Touring with a Small Child

Five-year-old Alix has already experienced more bicycle tours than many adults. In this episode, her parents, Mylène Lenzi and David Clément, share the experiences gained by touring with Alix, give tips on what equipment to bring along, and list their favorite child-friendly routes in Europe. Along the way, they also tell about the Festival du Roc Castel, a unique summer gathering close to their home in France that celebrates slow travel.

Episode Transcript

Mylène: They don’t say, “Oh, you are crazy to do that,” but they say, “Oh, there’s a baby inside.” You know, you can feel that for them, what we are doing is dangerous, and we shouldn’t do that.

Gabriel: You just heard Mylène Lenzi describe the reaction that some people in her native France have when they find out that she and her partner, David Clément, are pulling their baby in a trailer behind his bicycle. Today’s episode is a conversation with Mylène and David about the joys and challenges of bicycle touring with a small child. Along the way, we’ll also discover a festival in France that celebrates slow travel.

Sandra: You’re listening to The Accidental Bicycle Tourist. In this podcast, you’ll meet people from all walks of life and learn about their most memorable bike touring experiences. This is your host, Gabriel Aldaz.

Gabriel: Hello cycletouring enthusiasts! Welcome to another episode of The Accidental Bicycle Tourist. One of the themes that comes up repeatedly in touring is serendipity. I love that I’ve met so many fascinating people by chance on my tours over the years. Today I will talk to two of them. To tell you how we met, I need to give you a little background. For the past five years, my wife Sandra and I have spent a week bicycling some part of Germany. In July 2023, we rode around the Bodensee, or Lake Constance, bordered by Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. We followed the Bodenseeradweg, a 270-kilometer or 168-mile-long bicycle path along the lakeshore. Prior to starting our trip, we were aware that the beautiful Bodensee is also one of the most expensive regions in Germany. Therefore, we spent the night before the tour start a few kilometers away from the lakeside city of Lindau, in a rather anonymous town called Hergensweiler. The next morning, we parked at the small train station and proceeded to set up our touring bikes. At this time, Sandra was seven months pregnant, so she was moving a little slower than her usual turbo speed. A minivan parked beside us. The doors opened and a family of three emerged: mother, father, and a small girl, no more than five years old. They started assembling their bicycles next to us. Sandra had been wondering how we might keep up our German bicycle touring tradition in 2024 with a toddler, and here was a family that seemed to have a wealth of experience. Today, they are graciously going to share their knowledge on The Accidental Bicycle Tourist. Mylène and David, thank you for being on the show.

Mylène: Hi.

David: Hello.

Mylène: I didn’t ask you, so you have baby?

Gabriel: Yes, we had our son.

Mylène: Yay! What’s his name?

Gabriel: Emilio.

Mylène: Ahhh, congratulations!

Gabriel: Thank you very much. Now that we have a baby, this episode is extra relevant, so let’s get started. How did you come to be, of all places, at the Hergensweiler train station on July 1st, 2023?

David: It’s always by feeling. We’re just looking for a place. If it feels good, we stop. Like a remote place, not too far from a train station. With a short name, so I can remember where we are.

Gabriel: Okay, but Hergensweiler is not really short. I mean, I know German words are pretty long, but that’s… I wouldn’t call that one short.

David: I’m kidding, I’m kidding. So I took a picture.

Mylène: That’s true. We took a picture of the city to be sure to remember when we come back.

David: It’s true, sometimes it’s a problem to leave the car, maybe a month or two weeks. You have to find a place, it’s quite remote, but not too much remote. So you don’t have car in parts when you’re coming back and you have to be happy with the locals as well.

Gabriel: So somehow it seemed like we arrived at the same conclusion, a place that was remote but not too remote. And that’s where we met. What bicycle tour had you then planned?

David: From A to B. We don’t plan really much. We have a starting point, and then a finishing point, mostly, and we have the maps. And after it depends, the climate conditions, the people we meet, the travel…

Mylène: The feelings, and we don’t book accommodations in advance. Some cyclist does, but we want to feel free, and we never know, especially with a child… with a little child. You never know what can happen. So it’s hard to know. Okay, this day I will ride 40 kilometers. So, we prefer not to book in advance. That’s why we choose a place with a lot of campsites and place for children. We know that Germany, it’s the children paradise. A lot of very nice playgrounds in the camping. You have always many places, facilities for children, in the restaurant as well. Compared to France, there’s a lot of space and places for children. So it’s a good place for vacation with kids.

Gabriel: And on this tour, Point A was Hergensweiler and what was Point B?

