The washing has been done, the photos downloaded and the bikes have been put away (although admittedly not cleaned..) – we’re home from our first family cycle tour and reflecting on what worked and what we’d do differently next time..
I was very pleased with how our ‘child carrying’ set up worked out over the holiday. Our cheap and cheerful Halfords single trailer held up remarkably well, as did the Pound Shop bungee cord securing our son’s bike to the back of it. This arrangement allowed him to ride where it was possible but ensured that he was safe on the busy city sections.
Although our son dropped his daytime nap many months ago, the later than usual nights plus general activity and excitement meant he needed a nap during the day – the trailer provided a cosy bolt hole for that as well as being ‘snack central’.
He loved being on his bike so I’m not sure how long he’ll tolerate the trailer, perhaps just another year or so, so we’ll need to think again about mileage and busy city cycling on our next tour. I’m hoping that a Follow Me Tandem might provide an answer.
Our total distance was around 150 miles, including the day trips and miles to and from the Newcastle ferry, over eight days. We could have cycled more, but the route we chose (Ijmuiden – Amsterdam – Leiden – The Hague – Rotterdam – train to Bruges and train back to Amsterdam – Ijmuiden) worked well for us. Each day was leisurely and we had time to incorporate breaks, our son cycling and frequent stops to have a ‘discussion’ about where exactly where we thought we were (and how to get somewhere else). Our son is also mastering toilet useage at the moment so there were many additional stops to discuss this too..
We spent a couple of days each in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Bruges so we weren’t packing up and cycling every day. This allowed us to get washing done, explore a little more and inspect a few paintings, which was my husband’s top priority. Oh, and take photos of bikes.
There was no way I would have been able to convince my husband to camp and cycle on the same holiday, so we booked Airbnb apartments in Amsterdam and Bruges, found an apartment in Rotterdam and stayed in hotels for the rest of the journey. Comfortable but expensive, this isn’t a solution for more than a week or two. Warm Showers has been recommended as an affordable but comfortable option so we may try that next time if camping doesn’t meet the required accomodation standards of everyone in our family.
Maps and/or GPS
I freely admit that I’m regularly lost. I can get lost a few miles from where I live with no difficulty. If route planning and navigation are left up to me I plan to get lost and organise appropriately (snacks, warm clothes, back up power for phone). My husband doesn’t get lost so I bought a map and handed it over. Unfortunately it seems that I should have bought different maps – not just the ANWB A to Z but also the local, detailed maps. Although the junction system is notoriously simple, it does require some time to get used to. We also found that some signs were missing and there were a few issues with the same number being used twice quite close together. I did download the route planning app but without a data connection it only worked until you got lost or confused. Despite all this we got to our destinations with few problems and on lovely paths, although we may have covered more or less miles than we’d originally planned.
I think that my next touring purchase will be a GPS that can be pre-loaded with routes and maps. It would also tell us where we’d been, which would be super as we’ve got no account of how may miles we did or where we actually went.
Family holidays can be challenging at the best of times. Add uncertain weather, physical exertion and map malfunctions into the mix and you could be looking at a disaster zone. Based on our couple of weeks away, the following are my recommendations for happy families on bikes:
Stop to smell the flowers – Cycle touring is rarely about blasting through onto the next destination but family touring is an altogether slower pace. Our longest day was 30 or 40 miles (we’re not sure – see ‘maps’ below) and we averaged about 5mph.
If you’re a parent you’ll know that everything is new and exciting to a three year old; stopping to talk about butterflies and point out the herons was lovely as it helped us see what was important and interesting to our son – he particularly loved stopping to pick flowers for us along the pathside, which made me look at weeds in a new way..
Visit playgrounds – Playgrounds are great for a picnic lunch (we didn’t do this, but saw others and realised we’d missed something) and a run around if your child has been in the trailer for a while. Strong enticement to move on is needed, so be prepared..
Watch out for other road or path users (all of them) – In India I had problems with cows and goats in the road but in the Netherlands the good quality infrastructure attracts people on all sorts of vehicles. We had some challenges keeping our little one of the ‘right’ side of bi-directional paths. Scooters and tiny little cars (not really sure what they were) are also allowed on Dutch paths, which took us by surprise too.
Pack snacks, and then some more – as I’ve said before, you can’t underestimate the fundamental importance of snacks. I put both good and naughty snacks in every bag, having learnt from painful experience. Next time I’ll also be packing some pre-mixed gin and tonics.
Just Do It – I wish we’d done this when our son was younger!
There are some great blogs out there about cycling touring, Travelling Two being the most comprehensive. Their son was born in 2012 so their most recent blogs and films have included an additional passenger – it’s a great source of information and inspiration!