A family bike trip can be a terrific way to reconnect with the people you love most. It requires some flexibility and a willingness to embrace the vulnerability that comes with traveling by bike, but if you can all agree to give it a try, you’re in for a memorable family vacation. Each trip begins with a plan. Here’s how to get there.
Credit: Sarah Hunter

1. Begin with Collaboration

The key to a successful family bike trip is that everyone wants to be on it, so it’s important to get everyone invested from the start by talking about what they want out of the trip. If they just want to dip their toes in the bike touring world, it might make sense to start with an overnight trip close to home. If they crave more adventure and want to travel for days at a time exploring a new area, the options are limitless. Spend time talking about what you all want. Paved roads or dirt paths? Camp or stay indoors? Cook your own food or dine out? Gather ideas from everyone. It all starts with a family brainstorming session.

2. Do Your Preliminary Research

Once you have a basic idea of what your family is looking for, you can go down the rabbit hole of researching trip ideas. There’s no need to recreate the wheel; There are lots of established bike routes out there. You might find one that’s perfect for you, but it’s more likely that you find one that you can use as a starting point, then finesse it to meet your needs. A few places to start: Bikeovernights.com, Adventure Cycling AssociationBikepacking.com, and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. State bike advocacy groups, like the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, often have a wealth of information on bike routes, too.

This part of the process can be a bit overwhelming, but fear not. Your trip is out there waiting for you. Narrow it down to a few favorites and talk about them as a group. This is a bonus to bike trip planning—it offers an endless source of dinner conversation.

Credit: Sarah Hunter

3. Delve into the Details

Take the feedback from your dinner conversations to flesh out the details of your family’s favorite options. If possible, delegate some of this research to older children.

  • Map it out and determine the distance between lodging options and whether or not there are stores for resupplying along the way. (The Google Maps bike option, while not perfect, can be a helpful tool.)
  • Contact lodging options to be sure there’s a safe place to store your bikes at night.
  • Learn about the type of terrain you’ll encounter. (How much climbing is there each day? Will there be any busy roads? Do they have shoulders? If riding off-road, what is the surface/condition of the trail?)
  • Determine where you can safely leave your vehicle. (Town offices or Visitor Centers can often help with this.)
  • If you’re doing a point to point trip, determine how you will get back to your vehicle. Are there shuttle options? Can you leave your car at the finish, rent a car, and drop it off at the start of your journey?
  • If you’re headed to the backcountry, research water sources and permit requirements and begin working on a meal plan.

Bring what you’ve learned to the dinner table and talk it over. This may have to happen more than once. Some trip options will be vetoed during this process. Some will be tempting but will have a few too many obstacles. Eventually, one will feel like the right fit.

4. Seek out Local Knowledge

Once you’ve landed on your trip and you have your route, it’s good to get some local intel. This can be particularly helpful if you’ve gone rogue and created a route all on your own, but it’s good to do even if you’ve stuck pretty close to an established route. Cyclists love to boast about how great the cycling is in their area. Take advantage of that, and share your itinerary with a local bike shop, club, or bike advocacy organization. They can give you tips you won’t find anywhere else.

5. Include Zero or Nero Days

Consider adding some zero days (rest days with zero miles) or nero days (nearly zero miles) to your final itinerary. These trips are not about crushing the miles. They’re about being together, having fun, and embracing the joy of traveling by bike.

Credit: Sarah Hunter

6. Assess Your Skills

You don’t need to be a bike mechanic to embark on a bike trip, but it’s helpful to have a few skills under your belt. If you don’t already know how to fix a flat, invest some time to learn. You can find great tutorials on YouTube, but for hands-on learners, consider taking a basic bike maintenance class offered by a local bike shop or advocacy group. This can be fun to do together, but if there’s one member of your family who wants to own the role of bike mechanic, that’s great too.

7. Brush up on Training and the Rules of the Road

If your family isn’t already in the habit of riding regularly, start getting some miles in the saddle in the weeks leading up to your trip. This can be challenging if you’re planning a spring trip and the weather is still chilly, but it’s worth it. Ride as a group as much as possible, and be sure that everyone understands the rules of the road and basic hand commands. Communication is critical while biking together.

8. Help Build Enthusiasm with Gear!

Use every gift-giving opportunity leading up to your trip to properly outfit the family—and build excitement. Packing lists will vary depending on the trip, but you’ll need:

It can be a bit daunting to plan a family bike trip, but the details fall into place when you’re on the ride. And some of the details will fall apart. Your trip won’t go exactly as planned, but that’s part of the adventure. The success of a bike trip isn’t measured by how closely it follows your itinerary. It’s measured in laughter, good food, and memorable moments with the ones you love.

Credit: Sarah Hunter