Family bike vacations: how to choose the right one
When you’re ready to start looking for the family bicycle tour your kids will be talking about 30 years from now, we suggest thinking through a few thing before picking the best one.
Jumping on board the family bike tour train is a decision we promise you won’t regret. Adventure awaits!
But that doesn’t mean all trips are one-size-fits-all. There are a variety of factors when choosing the dream two-wheel holiday picking a tour that’s right for your family.
Before you start your search, consider some important question to come up with a tour scenario that best meets the needs (and wants!) of your family.
1. Why do I want to take a bike tour?
What was the catalyst that made you want to go the bike tour route? Trying to switch up the mode of transportation? Wanting to avoid the long lines at the not-always-happiest place on Earth?
Maybe you were intrigued by the slow pace of the trip, offering a chance to really get to know and experience a new place, meet new people, and have time to sightsee. Or maybe you’re a family of avid cyclists, who are excited at the opportunity to rack up some miles on fun new terrain.
2. Where do I want to go?
There’s a little something for everyone in Europe, but you can’t find it all in one place. Before you decide on your trip, take inventory of the most important elements you want to experience. Do you have special interests like castles, medieval architecture, wine (for the grown-ups!), or regional cuisine?
When you picture your perfect bicycle vacation scenario, do you envision yourself on a quiet stretch of seacoast, in an alpine forest, or a bustling market square? Are you in search of a more leisurely ride, with optimal opportunity for kid-friendly, off-the-bike activities?
3. Where do I want to overnight?
You’ll spend much of the day riding through the quiet countryside, but overnight locations have more variation. Do you want to stay in a place that offers the excitement of the city, or do you want a more peaceful setting, like a small village or even a rural farmhouse?
If you’re traveling with younger kids, you might consider tours with overnight locations that include pools and hotel activities. If you’re trying to entertain older kids, you might consider staying in a town center with lots of nearby social action.
4. Do we prefer guided (with a guide, group, and support van) or self-guided (with luggage transfers, pre-booked hotels, detailed route but more on our own)?
A lot of this decision hinges on personal preference and the makeup of your family. You might enjoy the freedom of a self-guided tour, allowing the family to ride at their own pace, and make stops at their leisure (Just one more castle! Just one more snack!). Self-guided tours are also a cheaper option compared to guided tours, with most costing less than $1,000 for one week and even less for children sharing rooms with parents.
This independence can come in especially handy for families traveling with young children—more autonomy means later (or earlier) wake up calls to accommodate the kids’ needs and more liberty to stop at every whim or potty-break. You don’t have to worry about keeping up with the group or taking a break for tired or hungry kids.
On the other hand, especially for first-time bike tour travelers, your family may appreciate the support of a guided tour. The group cycles together with a guide, followed by a support van, ready to take in and transport tired riders. Families with older children and teenagers often prefer the guided tour option, as they are more able to keep up with the rest of the group, and may have more interest in what the guide is showing you.
A third option, private guided tours, is sometimes available.
5. What are the ability levels of the people in my family?
Can the family handle riding up hills or mountains, or will flat terrain be more appropriate? Or, are you looking for a little of both? Some tours can cater to both extremes, like bike and boat tours that allow part of your family to stay on board for all or part of a day, while the others ride.
There are also tours that offer tandems or tag-alongs for kids, adult tandems, and — with a huge recent increase in popularity — electric-assist bikes for adults who might otherwise be challenged to keep up or have any health or physical issues.
6. How far do we want to ride each day?
Remember—this is a vacation, not an opportunity to train for the Tour de France. There will be plenty to see, and typically back to back riding days, so don’t overdo it by estimating your appropriate daily mileage by using your typical Sunday ride totals.
You can also consider tour options that have built-in rest days, which will allow some members of your family the chance to ride (or not) while others choose to stay back and explore the town for another day. Tours with “bail-out” options, like easily accessible trains (or even boats) you can roll your bikes onto or the availability of a support van, are also available. Another option: bike and boat tours, where your floating hotel gives you an option of riding or staying aboard each day.
7. What kind of route surface and setting — and overall route — are we comfortable with?
How “immersed” do you want to get? Would you be more comfortable on a route primarily made of paved bike paths away from the hustle and bustle and traffic? Are you comfortable with light to moderate road traffic? Does the thought of off-roading, even on wide, packed-dirt trails make you start to sweat with nerves or smile with glee? What about getting lost?
Are you comfortable with (or even welcome) the idea, or do you prefer a route that’s easy to navigate, whether by choosing a route with superb signage or by choosing a company that provides detailed maps and cue sheets or, even better, GPS?
8. Do we want to ride every day?
Much like #6, you need to evaluate your riding capacity for the trip. While most bicycle tourists enjoy traveling each day from point A to point B, there are some tour options that allow you the luxury of staying overnight in one town.
This added comfort of one central home base entices many travelers, especially families. Some are based in one hotel for the entire week and offer daily cycling excursions or rest days. Again, bike and boat tours may be another good choice for you.