Author Topic: taking the family across the country?!?  (Read 21386 times)

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Offline bill

taking the family across the country?!?
« on: March 31, 2012, 11:36:52 pm »
My wife and I have four sons, currently ages 16, 12, 9, and 4.  I have this dream of taking the whole family across the country by bike.  Not this year, not the following year, but maybe the year after that.  I mentioned it to all of them for the first time today.  My wife is skeptical.  Here are some issues:

(1) Bike equipment.  I've got a nice road bike; my wife and the three older boys each have multi-use bikes; the 4-year-old has a trailer.  Add a couple years to each of their ages . . . what sort of equipment would we realistically need?  Should the 18-year-old have a road bike?  Could the 14-(or 15-)year-old and the 11-(or 12-)year-old handle the cross-country trek on their own, or do we need to consider getting one or two tandems?  The 14-(or 15-)year-old is on the scrawny side and is the least athletically inclined.  I'd be more worried about him than I would be about the 11-(or 12-)year-old, who has spent his whole life trying to surpass his elder brothers in just about everything.  What about the 6-(or 7-)year-old?  What would he need?  What would be the best way to do this?

(2) My wife is concerned about excessive speeds on downhill stretches.  She's worried about safety - one of the kids losing control of their bike.  How can I address this?

(3) Physical ability: I don't have any doubt that I could do this.  I don't have any doubt that my eldest son could do this.  My wife is not in the greatest shape but she's not bad.  (She'd rather go to yoga than ride a bike, but she's trying to be a good sport about the fact that the rest of us really seem to enjoy being on our bikes.)  What about the three younger boys?  Could they pull it off?  Am I completely nuts?

(4) Any general suggestions about how to get a reluctant wife to get excited about this idea?

(5) How long should we plan for?  I'm thinking at least three months and probably more like four.  I have my eye on the Trans-Am route.  One advantage: we homeschool.  That gives us some freedom and flexibility; we don't have to rush back for school.  Just my job, but I think I might be able to arrange to be gone for four months.

Thank you. . . .

Offline mcparsons

Re: taking the family across the country?!?
« Reply #1 on: April 01, 2012, 10:28:15 am »
I tour with my children (10, 14 and up).  It is my favorite activity and some of the best time we spend together. 

I recommend building up to it.  Our first 30 mile ride nearly ruined it for my youngest (then eight) because I pushed it too hard.  Don't expect kids to have the same motivation you do.  You may see it as a challenge - they may see it as a chore.  If you start small and work up they will learn that it brings time with you which is what they want most.  Having a few adventures along the way that you can talk about will make them want to do more.  My 14 year old (also, scrawny and non-athletic but a fine cyclist) loves the adventure and the praise he gets from adults along the way.  After a week long trip my athletic 10 year old said, "You know, Dad, biking is just moving your legs up and down, up and down."  His motivation is unlimited Ramen and audio books on his iPod.  So start with day trips and short overnighters. 

Quality equipment makes a difference.  But it does not need to be outrageously expensive.  We do fine on hybrid bikes.  It's good if they can learn some basic maintenance too.  My youngest did 40 to 50 unloaded miles a day on a garage sale bike so bad he had to peddle downhill.  I recently upgraded him to a 15 inch road bike and it has made a real difference.

I'm fanatic about safety when I'm with the kids.  Speed is not the issue - situational awareness is.  I know one parent who runs regular "ditch" drills - I have not but I regularly ride inboard and behind to force traffic away.  Starting with trails will be less stressful for you and your wife until their handling and awareness improves.  I find riding with kids is harder on me than riding alone - the pace and the need to stay alert.  So trails makes it more fun and less stressful for everyone.

I wish we home schooled - you're fortunate there.  You could find a lot of learning opportunities: gearing and mechanical advantage, biology and physiology, mapping and navigation, local history and geography.  So I guess my recommendation would be to not fixate on the Transam (that sounds like your dream not theirs) and instead plot some 2 - 7 day rides in your region with fun and breaks built in.  Get them hooked and let the desire for the longer rides develop naturally.  Good luck!