David: No, Point A was Lindau.

Gabriel: Oh, Point A was Lindau.

Mylène: But we cheat.

Gabriel: When we started, that was the first thing we did. We went from Hergensweiler to Lindau, and that’s downhill.

David: Yeah.

Gabriel:  So you were already at the top. So, how did you cheat?

Mylène: Because we didn’t do the Bodensee tour. We went to Bavaria and until Salzburg.

Gabriel: Oh, I see, I see. You were meant to start at Lindau but then you cheated by driving to Hergensweiler, which was up the hill.

David: Yeah.

Gabriel: Okay, I see. Okay, we can leave that off the podcast, that you cheated. Or maybe we’ll include it.

Mylène: That’s okay, you can let it.

Gabriel: Right. So Point A was then supposedly Lindau and Point B was…

Mylène: We didn’t know. When we start, we wanted to reach Berchtesgaden. So maybe we can say it was point B, but actually, we finished in Marktl along the Salzach River. It’s the river that does the border between and Austria and Germany.

Gabriel: Oh, okay.

Mylène: So it’s not so far, but when we arrived at Chiemsee we decided not to go to Berchtesgaden, because we had a check on the campsite, and it didn’t seem very nice.

David: Too much tourist.

Mylène: Too much tourist.

David: So we decided to go north. We changed our plan.

Mylène: So we follow the river. It was very nice, actually. There was a tiny train station, and we can take the train to go to the car.

Gabriel: Back to Hergensweiler. You had the picture of the name Hergensweiler, and you knew where to go. That’s important.

Mylène: And the train drop us at, like 5 kilometers, and we were very lucky because of the storm. When we come back, we had to stop in Munich. It was not prévu.

Gabriel: Yeah, it was not planned or foreseen.

Mylène: Thanks. It was not planned. So… and after we booked a hotel and the train… so there was a big storm, and the train actually didn’t go until Lindau. It goes until, like five kilometers next to Hergensweiler. So we were lucky to let the car in Hergensweiler and not Lindau. Because all the other people in the train had to go back… go down and take a bus until Lindau.

Gabriel: Oh, wow. Well, it all worked out then.

Mylène: Yeah.

Gabriel: And so, yeah, the theme of this episode is travel with children, and you’ve already touched upon that a little bit by saying, you don’t make any plans for accommodation, and you really just don’t know how it will be. I wanted to ask, your daughter’s name is Alix.

David: Yeah.

Gabriel: And she’s five years old now.

David: Yeah.

Gabriel: How many tours have you done with Alix so far?

David: Ah, four. Four tours already.

Mylène: No, it’s five tours!

David: Ah, five tours?

Mylène: Attends. Brittany.

David: Oui.

Mylène: Brittany, Bodensee (what you’ve this summer), she was one year and a half. Vélodyssée, along the ocean coast. Brittany number two, but it was not at the same place. And this summer, so five.

Gabriel: Five tours. That’s a lot. I remember that you had brought Alix’s bicycle on the tour. You also had the trailer, so I wanted to talk a little bit about the gear that you have.

David: The first tour, she was six months, so we manage to install, you know, the car seat for babies? We have a very cheap one, and we dismantle a bit the car seat to remove all the heavy parts, and then we fix it in the trailer. So she was alone in our trailer, really well attached and protected, and we went with her. We were in Brittany, the first…

Mylène: Brittany, yeah.

David: We were Brittany for two weeks, and was really easy because she was really light.

Mylène: But it was steep and…

David: Lots of hills.

Mylène: Yeah.

David: But it was easy. And because she was a baby, she was sleeping a lot. It was okay.

Gabriel: This is then a homemade setup, combining your trailer with your car seat.

David: Yeah, and all our stuff can fit in the trailer.

Gabriel: Nice.

David: Now she’s old enough to bicycle, and because she’s getting bored, also in the trailer. We can’t stop every five minutes, to all the children garden. Kindergarten.

Mylène: Playground, playground.

David: So sometimes she’s sitting on Mylène’s bike.

Mylène: On a saddle on my frame. I think, when the kids get taller, like you said, it’s getting bored in the trailers, so you have to find other equipment for him.

David: And this year, we start with our bike, but we didn’t want to buy a follow-me or use a follow-me, because it’s too heavy.

Gabriel: Sorry to interrupt. For those of you who might not be aware, a follow-me is an adaptor that couples a child’s bicycle to a parent’s bicycle. This way, the child is being pulled along by the parent.

Mylène: Yeah. So we decided just to take her bike and, when she doesn’t want to ride, just puts it back on the trailer.

