Freedom And Learning To Ride With A Toddler

Riding a bicycle with a toddler

For years Tanya and I happily travelled as two adults with two carry-on bags. A happy portable little unit able to go where we wanted at the drop of a hat. We used to be able to pack all of our belongings in five minutes and be out the door. With one modest backpack each it was easy to just walk out into the street and be on our way, walking or hopping on and off whatever modes of transport suited us in the moment.

Now that we are faced with travelling with a toddler (and all of the associated stuff) if we want to change location then serious packing and planning is required. The sense of self reliance is gone, moving our stuff is tiresome and we are heavily dependent on others and their schedules. This loss of mobility and freedom has troubled us for a long time. We are not a light weight, self contained little unit anymore.

One option to enable us to be more self reliant is some sort of vehicle. We have previously made extensive use of scooters and the occasional motorcycle. Tanya does not ride and while I can carry another adult and some bags adding a third person plus even more baggage is not particularly attractive.

Somewhere in Thailand…

A car could work and we would look at renting a car in some parts of the world but the expense can be significant, cars isolate you from the environment and there are plenty of places where cars are really impractical. I would rather that acquiring a car be something we do occasionally rather than part of our usual routine.

Then one day we had a thought. What about bicycles? Packing would still be a drag but bicycles would enable us to move under our own steam, on our own timetable stopping at toddler play areas and parks as we saw fit. Both Tanya and I can ride a bicycle. On our travels we have crossed paths with a few people travelling by bicycle so it was not a completely foreign idea. We did some more reading and research. This could actually work. Family cycling holidays could be a real thing.

Struck by the possibilities we launched into the world of bicycles. Since that moment we have accumulated a surprisingly large collection bicycle stuff in very little time.

Not one of our bicycles
Not one of our bicycles

Most importantly are the bicycles themselves. Conventional touring bikes are a common choice. These make a lot of sense if you will be riding a lot. Going on a trip during which you will ride all day, every day? Get a touring bike. Going on a trip where the whole point is the cycling? Get a touring bike.

The only problem is transporting the bikes when not in use. I do not see us doing long distance, all day in the saddle, kind of trips. Most likely cycling will be an extra option for us, not the core reason we are there. For example, I can easily imagine us taking more epic rail journeys branching out periodically to visits areas not accessible by train.

The leading alternative was folding bikes. These are undoubtedly inferior to touring bikes in almost every way. Slower, smaller, worse handling, fewer gears and able to carry less. They do however have one big redeeming feature. Portability. You can get these things into a large suitcase if you need to. Or chuck them in the trunk of a car without having to disassemble them.

Although there are plenty of kinks to work out folding bikes seem to have a lot of promise. Currently we own two second hand Dahon folding bikes. One is more or less pristine. The other is pretty worn, which is fine. If we are going to do any serious travelling with bicycles we will need to know how to look after them, how to keep them in good working order and how to fix them when they break. Having some existing problems to deal with pushes us to get our hands dirty immediately.

Transporting Zoe on folding bikes poses something of a dilemma. In Australia the prevailing wisdom is that you cannot put a toddler bike seat on a folding bike. No way, no how. Except of course that you totally can, you just need to order stuff from overseas. One extra strength bicycle rack from Tern bicycles and a Yepp child seat later and Zoe was a very happy camper.

folding bike with child seat for bike

With the child seat came the opportunity to break out the zip ties to attach a hood salvaged from an old pram. Very crafty.

What about if instead of a child seat we used a bicycle trailer for Zoe? Bicycles trailers are a very common choice for transporting kids. Tanya came across a second hand Thule Chariot so we picked that up too. Already this bicycle business is becoming an obsession.

Zoe in her Thule Chariot sporting her moo cow helmet
Zoe in her Thule Chariot sporting her moo cow helmet

As well as being a bicycle trailer the Thule Chariot can also be used as a stroller, albeit a very large one. This means we can ride somewhere, lock up the bikes then use the Chariot as our stroller. We have only done this once so far however it was incredibly convenient. As much as we love our lightweight travel strollers it could help us to be able to do without one.

Our equipment is still very much in flux.

Family rides have started to become a thing. The first was just up the street as neither of us had been on a bicycle for a very long time (possibly since visiting Battambang in Cambodia in 2012). We have done a few 10-12km loops to visit some new playgrounds. Both the child seat and the chariot have seen some use.

Battambang way back in 2012
Battambang way back in 2012

Mechanically we have replaced one seat (the saddle, to those in the know), learned how to re-index gears and discovered how great quick release wheels are. Oily hands and really tiny tools are becoming part of our lives.

The plan is to go on lots of rides and and to try to increase our range over time. We have just locked in plans for our first overnight bicycle journey with vague ideas about potential multiday trips after that. It is all about learning, trying different things and slowly building our capacity as we enter this exciting new stage.


Our Bicycle Gear At This Moment

This is all evolving pretty rapidly but right now this is the gear we love.

2 x Dahon folding bikes. We are unsure of the exact models. Both are a few years old however.

1 x Thule Chariot.

1 x Tern Bicycles Cargo Rack. This company is amazing!

1 x Yepp Child Seat

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