One family's European biking experience with two kids along for the ride, and tips for planning your own family bike excursion.
Our family of four went on a five-week bicycle tour from Kiel, Germany to Sweden and Norway: Ulrich (1), Bernhard (3), Karin (age not disclosed) and myself. From our family's large supply of bicycles we took along only two, and the children rode in our Brüggli Leggero trailer.
How did we do this very long cycle trip across Scandinavia?
Handling luggage for four persons using only two bicycles is not so easy, but somehow we managed to store almost everything. Each of us had a rear cycling bag, and I also took the big rucksack, which we called Bär (bear) because of an old family tradition. It contained a tent, cooking pots, dishes, rain coats and other stuff, while Karin had a waterproof Ortlieb bag holding four sleeping bags.
On top of the front bags, we added some small, heavy packs as well, mostly food, cameras, and papers. In the children's trailer, we stored up to 7.5 liters (approximately 2 gallons) of water, some milk and bread (depending on when we'd last been shopping), and most importantly, the children's toys.
For part of almost every cycling day, our children slept in the trailer. In the evening they were fit, while we were tired. But this improved with time. Even if they had slept in the trailer, the children would sleep about the same hours we did at night.
Cycling Across Sweden, Kids on Board
When we boarded the Stena Ferry (08705 42 1101) to cross to Gothenburg, no one complained that my bicycle with the three of us aboard weighed 180kg (396 lbs)! The sea trip was great. We slept until 6am, then Karin took her time feeding the children as I prepared the bikes for riding off the ferry. We cycled about 20 kms (32 mi) from Gothenburg, leaving the city and its densest suburbs behind.
The road soon became a typical Swedish highway — the pavement was about 14 m (45'6") wide, two lanes (one in each direction), with wide shoulders for cycling. Gladly, the Swedish traffic was much lighter than what we were used to on German highways. Finally, after many delays, we made it to the campground at Trollhättan. The next two days we rested, using one day to see water falls and the other for swimming in Vänern Lake, but we did not intend to spend our whole vacation at one location.
For part of almost every cycling day, our children slept in the trailer. In the evening they were fit, while we were tired. But this improved with time. Even if they had slept in the trailer, the children would sleep about the same hours we did at night. Every campground in Sweden that we encountered had a kitchen and a washing machine and, of course, a mini golf course.
Highway N240 led us through an almost unpopulated area, and past a few big lakes where we even drew water for drinking. The highway was quite hilly, and with my 180kgs weight it proved to be slow — 3-5 kph (5-8 mph) was the usual speed. The small campground in Stöllet was on a small peninsula so the children could run around while we watched out for any cars. Again, we stayed for two nights. During the day they could bathe in the river and play near its bank, which was unusually wide because of the dry summer.
Nearby Höljes, a village of maybe 200 or 300 inhabitants, had a bank, playground, youth hostel, campground, open-air museum, tourist information office, and even a swimming pool. We stayed for a few nights and went on walks, using the bicycle trailer as a stroller for the baby. At the campground we met many families, most traveling in cars.
About 30kms (48 mi) was the maximum we could cycle between breaks. Unfortunately, the children slept at times when we could have swum in a lake, and they were hungry at times when there was no water in sight to picnic by. But every rest was still nice and at this pace, we were soon at the Norway border.
Bike Riding with Kids in Norway
About 2 kms from the Norwegian village of Trysil, which gave its name to the river, we found a campground. It was in a very beautiful location, offering swimming in the river as well as great views of the mountains with their snowy and icy slopes. We had some rain, then fine weather, and many places to pick blueberries along the roads.
We had some cold nights, down below freezing, and then a large, heavy animal who came to visit the tent. It was probably a moose but animals didn't present any problem, as even bears prefer to eat blueberries and fish over humans.
Outside of Lammhult, the drive up the highway was so steep and my load was so heavy that my bicycle broke. I could turn the pedals, but they were no longer connected to the front sprockets; we would have to take a train to Trelleborg to have it fixed. At the train station, we removed all the luggage from our bikes and stored as much as possible in the trailer, which we carried on as a stroller.
During our stop to change trains in Malmö, we visited a museum with stuffed animals, and even some live animals, for example, bats, fish and nocturnal animals found in warmer climates. It was especially fun for the children. The naval museum was interesting as well because they set up a pirate ship as an indoor playground.
After my bicycle was repaired, we had a nice trip around Trelleborg, the southernmost community in Sweden. Bernhard met a boy from Berlin who was just a little bit older than he, and who was on a cycling trip as well. This child already rode his own bike and the family had spent some weeks on a tour in the vicinity.
Finishing our Overland Bike Ride in Germany
The next day we took the ferry to Rügen island, off Germany, where we made reservations for the night train to our home town, and where we would spend our last two days cycling.
On the morning we arrived in Heidelberg, it was still dark. We fixed everything, attached all the luggage to our bikes, and rode home. A normal working day had begun.
Tips for Planning Family Bicyling Adventures
Here are the most important things to consider if you and your family are planning to cycle in Europe and Scandinavia.
How tough are you?
Tour operator guidelines rate a "beginner" as someone who can ride 3-4 hours and cover 20-30 miles per day. An "intermediate" gets regular exercise and takes 4-6 hours to cover 30-40 miles per day, and enjoys it. An "advanced" rider will go 4-6 hours doing 40-50 miles at a time, including hills, often. Also, what are your children's skills and needs?
Where, When, and Why?
Do you envision gourmet meals or a burger, chateaux or a seaside campground? A physical challenge or a commune with nature? Is it the right time of year?
On your own or with a group?
More advanced cyclists will enjoy the freedom of a self-guided family tour, possibly organized but not escorted, by a tour operator who can supply itineraries with suggested rest stops, detailed maps, lodging, and even rental bikes. A group tour will provide your family with companionship, plus a guide/escort and some type of van shuttle support, in case of trouble. It's more expensive, but very reassuring for families who've never biked together before. Both offer accommodations in every price range, so costs vary greatly.
Be sure everyone gets into shape. Frequency is more important than distance when it come to cycle conditioning, and test runs with the kids will teach you a lot about what to expect. Quality cycling gear of breathable fabrics, including gloves, padded shorts, rain-proof outerwear and shoes, are a good investment for long journeys.
Self-guided riders should get the "The Cyclists' Yellow Pages" from the Adventure Cycling Association($11.95; call 800/721-8719 to order — free with membership @ $35/year.) This annual directory includes cycling organizations, maps, hostels and relevant books for dozens of countries around the world.
Recommended Bicycle Tour Operators
Abercrombie & Kent ( 800/547-7016) Kids 12+ join escorted 7D or customized bike trips to Europe as well as bicycle/canal cruise vacations in France.
Backroads( 800/462-2848) A large variety of 6D family-only bike trips in North America and Europe welcome parents with children from infants up, to ride in a bicycle trailer (toddlers < 60lbs.), on a tandem bike (4-10 years), or on their own.
Butterfield & Robinson ( 800/551-9090) Kids 13+ on escorted 7-8D trips to France, Switzerland, Nova Scotia or Morocco; some offer land and water sports activities as well.
Euro-Bike ( 800/321-6060) Kids from age 7+ may join the 6-15D tours offered in 15 European countries by this family-run company.
VBT Tours ( 800/BIKE-TOUR) Kids 16+ can join 7-16D bike tours in Europe or New Zealand. 3-6D tours in North America open to kids 13+. VBT also arranges airfares.
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