Gabriel: Yes, I remember seeing the trailer and then the bicycle on top. How did that work out?

David: Pretty well.

Mylène: But it was heavy.

David: It was heavy, but pretty well.

Mylène: We avoid to have Alix in the trailer. The bike for David, it was very heavy. Sometimes it happens, but we avoid this configuration, configuration.

David: I have no copyright on the bike on the trailer. You can use the idea. I saw a family, two years ago on Vélodyssée. There was one boy sitting on the top of the trailer, plus all the luggage. The guys, they were crazy. It was going five kilometers, maybe.

Mylène: Yeah.

David: They were supercharged. We don’t want to have too much stuff, because it’s painful to have… when it’s too heavy, you don’t take pleasure. You don’t want to ride, you stick to the road, so we’re removing as much as we can. I’m always fighting with Mylène. Then why did you choose this? Nananana. I’m not weighing all the spoons and say, “Oh, it’s ten grams.” No, I’m not doing that. But if you are bringing something, you must use it. Otherwise, whistle remove.

Mylène: With the kids you always say, “Oh, I need that because we never know if he’s sick, I need to bring that.” So, it’s hard.

Gabriel: And how did the setup change over the time?

David: The car seats last two years. Then she had only the trailer Year 3. Year 4, we bought the saddle…

Mylène: The saddle on my bicycle, on my frame.

David: That was… I order maybe…

Mylène: One week before…

David: One week before the trip, and when we received it, we plugged this thing on Mylène’s bike, and it was the best thing we did, because she was happy.

Mylène: It saves the trip, because I think if we’ve got just the trailer, she will cry and get bored. Because for her, she’s in front of me, so it’s like she’s riding the bike. She has a little handlebar and it’s magic for her.

David: And everyone is looking at us, because then it’s very unusual to see that. It’s from New Zealand.

Gabriel: Oh yeah. The seat from New Zealand is called the Shotgun, I believe.

David: Yeah. People, they look at us even on a daily basis, going to school with her on the bike, and all the child are jealous because they want to use it or to try. It’s easy to make by yourself. We bought it because we were running out of time, but I’ve got a friend in France. He’s working with metals, and he was looking at it and says, “Oh, yeah, maybe I do by myself one.”

Gabriel: I think the benefit for children is, it’s much more fun to be in front with a good view than to be in the back looking at the bicycle and the parent, and so forth. So that’s really neat. And what other gear did you have to bring, especially for Alix?

David: A Lunii, it’s kind of a radio.

Gabriel: A radio.

David: Children podcast, like stories. And when she wants to relax, because when she’s tired, she says, “I want to go in the trailer” and then she sits on the trailer and she’s listening, or she’s drawing, or she’s sleeping.

Gabriel: Okay, you’re showing me the Lunii now. This is a purple box with some yellow buttons, and this is like an audio player of some kind.

Mylène: Yeah, yeah.

David: It’s a French brand.

Mylène: And you upload the story on it.

Gabriel: Oh, okay.

David: USB.

Mylène: You will see you have the equivalent in Germany. My friend from Berlin he’s got another one.

Gabriel: Yeah, it’s called Toniebox.

Mylène: Yeah, Toniebox.

Gabriel: You can buy little figures, and these figures have stories, and then you put the figure on the box and it’ll play a story that relates to that figure. So it’s quite clever. If the figure is the Little Prince, then you will put it on the box, and you will hear The Little Prince.

David: Sometimes she’s spending one hour, two hours on Lunii, and she’s quiet in the trailer. So we can go.

Mylène: And we bring color…

David: Drawings.

Mylène: Color drawings. She can draw. We bring some activities for her. Yeah.

Gabriel: So she’s happy to sit there and draw as the countryside is going past.

David: And we always stop. When we are eating, we stop. She is going to talk with people, with dogs or cats, or whatever. But she’s always around. The problem with the kids, it’s when you are riding, you producing an effort, so you’re quite tired at the end of the day, and maybe the kids, they are 100 percent. So you find a camping ground with a swimming pool, and you’re happy because she will run and she will swim for hours. You keep an eye on her. No, she loves the tent, the sleeping bags, the mattress.

Mylène: She’s getting involved with the camping set-up.

David: Our first night that she was not waking up during the night happened in the tent, in Brittany. We did the tour in June, and in Brittany it’s quite on the West coast, so the sun was disappearing at 11 o’clock. At 11 o’clock she was going to bed, and it was the first time.

Gabriel: Yeah, it’s always an exciting moment when the child sleeps through the night for the first time.

