Kids on Bikes

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Liz Hale and son on a Backroads Family Biking Trip

I do know a thing or two about getting kids on bikes, and doing so at the earliest possible juncture. It started 19 years ago with my oldest child, now a college sophomore who has recently emerged from what I would call “my parents dragging me around the world” stage into a delightful appreciation for all things travel. What a wonderful metamorphosis. Have faith ye of teen children!

Before my kids were ready to learn how to bike, we went through the spousal negotiation phase of you stay home/I go bike. That didn’t go so well.

Our first breakthrough was realizing that the carseat fit perfectly in the Burley trailer, and could even be cinched safely down. And the motion put baby right to sleep. Not sure if the certifying body for child safety would condone this one, but I personally found it just as safe as a car seat in a car.

Backroads Founder Tom Hale family biking with a piccolo

Then came the “trail-a-bike” phase with the Piccolo trailercycle. I got my kid on the bike extra early by using a nifty pedal gizmo that attaches to the crank arm to reduce the distance a kid’s leg takes to reach the pedal. Before I discovered this, I made all kinds of Rube Goldberg wooden block attempts that were not, shall we say, successful. The simple device is called a “crank shortener” and Tandems East sells the original. It’s easy to install, and I’ve brought it along on many Backroads trips.

All was fine and dandy until kids two and three came along. Then it was all about how many kids I could safely tote on one bike. While three was possible, I’m not big on the whole three-seat tandem bike with a Piccolo attached, so I landed on a two-seater tandem bike with a Piccolo. I was able to drop the two younger kids off at school and then get a workout riding home. I did try a few rounds of attaching both the Piccolo and Burley trailer to the tandem bike so I could take all three kids, but I wouldn’t call that a recipe for high safety standards. Plus it was a bit of a freak show!

Backroad's Tom Hale Tandem Family biking

Then along came the nifty new telescoping seat post on a tandem bike, like the Co-Motion Periscope Torpedo tandem, that can accommodate a huge range in height and leg length. This means that one day you can go on a ride with your kid and the next day with your spouse–all you need to do is raise or lower the telescoping seat. I love this bike.

As soon as my kids were able to safely ride their own bikes, they couldn’t wait for the freedom of doing so. Mind you, sometimes I had to bribe the kids with “how about we stop at the donut shop along the way?” to get them to ride en masse to school. I know, pitiful parent trick, but a dad’s gotta do…

Backroads Tuscany Family Bike tour

This may be unique to our clan, but I’d say you can count on kids to embrace the whole bike thing up into and maybe through (if you’re lucky) middle school. Then it gets a little more interesting. My teenage son is all about mountain biking now, so I’ve joined his school club rides. I’ve also taken him out on the Alpine Dam loop, a difficult 32-mile route that’s one of my favorites, where he rode one of our eBikes and I pedaled like crazy to keep up. He got a great workout while I just about redlined it, so we were both happy as can be–plus what a great father-son bonding experience.

Backroads Founder Tom Hale biking on the Netherlands Family Biking trip

One of the reasons I love biking so much is that it’s a sport you can enjoy throughout your life–once you learn to ride the skill is with you forever. Plus it enables our family to spend time together and there are so many amazing places we can explore on bikes. A surefire way of keeping kids excited about hopping in the saddle is biking in cool places and doing it with like-aged kids. Like I said, if you encounter the dark ages of teendom, have faith–your teen may not want to bike to school, but cycling through Italy, Hawaii or Thailand with other kids is a whole different story.

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Tom Hale

Tom Hale

Founder and President at Backroads
A native of Moraga, California, Tom Hale possesses a passion for two seemingly divergent interests—business and back roads—which he has powered into the world's most successful active travel company, Backroads. It was the back roads that first attracted him, as a competitive runner at Campolindo High School (where he still holds the two-mile record at 8:57.2) and at the University of Oregon, where he was a teammate of legendary runner Steve Prefontaine. Armed with a Masters in Environmental Planning from UCLA, Hale was six months into an environmental planning position in Las Vegas when the back roads called again—big time. A middle-of-the-night inspiration to start a bike touring company motivated him to pedal 5,000 miles alone through the West, all the while formulating plans for his new business. Settling in Berkeley, Hale washed fondue pots by night and built his fledgling travel company by day. In true entrepreneurial fashion, he did it all—designed the itineraries, maintained the bikes, led the trips, produced the catalog.
Tom Hale

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