Family Touring day 2 – Tarka, trains and tumble

So let’s just get this out of the way first. We hit the tarmac. I’d like to say it wasn’t my fault, but I’d be lying. We were cycling along quite merrily, Emmy was chatting away on the back of my bike, Matty was in the bike seat on David’s. We passed a turning off the main trail and immediately began to doubt if we’d gone the right way. I braked without warning, thinking that David was also stopping, and he went straight into the back of me. Glancing the handlebars off Emmy’s head, David’s bike went over with Matty on board – thank goodness for helmets and a protective bike seat. Emmy barely noticed she’d been hit, Matty’s head didn’t touch the floor. Everyone was fine but it reminded us just how quickly things can change in a split second. And the importance of communication! When we lived in Copenhagen they held up their hand to signal that they were slowing down. We have whole heartedly adopted this approach now!

Prior to that incident we’d had a lovely morning, rising early and packing up the tent, we armed the kids with a few fistfuls of dry cheerios each and headed off for Fremington Quay, a half hour ride away. Set on the disused railway line of the Tarka trail, opposite the River Taw, there is a fabulous family run cafe which serves up equally fabulous breakfasts. Sausage, bacon, beans, eggs – we all tucked in! They also have a great heritage centre exhibiting the industrial history of Fremington Quay’s past. The kids loved pulling the signal box levers, hearing the train noises and it was a great way of bringing it all to life for them.

The Tarka trail is a stunning ride. It is one of the country’s longest continuous traffic-free walking and cycling paths and takes it name from the fictional Tarka the otter. We followed the Taw and Torridge rivers, pedalling alongside estuary mudflats, salt marshes and oak woodland. The ground is a combination of tarmac alongside the estuaries and smooth trail in the woodland.

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The disused railway path is lovely to ride on and we enjoyed seeing the old platforms as we pedalled along and tried to explain to Emmy that this was once a railway line.

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At a similar time we began telling stories. Emmy loves stories and as the weight allowance didn’t permit a book, we took to making them up ourselves. In fact, we got a bit carried away and ended up with a trilogy based around Rosie the Robin and Nasty Witch Freeze-a-lot. We’re unlikely to rival JK Rowling any time soon but it was a fun way to keep Emmy entertained as we bashed through the miles.

Mid morning we mistimed one of Matty’s naps and he woke up hungry on the trail. Normally we would have just pulled to one side but the route had narrowed and we didn’t fancy trying to contain our one year old amongst stinging nettles and foxgloves. We decided to hang on for the signposted Puffing Billy Cafe, which promised hot coffee and an area to play. It didn’t disappoint. After the twentieth rendition of “Wheels on the Bus” and every animal on earth featuring in “Old MacDonald”, we managed to string Matty out to reach our destination and were so glad we had. It’s a fabulous cafe at the former Torrington railway station. The restored waiting room serves as a restaurant with toys for the kids, plus lots of picnic tables outside. Great coffee and they didn’t mind us eating our own food.

We knew that our campsite for the evening had a swimming pool and were therefore keen to arrive while it was still relatively warm. Fuelled by lunch, Emmy decided it was time to prove to us how fast she could run. She set off along the raised footpath of the viaduct yelling at Daddy to pedal faster to catch her! It was just so lovely to have a completely traffic free route.

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We very quickly reached the turning for our campsite and set off down through the forested area towards our pitch. It was at that point we repeated our error from night one… to think we were home and dry! Quite the opposite. No hills this time but instead a ridiculously narrow bridge. Frustrating doesn’t come close! Emmy thought this was the perfect opportunity for Pooh sticks.  We set about detaching the trailer. By removing a wheel we managed to rather precariously edge our way across the bridge with Matty staying asleep inside. Parent skills!

We had a fabulous afternoon at the campsite. Pitching our tent right next to the pool in a sheltered garden, it didn’t take long for Emmy to pull on her wetsuit and jump in. She quickly made a friend and the two of them had lots of fun splashing around and sending David to retrieve the ball from the deep end. Having braved the perishing temperature (minus a wetsuit!) for over an hour, David eventually managed to coax Emmy out before they were both hypothermic! There was also a lovely adventure playground which kept both kids amused and had a nice balance of equipment to challenge both young and older children.

