Editor’s note: Bicycle Times Issue #38 has a family theme, and we reached out to one of the most experienced travelers we know about how he has fared introducing his young son Sage to bicycle touring. In this online extra, Cass Gilbert talks about the gear that his family has found most useful along the way.
By Cass Gilbert
My son Sage is something of a seasoned traveller. At the ripe old age of two and three quarters, he’s already chalked up an impressive tally of countries visited, including the US, the UK, France, Chile and Ecuador. All of which have been enjoyed from the comfort of his bicycle trailer.
As the miles have gone by, our gear choices have evolved. Before Sage was even born, we invested in a Thule Chariot trailer, choosing it thanks to its excellent suspension system, its fabled stoutness, and the broad range of accessories available. Summers are hot in New Mexico, so we invested in the more costly CX1, mainly because it features removable side windows. Otherwise, we’d have opted for the Cougar; it’s cheaper, lighter and simpler, yet uses the same well-regarded suspension system.
For the first few months, we used our Chariot exclusively as a stroller, pairing it with the Infant Sling accessory until Sage was old enough to sit up properly. At 18 months, we added a Yepp seat to our rig—first the Mini that mounts up front, then the Maxi that mounts on a rear rack, as Sage grew taller. We found the former far better for interaction (it’s perfect for pointing out things you see), but the latter better suited to longer, hillier rides, largely because you can pedal out of the saddle.
We’ve also experimented with Thule’s excellent RideAlong; it features a dual beam design that helps smooth out bumpy terrain, as well as useful arm rests and the ability to recline. It is, however, bigger and bulkier, and unfortunately the position of its mounting clamp wasn’t compatible with Nancy’s small sized, derailleured Surly Troll. I often ride a fat or 29+ bike, which really helps add to Sage’s comfort off road, and creates a very stable ride.
But as great as seats are, trailers are still the best option for versatility, be it in the height of summer, the depths of winter, or for the inevitable inclement weather on tour. If your child is still napping, a trailer also provides the perfect cocoon; we’ve also noticed that Sage often enjoys having his own sense of space. For an extended trip, I expect a combination of a seat and trailer would be ideal—it’s the setup of choice for most families I met cycling through South America. As an aside, during our own longer journeys, we play music or audio books through our weather- and child-resistant Outdoor Tech Buckshot speaker to help pass the time.
What else? Given our propensity for seeking out dirt roads, we’ve fitted wider-volume BMX tires to the Chariot to increase comfort and stability. The Chariot’s a capable trailer, and handles the roughest terrain with unexpected aplomb—but care has to be taken when riding up curbs or over rocky surfaces, as two wheelers can occasionally flip over.
During the last few months, we’ve borrowing a Tout Terrain Singletrailer. Although this single wheel design isn’t as versatile as the Chariot—it’s only a trailer, rather than a stroller, too—it performs superbly on singletrack, the ride is far smoother, and there’s less drag when accelerating (which, as Sage is now almost 40 pounds in weight, is very welcome). On the downside, the Singletrailer’s load capacity is limited and, although it folds into itself, it’s bulkier to travel with.
Note, too, that if you’re venturing abroad, a Chariot can masquerade as a stroller, traveling for free on airplanes (though I’d recommend wrapping it in a cover to protect it from the vagaries of the baggage handlers). I’d highly recommend both trailers in their own way. Both sport an eye-watering price tag, but if you intend to tour off road regularly, they make great investments and will really broaden the range of places you can explore.
In terms of family-orientated cargo bikes, the only model we’ve tried is Surly’s Xtracycle-compatible longtail. The Big Dummy is a superb vehicle for hauling a family’s worth of gear and food, while its extended deck provides ideal real estate for a Yepp Maxi child seat. Compared to a standard bike, there’s a ton of breathing room between rider and child.
Again, we fitted the Big Dummy with the biggest tires we could find—Surly’s new 2.5-inch ExtraTerrestrials—to help smooth out bumpy terrain. For trips around town and shorter, fair weather tours, an Xtracycle is a very compelling option. Given that Sage is just about three, I expect he’ll be progressing to a tag-along bike in the next year or so, or perhaps a Weehoo iGo. That’s a world we’ll be delving into soon.
As for camping, we use a 3-person Big Agnes Copper Spur UL3. It’s light, roomy, easy to pitch and handles rain well. We also like our Black Diamond Mega Light tarp. Aside from being incredibly light and spacious, it’s perfect for grassy meadows and summer campouts—though watch out for ticks. Sage sleeps on a Therm-a-rest Prolite 3 Short sleeping pad, wrapped up in a Milk and Honey Down Sleep Sack and a down jacket. We’ve found this combination the best solution to his midnight wiggling. If it’s especially cold, he wears a woollen hat and gloves to bed. Much to his delight, Sage has his own headlamp, which he likes to wear when we read him his bedtime story. Gear is organized using Eagle Creek’s superlight Pack-It system—color coding keeps things fun.
We use denatured alcohol to cook as it’s clean and easy. Sage can almost match us for appetite, so we’ve recently graduated from our minimal 1.2 liter ti pot to a 2.8 liter enamel-coated cauldron, made by Evernew. We consider good food a key component to sucessful family camping, so we’re happy to haul the extra weight. Water is filtered via Platypus’ quick and easy Gravity Works, which we can hang off a tree while we’re busying ourselves around the campsite.
Sage’s toddler packlist
- Milk and Honey Company down sleep sack
- Merino wool sleep sack
- Thermarest Prolite 3 Short sleeping pad
- Patagonia down sweater jacket
- Patagonia hooded fleece jacket
- Patagonia Torrentshell jacket
- REI rain pants
- Patagonia Capalene long underwear (used as Pjs)
- NUI merino wool hat
- 1 wool sweater
- 2 pairs cotton sweatpants
- 1 pair cotton leggings
- 4 cotton shirts
- 2 pairs shorts
- 3 pairs of socks (2 cotton 1 wool )
- Hand mitts
- Sun Day Afternoon sun hat
- High factor sun cream
- High top shoes
- 1 natural rubber pacifier
- Favorite soft toy Mono the Monkey
- A couple small toys for trailer and soccer ball for campsite fun
- Occasional Daniel Tiger and Sesame Street episodes on the iPad
- Arnica for falls and bruises
- Hand sanitizer
- Klean Kanteen stainless steel water bottle for in the trailer
- 2 cloth diapers for overnight accident prevention
- Black Diamond Wiz headlamp
- Nutcase Watermelon Helmet