How dangerous is family bike touring?

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I’m never quite sure how to respond to the whole “danger” issue of bike touring. Although the vast majority of people understand that traveling on bike is not inherently any more dangerous than biking to school in your own city, not everyone sees that. Biking is one of those activities that appears outrageously dangerous to some people, although the reality is rarely as bad as their fears make it out to be.

Nancy with Daryl on a tagalong

I am speaking about the danger issue from a unique vantage point as a mother of twin boys who has now spent a total of four years on the road cycling 27,000 miles through fifteen countries – with my husband and children. In 2006/07, when our sons were in third grade, we cycled 9300 miles around the US and Mexico. In June 2008 we left the shores of the Arctic Ocean in Alaska on bicycles and spent the next three years cycling 17,300 miles to the southern tip of Argentina.

What we did, and what quite a few other families are doing, is both safe and beneficial for our children.

Is there a chance something could happen? You bet! But one of my most vivid memories is that of an ambulance screaming by our house and stopping at the house a block away – a 6-year-old boy had slipped in the bathtub, hit his head, and died. We hear stories all the time of people being injured or killed in car accidents – and yet we think we’re protected by the pile of metal and glass surrounding us.

tandem wth tagalong

I often tell the story about how we spent an entire year cycling the US and Mexico and had no problems at all – and then three weeks after we got home to Boise, Idaho, my son came face-to-face with TWO rattlesnakes just a few miles south of our home while climbing an extinct volcano. A few weeks later, I was hit by a car for the only time in my life a mere 4.5 miles from our house.

Life is full of dangers, and we have no idea what tomorrow will bring.

Children need to feel loved. They need to feel secure. They need to know Mom and Dad are there for them. We love our children dearly – so much so that we were willing to spend 24/7 with them rather than dropping them off at daycare for someone else to raise. Not only were we willing to do that, we wanted it. Our children know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they are loved. They were safe and secure in the knowledge that Mom and Dad were there for them – all the time, not just part time.

Near Carlsbad Caverns

I’ve tried really, really hard to figure out where the whole “danger” thing comes in, but I’ll openly admit I don’t really get it. I’m not sure at what point people think we cross the line and enter into a very dangerous situation where we’re endangering our children’s lives and well-being. I hope you, dear reader, can help me find THE POINT where people feel a bike journey changes from being a nice, wholesome family bike ride into a horribly risky adventure.

For those who feel we’ve flirted with our children’s lives, I’ve got a whole continuum below and would really appreciate it if you could let me know at what point you feel we turn the corner, so to speak. I am honestly curious and have no clue at what point it becomes dangerous or detrimental to the children – please don’t take this as an attack or being sarcastic or whatever – I honestly want to know.

My family cycled 17,000 miles in 1000 days when we cycled from Alaska to Argentina – that comes to an average of 17 miles/day, so that’s the amount I’ll use here. We happen to be from Boise, Idaho, so I use Boise here. We could very easily substitute Toronto or London or any other city.

  1. One Saturday afternoon we take off as a family and ride 17 miles around Boise. Is that a wholesome family activity or over the top where we risked life or limb?
  2. We enjoyed that so much, we decide to make it a weekly thing. Every Saturday we head out for a 17-mile ride around Boise. Now are we risking too much?
  3. We need a bit more exercise, so decide to ride 17 miles three times per week. Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday we take off and ride around Boise. We sometimes make a loop, sometimes an out-and-back, but never stray farther than 8.5 miles from our house. Risky? Or OK?
  4. It’s so much fun, we decide to do it every day. We’re still keeping it close to home, but we head out to cycle 17 miles every day. Are we now flirting with our lives?
  5. It was raining one day, so decided to skip our ride. Tomorrow we do 34 miles to make up the miles. Is it dangerous now?
  6. We get a bit tired of the roads around Boise, so we load the bikes on the car and drive for an hour, then get the bikes out and ride our 17 miles. Dangerous or no?
  7. Grandma wants us to visit her in Connecticut, so we load the car and head east. But we still want to ride our bikes, so we take the bikes with us and head out for a morning 17-mile ride from wherever we are, then load the bikes to drive a few hundred miles. While in Connecticut we still ride those 17 miles, but now they are out of Grandma’s house. Is this risky now?
  8. Gas prices are really high, and we happen to have plenty of time, so we decide to skip the driving parts and just ride our bikes to Grandma’s house. We still do our 17 miles each day, but we just don’t bother driving to a new place – we bike there instead. Now have we crossed the line?
  9. Oops – we turned left instead of right and head into another country. Is this the point where it turns into that really, really risky venture?
  10. A good friend lives in Mexico, so we load our bikes on a plane and fly down to visit her. We stay with her for a month and take daily 17-mile rides out of her house. Dangerous yet?
  11. Another friend lives 17 miles from the first friend, so we ride from Friend A’s house to Friend B’s.
  12. It takes us three days of riding 17 miles per day to get to Friend C’s house. Is that where the danger comes in?
  13. It takes 10 days to get to another friend’s house. Is that too much?
  14. 30 days?
  15. What if we ditched the bikes altogether and traveled by bus? Would that be risking life and limb?
  16. Or on a boat?

I think you get the idea here – at what point does a bike journey change from being a nice, wholesome family activity to being outrageously risky?

By getting this out in the open I hope we can understand each other’s perspectives a bit better. Thank you for taking the time to help us all understand each other better!

*****This article is part of a series of articles on the dangers of travel.

How dangerous is family bike touring?

Life doesn’t come with a money-back guarantee

Risk Assessment – A personal decision

Isn’t bike touring dangerous?

Acceptable level of risk

family in Colombia


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