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The Netherlands

Introduction

For me, the Netherlands has long since been a place to adore, idolize, and dream about but we turned our dreams into reality and lugged our two kids overseas for a two-week bike adventure for the first half of June 2019. In a nutshell, we hope to go back!

Here are a few pictures, my journal entries, and some reflections from the trip. Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments section, on Facebook, Twitter, or by email ([email protected]). As this is our first overseas trip with young kids, I understand how it can feel like a lot to organize and overcome. It is, but it’s worth it so I am more than happy to share what we have learned. Hopefully I will cover most of it below, but if I have missed something, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

I honestly thought that bike touring would be awesome with two kids but a lot of work and that I wouldn’t necessarily feel like I was on holiday or well-rested upon return. Because of the ease of camping, kind people, and the great infrastructure I came back feeling relaxed and as though I had a wonderful holiday, which I did – to be honest, the fact that greatly contributed to this was the respect experienced while travelling by our mode of choice: bikes. It has given me much motivation to keep squeezing in as much work as possible, because I love it, but also so that I can support more adventures like this one for our family.

Map of our route, all modes

Here is our route, including train and waterbus legs, campsites and hostels:

Mag legend

  • Orange=train
  • Green=bike
  • Blue=drive

Trains

Trains in the Netherlands are easy. There are two types:

  • Sprinter trains that ‘sprint’ between and then stop at each little town, and
  • The big yellow, double-decker trains that go longer distances.

Sprinter trains

The Sprinter trains are wonderful in that they have a level entrance from train platform to car. There are designated bike cars. Once we had a car that was nice and open with flip-up seats that we could flip down to sit on if we liked.

Another time we managed to load onto a bike car that was also the toilet car and all this was only in half of a train car! It was quite the awkward squeeze with all of us (no problem for just 1-2 people and bikes).

Long-distance trains

We took a long distance train on our first train ride, from Schiphol to Arnhem. Since the trains are split-level, you have to go up a couple of stairs from the platform, which is a bit awkward with a large touring load like ours, but the trains are run by people and not computers so you don’t have to worry about having the door close on you and a child left on the platform or anything like that! You need to be quick but not that speedy.

Once you enter the bike car, there is a small room on your left (at least that’s how it was for us) where you can put your bike(s). Otherwise, on that entrance level, mid-split, you can go up or down to the passenger seating areas (where bikes are not allowed).

Pano view of this split-level set-up: Bike room on the left; stairs up/down on the right.
Bike room with a few seats. A few people were sitting here. Most moved once they realized that we had so much stuff. If everyone had moved we could have all sat here. As it was, one adult stayed with our gear and another plus the girls went to the upper deck for the train ride (which they probably would have wanted to do even if there was room for them to sit in this room!).
We had to shove the trailer with our gear in this nook on the landing. It worked fine until someone in an adaptive trike loaded, too, then it was tight, but they were super chill about it.

Rules of train travel in the Netherlands

Note that bikes are not allowed during rush hour. Bike trailers are not allowed either so we converted our WIKE to stroller mode for these trips (which we had to do anyway for logistics) and had no problems.

You need tickets for each passenger AND each bike. You can buy the people tickets electronically, using your phone and their app, but we always had to buy the bike tickets at the automated wicket at the station, hard-copy style.

Here is a link to all of the rules for train travel.

Trains as backup

As a family travelling by bike with young kids, it was awesome knowing that trains were almost always an out for us, in case of too hot or horribly wet weather. We never really used them for those reasons but it was comforting to know that option was available. However we did use them to make up for lost distance/time when my youngest got sick and we had an extra day in Utrecht area.

wildflower boulevards netherlands

Daily riding distances and routine

We rode anywhere from 25-40 or so kilometres per day when we were riding and it was just right for us, especially since jet lag with the kids never really materialized into one of my favourite thing (early mornings). Because of our mid-morning starts, we didn’t feel rushed, per se, but we did feel the need to keep rolling with a generous dose of snack breaks and hitting up the odd playground.

My 7 year old rode under her own steam on her Frog 55 and we had a FollowMe Tandem in case she needed it. We ended up using the FollowMe only 2 or 3 times the entire trip, but I was glad we had it when we did need it because it was on those longer days after intense heat where she was just done.