Unfortunately what we hadn’t quite realised was the complete lack of food options nearby. The reception only opened for half an hour in the afternoon, and when it did we were given a takeaway phone number which had sadly finishing serving takeaway two years ago. Cue David setting off on a fish and chip bike mission and me trying to shower and put the kids to bed solo. We have debated for a while how we could have avoided this. I suppose the easiest option would have been to get a hot meal at the lunch stop, but you don’t really feel like this when you know you’ve got more riding to do. The other option is to take a small stove and backup meal but obviously it’s more weight to carry. We’re undecided. What we did discover is that a dinner of weetabix and cheerios did the kids no harm and they still slept soundly all night.

The next morning the food situation perked up for the kids, as Daddy’s late night raid had brought back croissants for breakfast! Roll on day 3, which promises the biggest hills of the entire route…

 

For those who’d like to see the route overview and elevation profile see map below. I’d love to hear from anyone who has tried touring in the past to know how you do mealtimes? Perhaps we need to carry more ourselves. As always, any thoughts, comments, suggestions very welcome – we’d love to hear what you think!

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Family Touring day 1 – pancakes, puncture and puff!

First day of our Devon coast to coast, the rain is drizzling but it won’t dampen our spirits, we can do this! Pull on the waterproof trousers, jumpers, jackets. Raring to go. Wave goodbye to the pretty seaside town of Ilfracombe and come face to face with the mother of all hills. Seriously. Who put bricks in the panniers?

Emmy finds it hilarious. “Pedal faster mummy! Daddy is beating us, come on!” I push as hard as I can, stopping 100m from the top, and promptly take off the afore mentioned jumper and waterproof. Who am I kidding, surely it’s better to get wet than pass out from heat exhaustion.

More than one flicker of doubt crosses my mind. What the hell are we doing? I am so unfit. I’d have struggled to get up this hill before having two kids let alone now…and then Emmy pipes up, “We’re going on an adventure aren’t we Mummy, this is incredible!” Incredible is a word she repeats a lot over the next few days, I start to wonder if she’s just trying to convince herself of this fact, but one glance at her expectant face and it’s enough to push on and claim those glorious views from the top. Matty, tucked up in the trailer, oblivious to the first hurdle having occurred less than 10mins into day one, is already fast asleep.

The ride from Ilfracome to Woolacombe is beautiful. Coastal paths, fields for miles and although descending in a rain storm to Woolacombe beach was more than a little hair-raising, we took it gently and arrived to find the rain stopping and an amazing feast of pancakes in the little beach side cafe. Really relieved we’d brought the kids all in ones we headed to the beach, flying the kite and running along the wet sand. Children make it fun. They have this innate ability to live in the moment. There’s me thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if it was sunny, while Emmy and Matty are busy tearing around the wet sand, chasing the kite, loving life. Time to take a leaf out of their book.

At this point it becomes quite clear to us that nothing is going to get Emmy off her bike. Not wind, not rain and certainly not tiredness! Like many toddlers she sees a daytime nap as the ultimate defeat. She’s back on board and we are just pulling off when David shouts for our attention. The trailer has a puncture. Ah.

Everyone off the bikes again. A bonus of the trailer is that the wheels can be easily removed, so we were able to retreat with the wheel to the warmth of the pancake cafe. David set about mending the puncture and quickly discovered that a massive thorn had lodged itself into the tyre. A tip for all of you thinking of cycle touring with or without kids – bring a pair of tweezers. Thankfully our medical kit contained just that, and after bribing the kids with gingerbread biscuits so that we could dedicate two adult pairs of hands to the repair, we were able to pull out the thorn and David performed a textbook patch to get us back on the road.

Our first play park stop of the trip was in the lovely town of Braunton. For those who are looking to do a similar route I thoroughly recommend Wild Thyme cafe – absolutely delicious lunch stop!

