Planning your Family Cycling Adventure

Planning your Family Cycling Adventure

Preparation: smart choices

Pick your ride – where to tour?

Some of the day rides you’ve already completed might be part of longer routes such as the NZ Cycle Trail. Embarking on a multi-day ride gives you the opportunity to explore more of these trails and experience the adventure of cycle touring. For your initial voyage, choose an easier route. Well established and popular rides will have plenty of services nearby such as food and accommodation. Rail trails are a great option.

Experience: Our favourite family rides are rail trails. We’ve ridden the Otago Central Rail Trail, the Hauraki Plains trail and the Rimutaka Incline. We chose them for their quality surfaces (not too loose or rutted), steady gradients (no huge climbs or heart stopping descents) and because they are away from traffic. We also wanted well known and popular trails as they have companies and organisations servicing them with plenty of options for food, transport, bike hire, accommodation and supported rides.

Other options for cycle touring include hitting the back roads or off-road (mountain bike) tracks. Some suggested routes are included in the NZ Cycle Trail website. It could be fun to ride to Nana & Grandad’s or the bach via the backroads!


Being reasonably fit and active will make your adventure more enjoyable. There is a popular cycle-touring saying that the only way to get fit-to-tour is to tour. This is true for most of us who are juggling busy lives and can’t fit in extra training. The trick is to try and incorporate as much activity into your busy life as possible. Could you swap some car trips for bike trips? Plan some extra fun family weekend cycling and cycle to weekend activities. Gym-going grown ups could try indoor cycling classes.

Fit Tips:

If you will be towing children or carrying the luggage, practice carrying extra weight on your bike. A good way to do this is to fill up plastic milk or juice bottles with water and carry them in your panniers. One litre of water is 1 kg, so you can gradually add to your load by adding extra bottles. And if it all gets too much, you just empty the bottles onto a thirsty looking garden or verge!

Make your first few days of touring as easy as possible by choosing shorter distances and a route or direction with fewer hills.


Get acquainted with the gear you will be using well ahead of your adventure. You will be limited by whether you need to hire gear, and whether your child’s growth spurts mean a new bike prior to departure. Wherever practical take your touring gear out on practice rides to ensure you are comfortable and it works.

Hiring Bikes

Flying with bikes can be rather challenging. Usually you have to box them up, requiring a fair bit of disassembly and reassembly. Add in airline baggage policies, excess baggage charges and the real risk of damage, and you may well decide it is easier to hire bikes at your destination. When selecting a bike hire company consider:

  • What type of bikes they have in their range?
  • How often do they replace their bikes (some replace them every year)?
  • Will there be additional charges for getting them back to the start if you are not doing a round trip?
  • What accessories do they provide (repair kits, panniers, helmets, vests, etc)?
  • What level of support do they provide (in case of problems)?
  • What options do they have for kids? (tandems, half bikes, child seats, trailers, kids bikes)
  • Do they cater for any special needs you have such as tandems, e-bikes, etc?

Once you have chosen a company it is advisable to book ahead. When booking bikes you’ll be asked to provide riders size/measurements. For kids, give them your kids current dimensions, and ask if you can reconfirm closer to your departure, in case you kids have had a growth spurt.

Planning: getting down to details

“I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” Thomas Jefferson

Setting off into uncharted territory and making it up as you go along makes for a great adventure for confident, well equipped and experienced adult cyclists. BUT when cycling with kids you need to dig deep inside yourself and find your inner-planner.

Work out your daily distances, start and finish points

Use information from the internet (most trails have their own website), guidebooks, brochures and maps and PLAN. Once you have selected the ride:

  1. Work out your daily distances and route. Established rides will have suggested itineraries day by day. These distances will usually be too long for kids, so make adjustments, depending on your capabilities. Usually this means half of the recommended distances.
  2. Research which direction to do the ride in, taking into account likely wind directions, elevations (hills) and your other travel plans.
  3. Depending on your ride approach, consider what is available at the end of each day, e.g. is there accommodation nearby? This may necessitate a change in plans, e.g. breaking your ride at a different point, using a support vehicle or camping.
Tip: How far?