My 4 year old mostly rode in the WIKE trailer. It was her bubble of fun and protection from the elements. We were very happy to have it for her. If the trip had been really wet she would have been miserable hanging out on the back of the Haul-a-Day and cold since she wouldn’t be generating heat from riding. She had her own bike, too, and usually rode a few kilometres to almost 10 km some times.

Leave time in your day for stuff like this. Even if they’ve ridden 40 km, somehow they still want to run around and play!!!

Timing

This ‘schedule’ also meant we rolled in to camp later in the afternoon, but with enough time to set-up camp, cook, and the kids usually had a solid amount of play time and using their imaginations off the bike. We sometimes even managed to tackle a few worksheets that my daughter’s Gr. 2 teacher sent with her; however, I aspired that she would have time to do more journalling but we only managed a so-so effort. She liked it when she did it, but often seemed to have energy for play less so than focussed writing.

Journal entries from our trip

We had two travel days (one on each end), one full rest day of tootling around Utrecht, two full rest days hanging with family in Dordrecht, and another day visiting with more family in den Haag. Otherwise, we were riding and some days we snuck in a waterbus and/or train ride, too! It worked out to:

  • 9 full days of touring,
  • 2 other days of exploring by bike,
  • 2 days off the bike visiting family, and
  • 2 partial days of riding when we flew in/out of the Netherlands.

The following are my journals of our days with lots of pictures (taken by me or my husband), practical notes, some reflections (most of the time), and a picture of our Strava map from the day’s riding.

Camping with kids while travelling

We camped 7 nights, hostelled 3 nights, stayed with family 3 nights, and stayed in a hotel 1 night. It was a good mix but I would have been fine camping the whole time, except for laundry – we didn’t find a campground that offered laundry facilities until Den Haag. I supposed that’s because we were staying at smaller Naturrkampeerterreinen ones. Camping with kids in a foreign place is proved to be quite perfect as they’re in the same “bed” every night and arriving in camp and all that entails becomes part of the routine, even if it is a different place most nights. I liked it, too!

Bikes

We rode a real hodge podge of bikes! 20″ wheels dominated.

Bike Friday Haul-a-Day

The venerable and creative Haul-a-Day caught our eye as a possible touring bike the first time we saw it. We were already well versed in longtails having owned a Yuba Mundo and an Xtracycle Edgerunner, and we loved them but loathed how tricky (if not impossible) they would be to fly with (apparently it is doable or at least has been done, but it just wasn’t for us — too stressful).

Enter the Haul-a-Day. It’s small wheels (20″) and bi-partable frame make it super easy to travel with. Last year we broke it all down and took it in a Ground Effect Tardis bike bag. this year we left the bars and foot trays on and just split it in half, padded it, strapped it altogether, and threw it in a taped up sheet of 6 mm vapour barrier. It worked fabulously.

My 7 year old for reference. This is how we packed the bike on the way out, then wrapped it in the vapour barrier and secured the package with packing tape. Note don’t secure with packing tape until you’re at the airport; we didn’t have to leave it open for flying internationally out of Calgary but at many smaller airports, like Nanaimo, I have had to re-open bike boxes before as they do a visual inspection.

The Haul-a-Day worked very well in Europe. Easy to carry luggage with. Towed the WIKE Softie double trailer with it. Had a seat for a kid or two. Hauled an unused 16″ bike on it when its rider was in the trailer. Could put two kids’ bikes on top of it when necessary at the train stations. Could take an injured passenger if necessary. Super, super useful tool for touring with young kids. And it fit like a glove in the smaller elevators at the local train stations, ha!

Surly Troll

I rode the Troll that I built up last year. I made two changes for this trip: I added a front rack and swapped out my beefy 3″ WTB Ranger tires for some 2.5″ Surly Xtraterrestrials. The Xtraterrestrials remind me of a beefier version of Schwalbe Big Bens that can be run tubeless, I like them a lot (and have been too lazy to take them off this summer so have used them successfully on our little rough fire road bikepacking trips locally with success, although the Rangers would have been more comfortable, the XTs were beyond functional).

Travelling with the Troll was easy as I have a Rohloff so didn’t have any derailleurs to protect. Just the wheel mounts on the frame, blocking my hydraulic brakes so they wouldn’t bleed, protecting the discs, and protecting the frame as much as possible. I also fixed the Rohloff shifter box to the inside of my rear chain stay. I managed to fit the bike, my two racks, and my basket in the Ground Effect Tardis bag.

troll in tardis bag
On the way there, I used cardboard around my discs and this was much tidier looking. On the way back I used our pot lid and frying pan along with quick-dry towels for my discs.