Offline nancysv

  • Tourist
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  • Posts: 8
  • Biking from Alaska to Argentina with our kids!
Re: taking the family across the country?!?
« Reply #2 on: April 02, 2012, 05:46:23 pm »
Do it! Just do it! You won't regret it and your kids won't regret it either.

We've now cycled 27,000 miles together as a family - including a jaunt from Alaska to Argentina. Our twin sons are now 14; we started touring when they were 8.

The best preparation for a tour is as many saddle hours as you can fit in. That said, you'll get in shape on the road if you can't ride a lot beforehand. Just plan for short days when you start and you'll be fine. The physical fitness issue of touring is really a non-issue. I know that sounds odd, but biking is one of those things that you'll get in shape doing it. Don't let that one hold you back. Even your kids can do it if they want - it's way more mental than it is physical.

As far as equipment - nice equipment is nice, but not essential. Go with bikes that are comfortable for you. Going across the USA you will never be so far from a bike store that you can't hitch in if something does happen so don't worry about it. If you were going to go to outer Mongolia I'd say go with the best, but for what you're doing, don't worry. Just make sure everyone is comfortable and you're good to go.

About what the kids can handle - it depends on the kid. When we first took off when our boys were 8, we had them both on a bicycle built for three with their father as the captain. That worked beautifully.

The boys were 10 when we left Alaska for Argentina. At that point, one of our sons was ready for his own bike, so we put him on a single. The other boy was nowhere near ready so he rode a tandem with his father. It was perfect for both of them. My point is that kids are all so different that age has little to do with it - one twin rode his own bike through 15 countries; the other would have killed himself within a few miles if he tried it. He simply wasn't ready physically or emotionally to handle the stresses of it.

One of the things we did with Davy (on his own bike) was to sandwich him between us when we went through cities. My husband went first with the tandem so that Davy could watch what he was doing. I was behind Davy so that if he started doing something stupid I could yell at him. We only had one situation where we needed that - John could safely get over into the left lane so he jumped out, Davy followed but the car was too close. Cars started honking their horns and I started screaming and Davy jumped back over to the right. We talked with him a lot about how he - and he alone - is in the that particular place in time and space and he needs to always check for himself rather than blindly following Daddy. After that we didn't have any more problems.

The speed issue won't be much of an issue. People are inherently cautious and will hit the brakes when they are going too fast. As you gain skill and get to know exactly what your bike can handle, you might speed up but it's downright scary to go too fast and those brakes are right there. If you're concerned about the kids not knowing what they can handle, mandate that they stay behind you and then you can set the speed.

I think you're bang-on on the timeline. 3 - 4 months should give you enough time to get across the USA. It really depends on how much you want to pedal. We've found we've slowed down a LOT since we first started touring. We now do around 500 - 600 miles/month rather than the thousand we used to do. That gives us more time to play, which is what we want.

Good luck with planning! It'll be a BLAST! Feel free to send me an email to familyonbikes at gmail dot com if you want. We've got tons of info at our website ( as well.
Read about our adventures as a biking family!  We're now cycling from Alaska to Argentina

Offline gypsysue

Re: taking the family across the country?!?
« Reply #3 on: April 13, 2012, 03:33:13 pm »
We went on our first family tour when the youngest was 5, but she was trailered.  The other kids were 9, 10, and 12, and they did fine.  We stopped often, about once an hour, and let everyone get off and stretch for about 10 minutes or so.  At lunchtime we took a long break and goofed around after we ate, playing run-around games or just tossing stones in a nearby river.  Or we'd lay under a tree and read out loud to the whole family.  We read a lot of classics, a chapter at a time, on our breaks.  The diversion was great for the kids.

We also stopped at parks in small towns and let them play on the playgrounds.  Ice cream shops or child-friendly attractions were also a good diversion.  Remembering that the kids are still kids, even if we're forming them into bicyclists, is helpful.

I can't think of a better education than crossing the nation on a bicycle.  You're doing a good thing for your kids.  You can always use the education and family-time aspects to help convince your wife.  At their ages they will have already studied a lot of history, and it will be exciting for them to see these places for themselves, and at the pace of a bicycle, no less!  The experiences and adventures they'll have are priceless.