David: Yeah. She’s really happy in the tent.

Gabriel: When we met, you also showed us your folding crib.

Mylène: She’s still playing with it. You can fold it, I don’t remember how. And it’s very convenient.

Gabriel: So this is a very light crib. If folds down very small, very light.

David: And we had a small carpet.

Mylène: Yeah, a small carpet inside.

David: And she was between us.

Mylène: And no sleeping bag first. The two first years, no sleeping bag. You know, I don’t know in English, but the stuff that you put to the child when he is sleeping.

Gabriel: Right. Just… you wrap up the child in some blankets or something. No sleeping bag. And when Alix outgrew the crib?

David: She had a sleeping bag, the old sleeping bag from us. And an old mattress.

Mylène: It’s very important she’s never cold during the night.

David: It’s a three-bedrooms tent.

Gabriel: A three…You mean a three-person tent.

David: Yeah, three persons. A big tent.

Mylène: Very, very light, very light. Two kilos.

David: Yeah, it’s like two kgs.

Gabriel: That’s very light.

David: The weight is inversely related to the price.

Gabriel: Yeah.

Mylène: The more expensive it is, the lighter it goes.

Gabriel: That’s right. You pay more and more for less and less.

Mylène: If you want to spend good holidays, you need it. For the cold during the night you need a very good sleeping bag. And for the weight, yeah, you need very light camping gear.

Gabriel: And waterproof.

Mylène: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And a very good bike and a good trailer.

Gabriel: What is an advantage of touring with children?

David: With the kids, it’s very easy to meet the people. When you have a kid, the relationships happen more easily. Alix, she always asks to pet the dogs, so we are talking with people, you will never, maybe, talk. Sometimes you go to punks, they smoking cigarettes with their beer, and Alix, “I want to go and see the dogs,” and nah nah nah, so you go. Or old people. They say, “Oh, she wants a lolly or she wants something.” And they give away some food, and they talk to us.

Mylène: We choose our place to stop very carefully.

David: The first camping ground was… out in France, we say, “in its juice.” It’s like very old camping ground, but the guys, they were maybe the nicest. We should send them a postal card. And they were taking care of Alix, because there was one dog, of course.

Gabriel: So it sounds like most people react positively to your daughter, and you meet a lot of people.

Mylène: Yeah, but when she was a baby in France you can feel that some people, when you talk with them, they find it’s dangerous. They don’t say, “Oh, you are crazy to do that,” but they say, “Oh, there’s a baby inside.” You know, you can feel that for them, what we are doing is dangerous, and we shouldn’t do that.

Gabriel: Oh, absolutely. It sounds like most people were subtle about it, but have you had people say, “You should stop immediately,” or “How can you do that?”

David: No.

Mylène: No, most people are very friendly.

David: Yeah, usually they smile when they saw Alix on the saddle: “Oh look, there’s a little girl on the bike.” And they want to see if there’s someone in the trailer and they ask questions. No, mostly they are positive, yeah.

Gabriel: That’s good. I wonder how people in Germany would react to seeing such a young child on a bicycle tour? I don’t know.

David: They are used to bicycles in Germany.

Mylène: In Germany, yeah. That’s why we choose Germany as well, because they are nicer with cyclists than French people. It’s less dangerous. There is much more equipment, bicycle ways. The car drivers, they are used to cyclists compared to France. We can feel the difference.

Gabriel: And how did you find the camping situation in Bavaria?

Mylène: It’s a touristic area. I tried to call the campsite. I’m looking on the map at 2, 3 p.m., when we do the little break, I’m looking on the map and say, “Okay, maybe we will reach that campsite.” So I call them to be sure that they have places for us. Because, like you say in Bavaria, we were very surprised. It’s so expensive. Some campsites, it was 50 Euros the night.

Gabriel: That’s a lot.

Mylène: It was crazy. In France, it’s maxi 30 Euros for very nice…

David: Five stars.

Mylène: Yeah, five stars camping.

Gabriel: Yeah, actually, even on the Bodensee, which is like we said, an expensive place, I don’t think we paid more than 35. So 50 sounds really, really expensive.

Mylène: Twice we paid 50. Yeah, like, next to Füssen. Or Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein, the castles. It’s very touristic.

Gabriel: Okay, okay, that’s why it was so expensive.

Mylène: We were very exotic, as French tourists in Bavaria. You are very exotic for locals, except in that place, in Füssen. We met Belgian people, people from Canada, people from Indonesia, French people. But except that area, we didn’t meet French people.

