Rachel Stillwell, is originally from New Zealand and is a keen cyclist. She rode right through her pregnancy and now loves to ride with her baby. Here she shares her experience of cycle touring with her baby, offering helpful advice for others looking to do the same.
Carrying a sole toothbrush between the two of us and washing our only set of lycra in the shower each night, our modus operandi on cycle tour was to carry as little luggage as possible. Once baby arrived we had a lot more to carry on tour; not just baby and his trailer, but his nappies, clothes, food, bedding and a toy or two.
Cycle touring with a baby is an adventure full of discovery and joy. It’s a surprisingly chilled out way to travel, offering the freedom of touring without the strain of long distances or steep climbs.
There are different ways to tour with a baby with varying degrees of effort and flexibility required for each one.
Touring from a base
Our first cycle tour with baby wasn’t a real tour but a test tour; to check our gear and see how the little guy responded to touring in the trailer. We decided to ride to a mountain village with baby and trailer and stay there, taking turns at doing rides in the Alps each day.
We found that the little guy was happy in the trailer for a couple of hours, especially if the ride was timed with his naps. We became adept at pulling off the road if the little guy made noise, to check on him, take a break; do a nappy change, feed, play, and chill out and enjoy the countryside.
This style of tour a is a practical way to start touring with your baby as you quickly see what you do need (easy access to nappies and wet wipes while on the road) and what you don’t (a wardrobe of baby clothes), and what works with baby and what doesn’t.
This option is also ideal if you want to do some serious riding without a trailer in tow during your days at base.
This type of touring when you carry all your baggage and each day stay in a different place, is for me what touring is all about. You’re free to stop anywhere, for a swim, a picnic or afternoon tea.
You and of course baby, decide where the stops are, how long you ride for and if you pull off the road to jump in that swimming hole.
Careful route planning is essential, as with baby and baggage, having to ride extra distance or over additional hills can turn a great day into one you wish was over already.
Touring with a support car
Just like the pro teams, instead of lugging baggage and baby with you, if you have helpful parents or friends, the support car tour is an option. We rode across the south of France with one person in charge of the car and baby, while the others hit the road.
The benefits of this style of tour are that you can bring more gear with you, you can attack those steep climbs that would be near impossible with a 20kg trailer with baby hitched onto your bike, and you can cover much greater distances each day.
The downside is that you need to be well coordinated to meet the car, and baby may not be too keen on being in the car all day.
While having all you could need in the car is a bonus, the joy of riding into a medieval city centre for lunch, or stopping in a beautiful spot for a picnic, are not as easily managed when you have a support car.
If you have problems or can’t reach the meet up point, you need to be able to contact the car. This may sound easy, but flat batteries on mobile phones can derail best laid plans.
Weight is critical
We tour with the 11kg Thule Coaster, the lightest two child trailers available. With an 11kg trailer, plus baby plus baggage, Alpine climbs are now extremely challenging, even for the strongest among us.
After experiencing a few too many punishing climbs with the trailer, we now carefully plan our route to follow more rolling (or even flat!) terrain rather than tackling Tour de France cols.
To lighten the load for the person pulling the trailer, try putting panniers on the other bike(s) and share out the baggage.
To keep weight down try packing items that have multiple uses; such as an all-purpose cotton cloth which can be used for burping, as a bed sheet and a changing mat. Baby clothes can be washed along the way so there's no need to take lots.
Except for big towns, assume that wherever you go on tour, you won't be able to find regular baby supplies. Take everything you need with you, but only as much as you need.
For example, semolina in a plastic zip up bag is a travel favourite as it's so light, quick and easy to make. I then pick up things to liven it up with from local shops, like fruit or yoghurt.
Puréed fruit in squeezy packets are great for afternoon tea. The jars of baby food from the supermarket are easy to travel with as they are don’t go off (as long as they’re unopened) and seem to survive all temperatures.
Take a little plastic bowl, plastic spoon and bib so meals can be eaten anywhere, from train stations to rolling fields.
If you’re breastfeeding then carrying milk is effortless, however if baby is on the bottle, take a bottle brush and milk powder. Don’t forget some baby paracetamol in case teething happens on tour, and some thick antiseptic baby rash cream.
Camping or hotels
Camping while cycle touring means on top of your and your baby’s kit, you need a tent, cooker, sleeping bag and air mattress. While cycle touring and camping seemed romantic when there were just two of you, it seems heavy when there are three.
The alternative is staying in hotels which providing you’ve carefully planned your tour, is easy going and a shower and comfy bed (and sometimes a swimming pool) are very welcome after a day on the road.
Hotels provide baby beds and high chairs and the breakfast buffet is normally loaded with food babies like such as yoghurt, puréed apple and croissants.
Weather and baby can shorten the distance you cover each day, so it can be hard to predict where you’ll be in a few days’ time. We found planning one night ahead worked best, calling a hotel in our next destination to book.
Alternatively you can find a hotel by stopping at the Tourist Information office when you arrive in a town. They will help you find somewhere to stay, even ringing around for you if you ask.
Take care when travelling during holidays. We once found ourselves cold and wet in a tiny high altitude village in France where every single hotel bed was booked as it was a French holiday weekend. We ended up sleeping in a freezing caravan, shivering under the blankets and using sheets for towels.
The challenge of dining out when your baby is already asleep in the hotel is a problem no longer. An app called Babymonitor works just like a baby monitor using two smart phones, calling you if there are prolonged periods of crying (you can set how sensitive the app is).
Where previously we’d taken turns at eating dinner and watching the baby, the Babymonitor freed us to enjoy dinner at the hotel restaurant together, safe in the knowledge that the little one was sleeping soundly.
Be prepared and be brave!
Breakdowns on tour happen, so be prepared. Pack your repair kit and even spare spokes and a replacement gear cable. Give your bikes a full service before you head off, checking for any potential problems.
Don’t hold back. If you are thinking of touring with a baby, then give it a try. Be prepared, plan your route carefully and do a test tour before setting out. Use a base or a support car so for starters until you find your rhythm.
Touring with a baby is about doing what you love together as a family. It’s about going on adventures with yours kids. It’s about joie de vivre.