Biking with Kids while Camping

August 21, 20180
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Biking is one of our favorite things to do as a family while camping. What started out as just riding Strider bikes around the campground when the kids were toddlers has turned into specifically planning certain trips based on trail proximity so that we can enjoy some epic singletrack together. This post covers how we transport all the bikes, find nearby trails for riding, motivate the kids to ride further, and some favorite biking gear for the kids.

Camping Trip Planning for Biking

Our first camping excursion with the bikes was super simple. We threw my daughter’s pink Strider bike and my son’s 16″ Huffy Rock It in the back of our SUV and just let them ride around the campsite. We didn’t even bring the adult bikes.

Biking the Colorado Trail – Age 2

Amazingly, our kids were ready for singletrack by our 3rd or 4th camping trip before our daughter even turned 3. Here she is tackling the Colorado Trail on that pink Strider! By now, I was looking at camping locations with nearby bike riding trails.

Trailforks

Trailforks is my favorite trail riding app. Not only does it cover most bike riding trails with details like the level of difficulty and elevation profiles to see if my family can handle the ride, but users are starting to add camping waypoints on the map. MTBproject is another good resources for trails – sometimes having more details than Trailforks depending on the region.

USFS Topo / National Geographic Trails Illustrated Maps

There are a ton of great trails open to biking that are not yet on Trailforks or MTBproject, especially in the more remote areas. The US Forest Service maps will normally indicate which trails are open to what activities, such as hiking only (typical in wilderness areas) or biking.

The USFS Topographical and National Geographic Trails Illustrated maps are a great resource for identifying nearby trails and also understanding how flat or steep they are. One of our favorite bike trails (Dry Fork Flume) was on this topographical map just a hundred yards down a gravel road from our campsite. You can see that it even runs by a creek. This trail was not even mentioned on traditional bike mapping apps like Trailforks or MTBproject at the time.

Paved Trails

Biking the Parus Trail inside Zion National Park

Don’t discount riding the bikes on paved trails and roads. This is especially true when inside a National Park where you can avoid the long traffic and shuttle delays by taking the bike path instead. It’s also a lot more scenic! Many of the park shuttle buses have bike racks in case everyone is too tired to bike back!

Biking Hermit Road on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Biking around the park is also a lot more scenic, even when staying on the road. Many of the park shuttle buses have bike racks in case everyone is too tired to bike back.

Transporting the Bikes

Traditional bike racks can get complicated when you have more than a few bikes that weigh more than a roof rack’s maximum weight capacity. Towing a travel trailer RV limits things even further by eliminating the hitch mount bike rack option.

We’ve tried nearly every option out there for transporting 4 bikes on a camping trip. Here’s our lessons learned and a few specific product recommendations.

Hitch Rack

This is our preferred approach when the hitch is available (no RV trailer behind) and our vehicle is either a car, SUV, or truck with a topper.

1UP USA hitch mounted bike rack

1UP USA offers the most durable, hassle-free hitch-mounted bike rack available given their all-aluminum engineering and support for all bike configurations including full suspension frames, fat tires, and even an add-on for cruiser bikes with fenders! Options from 1 to 4 bikes are available with wheel locks available to secure the bikes from theft. You can even buy an extra hitch mount bar to move one or more rack units between multiple vehicles.

Other brand options include the Kuat NV 2.0 plus the optional add-on for 2 additional bikes or the more economical Yakima HoldUp, also with optional 2 Bike Add-On kit.

Tailgate Pad

For a truck without a topper, a tailgate pad is by far the easiest and most flexible option.  You simply lift your bikes up and over the tailgate so that the frame rests on the inside of your tailgate with the fork on the outside. We now use this exclusively for in-town bike rides and any time we bring the bikes on a camping trip.

While the Race Face Tailgate Pad is one of the most popular pads on the market, our truck is a late model Ford F-150 with the thicker tailgate top and a rear backup camera that fits the Dakine Pickup Pad DLX Curve much better since it is specially designed for these types of pickups and can transport 7 bikes. On the inside of the truck bed, I simply run a 7′ braided cable through the bike frames and secure it to my truck tie-down cleats with this commercial grade steel lock. This same cable/lock combo also works great for securing the bikes at the campsite.

Roof Rack

We tried this setup on a previous truck with a topper and our SUV when either had a popup camper or our new travel trailer in tow, thus blocking a hitch mount rack option. It was a real pain lifting the bikes up on the roof, and once we got to four bikes – neither the roof rack or vehicle specs could technically support that much weight.

