Interested in heading out bikepacking with the family? Leo Cerda has some great tips on what to expect, and how to make it a good time for everyone.
Words and Photos: Leo Cerda
For as long as we've had a kid, my wife and I have made an effort to get outside and keep doing the stuff we used to do did pre-kids. It's obviously harder, but we get kicks from the victories and learn from the failures. It's definitely not the same as heading out with your mates, but it's pretty cool to do these things as a family and buck the sedentary lifestyle that seems to kick in after kids arrive. In writing this, my aim is to inspire you to take the harder path, to leave the suburban parks, the endless birthday parties and the streaming cartoons in search of something way more satisfying which I believe can yield better kids.
Getting equipped and getting out in 2020:
After finding ourselves jobless and stuck in Western Australia due to Covid, we started playing around with the idea of riding the famous Munda Biddi with our son. Our first challenge was that all our bikepacking and camping gear was in France – which was meant to be our final destination while travelling from the east coast. Countless hours on Facebook marketplace later, we had enough stuff to pull it off. Our second challenge was that our four-year-old son was now in the no-mans-land of child cycling: too big for a child seat and too small to keep up on his own bike. After trying a few setups, we landed on a simple, top-tube mounted child seat that gave me the best bike handling and gave him the most comfort. Off we go.
Lessons learnt from Kidpacking:
Keep it short and sweet!
Keep your destination to an absolute max of 40km away and don't expect to ride much faster than 10-15 km/h. That's about half the distance and speed we would do without our son. Another way to think about it is to ask yourself how long your kid is willing to stay seated. We tend to break our riding into two-hour chunks with plenty of breaks for snacks, wees, scavenger hunts, and more.
Make it fun and try to stay sane:
If your kid is anything like mine, the chatter will be endless while they are on the bike. So expect nursery rhymes on repeat, the same knock-knock jokes and a bunch of random games involving rocks, sticks, and make-believe role play. It's a great opportunity to spend some quality time together and have a laugh, but sometimes the non-stop chatter can drive me crazy particularly when dealing with tough uphills or at the end of the day. Just remember: they're only kids and you got them into this situation, so try and play along.
Leave plenty of time for distractions:
Your kid's desire to constantly stop and check out random things along the trail will inevitably cause delays. It used to drive the control freak inside me insane! I would get frustrated thinking that we would never get to our destination on time. That's why I now plan for shorter rides at a much slower pace. The flip side to lots of stops is that it breaks up the ride and avoids them getting bored. Plan for two stops per hour and it’ll make it more fun for everyone.
Practice makes perfect:
It took three solid attempts before we managed to complete an overnighter. The first time it bucketed down with rain 20 minutes after starting. The second time it was 40 degrees and we found the trail was closed 10km in. Each time we learned a bit about what worked and what didn't: how to carry him, how long was he willing to ride, how to carry gear for three people on two bikes, etc. I would suggest a few dry runs where you cover similar times and distances to what you're planning. I would also suggest a "token" bikepacking overnighter where you just head 5km down the road to a simple campsite. Some other tips I have are as follows.
- Don't make weight the excuse:
- I'm no freak with hulk-like mega quads, but I reckon that once you add the weight of kid to a bike (17kg in my case), it doesn't make a difference if you have the lightest gear or not. You just won't feel it. Some of the ultralight gear can set you back more than GDP of a small country, so don't go overboard buying stuff expecting it'll make a huge difference. If you're concerned about the fully loaded weight of the bike + kid, plan a route with as little climbing as possible. You'll probably have more challenges finding space in your bags to fit everything into than with weight. Of course, the bike will be insanely heavy, but if it's the difference between going and not going, I say suck it up and pedal bitch.
- No child carrier is perfect:
- I've been riding off-road with my son since he was six months old (much to my mum's horror) and have tried pretty much every child-on-bike contraption out there. In the end, choosing the right one for you boils down to your skill level, your kid's age and your risk tolerance. In our lame, hot potato liability society, most child seat manufacturers do not endorse their product for use off-road. Riding off-road with a child is a lot more challenging than riding on your own. The handling is totally different, the bike tends to feel top-heavy and it’s harder to recover from washouts and poor line choices.
At the end of the day, you need to get out there, give it a try and find out for yourself what works for you and your kid. On our first day on the Munda Biddi, just when we thought we were hardcore and were proud of getting out there, we ran into a family with five kids! Two on BMXs, one on a balance bike, one on a child seat and one in an infant baby carrier backpack. It gave us a chuckle but also brought home the point that if you want to get out there, you can. So please, just leave the cotton-wool comfort behind, even for a bit, and get out there and explore. It won't be easy to begin with, but once you've got the setup right, you'll be getting out there more and more and forming the next generation of nature-loving adventure seekers.