There are few things more fun than cycling with your kids, especially when they’re in front of you so you can talk as you ride. A baby giggles, gurgles and squeals at all of the sights and probably the dynamics of cycling as well. With a toddler the communication is obviously more intellectually stimulating. P1 (2.5 yrs old): “Papa, papa… Taxi, blue Land Rover jeep winch, two motorcycle! Thaaaat’s funny. No helmet racing bicycle! Playground! Slide. Go to plaaaayyyyy ground!!! Plaaaaaayyyyy ground!!!!” Still, nowhere is P1 more motivated to articulate complete concepts than on the bike. I expect the same will be true for P2, except probably with girl topics instead of our current mini gearhead talk.
Both P1 and P2 began riding in the Cargobike at about a month old (in a Maxi Cosi secured in the box) and then moved to sitting on the bench at about nine months old. P1 absolutely loved watching the world go by from the Maxi-Cosi and even at just a few months old was happy (or sleeping) for rides up to a couple hours long. P2 on the other hand, just didn’t like riding until she could sit up. Of course she still went in the bike almost daily for errands, to the daycare, to friends etc but we didn’t even bother to try a longer ride with her. It was clear it would just be too frustrating.
P2 (10mo old) began to enjoy cycling about a month ago when she began to sit either in the child seat behind the handlebars of our Fr8, or on the bench of the Cargobike. She sits in the same support seat we used for P1 (the shell of a Bobike Mini), mounted on the right side of the bench. Now, she’s clearly enjoying herself, smiling, squealing and waving her arms as we ride. It’s also a lot more convenient not having to bring the Maxi-Cosi along and it’s freed up lots of room in the box for other stuff: P1’s tiny bicycle, picnic gear, or perhaps everything the family needs for a few days on the road.
With P2 now enjoying the ride and the spring weather appearing it’s time to get back to the long bike rides through the countryside we so enjoy. Last year we did a number of quite long rides with P1, even bike touring a hilly area of France with him between my arms. But having two kids makes everything more complicated so first a little mini-tour to refine what we need to bring along, figure out how far we can ride and how much we have to stop and just plain old see whether it’s still fun. So last weekend I escaped my usual Saturday shop duties for a weekend family bike tour.
We figured 50km to be a reasonable distance and there are fortunately interesting routes and destinations in practically every direction. The weather in these parts is notoriously fickle at this time of year so going much further would be akin to asking the gods for a day of force 5 headwinds blowing a steady rain into our faces for the return trip. A bakfiets is probably only marginally more aerodynamic than a barn door and it doesn’t fit in the train for a shortcut home so we played it safe. Lage Vuursche, a village in the “Utrechtse Heuvelrug” (a wooded area with some small hills in the middle of the Netherlands) was chosen as destination, a hotel reservation for Saturday night made and the bikes checked over thoroughly. I would ride the Cargobike with the two kids and most of our stuff. Kyoko would ride our Fr8 city bike with just the snacks (lots of them!) in the bin on the front carrier. Coincidentally I found a clean sheet of eggcrate foam just big enough to line the floor of the bakfiets box. A little trimming and it fit perfectly. P1 was on hand to test our “instant bed” and approved… immediately taking a nap in the box.
The gods smiled upon our plans and blessed us with a beautiful Saturday and a forecast of a rainy but warm Sunday. I can live with that. A nice big breakfast, comfy clothes on, everybody smeared with the first sunscreen of the year and off we began our little adventure. With a warm day ahead we didn’t want the bakfiets canopy greenhousing the kids so I wrapped it up with a small tie-down strap and stowed it under the bench. Not bringing a rain canopy in the beginning April would be very dumb! Loading up the bikes I couldn’t help but note the sheer volume of stuff we were bringing: We filled the bakfiets box and the bin on the Fr8. In retrospect I shouldn’t have been surprised; It was mostly just clothes, raingear and other light, soft items just loosely packed in bags instead of being tightly stuffed into panniers. We brought a small sleeping bag along for possible picnics, to wrap the kids in if it got cold or for napping in the bak. And anyway we are packing for a family of four, mostly in one bike.
It wasn’t long before the first stop was necessary: An unhappy P2 turned out to be a hat that’d flopped over her eyes. P1 wanted his sunglasses, which he mostly wears pushed back on top of his head.
Riding with little ones you just have to accept and enjoy LOTS of stops. First major stop was for a snack and playtime along the Waver river. Here we also had a lovely talk with an older couple heading the other direction on their own weekend tour. Yes, bike touring is very popular in the Netherlands, particularly amongst those of the “empty nest” age group.
Scrutinize this picture carefully; It’s the only one with me in it. A great thing about this area is that we can ride almost endlessly on such paths. We’re only about 10km from Amsterdam but you wouldn’t know it from the scene.
An hour or so later it was lunch (and play) time. We stopped at a great little cafe along a river in the village of Baambrugge. P1 enjoyed until it dawned on him that we wouldn’t be going canoeing like those who glided past: “Caaaaanooooooo!! Caaaaanooooooo riiiiide!!!!” and so he screamed, writhing and kicking while I secured him in the bakfiets again. This is the main reason the bakfiets has harnesses, more so than protection in the unlikely case of a crash. Of course he calmed down again after a few minutes but continues to ask about going canoeing. I’m stalling by telling him he needs to first learn to swim.
