Our first bikepacking trip was Tom’s idea. At age 7 he wanted to do the classic Lands End to John O’Groats route which is a 870 mile trip from the Southern most, to the Northern most point of the UK.
We only had five days for a trip, and it was clear that we didn’t have time for that. So, instead I suggested doing a West coast to East coast trip. 100 miles, though with the option of reversing the route if things were going well. We ended up covering 200 miles. Though mainly on the road, we carried all our stuff, camping out in November in freezing temperatures.
Since then Tom has done a couple of other bikepacking trips, but has also done a lot of other miles on his bike in all weathers. He’s probably done 4000+ miles in the last 3 years.
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There are certainly other young kids out there doing big things. A couple of years back a 10 year old cycled 4000Km across Australia, and last year a 10 year old rode the length of New Zealand’s North Island (1300km) on a fat bike. I don’t know either kid, but they’re always smiling in the photos. Tom’s certainly motivated when he’s on his bike. Once a ride is underway, he digs in, and doesn’t want to give up, irrespective of how hard things maybe, which sometimes they are. His outlook is an infectious positive one. If his legs aren’t hurting, then mine aren’t going to either. After all, in his own words “We’ve only done 80 miles.”
Cycling isn’t everything in his life though. There are days he’s not interested in his bike. Instead, he goes to the park with his friends, he practices playing the saxophone, and like other kids plays video games. It’s important that he does other things. He’s a normal kid who sometimes rides a bike. DSCF3842

Advice

When doing a trip with kids, I think the most important thing to bear in mind is that it is not about you. If you want to go for a fast long ride as you do with your mates, then don’t take your kid along. Tom’s first long ride was 36 miles when he was 5. It took 8 hours. On my own, I have forgotten to bring enough food, a water bottle and have been wet and cold on a ride. There’s a new level of responsibility you have to embrace when you take out mini me. You need to make sure that you are fit, fed, hydrated and warm always. Ultimately you are in charge, you need to be operating at 100%. DSCF3841 Plan a trip with cake and ice cream stops, attractions to visit, and try to be knowledgeable about the landscape in which you are riding. Make it fun and interesting. We generally plan a big ride with a goal, though with alternatives. With the Coast to Coast trip mentioned above, we started off at a conservative pace, and built up the daily mileage over the trip. I think on the last day we did 75 miles, and only needed four of the five days to do 200 miles.
The HT550 was an ambitious goal this year, but on this occasion, due to the weather, the hike a bike and the potential danger of the deep and wide Fisherfield river crossing, we shortened the route. A successful trip is one that leaves your kid wanting to plan the next one on the way back home. DSCF3868
I’ve mentioned planning. It is important. If in doubt, start small, and build from there. I always discuss with Tom what I think our options may be. I think it’s important he’s involved in the decision making process. When we go on a ride he has a pretty good idea of what he’s signed up for.
Buy a decent quality lightweight bike and make sure it fits them. Tom’s first proper bike was a cyclo-cross bike which was good for on or off road.  There are secondhand bargains out there, and you’ll get most of your money back when they’ve outgrown it. Now he’s a bit older he has a road bike and a mountain bike just like Dad. DSCF3872 Once they’ve got a bike, make sure they have some warm waterproof clothes to wear. Other than cycling shorts and gloves maybe, the other stuff does not need to be cycling specific. Pay particular attention to extremities. I don’t mind cold hands feet and ears. Tom does. Oh, and if you are riding in colder weather make sure YOU wrap up warm. Until your kid is approaching their teenage years you will be cycling very much slower than you are used to. When they are young let them carry some bikepacking kit for sure, but make sure it’s the light bulky stuff like the camping mats. Even with a lightweight build a kids bike will weigh a far larger proportion of their bodyweight than an adults. Tom’s bike with his bags probably weighs close to 1/2 his bodyweight. I guess most riders setups will weigh maybe a 1/4 or less of their weight. 400 miles in 7 days with a good proportion of off road miles is tough for most adults. Tom was a match for the technical riding and the miles, no problem there. As mentioned though, that proportionally heavier bike thing made him struggle when he had to push it over the rough ground. One other thing I learned is that whilst he’s happy enough doing long hours on the bike, unlike adults he really does need 10 hours of sleep a night. I shall respect that in future. DSCF3867 Our first day was an ambitious day. It was 17 1/2 hours before we stopped to sleep having covered 85 rough miles. We had a much shorter day of 8 hours on the second, the other 5 days were around 10 hours of riding. The weather was unseasonably grim, which meant other than stopping for food at villages when we encountered them, we were on the go every day. Coping with the weather was a big aspect of the trip. My most used phrase was “Are you warm enough?” We stopped numerous times to put on and take off warm and or waterproof clothing. When the weather was at its worst we were wearing the same clothes we would have been wearing in December. DSCF3858
I am happy to say we got the clothing thing just right though.
I would not do a route that had as much hike a bike as the HT550 again with Tom until he’s much bigger. He currently hasn’t got the strength to manhandle a loaded bike for extended periods. A break off the bike during the day would be good if the weather plays nice.

5 final pieces of advice:

1) If your kid wants to come along on a trip, take them and make it fun. 2) Choose a route that is technically within your kids abilities. Pushing a bike sucks. 3) Have options to shorten what you think may be possible, and of course just in case anything goes wrong. 4) Work as a team. Give your kid responsibilities. As Tom has got older and we’ve headed to more remote areas I’ve ensured that he has the needed skills to look after himself if needed. He’s already asking when he’ll be allowed to go on a trip on his own. He’s not far off having the skills to do that. 5) Be prepared to be amazed what your kid can do on a bike. I am. DSCF3869

2 Comments

  1. Mark Kennedy

    love the write up.

    My son is 9 and we have just started biking together. Wondering what size bike you have for your son? I’ve got a 24in trek for mine but wondering if I should have went full size for him.

  2. Pingback: The First Bikepacking Overnighter - Bikepackers Magazine

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