With a little preparation, your family can have an unforgettable bicycling adventure
On one end of the bicycling spectrum, you’ll find carbon-framed road bikes, space-age helmets and lycra racing bibs. On the other, you’ll find comfy hybrid bicycles, fat tires and tagalongs—the ordinary world of families bicycling for the sheer fun of it.
For your next family vacation or getaway, consider planning the trip around bicycling. Being outdoors, sharing a common experience and seeing beautiful scenery are some of the things that make bicycling a superb bonding experience for families. Plus, it’s hard for kids or grown-ups to get bored when the scenery is constantly changing. Bicycling is also an affordable activity—bikes need no gasoline and the only cost of pedaling is a usually just a trail pass.
Your preparation should begin a few weeks before packing up the bicycles and heading to your destination. Take some rides with the whole family around your hometown. It’s the best way to test your bicycles’ roadworthiness and gives the family a chance to practice riding together. Those rides also build a sense of team—everyone working together and looking out for one another on the road.
Get Those Bikes Ready
Do a basic check of all of the bikes you’re going to bring along on your trip. Check and adjust air pressure on the tires. Make sure the brakes work. Check the derailleurs on multi-speed bicycles. Be sure trail-a-bikes, tagalongs and trailers are in working order. And be sure to check your own bike—often, the bicycle that fails on a family outing is mom or dad’s.
Pack Up and Go
There are a number of ways of transporting bicycles to the trailhead, including stuffing them in the trunk, tying them to the roof with bungee cords, attaching them to a sophisticated bike rack or pulling them in a trailer. While some of these options aren’t pretty, all of them work. In addition to your bicycles, be sure to pack water, spare inner tubes for each of the bikes, inner tube patches, basic bicycle repair tools, sunscreen, snacks, cell phones and maps.
Have a Ride Plan
Before you spin your spokes, make a rough plan. At a minimum, you need to decide where you’re going to start your ride, how far you’re going to ride and where you can stop along the way. Plan for food, water and restroom stops. If a trail map is available, print it out and note where amenities are located.
You have several types of choices when it comes to routes. “Shuttling” involves parking a vehicle at both ends of the route. This requires two vehicles, so it generally isn’t a suitable option for most families. “Loops” are another route choice. Riding a looping route allows you to circle back to your starting point. But the most popular route is the “there and back.” This means you’ll ride out along the trail, turn around at some point and ride back along the same trail.
Start Out Short and Sweet
While some families can handle the rigors of a full-on road touring expedition, shorter rides are what suit most families. From there, add on a few more miles for each ride, allowing everyone to build up endurance and riding skills. If you follow this approach, you’ll be surprised how quickly your family improves as a riding team.
Be Ready to Turn Around
Never ride out farther than you can comfortably ride back. It’s a simple rule that, if followed, can ensure a good time for everyone in your group. Ignored, it can mean a grueling experience for all. Be ready to do an about face if you sense that someone in the group is seriously running out of gas, the weather is turning foul or one of the bicycles is having mechanical issues. Whatever the reason, the group leader—mom or dad—need to be alert and know when to throw in the towel.
First Ride – State Trails Are A Perfect Choice
Wisconsin has a number of outstanding state bike trails. These trails are level and can accommodate all types of bikes. Built on former railroad lines, the trails are generally quite wide. This allows ample space for two-way traffic and gives bicyclists some room to pull off to the side to view wildlife or fix a flat tire. The state trails’ parking areas and trailside amenities tend to be very good.
To ride the state trails, you will need a Wisconsin State Trail Pass. You can also pay a daily trail fee. At most trailheads, you’ll find fee payment stations which allow you to buy a pass or pay the daily fee. A Wisconsin State Trail Pass can also be purchased at many bike shops. Wisconsin State Trail Passes are currently $20 for the year or $4 for a single day. Riders under 16 do not need a trail pass.
Trails to Try
Wisconsin has more than 40 state trails. Where should you start? Below are three of the best bets for families:
- Great River State Trail – This 24-mile trail crosses the Wisconsin Great River Road and follows the Mississippi River. Kids will love the section that traverses a 287-foot former railroad trestle.
- Wild Goose State Trail – Ride through 34 miles of wetlands, farmlands and forests along the western edge of Dodge County’s Horicon Marsh.
- Bearskin State Trail – From Minocqua, ride 18-miles south through the heart of the Northwoods in Oneida County.
The Final Word On Family Bicycling: You Must Have Fun!
If you want your first family bicycle outing to be the first of many, you need to make sure everyone enjoys the ride. No one will want to go on a family bike ride again if they have a bad first experience. Common pitfalls include riding too many miles, never stopping to rest, failing to accommodate the slowest riders in the group, and making the ride feel like work. Avoid those mistakes and you should have a fun, healthy and affordable outdoor pursuit that the family can enjoy together for many years to come.