Even 2-year-olds go on family biking trips

Paula Holmes-Eber recalls a special day while bicycling through Alaska with her husband and daughters: "The air had that early morning feel.... There was nobody on the road. You could hear the pedals clicking and the tires whirring and see endless gorgeous fields of fireweed. It was a sense of adventure, beauty, and freedom."

Paula, along with her husband, Lorenz, and daughters, Anya and Yvonne, have logged thousands of miles together. They took a 300-mile tour of the Oregon coast when the girls were 4 and 6 years old, and a 600-mile Alaskan trek the following year.

In January 2003, the family will leave their Bainbridge Island, Wash., home for a 20-month world tour.

They're just one family that has joined the droves of American parents who are biking with their children. While it may seem daunting at first, many parents are finding that open-road biking is the perfect way to bond with their children while cruising through nature.

When people wonder in amazement at the scope of such a trip - much less one involving children - Paula explains it's the product of knowledge gained on many shorter trips.

"A trip around the world begins with the first ride," she says.

Lorenz recalls the first unpromising ride with daughter Anya, who howled in protest at traveling in an uncovered bike trailer: "It was like being a dog with a tin can tied to your tail."

Despite inconveniences, parents such as Behrooz "Ben" Emam of Seattle say that having children on trips opens cultural doors. He and his wife, Heidi, toured France for six weeks when their oldest daughter, Taraneh, was 2 years old.

"We would be eating in a restaurant, and the waiters would pick her up, take her into the kitchen, and feed her ice cream," Mr. Emam recalls. "Our daughter was just getting into the 'terrible twos,' but she got so much attention, she forgot about it."

They limited her time in their bike trailer to four hours a day and averaged 45 miles a day. Taraneh slept much of the way, then was ready to play when they stopped.

Returning to Europe when Taraneh was 12 and younger daughter Parisa was 8, they encouraged the girls to keep journals and draw pictures of memorable sites on postcards to be saved in a scrapbook.

When preparing for a bike trip abroad, Emam urges people to take tools and equipment for repairs, especially if they're riding an American-made bike in a country that uses the metric system. Detailed maps are also a must.

"You should buy the maps in advance," says Emam, noting that most maps are made for motorists, not bicyclists.

The goal of most cycling parents is simply to keep the rides fun, making sure each trip holds something special for the children: a playground, a picnic, or a trip to a pool.

While toddlers often doze during bicycle trips, preschoolers require more entertainment and frequent stops.

"We have a pair of family radios, because it's pretty easy to get separated, plus it entertains the kids," says Jay Hardcastle of Ames, Iowa. "They bring disposable cameras, and we still have one stuffed animal that regularly rides."

Mr. Hardcastle and his wife, Linda, captain a pair of tandem bicycles with the rear seats adapted for sons Tyler, 8, and Justin, 6. Their first multiday tour was a 30-mile ride to a campground for the weekend.

When 3-year old Tyler first started tandem riding, his parents put a counter on the handlebars so he could count cats as they tooled through the neighborhood.

Holmes-Eber stresses that a key to a successful family bike tour is flexibility.

"A lot of people don't have the right mentality," she says. "They say, 'I'm going 100 miles today.' In Oregon, we averaged 20 miles a day. Our attitude was: We'll get there whenever we get there."

The pace, after all, is part of the attraction. Bikes also offer a closer view of nature. They allow for new discoveries on seemingly familiar roads because so much can be missed at highway speeds.

The Ebers remember passing a moose in Alaska that had stopped for a drink and how it casually lifted its head to look at them.

Most importantly, parents say the long, easy miles on the road allow them to have quality conversations with their children that don't happen amid ringing phones and rushing to swim lessons.

Often, families touring by bicycle choose to camp because it's less expensive and doesn't require that they cover a set distance to reach the next lodging.

But a self-supported tour also means carrying a tent, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, and food.

The Ebers, touring through sparsely populated stretches in Alaska, could decide when and where they would make camp.

But they admit that at times they used the lure of staying in a hotel to keep the girls motivated.

The scarcity of stores along their route forced them to carry 20 to 30 pounds of food (enough for six days) and also guaranteed unusual meals such as powdered potatoes and sardines.

A supported tour - either camping or in hotels - offers less flexibility for sightseeing and daily mileage, but provides perks such as meals and a "sag wagon" in case gear or riders give out.

Last year, Jane and Michael Meagher of Lynnwood, Wash., flew to Australia for the "Big Ride," an organized tour covering 600 miles from Brisbane to Sydney, over 18 days.

They rode 50 to 70 miles a day, from early morning to dusk along the hilly coast. Jane rode a tandem with 8-year-old Daniel, and Michael rode a single bike with Rhys, 6, behind on a trailer cycle.

Tour operators carried their bags and served food along the route. Semi-trucks carried toilets to rest stops. At night they camped, usually at local fairgrounds, although the tour offered a hotel option.

The Meaghers also brought along another asset: grandparents, who watched the boys while the parents relaxed to nightly music.

Mr. Meager says the key to biking with kids is to maintain a positive attitude and keep things interesting. They encouraged a friendly competition between the boys to see who could be first up the next hill.

"(We came away) with a sense of accomplishment, that we could fly halfway around the world, work as a team, and have fun. Our kids made friends with Aussie children, and saw sights that they could only have dreamed of previously."

His advice for parents considering such an adventure: "Do it."

Kid-friendly equipment makes biking easier

The helmet.The helmet should be snug enough that it won't slip side to side or front to back. No more than one finger should fit between the chin and strap. Look for a sticker from the Consumer Product Safety Commission to assure the helmet meets quality standards.

Child seats. Rear-mounted child seats accommodate children up to about 45 pounds. Rhode Gear offers two popular options, the Taxi and Limo, priced at $99 and $129. They have high-back seats and attach to their own rear rack. Child seats have their downside, too. They have a high center of gravity, and a leaning 40-pound child may destabilize the bike.

Bike trailers. Designed to carry children from 2 to 4 years old, trailers offer a more stable way to transport small children. They attach with a pivoting joint, a design intended to keep the trailer upright even if the bike crashes.

Trailers range in price from roughly $250 to $400-plus for the top-of-the-line Trek and Burley d'Lite.

Trailer bikes. Designed for kids who have outgrown the trailer but are too small to cover much distance on 20-inch wheels, trailer cycles create a kid-friendly tandem at a relatively low price.

Adams offers three models that vary in price from roughly $169 for a single-speed bike to $389 for its Ultimate Tandem Trail-a-Bike, which accommodates two kids. Many dealers suggest the multispeed models, because even young children can master the grip shifting. The opportunity to change gears allows them to pedal at their own pace and provide more assistance to the adult on the main bike.

Child stoker kits. These kits let a child help pedal a tandem bike. The kits consist of a pedal set that bolts to the frame. An extra chain lets children contribute their own pedal power to the adult bike. It can be adjusted to fit most children. They cost $150-$250.

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