We're starting over with a 16-month old grandson, now that are kids are grown and gone.  We've already had him out in a baby-seat on the back of my bike, and will use the trailer on longer rides.  He LOVES being on the bicycle.  I hope it's the start of a long love relationship with him and the bicycle!  :)
« Last Edit: April 13, 2012, 03:35:06 pm by gypsysue »

Offline mucknort

Re: taking the family across the country?!?
« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2013, 11:04:09 am »
Okay, its winter of 2013, but hopefully this adventure is still on your agenda...

We homeschool our son, as well, and took 4 months to go from Boston to Seattle in 2011. Our son was 11 when we started but turned 12 during the trip. My words of advice are GO FOR IT!!! And possibly sooner rather than later. Though your youngest will be in better shape the longer you wait, you risk losing your oldest to other interests, etc.

I, too, went with a nervous wife. She rode across the US twice in her twenties, but it was a far different experience riding as a Mom. She worried before the trip and worried during the trip. (She's glad we did it after the trip.) My three points of advice for this:

1. We took the League of American Bicyclists Safety Course a few months before our trip. This made a huge difference. The course gave us all fantastic advise and practice for riding safely on the road. I'd been riding and touring for over 30 years before the course and even I learned a great deal. The course really helped improve our son's riding on streets and roads.

2. When we started the trip, we always rode in this order: Me - front, Son - middle, Nervous Mom - back. We made it to the far side of NY State and Mom had a meltdown at a campground saying how nervous it made her feel watching her son on the road and worrying about his riding. For the next day, and the rest of the trip, we switched the order to: Me - back, Son - middle, Not-so-Nervous Mom - Front. This made a HUGE difference for her (and us).

3. We put all the appropriate safety gear on each of the bikes (as was reinforced at the safety class). Each bike had a flag, flashing front and rear lights, an ACA safety triangle, and a mirror. Cars gave us a wide berth 99% of the trip. Safety gear isn't a guarantee to be accident free, but if one of us had been hit by a car, we'd never be haunted by the thought of, "If only we'd been riding with _____________ safety gear, things might have turned out differently."

We wondered if our 11 year old would make it on his own (he was super head-strong about wanting to do the ride on his own), and were prepared to buy a tandem mid-trip, if necessary. He did start out pulling his own BOB trailer, but in WI we shipped that home/bought him small panniers/shifted much of his gear to my wife and my trailers. That would be one suggestion, to be the pack mule yourself and let your wife and kids have lighter loads. At least at the start. Another suggestion is start slow and then pick up. Our first week we rode less than 20 miles a day, second week less than 30 miles a day, and so on until the second month and beyond we averaged 40 - 60 miles a day. Once in a while we did 70+, but that was rare. We also took rest days to see fun things, stayed in hotels occasionally, and stayed with warmshower hosts (all of whom loved to see a family on tour, as most of their visitors are usually adults).

Oh, and read through the section of links I found on the web related to family touring:

And get inspired by reading Joe Kurmaskie's books on his coast to coast adventures: Mud, Sweat and Gears & Momentum is your Friend
« Last Edit: February 06, 2013, 11:11:39 am by mucknort »

Offline johnsondasw

Re: taking the family across the country?!?
« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2013, 12:54:53 pm »
The biggest problem I see here is the wife's reluctance.  I would get past that before going by doing 2-3-4 day shakedown trips well before the big one.  If you don't get that problem resolved, you'll fell like you're "pulling" her the whole way and also possibly feel responsible for every little thing that goes wrong. And things will go wrong every day.  However, if she's enthusiastic, you can solve problems together as a family and the whole thing will be a great learning experience for all, not to mention fun.
May the wind be at your back!

Offline John Nelson

Re: taking the family across the country?!?
« Reply #6 on: February 06, 2013, 02:25:21 pm »
According to bill's profile, he has not logged into this site since 23 minutes after he made his one and only post 11 months ago.

Offline mucknort

Re: taking the family across the country?!?
« Reply #7 on: February 08, 2013, 03:04:07 pm »
According to bill's profile, he has not logged into this site since 23 minutes after he made his one and only post 11 months ago.

Always a bummer when we get hit and run posters, asking their one big question and then seeming to disappear. He did say he was thinking of doing this trip next year or the year after or the year after or... (I guess that's part of the package with long distance bike touring, something that many dream of, but few ever actually do. When I'm touring, I always get comments like, "Gosh, that's something I've always wanted to do." or, "I was gonna do that with my kids, but then they got too old."