Another hour or two further (I don’t keep track of such things nor do we have computers on any of our bikes) we escaped the paved world entirely, riding on smooth dirt paths through a nature preserve. Here P1 points out the obvious to us.
Probably already six hours “on the road” at this point the kids are looking pretty fried. No more hamming it up for the camera.
And a little while later they’re both lights out. P2 can rest her head against the clothes we’ve stuffed behind her head but P1 is doing the nodding thing, waking himself up. We rearrange some baggage, make a little nest with the sleeping bag and plop him in there. We’re less than 10km from Lage Vuursche, entirely on these perfect dirt paths so the danger factor is exceedingly low.
The mostly elderly guests at our rather posh hotel didn’t seem to know what to make of this bike riding family with two free-range tikes. I think we scared them away from this patio. Interestingly, even in the Netherlands, even in an area extremely popular amongst cyclists… there was no bike rack at all at the hotel and we seemed to be the only guests who’d arrived by bike. Lacking any more obvious option we just parked the bikes on the patio and nobody complained.
Sunday morning was cooler, foggy and wet but not really raining; perfect cycling weather in my book. Still it was cool enough to better have the kids out of the wind so the canopy went up, and stayed up the whole day. In case you’re wondering the black tape on the canopy window covers a couple little holes caused by the two times the bike was tossed over into the canal by the wind.
The website for Lage Vuusche mentions the Castle Drakensteyn. Not reading the description carefully I promised P1 that we’d visit the castle this morning. But despite Drakensteyn being just a few hundred meters from our hotel there was not a sign to be found anywhere, never mind an entrance for visitors. There’s just a big, imposing fence and lots of high-tech security gear surrounding the grounds. I asked a woman working at the hotel and she replied “Which castle? There are many castles in Holland… Oh sorry, I’m not from around here.” A couple of local women outside were more helpful. They informed me, clearly amused by my question, that Drakensteyn is the summer home of Queen Beatrix. It was further just refurbished and will soon become the permanent residence of (soon to be king and queen) Alexander and Maxima. None of my Dutch colleagues or friends seemed to know this either so I don’t feel like such an idiot. (And according to Frits below, this isn’t even correct.)
Anyhow the promise of a castle visit remained and the ladies told me of another castle, called “Groeneveld” less than 10km through the woods. They were sure you could visit. It was in the opposite direction from home but a promise is a promise and it seemed a worthy destination as well. So off we headed for Kasteel Groeneveld. It was a beautiful ride and only took about half an hour. Upon arriving the kids were of course…
…asleep. With the canopy up they sleep better because the corner of the canopy works perfectly to nestle their heads into. Unless we lived in a desert or tropical climate I couldn’t fathom not having this canopy.
So we did actually go to a castle (thus fulfilling the promise!) but the kids unfortunately slept through it. It’s probably just as well since this castle was also “closed”, with no signs of opening times or anything. At least we could get up close and I got to take a nice photo.
Oh, in case you’re wondering what bike Kyoko was riding here she is, snacking in front of the castle. It’s just my current daily ride: a Fr8 with a random collection of parts I’ve been testing. It’s now a three speed with drum brakes front and rear. A Nu Vinci infinitely variable hub and the latest Shimano roller brakes will be installed soon for their long term test. The bin on the front carrier is cut away because there’s usually a child seat behind the handlebars and bin (fixed to frame) would otherwise interfere with the footrests (that turn with the handlebar). A couple strips of duct tape keep the bags from falling out the back this weekend. Nope, you don’t need a special bike to go touring and I know lots of folks here who’ve done far more ambitious rides on far more basic bikes.
When the kids woke up a while later it was play, snack and coffee time again. Here P1 demonstrates why a rock-solid parking stand (and strong spokes) are important. He climbs up, sits on the rack and insists we ride like this just like he sees the big kids and adults do all the time. No, not yet kid – certainly not on a bike without any foot/skirt guards over the rear wheel.
About halfway home (different route, even more nature reserves) we encountered an odd obstacle for the Netherlands. This gate was locked with a padlock. Usually these are just secured with a latch since (I assumed) they’re to prevent large animals from passing through. A standard size bike can be squeezed through the chicane with a little maneuvering but not a 2.5 meter long 40+ kg bakfiets. Fortunately a very sweet older couple helped us lift the bakfiets over the gate (without the kids inside!). The gate at the other side of this area just had a latch as usual.
The ride through this nature reserve (first image above in this post) was worth the little hassle though. It’s a very beautiful marshland. The rest of the ride home was equally scenic and peaceful: a warm lunch at a village cafe, a good playground to let the kids work off some steam and dinner at a favorite restaurant in Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. Finally we rode home with full tummies as it was getting dark and quite cold. The sleeping bag came out again to cover up the kids who of course fell asleep for the last leg.
It was a great trip and many handy lessons were learned for future editions. But the basic format of touring from home with the kids in the bakfiets and Kyoko on a simple city bike works perfectly. The distance of 50-60km seems about right. Much further would just take too long with all the stops required. Hopefully we can choose a new direction and get out for such a ride each month or so while it’s warm.