David: I used to do a lot of wild camping. We do less wild camping with Alix. In Germany we are not happy doing it, because the Germans they cut the grass, even in the forest. They are everywhere. I don’t understand why.

Mylène: When we tried to find a wild campsite, there was always someone, appearing from the middle of nowhere. We were very surprised, so we didn’t dare to do it, because every people we met, and we asked if we can do it, they said, “Be careful, nobody has to see you.” It’s not well seen in Germany to do wild camping.

David: In Bavaria.

Gabriel: Wild camping is illegal in Germany, but tolerated. In Germany, there are a certain number of people who, not only do they follow the rules themselves, but they’re also making sure that everybody else follows the rules. So if they spot somebody who doesn’t seem to be following the rules, then they get upset. It’s a more challenging place to do wild camping than other countries. They don’t mean any harm by it. It’s just that those are the rules, and they need to be followed. That’s the German mentality. And what would you say was the biggest child-related challenge that you faced? Did you have any difficult moments with Alix?

Mylène: It was two years ago.

David: Oui, two years ago.

Mylène: No, one years ago.

David: One years ago?

Mylène: We wanted to stop the pacifier. She started to have the hole…

David: Between the teeth.

Mylène: Between the teeth, that it started to…

David: To transform her jaw.

Mylène: It was getting bad. So we realized that, like one week before, to go by bicycle. We decided to do like soft sleep. We explained to her, you have to stop because it’s bad for your jaw. And at the beginning, she can have it for the siesta and for the night. But the problem is that she was cheating on us, because on the trailer, she was pretending sleeping to get the pacifier. You know what I mean? We were beginning to get very mad, and we decided to stop, very…

David: We cut the pacifier.

Mylène: Yeah, it was very bad, because she was crying, and we were very pissed off.

David: And she cried for one hour and forty minutes.

Mylène: And we were on the beach parking, so people were passing, and they were asking, “What’s wrong?” and we say, “We are stopping the pacifier.” And they were getting us biscuits and cakes.

David: And from this day, pacifier over. No pacifier anymore.

Gabriel: Wow, that was a hard cut.

Mylène: Thanks to the bicycle trip, I think it was better for her to stop pacifier because she was not in her house. It was another context, and we told her that there was no pharmacy in Brittany, so we could not buy a new pacifier. The trip helped us to stop.


David: When we saw a green light in the cities, we’re like, oh, là… pharmacy!

Gabriel: And, just to clarify, when you refer to green light, you’re talking about these green crosses that advertise pharmacies in France. 

Mylène: Ah yeah.

David: We had to change our way, turning around, turning right, turning left.

Gabriel: The things parents have to do for their kids, right? In your case, avoiding all the pharmacies in Brittany.

David: I know what you mean with your question, but we didn’t have any big programs during the trip. She’s never sick, she had no accidents.

Gabriel: No, I just mean challenges, obstacles.

Mylène: It was along the border with Austria. And we didn’t know, but the city was very steep, and we wanted to go to the swimming pool, but we enter a wrong destination in the GPS. And we arrived next to the city hall on the fontaine.

David: Not a spring, but water.

Gabriel: A fountain.

David: Yeah, but a big one. A big one, and all the locals, they were playing in the fountain. We had to stop and said, “We are exhausted, no water.” We stopped, and Alix, she ran, and she played with the other children in the fountain, and we talk with the locals and they explained, “Ah, you can go there, you can go there.”

Mylène: Ah, oui. It was in Burghausen.

David: It’s kind of a Middle-Ages city.

Gabriel: Yeah.

Mylène: Very beautiful, but very steep.

David: There’s one very high part and one really low part. And we try to find a shortcut, but we did it wrong. We didn’t find the shortcuts. Anyway, you had to climb, and you had to climb quite a lot.

Mylène: And it was very warm. It was almost 30 degrees.

David: It depends your personality. But sometimes you’re okay. And the day after, you’re a bit grumpy. So this day it was Mylène. Mylène was grumpy.

Mylène: Yeah, but the night was nice. It was a little campsite.

Gabriel: And then, on the other side, what is an amazing moment that you recall? Something really amazing that happened on one of your trips.

David: We were in the small countryside, it was like 40 degrees. It was really hot, and we’re looking at swimming pool and Mylène, she finds a swimming pool on Google. So we say, “Oh, maybe we should have a look.” Then we came to the swimming pool, and there was one girl with her daughter and she say, “Oh, the swimming pool needs close because it’s gonna rain.” So they close. And we did like a steep hill to go there. We spend maybe 20 minutes going uphill. I was like, “Oh no! Come on.” So I went to the guy, and the guy says, “You can stay a half an hour, if you want.” So we were alone in the swimming pool, closed, and the guy, he was watering his tomatoes, and we had two people in the swimming pool and it was nice, and it was blue skies too.