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Finally it’s time to be tough with Emmy. She really must have a rest. She’s already ridden 15km, up some epic hills, and the weather has been pretty rough. With a lot of persuasion she eventually agrees to sitting on the bike seat and we’re barely out of Braunton before they’ve both fallen asleep…

Our other tip for anyone cycle touring is look out for library stops. It may sound bizarre, but when the weather is dodgy and you’re going through small towns, a library is actually a fantastic place to take a break. Cosy, warm and child friendly. We enjoyed a lovely hour in Barnstaple library children’s area, reading books and colouring pictures to give them a break from the weather.

With an M&S picnic dinner purchased, we head for the campsite only 5 miles away. Just when we were sure that day one was in the bag, we round the corner to a 12% incline. If we thought the morning’s gradient was the mother of all hills, this was the grandfather. David bravely powered on, hauling the trailer and all it’s contents up, with Matty cheerfully riding in the bike seat. I had to admit defeat. For the first time Emmy and I climbed off the bike and started to push. I looked back at my little three year old daughter, pushing her bike up the hill, determined to do her bit, determined to be “just like you mummy” and I felt absolute wonder. Maybe it was the fresh air. Maybe it was us treating her like an adult. Maybe it was the sheer exhaustion that was making me totally emotional. But Emmy had undoubtedly loved today and that made it all worth it.

While we pitched our tent and got the picnic stuff out, Emmy and Matty made friends with some fellow campers. Kicking a football, balancing on logs, playing with the resident dog and excitedly trading stories about the day. We’d ridden 36.5km and made it up 487m elevation. We all bundled into the tent, it certainly was a ‘squash and a squeeze’, but we were that tired that it didn’t matter.

“What are we doing tomorrow Mummy?” “Another adventure Emmy, just wait and see…”

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I hope that the above made for an interesting read, do let me know if we should cover more or less detail? Has anyone got their own tips to share? If you have questions about the specifics of the route and where we stopped for food, just send me a message, very happy to help. We’ve included the route overview and elevation profile below…

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Packing for a family cycle adventure

Guest post from my husband, David. Please do comment with any tips on gear you’ve used that has been successful or if you’ve got any questions we’re very happy to try to help!

I love a good list! Writing it all down is very cathartic and it avoids the kind of shambles like our trial cycle ride when I forgot to take any means of paying for anything on the trip. So I hope this is useful and will help you to put together the stuff you need to take the kids cycling.

The key to the game is minimalism, which is so so hard! With kids a hundred different situations where they might need something run through your head. It can be very easy to find yourself with the kitchen sink.

After realising the expense of booking a B&B for each night we quickly looked at what we would need to take to camp. Clearly this added massively to the weight and bulk of what we had to take in terms of the tent and the bedding. However, we did adopt the principle that we weren’t going to cook and this avoided carrying food and a stove.

The Big Things

Bikes – The two bikes we took were Laura’s Trek Hybrid and my Specialized Tricross. Both have pannier racks with the one on my bike adapted to take the child seat. Laura’s pannier rack can take a trunk which sits on top and is useful for storing items you want to hand quickly.

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The bikes came back with a few war wounds. Laura’s pannier rack was bent when the bike fell over, but it still soldiered on. Ultimately the weak point of our system was the brakes on my bike. These are cantilever brakes, which I’ve never liked. As you’ll find out when we describe our last day the brakes could not cope in the wet with both kids in the trailer. The lesson learned is I need a bike with disc brakes to be able to cope with that weight. New bike for me!

Emmy was riding her Islabike Cnoc 14 which is absolutely brilliant and she loves. Clearly she is comfortable on it as there is no way a toddler would have done four hours a day in the saddle if she wasn’t! The addition of a bottleholder and streamers on the handlebars have made it the perfect bike for her. The followme attachment really made the trip possible for us as I don’t think Emmy would have been a passive passenger in the adventure. We’ve written about the Followme in an earlier blog post.

