Bikes are an important part of your freedom when you have a motorhome. Unless you are pulling a trailer with a mini car or a motorbike then your bike will be your most likely mode of transport to whisk you down to the local patisserie or boulangerie.
There are a number of considerations when it comes to choosing the right bikes for you and your family.
These conditions are, in order of priority:
- Functionality, and
This is the biggest consideration and will be led by your choice of bike rack or storage option. If you are attaching a bike rack to the back of your motorhome, through the outside wall, then you will have a limit on the weight of the bikes that can be carried. Fiamma bike racks usually have an upper limit of 60kg depending on the model, whether you are carrying one bike or four.
The weight of the bike can be hanging 3ft out at the back and will bounce about with any bump or camber in the roads. The main highways in Europe are notorious for sudden swoops in the road level, generally around bridges and fly-overs; which will set that extra weight going like a metronome! Be prepared for it!
If you have a rear garage on your van, great, you can rest slightly easier. However, you still need to be concerned about the weight of your bike as it is also part of your overall payload. See our page on payload and packing, here.
Most standard adult bikes will weigh upwards of 15kg but can be heavier if you are considering an electric bike to help with the riding (We will discuss this option later).
Children’s bike are not much lighter. When we were looking to purchase our 9-year olds bike we realised that children’s bikes are designed to survive a multiple of sins. Despite being smaller in stature they are built with thicker steel and heavier more durable parts, all adding to the weight and making them comparable to that of an adult bike.
Suffice to say, two adult bikes and two children’s bicycles leave little room for manoeuvre with a weight limit of 60kg.
The final consideration with weight is how you will mount your bikes on your bike rack. Clearly, you want the heaviest bike closest to your van as opposed to furthest away, where it is less supported by the frame and likely to add to the natural bouncing that will take place, possibly increasing the opportunity for damage to your motorhome.
Most bike racks are designed to hold larger adult bikes towards the back of the rack, however, as aforementioned, children’s bikes can be just as heavy. In our case, our daughter’s bike was the heaviest, despite being smaller than both adult bikes and needed to be placed first on the rack. This created some minor issues with the securing arms reaching the other bikes, but with a bit of adjustment, we made it work.
The bikes you buy will either enhance your experience or detract from it. Whilst the roads of Holland are flat, the majority of Europe is full of hills and inclines, all of which need to be overcome regardless of whether you are an experienced cyclist or a person who has just bought a bike for the first time. Purchase your bikes with this in mind.
When buying a bike, most people are drawn to the colourful, cool looking machines that scream to our inner child. Let’s face it cycling is a pure release from the constraints of adult life! I was so swept up by the experience of riding again, I was inspired to write ‘Feeling 10 again’ after buying my Amsterdam Bike in France.
But don’t make the same mistake as us. Don’t make the mistake of buying a lovely looking dutch cruiser, that you imagine yourself gayly cycling to the bread shop in the morning. My gorgeous Amsterdam ladies bike looked the part but it was incredibly heavy, under geared and totally impractical. The reality was not the dream!
Here’s our five-step guide to buying a bike;
- Pick it up! Is it heavy? Look for the specifications on the bike and make sure it’s below 15Kg/33lbs
- Check the number of gears. Specifications on the bike will give you these. You want a minimum of 8 gears at the back and two at the front (16-24 gears minimum)
- Brakes, disc or pad? Stopping in all weathers is important. Disc brakes provide a much better braking experience and are lower maintenance.
- Check the wheel size. There are great looking bikes with 29-inch wheel diameters at many bike shops, however, you need to think about how easy these will be to replace abroad.
- Look at the price. Most bikes under £200 are going to be built with heavy frames, heavy wheels and heavier parts from cheaper grade materials. This will generally result in ‘replacing rather than repairing’ if something goes wrong on your trip.
Although most of our purchases are based on price first, our five-point guide will ensure you have considered weight and functionality above price – it is better to pay a bit extra and still be happy with the bike in 2/3 years time.
That said, don’t spend so much that you are afraid to use it and bash it about a bit. Purchase a bike that is comfortable, durable and effective. But be prepared to leave it out in the rain, prop it up against bushes and get sand in the chain. Your bike will not look brand new after the first 1000 miles on the bike rack or in a garage anyway. They will acquire scratches and dents just from the wear and tear of driving on bumpy roads.
We found the majority of our riding was along promenades, into towns, and around the coasts. The road surfaces we encountered differed greatly based on which country we were in. You could be on a smooth tarmac or pavement one day and farmers track the next. Make sure you select your bikes with this in mind.
Some key components for your bikes are:
- Suspension forks at the front for comfort and handling
- Disc brakes for stopping in the wet and low maintenance
- Thick tread tyres to improve grip
- Comfortable seat
In general, you are going to be looking at mountain bikes for the adults and a similar smaller counterpart for the kids.