Mylène: I think it’s because we were on the bike with all the stuff.  

David: And we didn’t pay. The guy said, “It’s free.” Okay.

Gabriel: That’s a great moment. It’s always fun when those things happen.

David: You have to create the situation. I mean, it’s not a coincidence. You’re looking for something, and sometimes you get lucky or sometimes not.

Mylène: That’s part of the trip. That’s why it’s so nice to travel by bicycle, because you don’t know. Like you said, you can be lucky, but sometimes not. But it’s like that, and you don’t know and you get surprised every day.

Gabriel: Those surprises are one of the joys of bicycle touring, for sure. Can you tell me a little bit about your daily routine?

David: We are not waking up very early, like, we are a bit slow in the morning. Sometimes we’re starting our trip, it’s 11 o’clock. The time to have the breakfast, or remove the stuff. Sometimes Alix, she wants to go back to the swimming pool in the camping ground, or she wants to do something. So sometimes we start at 11. We buy some food and we stop. And then, arriving quite late, usually like 7 or 8.

Gabriel: Yeah, but in summertime, that’s okay. About how many kilometers a day do you cover on your tours?

Mylène: When it’s flat, we can do 50.

David: Or even 70.

Mylène: Up to 70.

David: And the minimum was 22 kilometers. Sometimes you stop everywhere, and…

Mylène: When we’ve got only the trailer, that’s true that we can do much more kilometers, because when they are baby, they don’t need to stop much often. It’s when they grow up that you need to stop. It’s normal, they need to do exercise, to play, so they can’t stay in the trailer all day long. But when they are baby, the trailer is very comfortable for them.

Gabriel: Yeah, it sounds comfortable. I wouldn’t mind being in the back of one of those, somebody else pedaling, doing all the work. Yeah, sounds okay. Had you as a couple done bicycle touring before having Alix?

Mylène: Yeah.

Gabriel: So you had. So, what is your history, then? How did you get into bicycle touring?

Mylène: It comes from me because my first job, after graduating in 2010, was working for a small organization that promotes slow traveling, but for not for traveling to go to job by bicycle, with public transportation. Écomobilité we call that in French. Every transport except to be alone in your car. My colleague make me discover this kind of travel, like bicycle trip, and after I met David, I told him, you have to buy…

David: Les sacoches.

Mylène: Les sacoches.

Gabriel: Oh, the panniers.

Mylène: The panniers, thanks. And our first trip was in Burgundy, I think.

Gabriel: And now you’ve transitioned to family touring, obviously.

Mylène: It’s easier for the family. It’s complicated to start bicycle touring in family. I mean, you can do it, but it’s much easier if you are used to it before to have the kids. Because us, we were always travelling like that, so we have already the gear. We have already the réflexe, reflex.


Gabriel: The reflexes? Like, how to react?

Mylène: Yeah, much easier to start with the kid when you have already done.

Gabriel: And, David, how did you react? I mean, when Mylène said, “Oh, let’s do a bicycle tour,” what was your thought?

David: You ask me. I pass my driving license at 40, so I’m driving for 5 years now, a car. Before, I was living in big cities, always by bike. I was not doing tour by bike, but I was used to go to Point A, to Point B for my jobs or for studies or universities. Then she said, “Okay, we can go by bike and do a few days.” I start like that, but I knew already how to fix the bike, because I was always into the atelier, where you fix cheap bikes, and you get cheap parts. Then you assemble the bikes, so I knew how to do that. I was always working in the mountains, so I was used to work for maybe fifteen days in the mountains, so I’ve got already all my gear. So I just shift my gears from mountaineering to the bike. I bought pannier, and that’s it. And I like it. It comes very easily.

Gabriel: That’s great! And what family trips are you planning in the future?

David: There’s one bicycling way that follows the old wall between East Germany and West Germany, and they say it’s a nice cycling pathway now. Maybe we will do once.

Mylène: For the next year we thought to go to Denmark. Because it’s flat and along the sea.

Gabriel: Denmark is wonderful because it also has a very, very good network of bicycle paths. It’s flat. The only thing that you need to worry about in Denmark is the wind. The wind usually goes from the west to the east, and it is not fun if you’re having to go against the wind for the whole day. I highly recommend Denmark as a family touring destination.

Mylène: Okay, good to know. Thanks.

