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We asked The Family Adventure Project’s Stuart Wickesfor some bike tips

Stuart Wickes and Kirstie Pelling are an adventure-minded couple from the North West of England. When they became parents, they didn’t see any reason to stop having crazy adventure vacations. They took their then family of four on an end-to-end tour of New Zealand, sometimes cycling, sometimes sailing and sometimes riding the train. As a family of five, they’ve biked around England and made it all the way up to Holland, down to Venice and over to the Baltics. This summer, their cycling destination is Krakow. While your family might not be ready to travel the country end-to-end on bikes, we asked Stuart how to get started on a family adventure.

You guys say you were inspired to do family adventures after meeting like-minded people on your honeymoon. Can you tell us about Nadine Kuczera and her family and how they showed you that you didn’t have to stop having adventure vacations just because you have young kids?

We met Nadine in a hardware store in Chile. We were on our honeymoon, cycling through Patagonia and searching for oil to lube our bike chains. She was with her partner and kids cruising around Chile in a boat they built themselves. Nadine was looking for crew to help out on the boat and we joined her and her family for a week and saw first-hand what incredible things families can do together. This chance encounter made a deep impression on us and we vowed to do something similar in our family life together. If and when we had one.

OK, so you’ve decided on a bike adventure with babies in tow. What sort of equipment do you need to keep the kids (and grownups) safe and comfortable?

The main equipment is software rather than hardware; the will to do it, some ideas on how and where to go and maybe a little support and advice from other parents who’ve already done it. Our hardware has changed many times over the years as the kids have got older. In fact one of the challenges has been to find ways to keep us all on board with one, then two and now three growing children. But you don’t need a lot to get started and there’s usually a good second hand market which means you can pick things up cheap and recycle them when the kids grow out of them. We started with babies in bike trailers, then graduated to toddlers in bike seats and tag-alongs, then onto kiddy back tandems which are excellent for touring and eventually ended up with children joining us on their own bikes. We’ve had the kids pedaling on tag alongs and tandems from about age 4, learning to ride their own bikes at 5 to 6, and joining us on tour and on the road on their own bikes from about 8 to 10.

How do you get your kids to share your passion for cycling?

We don’t push this. I think the main thing has been to make it a regular part of their lives so it’s more the way we do things than something forced upon them. We do try to make the journeys we do
interesting for them and involve them in the planning, preparations, choosing which bikes they’ll go on. They seem to enjoy spending time with us and we with them. We make sure we have fun on our journeys and they just seem to pick up on that. I think our passion is probably less about the cycling and more about the fun and adventures we have together as a family, and everyone seems to enjoy the unexpected stuff that often happens on the way.

What are the challenges of a long bike ride (longer than just riding from home to the school or grocery store) with young kids and babies?

We’ve done it so much I’m not sure I think of it as a challenge anymore. It’s more of a routine now. Although finding a safe, suitable and enjoyable route can be testing, especially for novice riders or in unfamiliar places. Seasoned local cyclists know about routes that are better by bike, with dedicated cycle routes, on quieter roads or avoiding nasty hills, and that kind of information is like gold dust and can make or break your day. Finding a cycle friendly route will allow you to relax more and enable everyone to enjoy the experience, so it’s always worth asking around for route advice, in person or on cycling forums. I guess when we were starting out the main challenges were the physical one of pulling the extra weight, and the welfare one, making sure everyone’s not too hot, wet, cold or hungry, especially children who aren’t pedalling. Other than that going riding with young kids is no different to going anywhere else with them, all the usual rules apply: be prepared, take plenty of drinks, snacks and a change of clothes, and expect the unexpected.

How do you transition the kids from towing them along to having them pedal with you?

For long tours we have them ride with us on the tandems mostly as an intermediate step. That way they become part of the pedalling team and learn about being on the road, signalling, pedalling and
how you handle the bike up close. We also teach them to ride their own bikes as soon as they’re ready and give them lots of practice in traffic free areas, building skills, confidence and control. Then we’ll take them out on quiet roads under careful supervision and coach them in safe cycling practice and safety in traffic which is such a critical skill. They get some cycle training at school too which helps. We choose and control the environments we take them in as best we can, using cycle routes and traffic free trails where they exist, even if it’s longer, always aim to go at their pace and reward and encourage them for their efforts.

What are the Wickes-Pelling crew’s favourite cycling snacks?

Food is fuel and we’ll eat almost anything on tour, or even on a day trip. But if you were to raid our giant picnic bag you’d probably find shocking amounts of peanut butter sandwiches, chocolate spread, bananas, oat bars, biscuits and sweets.

How would you suggest parents approach a longer bike trip (like a day or a half-day trip) when the kids are only used to biking around their neighbourhood?

Don’t make it about the cycling (even if it is your passion). Instead use the bikes as a way to get somewhere and do something interesting or exciting that taps into the kids interests. Involve the kids in the planning so they feel some ownership of the journey. And give them jobs to do, like navigating or looking out for things along the way. Maybe even turn the journey into a treasure hunt. Start with small distances and build up, letting the kids dictate the pace. Have escape routes or plans so you can cut things short or get a train home if the weather changes or someone gets grumpy or over tired. Build up your journeys gradually and be glad if you’ve covered a mile not ten! Better to aim for a few miles and be able to extend it if it’s going well, then to set out to cover more and put everyone off. Have some rewards in your pocket, little things to aim for, a sweet after each mile, a stop at the recreation ground, lemonade at a friend’s house, a geocache to look for. Make it fun, choose a route where there’s lots of options for things to stop at or look forward to along the way. Stay positive and work together and you’ll be amazed how far you can get.

Is there any one piece of gear or equipment that in your 10 years of traveling you’ve found to be indispensable?

I’m not sure there is. More than gear or equipment, the most useful thing as with all parenting is to keep a positive attitude and maintain deep wells of patience.

Any other tips for parents wanting to get their kids into bike adventures?

Biking is such a simple and rewarding way of travel in which you see more, hear more, feel more and meet more of the world and the people you share it with. Start small, think big, build your skills
gradually and work together and you will be truly amazed at what you can achieve on family biking adventures, whether in your hometown, out on the forest trails, pedalling across the country or around the world.

Need more Family Adventure Project? Here’s where to find them:

Web: www.familyonabike.org
Email: mail@familyonabike.org
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/familyonabike
Facebook: www.facebook.com/familyonabike
Youtube: www.youtube.com/familonabike

All images courtesy of the Family Adventure Project

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