Tent – We used our Vango three man tent which is just about big enough to squeeze all of us in with the kids lying top to tail. Whilst the kids are so small it was a good option The good part about having the bike trailer is that it was able to store most of the gear overnight and stay dry. This meant it was just us and the sleeping bags in the tent with a few essentials in the porch.

Trailer – Our Croozer Kid for 2 plus did magnificently and managed to absorb the tons of kit we jammed into it. It has great suspension and is rock steady, even when you drop your bike! It was comfy enough for Matty to take his naps in and kept him dry when it rained. It also stored all our stuff overnight as mentioned above. It scraped its way through the gates and barriers of the Sustrans route and we didn’t have to resort to removing the wheels. This only occurred once when crossing a narrow bridge into a campsite. An added bonus of this model is that it can easily convert to a buggy which made life easier when we were sightseeing.

Sleeping bags – I feel like sleeping bags account for half the bulk of what we took and a significant part of the weight. We have three season sleeping bags which naturally take up a lot of room. If we were prepared to invest in expensive down sleeping bags we could possibly make a decent weight saving. I suppose the only other option would be to have much lighter sleeping bags and wear your clothes to bed to keep warm, which wouldn’t be very comfortable. As it was the weather was pretty mild and we were nice and cosy. Having camped in Pembrokeshire the month before where is was very cold we weren’t prepared to take that risk.

Emmy’s sleeping bag is a Starlight Deuter EXP which has been great. She sleeps so well in it and the way it is designed leaves plenty of expansion as she grows. Matty’s sleeping bag is 3.5 tog from JoJo Maman Bebe and has sleeves. This worked really well as a 16 month old would never have stayed in a traditional sleeping bag and it would have swamped him. We kept his sleeping bag in it’s own dry bag

Clothes

Always the hardest bit, many hours of deliberation went into the clothes we took with us. Even then this was culled by about a third at the last minute as we realized the scale of the amount of stuff we needed to take.

Clearly minimalism is going to be easier in the warmer months and we were lucky that temperatures were generally warm. Laura and I had one change of clothes each and the kids had three outfits each. My biggest recommendation would be to take lots of thin layers which can all be added together if you need them.

Gloves – Everyone except Matty had a pair of cycling gloves. Laura and I wore them a lot but Emmy wasn’t so keen.

Swimming gear – This was a bit of a luxury but we put in the kids swimming sun suits and Emmy’s wetsuit so she could enjoy going in the water at the beach and the pool at the campsite. They both also had beach shoes which protected their feet

Sunglasses – We fitted a strap to Emily’s glasses to reduce the risk of them going flying whilst she was on the bike.

Hats – The kids had sun hats which covered their necks to keep the sun off them.

General Clobber

Food – As I mentioned we bought our food as we went. However, we did carry a few basics including some small bottles of Aptimal incase we couldn’t access milk or it was too hot to store overnight. We also had a packet of cheerios with us as it meant we had something to give to Matty should things go wrong. Snacks are always key and we had a mixture of healthy flapjacks, raisins and fruit sweets which were dispensed from Laura’s handlebar bag. A bag of Haribo was also reserved for particularly challenging hills! 

Clothes pegs – Always useful to have a handful of these for many different reasons. Hanging things up when drying is the most obvious but it was also useful to attach a muslin as a sunshade to the trailer

Extra large muslin – Used as a sun shade and generally useful bit of material

Gaffer tape – Never leave home without it. By the end of the week it was the only thing holding our tent poles together!

Bin bags – Useful to have. Mainly for storing clothes once they got dirty.

Reins rucksack – Matty’s little rucksack was great. It was important that when he wasn’t on the bike that he could stretch his legs and get some exercise. This meant he could do it whilst being not so steady on his feet. Was well worth taking for the age he is.

Hand sanitizer – There’s not always somewhere to wash your hands, especially for those roadside wee stops and nappy changes. Well worth taking and small.

Battery charger – A portable battery which you can plug any USB device into. This was brilliant and kept our phones in working order for the trip when opportunities to charge were few and far between.