My rule of thumb for choosing an appropriate distance for cycling with kids is to pick what a reasonable distance for an adult would be and halve it. Thus if a multi day ride suggests doing it in 50km days, change that to 25 km per day with kids (or less). Choose shorter distances to start with, and increase the distance gradually. Follow longer or hillier days with less challenging ones, or rest days.

Research and plan side trips and rest days

As you read up about the ride, you will notice things you will want to explore. For example, taking time out from the Otago Rail Trail to learn curling at the Naseby ice rink; or doing the amazing ‘Windows Walk’ as a break from cycling the Hauraki Plains trail. Depending on your interests, you may want to plan for less cycling on a particular day so that you can visit attractions; or plan a rest day or two where you do little or no cycling and lots of exploring and/or resting. Campgrounds and Holiday Parks can be great for rest days because of their locations and amenities. Your rest day is also a chance for bike maintenance and laundry tasks!

Determine your transport, support and accommodation needs

Once your riding plan is outlined, you need to plan how to get there and back, and whether you have any additional transport needs whilst you are on the trail. Considerations include:

  • How far is the ride from home and do you want to take your own bikes?
  • Can you fit / carry everything in your vehicle?
  • What accommodation options are handy to the trail at the end of each day?
  • Are there food / dining options nearby? How far?
  • Do you want the option of giving tired riders a break whilst the rest continue?
  • What type of accommodation are you after?
  • Will you need to carry camping gear?
  • Do you have special needs for young children or disabled riders?
  • Will you carry everything on your bike?

All these logistical factors are interdependent, so spend some time considering different approaches (outlined below) until you find one that works for you.

Experience: How do you carry children and luggage? Before kids we completed supported rides where our bags were transferred from one location to another, as well as self-supported rides where we carried everything we needed. So far with kids, we have opted not to carry all our luggage on the bikes, especially when towing kids. By transporting our luggage by car we can carry more food on the bike: snacks, lunch, dinner ingredients purchased on the way. Self catering greatly reduces costs and ensures we eat well and often.

Self Supported Options:

These options assume you are using your own car for getting to the start of the ride, or are renting a car.

Ditch the car, transfer the luggage
  • Leave the car at the end and catch a shuttle/bus/ride to the start point. Travelling with another family enables a car shuffle, where you leave a car at each end. Some operators provide secure parking for a fee.
  • Use a luggage transport service to move bags between each nights accommodation.
  • This option feels more adventurous, as once on the trail you are relying on your bikes.
Leap frog for extra exercise
  • Leave the car at previous nights accommodation, cycle together to next overnight stop, then one person cycles back and gets the car.
  • You won’t need a luggage transfer service, you can dry your laundry in the car, and you have a car for getting around at your destination.
Hub Rides
  • Stay in one place and use it as a hub for exploring sections of the trail, returning back to base each day,
  • Or, use your car as a mobile base to return to, enabling you to vary each day’s start/end points. You’ll get very good at loading and unloading bikes from your car.
Adventurous Independence
  • Use a cargo trailer to transport you own gear, including camping gear if desired
  • Enjoy the freedom of travelling independently.

Supported Rides

When you are new to touring or are visiting from further afield, supported rides are a great option. Options vary, and every operator will have their own variations and naming.

Option: Usual inclusions: Considerations:
Fully supported ride Pre defined route and stops

Bikes (option to BYO)


Support vehicle or ‘sag-waggon’ (a lift when you are tired)

Luggage transport

Accommodation bookings

Sometimes meals and snacks

All you have to do is turn up and ride.

Make sure children are welcome and catered for.

Little flexibility

Big ‘safety net’

Partially supported ride Pre defined route and stops

Bikes (option to BYO)

Luggage transfers

Maps and notes

Accommodation bookings

Sometimes meals

All you have to do is turn up and ride.

Make sure children are welcome and catered for.

