Josie Dew is an English touring cyclist, author and cook. In this blog Josie shares with us her experiences of cycle touring with her three young children.
Although a caterer by profession Josie frequently takes long cycle trips and then writes a humorous travelogue detailing her experiences. She lives near Portsmouth, England. She has two daughters and a son.
Getting kids started young
As I’ve cycled all my life it’s perhaps only natural that I’ve brought my three children up on bikes.
Even before they were born they were used to the meditative motion of cycling. I cycled every day through all three pregnancies up until a few hours before I pushed them out into my multi-wheeled world.
From babies to current ages they’ve experienced a mixed medley of bike child seats, bike trailers, trailer-bikes, FollowMe ‘tandems’, balance bikes, Islabikes, Nihola cargo trikes, Circe tandem and Triplet.
One of the most important things for children is to spend as much time outside as possible. Cycling helps them to have daily exercise and fresh air in their lungs. It clears their heads and lightens their moods. Some say it’s too dangerous to go cycling with children on our roads and though it could be a lot better, the health and happy-making benefits far outweigh the risks.
“ All the time there is that exhilarating feeling of freedom and uncertainty and spontaneity. ”
Getting ready for long distance cycling holidays
During last year’s school holidays I rode 300 miles around the Channel Islands and 642 zig-zagging windy miles across northern France and Belgium to Holland with my three young children.
This summer (after cycling around the coast of the Isle of Wight and the Solent Way and The Devon Coast to Coast) we rode 410 miles around the Netherlands. These are a few of many longer-range cycling missions that we have been on in recent years.
My husband Gary (a carpenter) always stays home as he prefers building to bicycles (and to have a nice bit of peace and quiet). So I brace myself for impact, the summer school holidays tend to be six weeks of non-stop busy-ness and activity, during which I scarcely have time to take a breath.
I load up the panniers and trailer to the gunwales with a wild assortment of camping clobber (sleeping bags, swimming kit, buckets, balls, toys etc) and ride onto the ferry to our new exotic land (even if in reality it’s not, it still feels exotic after cycling back and forth to school for month after month along the same stretches of road).
How we cycle together as a family
My eldest, Molly, who is 12, rides her own bike when we go touring. Daisy (8 years) and Jack (5 years) ride aboard my Circe Helios Triplet. Not that Jack or Daisy put in much pedalling effort mind you. They tend to like hoisting their legs up over their handlebars, and reclining back in a relaxing sunbathing manner using the luggage bungee'd on the rack as a comfy backrest. ‘Ahhh, this is the life!’ I hear them sigh as I toil away at the helm.
Last year on our Jersey-Guernsey and France to Holland escapade all four of us fitted on the same bike (me at the front, Molly in the middle, Daisy on Seat three and Jack in the trailer).
The advantage of the whole heap of us being on one bike means that all three offspring are safely tucked in close to me on the road and travelling at the same speed. It’s an unwieldy 14-foot-long articulated monster of a machine. It is very fun to ride, as long as the younger cycling party don’t sway around too much or decide to have a major altercation mid-flight down a steep hill. This can result in a lot of turbulence making handling tricky in the extreme.
“ ‘Ahhh, this is the life!’ I hear them sigh as I toil away at the helm. ”
Getting used to touring with children
The first time I went off on a month-long adventure with my young brood Jack wasn’t yet one and I did wonder whether I could cope without Gary’s extra pair of hands. But sometimes you’ve just got to plunge headfirst into things come what may. If you dither and dally and decide not to go then that’s a lot of chances of fun and frolics and memories lost down the drain.
When I used to go on extended bike tours alone pre-children, the cycling was the tiring part, the camping the relaxing bit. Now it’s the other way round. Although cycling such a long bike that weighs a ton is hard work, everything is packed up, everyone is on board, we are on the move.
It’s the end-of-the-day part that wears me into the ground. Trying to keep morale high when tiredness and tetchiness sets in to young legs and minds; looking for somewhere to camp; putting up a big tent (all the more tricky – and comical - in high winds or pouring rain); unpacking a multitude of bags; dealing with mechanical problems; washing clothes for four by hand; trying to keep an eye on all three children when they run off in three different directions; trying to cook for us all on a tiny camping stove without burning the tent down.
Why I take my children on cycling trips abroad
When you cycle in another country with three children on a bicycle (or bicycles) you can’t help thinking about the things that could conceivably go wrong and ticking them off in your mind. But I try not to dwell on the bad and look for the good; the fun, the camping, the living outside, the new places, the new faces, being on the move, life ‘on the road’.
All the time there is that exhilarating feeling of freedom and uncertainty and spontaneity. The not knowing exactly where we are going every day, who we are going to meet, what we’re going to eat or where we are going to sleep (I’m not one for booking ahead).
Plus, after spending so much of the year shut up in school it’s amazing to see how fast Jack and the girls adapt to living outside for several weeks on the trot. They become attuned to the nuances of the weather, have an awareness of the position of the sun and its usefulness for navigation and telling the time of day. And they even become quite efficient at reading maps (I’ve never used Sat Nav).
They also seem to gain more confidence and independence – learning about foreign ways or customs or money or rushing off to play with children they’ve just met – be they French, Dutch, Danish, German, Swiss, Swedish despite not having a common language between them.
It’s not a holiday in the usual sense but it is hugely enjoyable most of the time. It’s certainly always memorable.