Headtorch – If I really wanted to slim down we could have probably lived without these. The nights were light and we had torches on our phones as well as bike lights. Also we tended to be asleep by 9pm so there wasn’t much call for them. Still worth considering though depending on the type of trip you’re doing.

Dry bags – We bought several new dry bags from millets ahead of the journey and it was one of our best decisions. They kept out the worst of the weather, organised our stuff and the different bright colours allowed us to identify what was where. The clip mechanism enabled us to secure luggage in whichever child seat wasn’t being used.

Towels – We took two travel towels that pack down small and are quick drying.

Water bottles – Everyone had their own waterbottle and I fitted two waterbottle holders to each adult bike. Emmy has her own waterbottle mounted to her bike which we got off Amazon and have been delighted with, it’s made by Crazy Safety.

Travel wash – The second campsite had a washing machine and we used this to get our clothes back to full compliment.

Thermarest – Three thermarests take up a lot of room and together with the sleeping bags pretty much filled the cargo capacity of the trailer. Still they do the job and were able to fill our three man tent and even out the rough ground.

Helmets – One helmet each although we didn’t make Matty wear his when he was in the trailer on the quiet old railway tracks. He’s well protected in there and it would only make him uncomfortable whilst sleeping.

Repair kit – We only had to use it once thank goodness, when we got a flat on one of the trailer tyres. I took a chain tool, a multi-tool, tyre leavers, patches, a spanner that fitted the bolts on Emmy’s wheels and a spare inner tube for each of the four different types of wheels we have.

Lock – We took a lightweight D lock and two cables, which allowed us to easily lock all three bikes together including wheels. Again, this could be avoided if you were never going to let the bikes out of your site. However, for going into cafés it was nice to be able to lock them up and not worry about them.

Pump – We have a nice one that has a pressure gauge and does both Presta and Schrader valves.

Kite – This was a lightweight luxury to have that the kids really enjoyed playing with on the beach. It’s a parafoil one that folds up into a small pouch and will fly even when there’s hardly a breath of wind (this was not a problem!)

Nappies/Wipes/Nappy Bags etc – We have a nappy pod which is our grab bag for dealing with smelly nappies. Now Emmy is out of nappies apart from nighttime that meant we could take less. It’s a difficult one to judge how many to take and it all comes down to the planning and knowing how likely it is that you will be able to resupply at your nearest Co-Op. We did one resupply purchase on the trip.

Toiletries – One bag between us with the bear necessities. Folding travel toothbrushes for Laura and I and small ones for the kids as well a toothpaste. Small travel shampoo for the kids and one for us. A hairbrush that Laura and Emmy shared. Sun cream for the kids that the adults used as well.

Medical Kit – We put together a medical kit with some general cuts and scrapes plasters and dressings. There was also some general ailment stuff like Calpol and teething gel in there. Didn’t end up using it but it was reassuring to know it was there. The tweezers from the kit came in useful when removing a thorn from a punctured inner tube.

Toys – As well as the kite they were allowed one toy each (brutal!). Emmy chose a huge teddy and was negotiated down to a very small one and Matty had a little football which he enjoys kicking around.

Sippy cup – Matty had one sippy cup for his nighttime milk.

Bib – One bib for Matty to try and preserve the clothes situation.

Tupperware cup and Spoon – Used for morning cheerio and Weetabix feasts which were our breakfast (apart from when we stopped for massive fry-ups). The spoon and bowl were communal and shared by all!

Phone charger – A cable to charge the battery and one for the phones kept us connected.

Waterproofs – Laura and I had a light waterproof each which was good as a windproof layer. Emmy had a waterproof jacket and both kids had waterproof all-in-ones which proved extremely useful considering the weather. Good to have in the morning when you can let the kids play outside the tent when the grass is wet and covered in dew. Each of the grown ups had a set of waterproof trousers as well which were needed for the downpours!

Lights – Each bike had a front and rear light which we never had to use, but I really wouldn’t think it advisable to go out without these. Our trailer also has lights built into the handle that can run off the battery.