Little flexibility

Some support if things go wrong

Self supported organised ride Pre defined route and stops

Maps and notes

Accommodation bookings

Sometimes meals

The planning is done for you
Freedom ride You choose route and stops

Bikes (option to BYO)

Luggage transfers

Maps and notes

Accommodation bookings

Sometimes meals

You get to choose the route but someone else handles the logistics.
Luggage Transfers Your bags moved from one accommodation to another. This service can usually be booked separately.

Strict weight limits apply to each bag

Limited to popular trails

Pick up and delivery schedules may differ to your plans.


Tip: Don’t pack the kitchen sink. Many of the established tracks/trails have luggage transportation services. They will have a limit on the weight of each bag and it will be enforced (health and safety rules). Bear this in mind and don’t pack the kitchen sink. Believe it or not, you can probably do the trip with one pair of shoes and no hair dryer. Except for a bedtime favourite, toys are not really necessary: let the kids explore and improvise instead. Pens and paper don’t weigh much and provide good rainy day/down time options

Choosing an operator

Whether hiring bikes, getting your luggage transferred, or booking a fully supported ride, choose your operator carefully. Then you can hand over to them, relax and enjoy riding.

  • Look for a child friendly operator, e.g. one that provides child specific services such as trailers, kids bikes etc.
  • Look at testimonials on their website, Trip Advisor, etc
  • Ask friends who have done the trip already
  • Call them up or email them and see how they respond to your questions, what suggestions do they make? Are they flexible and open to modifications of suggested itineraries?

BYO support crew

Instead of paying someone else, can you form your own support crew? Is there someone willing to drive your support vehicle, transport your luggage, pick up tired riders, provide back-up transport (in case of mechanical breakdowns or injury), and take care of dinner? Riding adults could take turns being the support driver, or recruit a non-cycling friend or relative who is keen on the holiday without the cycling aspect. With extra time on their hands, they may also be willing to take care of some domestic duties: shopping, laundry and meals and looking after little people who need time off the bike.

Amenities on the route

Using trail brochures, books and websites, determine what amenities are available along the way: shops, toilets, shelter, exit points, water. In the countryside some businesses are seasonal, if you are counting on a shop/cafe, make sure it will be open.

Tip: Carry enough food and water so that you can cope if the plan comes unstuck. Boiled eggs, cans of tuna and extra sandwiches are all good back-ups to have on hand.

Make note of anything special you need along the way, e.g. togs for hot springs, torch for tunnels.


Pre-book your accommodation. It is best not to ‘wing it’ when cycle touring – at the end of the day, when you’re are tired, you won’t want to find ‘no vacancy’ at every turn. Before booking, find out what your options are for meals / self catering, and check it has laundry facilities. How far away is the recommended country pub? Is there a courtesy bus or local taxi? Are breakfast provisions provided? Will there be a safe place to lock your bikes? Most trails have accommodation listings, and some offer booking services to help you find something suitable within your budget.

Somewhere to dry washing is handy….or improvise!

Make an itinerary

Being an organised sort, I like to make up an itinerary with the details of our riding, en-route activities and accommodation. This is particularly useful when planning to ride with others and you can share and access it online via email, Google Drive, Dropbox or Evernote. When you are doing an organised or supported ride your operator may provide a detailed itinerary, including other helpful information such as suggested places to eat.

Example Itinerary: Hauraki Plains Trail

Origin Destination Mode Distance Accommodation Booking en-route Notes

Mon, 28 Dec 15

Thames Hikutaia Bike 22 km Alleys farmstay 15 km from paeroa on Thames rd. 1 km from trail on sealed path. Confirmed, via trail trust Cheese Factory

Tue, 29 Dec 15

Hikutaia Wahi Bike & Train 24 km to Waikino Wahi motor camp Confirmed, via trail trust Goldfields Railway 8km extra if don’t take train from Waikino to Wahi

Wed, 30 Dec 15

Wahi Paeroa Bike 22 km Paeroa motel Confirmed, via trail trust 1 hour windows walk

Thu, 31 Dec 15

Paeroa Te Aroha Bike 21 km Te Aroha motel Confirmed, via trail trust

Fri, 1 Jan 16

Te Aroha Relax Gold Discovery Centre in Wahi.

Hot Pools!!!!!!!

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