So we did it. We took all the necessary steps to get out there and make it happen. It was a short holiday, a total of 3 nights and 4 days, but it was epic. The most epic part of it was that we had Nina our 16 month old with us. This would have been a fairly regular trip, pretty basic, not too far, relaxing, catching up with friends and having a break from work life, without Nina. It was all these things with her, but she definatley was what the trip was planned around.
If you’ve wanted to go bike touring with a toddler, then I think you should do it. But only if you know what might come along the way.
As with parenting, you don’t actually know what is going to happen from day-to-day with your wee one. People can advise you and you choose to take on board what advice you like. But actually doing life with your weans is a big adventure. You can prepare for as much as you can expect and then either something beautiful happens, things turn out the way they were meant to happen, or the worst fears come to life.
We feared the worst. I’m a worrier.
4 days, 3 nights. Stay with friends the first night. Book a camping ‘pod’ for the next two nights. Train to the start, train back from the end. Actually two trains to the start, and three trains back home.
Heres my advice:
1. Do you actually like cycling.
Don’t do this if you don’t. We could have driven this holiday, gone somewhere else entirely. Taken a flight abroad. Stayed at home. Essentailly, we wanted a bike holiday and could meet up with friends along the way. So my first peice of advice to touring with a toddler… Do you actually like cycling. If not, turn back now. Or go out and start liking cycling, it is fun.
2. Does your wee one like cycling?
We have had Nina on a bike form 8 months old or so. Mostly on a front facing child seat. We tried out a tralier (borrowed) and also tried her in the rear seat too, well before going on this trip. Nina gets excited about going on the bike. We leave her helmet lying around the flat and she often picks it up and plays with it, putting it on, giving it to us. We can tell that she knows what the helmet is and what it represents. We knew from experiences with her that she enjoys being on the front seat. She loved the trailer – who wouldn’t?. She also took to the back seat with no fuss. The message here is, start them young and make it normal. We are out at least once a week on the bike, even only for a short journey, she doesn’t resist.
3. Do you understand your partners ( and childs) breaking point?
A week before this trip I was walking with Nina down a local cycle path and witnessed the ultimate in family break-downs. A family had set out ( from where I dont know) on a lovely day for a bike ride. I saw it fall apart in front of me. The youngest was possibly about 4, had his own bike but was clearly tired and not too confident about pedaling. The dad was focused on encouraging him. The journey MUST be made. The mum was 50m up the path with the daughter (possibly 7 or 8) and looking pretty fed-up. She cycled back to the dad, had some words and cycled back to her daughter. The dad continued to encourage the son, with very slow progress. The daughter now cycled back and tried to help. All this time I was walking incredibly slow as Nina takes her time, she’s got tiny legs. I overtook the dad and son twice, as they percivered to make progress. I think this was the breaking point. The mum made a comment about taking “for ever”, I think the fact Nina had walked past them twice was hard to take. She announced her frustration as the dad and son team caught up. She was tired and fed-up, and threw her bike on the ground and said “i’m walking home”. Now in her finest Glaswegian it came out as something totally different but that is the jist. She just started walking away from her family. Really wound-up and annoyed. I could only pick up Nina and walk off a side path to escape the scene. Now this family were at breaking point when I saw them. They couldn’t have come far ( the wee boy was 4) and they had possibly bitten off more than they could chew. This spoke volumes to me. If I was brave enough to intervene I would have told them all to go get some food nearby, or go to a swing park and call it job done, change plans do something, just don’t fall out through tiredness. When I returned to the scene after going to the shops, they had all dissappeared, bikes and all. I can only assume the mum got her bike, the family went on from this place, whatever direction. This event could be a bad experience in the cycling life of this family. Know where the line is and how your parnter, child or whoever deals with things. If you don’t already, expect to see it on a bike tour with a toddler.
4. Know your route (or at least the obstacles you might face).
Being mentally prepared for what can happen on the trip is important. Much like any ride, explore the map, find out what is possible in the time limit. And remember, you are with a wee person, they want to get off and explore. So no 100 mile days, more like 20 – 30! Oh and in reference to point 3, make sure everyone is on board with the route. Surprising your other half with the Hardknott and Wrynose pass a day before you do it might work for me, but best tell them in advance…..
Don’t expect sleep to be normal. Nina is finally in a routine at home and we can quite easily put her to bed about the same time every evening and she’ll get up at roughly the same time. Its only taken about 14 months to get to this point! It felt normal, so when she didn’t want to sleep on our trip we had to just keep her going. I haven’t found out a solution yet. But be prepared to sacrifice that camp site vibe for a super early night, it might also do you some good. Or just keep them going, Nina sleeps quite well on the bike.
I used a light touring bike – Condor Fratello – with a Co-Pilot Limo rear seat. I had a frame bag and bar bag – both Wildcat (Wales, UK) and attached three small drybags to my rack and seat. Sleeping bags and roll mats in the drybags and bar bag, tools, food, tubes, spares and repair items in the frame bag. I also have a handy hip-bag which was easy to reach food for Nina, a dummy or two, water and a buff.
Niki had a Dawes Galaxy, front and rear racks with front and rear panniers. She carried one bag for our clothes, warm jackets, water proofs, one bag for ninas clothes and sleeping bag, front pannier for kitchen stuff and front pannier for food and other ‘essentials’, camera etc.
Essentials, when travelling with a wee one can literally be anything. We took her favourite toy, a couple other small familiar things to play with a couple of books. However, let these trips be about their discovery too, play with anything you find, it makes it all the more interesting.
I am an avid weather watcher. In Scotland it can change pretty much daily, or even during the day. Preparation is key. We both knew that the only thing that we were really worried about on the trip was torrential rain. Not for us, for Nina. Sitting on a wet seat, in cold rain for a days riding would surely not enthuse her about future trips. We had full waterproofs for her (playshoes jacket and fishermans trousers) and wellies. We also had her in a ski suit type Onesie for the whole journey, with clothing under to suit the conditions.
It didn’t rain on the trip. It rained on the way to the first train, and the way back from the last train. But not on the trip. However, we felt prepared should it have rained. It did get me thinking about the possibility of attaching a roll down rain hood for the Co-Pilot. I’m not sure how to go about doing this though.
8. Whats next
Hopefully bike touring with a toddler is only part of the step in their cycling life. I think that as Nina grows, so will our confidence with what we can and shouldn’t expect form her regarding trips. We have more trips planned. Still small trips, but one step at a time. Our next camping experience is going to a festival with her next month. I expect no sleep!