Wallet – I had a neckwallet with cash, bank card, ID and trusty National Trust card. This spent it’s life mainly in my top tube bag.

Keys – We had two sets of keys with a car key and a key for the lock.

Emergency shelter – We have a four man emergency shelter, which folds into a small stuff bag. It might sound extreme but I viewed it as a good insurance policy. In a tight spot it would have kept the rain and wind off all of us for an extended period.

 

 

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The trailer finally explodes from too much gear!

 

 

 

 

 

Touring with Toddlers

Where to begin? Our next adventure. We love cycling, the kids love cycling. We love camping, the kids love camping. We want an adventure, the kids think they do….

Is it possible to take a one year old and a three year old camping and cycling for several days? Let’s find out.

Our Rules

  • It had to be an A to B route – I have an irrational hatred of retracing my steps!
  • Carry our own gear – We like to be self sufficient
  • Off road / Quiet roads – Safety is paramount
  • Slow and steady – Short distances each day and lots of planned child friendly stops
  • Pre-booked campsites – With kids we need to know where we’re staying the night

The Route

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We chose the Devon coast to coast. 99miles Ilfracombe to Plymouth. It ticked a lot of boxes; beautiful scenery, disused railway lines converted to bike paths, lots of campsites to chose from. The downside? The hills. But how bad could it be? Slow and steady right? We’d be fine.

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We planned to cover the distance in five days, c.20miles a day. Three nights under canvas. One night in a camping pod. Cycling when Matty was due a nap.

The Setup

Matty will generally go with the flow (#second child). We opted for a bike seat on David’s bike when awake, two seated trailer when asleep. (The trailer really deserves it’s own post but suffice to say it’s a Croozer Kid Plus for 2 and we love it!)

We quickly realised that Emmy was unlikely to sit still and be a passive passenger for several hours a day. It was time to break out the Follow-Me Tandem and get her cycling too. When she got tired she could either go in the bike seat or into the trailer.  The unanswered question was how long would she be able to cope on her bike each day.

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This left the back of the trailer, two panniers and the remaining seat (either on the bike or in the trailer) to carry the tent, sleeping bags, camping mats and clothes. Time for some minimalism!

The Gear

For those interested, I’ll post our full packing list on a separate blog shortly with lessons learnt. For those looking for the highlights… A tent with two broken poles somewhat hinders your ability to sleep. If you all smell, your nose stops noticing. Convincing your three year old to take their smallest teddy remains one of the biggest challenges of the holiday. Snacks are mission critical.

Getting to the start

One of the challenges of a linear route is where to leave the car. We opted for an AirBnB in Exeter where we could park the car for the week and get the train the following morning. We were a bit nervous about getting all of our gear on the train (there are only 2 spaces which you can’t reserve in advance) so we deliberately opted for one after 9am and it was remarkably empty. There ended up being about 4 bikes on in the end but the guard didn’t seem to mind.

The train goes as far as Barnstaple, 12miles south of Ilfracombe, but this was solved when we found a brilliant cycling shop in Barnstaple – Carb Cycles –  who were willing to give us a lift. Mike met us at Barnstaple Station and through sheer wizardry managed to get us and all of our gear in the back of his van. Top bloke.

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This all had a big advantage of giving us a full day in Ilfracombe before beginning the tour. The kids loved Tunnels Beaches, a network of tunnels leading to a lovely sheltered beach and Victorian bathing pool. They paddled, went rock pooling and Emmy even had a go at body boarding. The perfect start to our holiday. We went to bed nervous but excited about what the first day of our adventure would bring.

If you have any questions about how we planned for the trip I’m more than happy to share more detail of gear / logistics / route / etc. Watch this space for a round up of our daily escapades!

 

“FollowMe” Emmy!

On Sunday we tried a new combination, Emmy on her own bike attached to mine. It’s a contraption called a “FollowMe Tandem” and we bought one a week ago after seeing a friend’s four year old pedalling happily behind his mother without a wobble in sight.

