Are you in need of a fun family getaway after months of isolation and virtual schooling? With many usual summer spots not operational, you may want to consider a custom cycling tour. You can design an adventure within 30 minutes or 3 hours from home, on quiet roads or bike trails, and with as much or as little support as you need. And the best part for 2020 – it is outdoors with minimal exposure to people outside of your social bubble.
While cycle touring is not for all kids, many love the sense of independence and freedom they get from having control over their own transportation. On bikes, it is easier to get parents to stop to check out a sight or sample some ice cream than it is in the car, where adults often whizz by, either notified too late to stop, or anxious to get to the next destination.
A couple of excellent safe cycling resources are available through the Ontario government: a general guide to safe cycling and a young cyclist’s guide. Both are well worth reviewing. Some of the key takeaways are to ensure equipment is sized properly and is in good working order, and ensure all cyclists in the group know the rules of the road, including hand signals for stopping and turning. In Ontario, bicycles are considered vehicles, and must obey traffic laws of the Highway Traffic Act.
For family riding, we recommend having one adult at the front of the group and one riding last as a “sweeper”, if possible. To be able to stop in time and avoid obstacles, leave at least one full bike length between cyclists.
Do a test run
If you think your kids might like to try a cycling holiday, do a cycling day trip close to home as a test run. You will get a sense of whether they enjoy it and what distances they can handle. Try to choose a day with nice weather so that their opinions are not muddied (so to speak) by too much rain, cold, heat or high winds. If possible, pick a fun destination, such as a fry truck or ice cream stand.
If the test run is a success, get your kids thoughts on where they might like to go for a longer trip. Let them know what the destination has to offer and gauge their interest.
Cycle route planning
Ontario has lots of great cycling for kids. Look for areas with quiet roads, not too hilly, and where there are interesting things to see along the way. If there are bike trails or rail trails, that provides an extra layer of safety, as interactions with cars are significantly reduced. In our Humdinger Bicycle Tour regions, there are several family friendly options. For example, the Simcoe Loop Trail that runs through Barrie, Midland, and Orillia lends itself very well to a 3-5 day family trip.
With adequate support, most kids should be able to ride 10 flat kilometers in a day, and older, fitter kids may be able to do 20 to 50 kilometers. It is important to know the route ahead of time, including the exact distance and where you can get food and water refills. Have a bailout plan, in case someone in the group gets to a point where they cannot keep riding.
Using a bicycle tour company such as Humdinger will give your family some extra support, such as a luggage transfer between destinations, a vehicle to set up lunch and break stops and pick-up tired riders, or even a guide to cycle with you and lead the way. Our Build Your Own Bike Tour page provides additional information, or you can contact us and let us know exactly what you are looking for.
Pacing, hydrating, and nutrition
With children on a bicycle tour, issues that come up commonly and sometimes catch parents off-guard are fatigue, dehydration, and inadequate food intake. These challenges happen with adults too, of course, but kids have fewer reserves, and their energy level can change quite suddenly.
Make sure that the pace is gentle enough that everyone in the group can still chat easily. If someone is starting to be short of breath to the point that they cannot easily have a conversation, the pace is too quick. It may be that family members have different fitness levels with some tending to ride faster than others. If slowing down to wait for a sibling is not an option, a sub-group may want to ride ahead a bit and wait at a predetermined meeting point.
For hydration, each cyclist should have at least one water bottle cage and carry their own water or sports drink. Larger bikes usually have room for two water bottle cages. If you are going to be out for more than 60-90 minutes it is important to have a plan for refilling water bottles. On a hot day, consider using a sports drink in at least some of the bottles, as these specially-formulated drinks replenish electrolytes lost through sweating.
Nutrition is super important while riding. Encourage kids to eat a little bit of something easily digestible about every 30-45 minutes. Energy bars and granola bars are easy to carry, but you may not want to eat too many of them on a long cycling day or if you are cycling for a few days in a row. Everyone’s tummy will appreciate “real food” if you can manage to carry it or find interesting places to stop. Certain fruit, vegetables, and sandwiches travel well, and nuts, cookies and bars are always a good bet. Snacks can be carried in pockets, fanny packs, or in bags that are designed to be attached to bikes.
What ages work for family cycling trips?
Keep in mind that every kid and family is different, and these are general guidelines only. That said, with lots of food, water, and breaks, and with very clear and concrete safety instructions, kids in the 7 to 10 age range should be able to cycle for a couple of hours each day. Kids 11 or older will generally have better stamina, and should have a better understanding safety issues and rules of the road.
Very young children, 6 and under, may be too young, or will need to use a pull-along or bike carrier. Only parents who have excellent cycling skills should use these options.
For your family vacation, give cycling a try!
A cycling vacation will allow your family to get outdoors for some fresh air and exercise. More importantly, you will have an adventure together in getting from A to B on your own steam. Let Humdinger Bicycle Tours give you some support to make it into a vacation for the parents as well 🙂