That said, these 1UP roof racks are probably the best brand out there if you need to put things on the roof.  They’re so simple to operate and darn tough.

Stuff the Bikes Inside the Vehicle

If neither a roof rack, hitch rack, or tailgate pad is an option, various brands make fork mount plates that can easily attach to something like a 2×6 to keep the bike upright inside your SUV or truck bed. We used the Yakima Blockhead for a while but then upgraded to the RockyMounts Driveshaft as our bikes got different fork skewers because the Driveshaft can accommodate several different types by swapping out the sleeve inside. None of this was as convenient as lifting a bike onto a tailgate pad or hitch rack, but it worked when needed.

Like I said…we have tried all the options and have probably spent almost as much on bike racks as the bikes themselves. That said, quality gear like the 1UP brand holds its value and can typically get you 80%+ of your original purchase price when selling used whereas the cheaper brands are almost worth nothing used.

Recommended Biking Gear for Camping

Whether you’re just spinning around the campground or going out to ride some nearby singletrack, here are a couple items I always have in the truck for biking while camping:

Bike Pump w/ Digital Guage

The kids have Schrader valves. Mine and my wife’s is Presta. I also ride tubeless and need a precise PSI. The Serfas FPD-200 Digital Guage Bicycle Floor Pump handles all of this diversity with ease, including automatically switching between Presta and Schrader without having to unscrew or reconfigure anything.

Saddle Bag

The Blackburn Local Seat Bag is tough and small enough for a kids bike saddle/tire clearance but large enough to hold an extra tube, CO2, and small tool set – all for under $20. Even if you’re not tackling 10 miles of singletrack with the kids, I find it’s best for each person to have this minimal amount of gear attached to their bike so it’s there if/when needed.

Hydration

A kids bike frame is often too small to hold a traditional water bottle in a cage mount. But these 20-ounce BPA-free bottles are streamlined just enough to fit in even an XXS frame when paired with the ultra-slim Specialized Zee Cage. I really like the clear indicator line to see how much water remains in the bottle.

If you prefer a hydration backpack, skip the hard to clean, leaks easily Camelback brand in favor of the Osprey Kid’s Moki 1.5 Hydration Pack.  The water bladder zips completely open from the top for easy cleaning while the twist/lock valve prevents leaks and conveniently attaches to the backpack straps via a magnet.

A third option is a handlebar mount for a bottle cage, which should then hold any size water bottle. Care should be taken to make sure your kid doesn’t hit the bottle cage with their chest. We used these for our kids when they were younger and didn’t ride very aggressively – pairing them with a plastic bottle cage that would hopefully break easily rather than cause too much bodily injury.

Bike Locks

I’m a huge fan of the Ottolock. This thin band of steel and kevlar comes in lengths of 30″ or 60″ but can coil to a diameter of just 3″. This makes it just as easy to secure to a bike saddle or pocket for transport as it is to wrap around the bike and a tree or post for secure storage. You can set the combination to whatever 3-digit code you prefer.

Biking Clothes

Most of the recommendations covered on the Kids Camping Clothes post applies to camp biking as well, including always bringing along a rain jacket, the convertible pants, and good socks/shoes.

For those of you like me who hate wearing a backpack while biking, the Osprey Talon 6 fannie pack provides just enough room to carry some gear and even extra water bottles for the kids.

First Aid

It’s important to bring along some standard first aid items for both you and the kids, namely:

  • gauze pads
  • alcohol wipes
  • band-aids of various sizes, including for large knee/elbow cuts
  • Benadryl in case of allergic reaction to a bee sting or similar

A 9-Year Old’s Perspective, from Ethan

We like to camp next to trails that aren’t very crowded. When we go biking we go on a variety of trails including greens, blues, and diamonds. We also bike around the campsite a lot.

Biking the Colorado Trail – Age 4

My first time biking a forest trail we lived in Steamboat and went camping near the Colorado trail. I was 4 years old and my sister was only 2. It was a lot of fun and we go back to that same spot every couple of years.

One time I went on a really long and steep trail with my dad because he promised that if I found his hip pack that he accidentally left on the trail, I would get a reward. He was amazed that I biked all the way up and found it behind a tree!

Wire Mesa near Zion National Park

One time I even rented a full suspension bike on a camping trip. It was a lot of fun. We rode along the side of a cliff on a diamond trail for two days. It was super awesome!

A 7-Year Old’s Perspective, from Chloe

I like to bring my favorite stuffy on my bike ride. I used to put them in my basket, but now my dad straps it to my handlebars with a velcro strap.

“Stuffy” attached to Handlebars

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