As you’ll see from the pics, Emmy loved it. She’s just turned three and as far as she’s concerned, this makes her a big girl and she wants to ride her own bike. All very well in theory, but in true Emmy style, she can pedal like hell, balance no problem but doesn’t really believe in using the brakes. Hence David pegging it after her at full pelt anytime she’s let loose! So far the FollowMe is a great solution.

The first ride we did was short. Just under a mile to a local fete, we are lucky enough to have shared use paths pretty much all the way, but it was enough to give us all confidence. Thanks to the face painter, we had a little pussy cat cycling home with us!

The Pros

  • Independence – Emmy feels as though she’s really contributing to the ride
  • Turbo boost – certainly useful, especially uphill, I could tell when she was pedalling
  • Stability – There was no lateral movement, it felt very stable
  • Mount/Dismount – Emmy could get on and off herself without a problem
  • Flexible – If she rides solo you can hook it up very easily
  • Additional luggage – You can carry panniers on your rear rack which isn’t possible with our bike seats.

The Cons

  • Weight – quite heavy when you’ve not got the child’s bike attached. It weighs 4kg
  • Cost – a pretty price tag, we paid £189.95.
  • Nerves – There’s a real temptation to keep looking back at her, just to check how she’s getting on. It’s ok when there’s two of you but when solo I might consider using a rear view mirror.

We found it very straight forward to attach and separate Emmy’s bike from mine, taking less than a minute each time. The FollowMe clamps onto the bottom tube of the child’s bike and attaches to the front wheel. When the child’s bike is not attached you can hook up the FollowMe using a strap with a carabiner on the end.

We also found that the FollowMe can be removed from the adults bike with relative ease. When connecting it for the first time you replace your standard wheel skewer with the Follow-Me quick release one. It means that you can take it on and off by releasing it from the skewer – ideal when i’m using the same bike to commute to work and don’t want to carry the extra weight.

Next week we’ll be taking it on a ride coast to coast across Devon (Ilfracombe to Plymouth) enjoying the Tarka Trail, so we’ll be able to let you know how she gets on with it on longer distances.

We bought our FollowMe tandem direct from the manufacturers Follow Me Tandem Online Shop

Baby on a bike

When we had our first baby one of the things that hit me like a freight train was the realisation that a baby actually doesn’t do very much. Of course I thought she was the most beautiful baby ever born. Of course I sent endless WhatsApp messages to everyone we knew when she first burped, smiled, rolled over, but let’s face it,  in terms of what you can actually enjoy together, it is pretty limited.

Every tried going for a walk with a toddler? No, not in the buggy. A toddler actually toddling. It is SLOW. Pop him in the buggy? More progress but still a limited range. Run? I tend to find my focus is on breathing/staying alive.

This is where the bike comes in. We found that we could talk to them and later on, them to us. We could point things out, laugh, wave. Enjoy the experience together. The kids loved being up high, giggled when the wind blew in their faces, shrieked at us when we went downhill but more than anything they were actively involved in the experience.

And at age three Emmy is still the one in control. She indicates left and right with a 50% accuracy rate, shouts words of encouragement like “Mummy that car is beating us, pedal faster!”  and the most magical of all, points out a world of wonderful things that only a toddler can see.

The bike has an incredible ability to send kids to sleep and I’m sure it’s not just mine. Frequently we’d end up with them happily snoozing, and as our kids never napped in the cot, this felt like a minor miracle!

I’m not going to pretend that it wasn’t scary when I set off for the first time with the most precious thing in the world perched on board. Of course it was. But do you know what, I don’t think I’d do anything with my kids if I listened to the “What If” voice.

Is it always plain sailing? Hell no! We had tears when they were tired/hungry/in a grump. We had tears when they didn’t want their helmet on…usually resolved with a snack. We discovered that letting your toddler take their dolly on the back of the bike was a big no-no. In fact, anything that can fall off, will off. I’ll never forget the look on a passerby’s face when dolly went under the wheel. We learnt that shoes don’t stay on. When they’re small it’s much better to go for an All-in-One with built-in feet. Babies don’t have necks and so the helmet strap often ends up in their mouth. Gloves or turnover sleeves are a must. Little hands get cold easily. And on that theme, don’t let your husband teach your toddler to tickle you as you go along. No amount of bribery will ever get them to stop. I’ve included below the equipment we used and things we learnt, but ultimately you will find the way that works for you.

