Thursday, 16 February 2017

Going with the flow - Bikepacking for pre-schoolers

"Daddy, look!"

More than a little alarmed by the accompanying ripping sound, I darted out of the kitchen wondering what on earth was going on, only to find Ruth in the hall trying to velcro her big brother's bikepacking bags to her 16" Islabike. Too much 'Mountain Bikes and Bothy Nights' on YouTube...

In trying to help her complete the 'play' task she'd started, it became tantalisingly apparent that yes, Thomas Ivor's top tube bag did fit nicely in the Cnoc 16's frame, and yes, you could strap a drybag to the handlebars without impeding the function of the brakes... and good grief! The seat pack fits under her saddle, too!

Before any of us knew it, we had stuffed some down jackets in the bags and were out at the bandstand, little Ruth lapping with tremendous fervour. A little boy on a kick scooter tried to race her, and that was it - she was off like a miniature, female, cycle touring Jeremy Clarkson.

I've written before about giving little children opportunities that others might think beyond them, but a bit like the cadence sensor when I taught Thomas Ivor to change gear, this one came as if from nowhere. It's only last June when Ruth was helping to hold her big brother's bike when 'King Louis' was being measured for a frame bag, and here we were witnessing another seminal moment. I mean, why shouldn't a little girl of just turned four have a set of bikepacking bags?

The next day we found ourselves in Newthorpe once more, and this time it was 'Merida's turn (it would seem so to have been named!) for 'the treatment' (see below for spec list).

Self evidently, it would be pointless spending a significant amount of money on a lightweight bike only to hand a child a load of weight to slow them down, or to impede their recently-learned steering, pedalling or braking, but the three bags come to a total of less than 450 grammes, and so far they've largely been filled with feathers, in the form of the down jacket she would otherwise be wearing, and her sleeping bag. At that, along with her spare inner tube, Ruth's bike still only weighs about 7kg - that's still only half the weight of a 16"-wheeled bike-shaped-behemoth from Halfords, before you add the tinsel tassels on the handlebars and the 'Tiny Tears' threatening to fall out of the basket. That's before you consider that many children of four years old are still using the 'S-word'...

Children love carrying something on their bike, especially when everyone else is. Family life is a team sport, and they feed off feeling like they are an integral part of the mission. In this case, Ruth has decided that now she has the bags, she wants to go 'bothying' even more than she did before (which was a LOT), so we've had the maps out and have a plan in development. When we tour longer distances, we'll still use her trailerbike to make sure we cover the ground and stay safe on the road, at which she will have a pair of panniers on her rear rack, once more feeling like she's part of the team. She can probably use her 'frame bag' off her Cnoc as a top tube bag on her trailer bike.

A ride out today, five miles or so, with Daddy on foot and Rhoda on her balance bike, has proved that the Cnoc remains stable, handles fine, and most of all that the little girl at the helm of what looks every inch a touring machine is exceptionally proud of herself, to the point of stopping to tell everyone coming the other way that she was carrying her sleeping bag!

We had a little play with our new Alpkit Krakau stove as well today, and had a hot snack next to the river, on the edge of the woodland where Mummy and Daddy went canoe camping last summer.

A very productive couple of days, which we never saw coming! Above all, a lesson in 'going with the flow'; of letting the children lead when it comes to their adventures and their kit - because if they, like you, don't enjoy it, you probably should be doing something else.

Ruth's Islabikes Cnoc 16 luggage:

Bar bag: Alpkit Airlok Extra Dry Bag (£12) with Dual Straps (£5) - contains Alpkit 'Cloud Cover' down-filled blanket for sleeping in.
'Frame bag': An upturned Alpkit Small Fuel Pod (now discontinued and replaced with a slightly different shape. Luckily found one in their bargain bin for £12 which fits perfectly!) - contains spare inner tube, and possibly a favourite pebble.
Seat pack: Alpkit Small Koala (was called the 'Wombat' originally - review here) - £70 (some in the bargain bin with minor imperfections for £40 if you don't mind grey or yellow at the time of writing!) - contains Spotty Otter Drift Down II combo jacket.

Total Cost of luggage: £99

That's less than the cost of two nights in a Premier Inn - excitement aside, by your third night in the bothy, you're quids in!

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

We've been expecting you!

A special welcome to Family ByCycle if you've found your way here from Thomas Ivor's interview for Islabikes' Cycle Touring article this week!

We love cycling, we love adventures with our children, and the two go together wonderfully, whether you're taking your four year old on a gruelling three mile traffic free expedition to the supermarket, or lugging your brood across a country with a trailer and a drybag full of nappies. We've taught, trained and toured with several Islabikes, from the Rothan balance bike, through the Cnocs and Beinns to the Luaths - we even have two much-loved Islabikes trailer bikes in our touring arsenal.

You can follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and find out more about us by clicking here - or perhaps start with a video? Here's a selection to get you started, with cyclists small and, er, smaller...

Friday, 3 February 2017

The Transcaucasian Trail - a trip to the Royal Geographical Society

Thomas Ivor and I had the privilege of a night out at the Royal Geographical Society one Wednesday. It began with a tweet about free tickets and ended with a Twitter exchange with the Georgian ambassador!

Tom Allen is a Fellow of the RGS, a bike tourist and adventurer of some repute and will be no stranger to many of our readers. I've enjoyed reading and watching the film of his round the world bike ride before now. If you've not watched 'Janapar', you must!

Tom happened to tweet that there were free tickets on offer for a lecture about his most recent project, the Transcaucasian Trail, supported by the Land Rover bursary - and cut a long story short, we knew that Thomas Ivor had a difficult morning in prospect and was due something to look forward to.

Now, you have to be 14 to be a young member of the RGS, so this was an opportunity too good to pass up - and the subject matter was fascinating.

"What will it be like?" asked Thomas Ivor.

"Leather and wood, I reckon", said I.

I wasn't wrong, but oh, the fold-out note-taking desks in the seats were a thing of joy to a little boy!

The project is an exciting one - the lecture was streamed and I will let it speak for itself! It's a part of the world so many of us in Britain know so little about, and both the landscape and the people look great. Tom explained, answering a question from Thomas Ivor, that he very much hopes to develop a version of the trail which can be tackled on two wheels.

This sort of stuff doesn't make it onto the curriculum in many state primary schools, in all fairness, and the free tickets allowed a trip to London to participate, without busting the budget. A surprising number of folk greeted us afterwards having seen Thomas Ivor at Yestival, the Cycle Touring Festival and elsewhere, and we had some super conversations which further inspired the lad. It was a real credit to such an august society, amongst so many high achievers, the way many of them went out of their way to offer their encouragement and interest to a little boy who aspires to follow them. We were even privileged to speak with the President of the RGS!

The final act of the night was our departure through the old front entrance to the RGS, passing the boards honouring medal winners. We paused to point out names we knew. I found Michael Palin, Neil Armstrong, Scott and Shackleton. Thomas Ivor (in fairness, at nearer his own height!) found Thesiger - a third nod of the night to the 'Empty Quarter' having bumped into Leon McCarron and spent time viewing Mark Evans' exhibition in the foyer.
Who knows where we might leave those doors bound for, some day in the future? That's an exciting prospect!

Here's the lecture we enjoyed, and I hope you do, too. Be sure to visit the Transcaucasian Trail website - especially if you are interested in volunteering your skills or resources to support the creation of an exciting new corner of the world to go exploring. We'd like to thank Tom Allen and his team, the RGS and Land Rover for their hard word on the trail, and a great night out.