned out daily route so that it ends before.
- A trailer can turn to a stroller at the end of the day:
- Weight: just the trailer + your infant + infant stuff is more than 24kg. That added weight convinced us to give up the camping gear for the tour. It's more expensive, yes, but even like that we were stuffed with gear to carry.
Summery: we enjoyed our trip in France, despite the difficulties.
Thanks for your post oren_herscho,
Originally Posted by oren_hershco
I like your thinking on suitability of trailers in hot climates and it doubling as a stroller. I hadn't considered either aspects. By the time our girl is old and strong enough for touring we will be living in Tasmania, Australia. The climate is rather cold and windy, except in summer when it the UV is very high and sunburn can be an issue.
When we eventually get going we plan on having shorter days on the bike to allow for later starts, longer breaks and an earlier finish. I think it makes sense to read how the little girl is going and base judgments on her needs rather that getting to the end of the planned schedule. I understand that some touring terrain does not counter for stopping at any time, however we have the best part of an entire year or longer to plan our route/s and organize our equipment. We are thinking that a daily distance of around 40 or so km in a friendly area sounds very achievable considering our level of fitness and strength. If we plan it sensibly we should be able to factor reasonable tail winds in our area to help push us along each day. Cross you fingers.
How far were you riding roughly each day? and how long were you riding for? (Don't mind the bold) When we toured New Zealand our average normal day including all stops for food and what not was around 10 km/h. e.g. if we had 70 km to ride we would arrive at our destination in around 7 hrs. It was a very leisurely tour. I think we will be a slower with the little girl.
As for the weight, I imagine one of our bikes will pull the trailer with the baby and equipment and the other will be loaded with front and read panniers and rack pack bag. My partner and I can pack lighter to allow more weight for baby stuff. Our NZ trip was a heavy loaded, 1000 km plus and spanning over 4 weeks. We won't be pulling the baby quite that far or for as long in the trailer. We will store up the bigger ones for when she is older.
The appropriate age to start touring will be determined by your daughter. My daughter's temperament and medically necessary dietary requirements make touring impossible at this time. Hopefully she will be able to join me later, but for now it is a no go.
IMHO - we tried to tour with our first child when he was around 14 months - if the parents are really objective, they will see this is not really good for child. Constant jiggling of the trailer carriage, temp and ventilation in the carriage, baby food, diapers. An adult wouldn't like to travel in those conditions, wouldn't expect my child to like it either. In this case, the parents have to grow up and take care of their child, not their fantasy. Wait till the child can walk, talk and interact with your environment.
I am not too sure what the upside is for the child in a plan like that. Most families have enough to contend with, without hitting the road.
The trailers out there are in no way really designed for continuous use. For one thing, they are mostly designed for sitting. You want a peaceful trip, a recumbent position is your best bet. Suspension would be a good idea. We had a chance to get whatever stroller we wanted but settled on a modern version of the old fashioned pram. Never regretted it over ten years of babies in prams. These old designs just float over the bumps, and something with as effective suspension would be great for a road trip. I could imagine a purpose built design for touring. I would like to see something built well enough that a helmet would not be required. I don't see a baby wanting to rid in a helmet all day.
A number of makers have 2 wheeled trailers that are only one kid wide. That might be an advantage in performance terms, and in the ride being narrow enough to avoid road edge problems. As bad as the rumble strips are another hazard around here is new road edges where the tarmac, is soft. It is hard to tell where the trailer will sink in, as it all looks equally hard.
One of the things that perplexed me about my kids is that even up to something like 8 or 10, they were not interested in looking at stuff out the window of the car. I think we have a romantic view that kids are nearer nature, and that means that they will enjoy just passively watching beautiful scenery. But they were not like that. They loved drawing and the outdoors, and had well developed aesthetic senses, and so forth. But scenery watching was an acquired taste. The point being they did not want at any time in their lives to be carted around for hours, sight seeing. They liked camping, and doing stuff in the outdoors, not being dragged through it. Probably they would like a scenic overlook for a few seconds, and then they would start clambering over the rocks and scratching picture into the sand. Most kids need much smaller bites of stuff than their parents. Whatever happens, no two are alike, and it will not turn out as you plan it to turn out. Basically you have a lot to learn.
Formerly Known as Newbie
We looked into using trailer for our newborn, but decided to wait until he was old enough to support his head + helmet.
The alternative way would have been to somehow rig a baby car seat to the trailer. Around here most if not all infant car seats are designed to face backwards, so that should've been the orientation in the trailer as well. He wouldn't have needed a helmet in the car seat, but I didn't feel comfortable enough to start modifying our trailer.
Nearly two years later, he's riding in the trailer and has several hundred XC skiing kilometres under his belt in ski pulk designed for the purpose. In the trailer we can provide him with toys to keep him occupied, but when (not if) he drops the toys, the harness system often prevents him from picking them up again. In ski pulk toys are pretty much out of the question, as with all the clothing, mittens and whatnot he cannot do much with his hands (same in trailer when it's cold). He enjoys fiddling with the ski pulk visor though and recently discovered the joys of dropping a mitten in the middle of the ski track, for the later collection by one frustrated parent.
Key is interacting, taking long breaks to let him smell the roses too, and trying to cover the most distance while he's asleep. We can plan on only 3-4 actual riding/skiing hours per day. Combined with slower average speed that means really low daily mileages. But we try to make sure he enjoys the trips as much as we do.
Last edited by Juha; 04-07-14 at 04:41 AM.