Wouldn’t it be great, if in 10 years time, your kids hop on their own bikes, happy and healthy, and remember the giggles, fun and adventure you had together? In my eyes, that’s worth giving it a go.

What equipment did we use?

Bike Seat: Our neighbour gave us our first seat and the other was from a second-hand facebook group. We preferred the pannier rack seats. They felt more stable than those attached to a seat post and had nice high sides, three point harness and lap bar. You can pick them up for about £15-£20 second hand, new they are more like £110. The two brands we have are Co-Pilot and Topeak. Both of which we’d recommend.

Helmet: We tried on loads and really just went for the best fit. You want one which covers their forehead, a good shop will properly fit it for you. Neutral colours are always good to cascade down!

KickStand: I would highly recommend getting a double leg centre kickstand on your bike to make it easier to keep the bike steady while you take your baby on and off.

Biggest Tip?

When they want to stop, you stop. Early on we took the decision that our rides had to be enjoyed together. This meant that if we passed a play park and they wanted to have a play we just hopped off the bikes and had a play. It seemed to work. Of course, if you plan your routes carefully then this can actually be on your terms too!

Do you have any questions? Please use the comments to ask away. If I can’t answer them, I’ll point you in the right direction!

Do you have any tips that i haven’t included? Please use the comments to share them with us!

 

An act of kindness

Our daughter arrived in March 2014 and in that crazy rollercoaster of newborn baby emotions, our life most definitely changed. Up until this point my husband and I had spent a lot of time on our bikes. No super human challenges, just two people enjoying using bikes as our main way to get around. Living in Copenhagen for a year we’d experienced how cycling could be part of everyday life and coming back to the UK we’d tried to continue that. Braving the daily London commute by bike, trips to the shops, days out, all done on two wheels. But then our daughter arrived and cycling went out the window. Through the sleep deprived haze the thought of being able to get back on our bikes seemed a distant dream.

And then the act of kindness. A neighbour walked over the road one Sunday morning and offered us his old bike seat and helmet for free. “The kids don’t use it anymore and I know you used to like cycling. Plus our kids just fell asleep as soon as we started riding”. We didn’t need to be told twice. With the promise of achieving a golden baby nap we put Emmy on the bike and tentatively set off for the first time as a family of three.

Why hadn’t we done this before? Because getting out the house in itself is an achievement, imagine trying to do it on two wheels. Because you’re too busy trying to feed, sleep, stay alive that getting on a bike doesn’t enter you comprehension. Because you’re just too tired.

But what did it achieve? Freedom once more! We found it utterly liberating. Suddenly we were able to get into town in less than half an hour, get exercise while Emmy napped, and the passion for biking came alive once more.

Fast forward two years and our son was born. Again, back to square one on the bike front but this time we knew it was only a matter of time. And sure enough, once he turned nine months we popped him on the bike and we were off again.

But now we have further logistics to consider. Two child seats gives no room for panniers to carry any luggage. The amount of stuff that two toddlers require is infinite, I reckon I could fill several suitcases given half the chance.

This blog is about trying to share our journey to make cycling as a family part of everyday life. I’m sure they’ll be lows as well as highs as we try to find the best way for the kids as well as us. And as everyone with sprogs knows, what works one minute is guaranteed to change just as quickly, but i’m hopeful that they’ll always be a way of making life on two wheels possible.

Over the next few weeks I’m hoping to cover…

  • Gear that we use and pros/cons
  • Doing the family shop on two wheels
  • Braving our first cycle touring holiday as a family
  • Testing the possibility of camping and cycling with toddlers

I know i’m not a great writer, i’m not trying to be. What i’m hoping is that a few people can get a bit of inspiration to have a go at getting their family on a bike and fingers crossed, have a ton of fun along the way!