Gabriel: Since this is an episode about travel with children, do you think we can get Alix to answer a couple of questions?

Mylène: Ah yeah. She will answer in French.

Gabriel: That’s okay. Believe it or not, I used to speak French. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten most of it. Still, I’ll give it a try.

Mylène: Alix is coming.

Gabriel: Bonjour.

Mylène: Tu dis bonjour, cheri.

Alix: Bonjour.

Gabriel: Je m’appelle Gabriel. Comment t’appelles-tu?

Alix: Alix.

Gabriel: I think I’ll ask Alix what she likes about bicycling. Alix, Qu’est-ce que tu aimes quand on voyage à vélo?

Alix: J’adore être dans la charette.

Mylène: She said, “To be in the trailer,” surprisingly.

Gabriel: Très bien.

David: Sometimes she doesn’t want to ride her bike. It’s very easy, all the conditions are perfect, no cars. And she says, “No, I don’t want to ride my bike. I want to stay in the trailer. I’m listening my Lunii!”

Gabriel: Can I ask one more question?

David: Yeah.

Gabriel: Now I think I’ll ask her how many kilometers per day she bicycles. Alix, combien de kilomètres par jour fais-toi à vélo?

Alix: On fait trente kilomètres par jour, et un jour je fais huit kilomètres.

Gabriel: Huit kilomètres. C’est formidable!

Mylène: She said, “I’ve done eight kilometers one day.”

Gabriel: That’s very cute.

Mylène: Bravo!

David: She asked Santa Claus to bring her a speed counter. Comment on dit…?

Gabriel: A speedometer.

David: Yeah, she asked for Christmas for her bike. I will write a letter to Santa Claus and see if he’s got one for her.

Gabriel: That’s a very, very cute request, and I hope Santa Claus can deliver a speedometer for her bike.

David: Because our maximum speed, I shouldn’t say that, but it was 60.7 kilometers downhill with Alix.

Gabriel: Right, you should not say that. That would upset some people.

David: You need to trust your gear, your bike, your brakes, and you do. When the road is perfect and… you can go faster, but you have limits. Like I know I can break and have good visibility. But Alix, she’s happy with that.

Gabriel: Sounds good. Sounds like she’s on her way to growing up to be an avid cyclist, which is wonderful.

David: Yeah, I hope so.

Gabriel: I’d like to ask you a little bit about route planning now. What’s important to you when selecting a route when traveling with kids?

Mylène: With kids, it’s to choose a track, less steep, flatter, and less dangerous, like tiny ways, and not a lot of cars, not a lot of traffic. So, with Alix the track that we prefer it’s Vélodyssée. It’s the long bicycle way that follow the ocean coast in France. It goes until Portugal, I think.

Gabriel: Mylène and David have mentioned Vélodyssée a couple of times, so here is additional information. La Vélodyssée is a bicycle route following the Atlantic Ocean coast for more than 1,300 kilometers, or 800 miles, from Roscoff in Brittany to Hendaye on the Spanish border. Eighty percent of the paths are traffic-free, part of the longer EuroVelo 1 route that connects the North Cape in Norway to Portugal. While not all of the EV1 is fully built or fully signposted, La Vélodyssée is both, which might explain why the French came up with such a fanciful name as “the bicycle odyssey” for their segment.          

Mylène: It’s quite long, and it’s former train track. Train? Choo choo!

Gabriel: Yes, train, sure. Yes, I’m with you.

Mylène: It’s very flat and very secure. You are in the pine forest next to the Atlantic Ocean. It was very nice, lot of camps. It’s very appropriate with kids. Of course, Bodensee, we’ve been.

David: It’s easy.

Mylène: It’s very beautiful. A lot of bicycle ways, a lot of campsites, a lot of tiny village, cute village to visit.

Gabriel: Yeah, I think those are two important points. One thing is if you, yeah, if you find dedicated bike paths, that’s good. If you go alongside a river as you have done, then often it is just flat, not always, but often it’s flat, because you can follow the river. And also what is called rails to trails conversions, so old railway lines that are converted to bicycle paths, because, of course, the railways, they have limits for the curves and also for the steepness. And so, if it worked for a railway, it’s going to make for a smoother bicycle path without any crazy hills or anything like that. So those are really good tips.

Mylène: People are debating on it because people want that the trail reopen. And if you take back the way, you can’t. It’s quite a debate.

Gabriel: Yeah, it’s a debate, but I don’t understand. What are they debating about?

David: Train lines.

Mylène: So if you take off the train for the bicycles, you couldn’t anymore.