I love this bike. It’s really starting to grow on me a lot. I snagged a Brooks B17s secondhand (but hardly used) prior to our trip and it just got better and better as the trip went on, so I think it’s a keeper!

Possibly the best thing about the Troll is that it handles so well — better, in fact — under load. I tried to carry a lot of the gear for this trip because my husband was pulling our 45 pound or so preschooler and a trailer. Fair’s fair. I ran the heavier kitchen stuff up front and put all of our clothes in the back two massive Ortlieb panniers I bought for the trip. The clothes were bulky but light. I wanted more weight up front for when I had to use the FollowMe Tandem as I find it rides better if I do that.

Frog 55 (and FollowMe Tandem)

My 7 year old rode under her own steam on her Frog 55 and we had a FollowMe Tandem in case she needed it. We ended up using the FollowMe only 2 or 3 times the entire trip, but I was glad we had it when we did need it because it was on those longer days after intense heat where she was just done.

Spawn Banshee 16″ (and WIKE Softie)

My 4 year old mostly rode in the WIKE trailer. It was her bubble of fun and protection from the elements. We were very happy to have it for her. If the trip had been really wet she would have been miserable hanging out on the back of the Haul-a-Day and cold since she wouldn’t be generating heat from riding. She had her own bike, too, and usually rode a few kilometres to almost 10 km some times.

Two kids’ bikes (20″ & 16″ wheels), the WIKE tow bar, and the FollowMe Tandem all fit in this Ground Effect Tardis bag. We then carried the bags with us, stuffed in the back cargo pocket of the WIKE trailer.

Packing list

Our packing list was essentially the same as this one that we use for local trips. The only major difference was that we swapped out the adult -7C sleeping bags for a down quilt and a lightweight +5C bag. We didn’t need to bring the Steripen (but did because I really wasn’t sure). And we left the bear spray at home!

I brought a very comprehensive set of tools although you could likely go minimal since there are bike shops everywhere.

And we packed a lot of clothes, especially for the kids. We used all of the regular clothes for them because they just got so darn dirty! And there was no laundry to be found at our campgrounds, unfortunately. We did not use a lot of the warm wear stuff that we often use at night at home because it just wasn’t as cool at night there. But, we also had it on hand in case we were going to be riding extensively in the rain, which didn’t happen. So, while it was silly to have so many clothes, it was also what made the most sense given that we were travelling in the spring and were not sure if it would be a warm June or a cool and wet one. I don’t mind carrying extra clothes, they’re bulky but light. When I’m touring with kids, I feel a certain need to make sure they are comfortable; it seems extremely unfair, to me, to make a young child ride through cold rain when there’s a piece of clothing that would really help to make the situation more enjoyable, especially when we already own it.

I carried the kitchen and food stuff in my two front panniers. My two rear panniers were all of our clothes. And, I had the first aid kid, TP, snacks, etc. in my front basket bag. Tools were in my frame bag. I had some activities for the kids (a few markers, paper, pack of cards, etc.) that usually found a home with the clothes. We also had iPads to read on with books downloaded from the library prior to the trip. My husband had the tent, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads on the Haul-a-Day. We left my eldest’s panniers at home because they’re kind of heavy and we wanted her to be able to ride unencumbered. We left her rack on in case we ended up wanting or needing to strap something to the top of it. And we had Voile/Titan gear straps to do so (those things are so handy).

Checked baggage for flying

I prepaid for three bikes and four checked bags, each way. It was cheaper to prepay because then I used our own currency and wasn’t subject to other taxes or airport fees in another country. The double trailer was checked for free as we were travelling with kids and we had it in “stroller” mode.

We flew with three dry bags, clipped together, then put in one big plastic bag. This was all lightweight stuff so was well under the weight limit. Things like our tent, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads.

We also flew with three panniers. One extra pannier was folded inside one of the panniers. We checked each of these three panniers separately. (Last time we biked in Europe we taped together two panniers each and checked them as one; we likely could have saved a bag fee each way doing that this time.)

We each had a fold-up frameless lightweight back pack as carry on, with fleeces, water bottles, the down duvet, drawing supplies, snacks, headphones, and iPads. I kept our passports in my dorky but oh-so-functional fanny pack. My husband had a money belt and I used a running waste band thing to store extra money and i.d. under my shirt.