I saw it had been a while since his only post before I posted, but took the time to write anyway, hoping/thinking it might benefit some other reader planning a family bike tour. It's not like our replies are only seen by the Original Poster of each topic.
« Last Edit: February 08, 2013, 03:07:58 pm by mucknort »

Offline bill

Re: taking the family across the country?!?
« Reply #8 on: September 30, 2014, 03:33:00 am »
It's me, the guy who originally posted this question, a long time ago.  Apparently it's been two and a half years!  That's amazing to me.  I have a crazy job and we now have FIVE kids, all boys.  I really, really appreciate the replies you all took time to write.

The dream is still very much alive.  We're now targeting the summer of 2016.  By that time the boys will be 20, 16, 13, 8, and 3.  The oldest is now riding his own road bike.  The oldest two and I went on a 350-mile five-day excursion last month, which was great, and the second-oldest indicated a desire to do more.

I'm still feeling a little stymied by the amount of planning that will be required for the seven of us.  I have now purchased ACA maps for the whole TransAm route and have been studying them.  I'm envisioning we would start Memorial Day weekend in Yorktown and end Labor Day weekend in Astoria.  That gives us a total of 102 days.  If we average 50 miles a day then we'd have 88 days of riding and 14 rest days.  Is that at all realistic?

My wife is less reluctant than she used to be (perhaps mainly because she's realizing that this dream of mine isn't going away), but we now have the baby's needs to consider too.  Can we really do this entirely on bikes?  Lately I've been wondering if we should bring a van along, and those of driving age can take turns driving it, and those who get tired of being on their bikes (or who get sick, or injured, or just plain sore) can ride in it when needed.  It would give us a lot more options and flexibility ... but would definitely cut down on the sense of adventure.

My wife has indicated that she would be more enthusiastic if we can find some things to do along the way that will interest her.  Her brother's family has a nice cottage in Montana, near Glacier National Park.  That's not directly on the route, but we could take a little excursion on the Great Parks route from Missoula and get there.  We might be able to plan a significant family gathering, timed for when we'll be passing through.  I'm also looking at getting my family to join us for a few days in Breckenridge.  Those potential family visits definitely add some appeal for her.

I've been looking over the maps, trying to figure out where we would stop along the way and how much we would need to budget for the whole trip.  This is very, very complicated, and I'm looking for ways to make the planning simpler.  (Suggestions?)

If we make the excursion up near Glacier National Park, then I wonder if we should backtrack back to Missoula, or if we should just head west on the Northern Tier route.  That one looks hilly!

I have concerns about some of the climbs.  I've spent more time looking at the Appalachians than the Rockies and the Cascades, but the Appalachians look intimidating.  Would my younger riders really be able to make those climbs?

There's the question of how we get to/from the start/end points.  If we take the van, we will have a several-day drive on either end, with all our bikes and all our gear.  If we leave the van behind, we've got an awful lot to transport by plane.

Then I can't figure out what kind of bike equipment would be best.  Do I need a tandem for a couple of the boys?  What do I do with the 8 year old - a tag-along?  How many of my family members am *I* going to have to pull - along with how much of our gear?

As you can tell, I'm feeling a little intimidated by all this.  I seem to have way more questions than answers.  I'm sure there must be a way to pull this off, but it's daunting.  I don't want my dream to die just because I can't figure out some of the logistics.

Thank you for whatever suggestions and advice you have to offer me.  I do appreciate it.

Offline RobbieRoss

Re: taking the family across the country?!?
« Reply #9 on: November 23, 2014, 01:22:38 pm »
Sounds like an amazing adventure, and well worth the logistics. 
My wife and I are planning on crossing the country next summer (2015) via the norther tier with our four year old in a weehoo trailer.  We're NYC based and are planning on winding up in Tahoe, where my in-laws live.  But that makes us a much smaller party and the planning less complex.   :)

Offline BrianW

Re: taking the family across the country?!?
« Reply #10 on: November 07, 2016, 06:45:08 pm »
^^SPAM. Mods should delete.