David: They stop the project for the bikes. They say, “Oh, no, no, no, don’t put a bicycle way right there because maybe in the future we want the train back.”

Gabriel: Okay, I’d not heard that before.

Mylène: Because in countryside like us, they want reopen, like, for the train.

Gabriel: Since you say you’re in the hills a little bit, what part of France are you in?

David: Mylène, you’re office tourism.

Mylène: We are living in south France, in the countryside, northwest from Montpellier. And at the bottom of the mountains, it’s a plateau – flat mountain, 800 meters high, called Plateau du Larzac. So a lot of caves and underneath river and a lot of wilderness. Very nice area, you can do mountain bike. It gives the region an atmosphere, you know. People are very committed in what they are doing. There’s a lot of little organizations. It’s very active. It’s countryside, but very active.

Gabriel: I know that when we met, you mentioned the slow travel festival. Yeah, what’s that all about?

Mylène: In French, it’s called the Festival du Roc Castel. There’s a little hill in the center of the village called Roc Castel and it gives the name to the festival. It’s on the Plateau du Larzac, which one we were talking about. In French it’s called éloge du voyage lent. It means “slow travel” festival and éloge… éloge… “praise, compliment.”

Gabriel: Okay.

Mylène: Éloge du voyage lent.

Gabriel: Okay, so it’s like, in praise of slow travel.

Mylène: Yeah, I think we could say that, because I’m a volunteer to this festival. I asked the lady managing and she told me nothing exist in English. So if you are translating, I’m interested because, there is nothing in English. It’s all in French.

Gabriel: Sounds like a cool event.

Mylène: They invite travelers that have chosen to move slowly, by foot, by bike, with horses, kayaks, canoes, donkeys… How do you call a roulotte? You know, it’s a tiny house with wheels. In French, we call that roulotte.

Gabriel: Like a camper van or a…

Mylène: Yeah. Horse-drawn caravan.

Gabriel: Okay.

Mylène: To discover the world and take time to meet people and really enjoy the place where they are going. So it’s not only about sport. During the day, there is conferences with travelers, invited months before, and they accompany with film or Powerpoint or just photos, pictures. And they’re talking about their trip, and after the people at the conference, they can ask questions about the trip. And after the night there’s shows, quiz shows for children. There’s a workshop about pottery.

Gabriel: It sounds great.

David: Yeah, it’s free.

Mylène: Where you can put in the hole and put money inside, what you can afford. There is, between five and ten exhibits all around the village about the travel. It’s very complete. I mean, there is conferences, there is concerts. They invite farmers for the food, its look at food with local products.

Gabriel: And they will bring it by bike. This sounds like a separate episode. I might have to interview the organizers of this event.

David: Yeah, you fit with the festival. Last year, it was crazy. The girl, she was maybe 10 years old. She had a pony and her mother horses, and they travel from their home in the south of Brittany, and they reached the sea. And the girl, she talked about maybe an hour, an hour and a half, and she explained all the travel in front of 200 people. No backup, no text, nothing. She just explained, “We stopped there. The girl, she was nasty because she doesn’t want us to stay in our garden, so we ask her neighbor, and the neighbor was very nice.”

Mylène: It’s Alix in five years… maybe.

Gabriel: These kinds of travel experiences definitely increase a child’s resilience or interaction with people. You know, it’s wonderful to go up to the punks and start talking to them. The world needs more communication.

Mylène: Perfect.

Gabriel: In summary, then, what would you say are three good reasons to travel by bicycle with children?

Mylène: To go out from the main road. In French it’s called sortir des sentiers battus. Not to go where everyone goes. To give the travel taste to our kid. It’s not very expensive, and you are doing sport in the same time. And to share unique experience in family.

Gabriel: Yeah, those sound like wonderful benefits of it, and something that I hope to be doing as well with my family in the near future.

Mylène: I’m sure, yeah.

Gabriel: The transcript for this episode is available on the Accidental Bicycle Tourist website. I welcome feedback and suggestions for this and other episodes. You’ll find a link to all contact information in the show notes.  If you would like to rate or review the show, you can do that on your favorite podcast platform. You can also follow the podcast on Instagram. Thank you to Anna Lindenmeier for the cover artwork and to Timothy Shortell for the original music. This podcast would not be possible without continuous support from my wife Sandra. And thank you so much for listening. I hope the episode will inspire you to get out and see where the road leads you.   

Mylène: Yeah, maybe you will hear Alix sometimes. We explain to her but she’s five years old, so…

David: She’s blablabla all the time.