Gearing for the kids is going to be very important. If you think the incline you’re going up is tough, your kids will think it’s tougher as their bike is almost as heavy as yours and probably doesn’t have the same gear range. Make sure when you’re buying their bikes its comparable to yours, or you’ll be stopping every five minutes and dealing with tears and frustration.
Your bike(s) need to be easy to maintain whilst you are away. Having a few simple tools like a multi-tool and tyre levers will enable you to carry out the majority of tweaks and repairs required when you are travelling. If you’ve followed our five steps you will be able to find spare tyres, inner tubes and brake parts at most superstores across Europe.
You’ll want to take some chain lube to keep that part working and dirt free, plus a cloth to wipe the bikes down and keep rust at bay. Finally, you’ll need a pump and a saddle bag for each bike to keep spare inner tubes and patches, so you can carry out repairs on the go. Nothing worse than a 3km trek back to the van pushing your bikes!
Finally, there are some additions you might want to consider to your bikes that will add to your riding experience and practical use of the bikes. There are only two of these that we would recommend due to keeping the weight down. They are:
- Mudguards; due to the changeable weather you’ll want to keep the wheel spray off your back and out of the person behinds face. There are good plastic options available for universal fitting on mountain bikes and this is a cheap upgrade.
- Front or rear baskets; These are a necessity for taking your bikes to the shops, beach, lake or picnic area. They take the hassle out of having one person carrying a heavy backpack and can be easily removed and stored when not required. I never found a backpack that could fit a fresh french baguette comfortably but my front basket, come shopping basket, was perfect. With these waterproof baskets, you can keep your baguette dry, even when you get wet!
When we arrived at Bonterra Park in Benicassim, I think we were the only people there on a standard bicycle! The world of electric powered bikes has taken off! Everybody had one, but admittedly they were all over 60 too!
As a travelling family, electric bikes were not an option for us. They are simply too heavy (The average electric bike weighs between 40 and 60 lbs/18kg – 27kg). But if you are a couple or a solo traveller, why not cheat and make those hills a little easier?
There is no doubt about it, Europe is hilly. If you want to see the views, you generally have to climb the hills. An electric bike will make light work of them, as long as you have enough power in the battery! I would never want to be in a position of hand-pushing one of those home! Remember that you have limited mileage in the battery – anywhere between 25 – 40 miles generally.
We were overtaken a lot by people on electric bikes. They would breeze by with no effort, whilst we were wheezing, head down, pedalling for our lives. We would mutter under our breath but actually, we were rewarded with the health benefits of putting the effort in. If you want to improve your fitness during your trip, you are not going to achieve it on an electric bike.
That said, we met lots of people with serious illnesses or ailments who were cycling daily, whom never would have had the opportunity had it not been for their electric bicycles. They certainly have their benefits, as long as you can still lift them in and out of the garage!
So, if you have the money (the lightest models will set you back thousands) and the available payload (approx 100lbs/45kg for two bikes), why not treat yourself.
Just don’t gloat when you overtake!
Folding bikes are great space savers. The average weight is between 20 and 30lbs per bike (9-13kg) making them much lighter than an electric bike.
Whilst they are great for commuting and urban riding, Folding bikes have small wheels — typically in the range of 12 to 20 inches, though some can have more conventional tyres sizes of 26 inches. This puts the folding bike at a disadvantage when navigating rough terrain.
If you plan to cycle on trails you’ll do better using a folding mountain bike with larger tyres that can easily roll over rocks, bumps and debris.
IF WE HAD OUR TIME OVER AGAIN…
Knowing what we know now, and having learnt from our mistakes, what would we change and what would we recommend?
Well, firstly we would buy different bikes!
Here are our TOP TIP RECOMMENDATIONS based on WEIGHT, FUNCTIONALITY, MAINTENANCE and PRICE;
MEN’S MOUNTAIN BIKE
It might be at the higher end of our budget but we would dig a little deeper for this 10.65kg ultralight BEIOU® Hardtail SHIMANO M610 DEORE 30 Speed Toray T800 Carbon Fiber Mountain bike with 26-inch wheels.
It meets all of the criteria in terms of high spec components, disc brakes, light-weight carbon frame, front fork suspension and professional 26″mountain bike wheel-set
LADIES MOUNTAIN BIKE
Forget the heavy-set sit-up-and-beg bicycles – if you want to really see Europe and venture into towns, villages and roads less travelled, buy a high-quality mountain bike with 27 gears. Go for practicality and enjoyability over aesthetics. Give yourself a chance to climb those hills without half killing yourself in the effort!
This Ghost Lanao 3 MTB Hardtail Women’s 2017 hardtail bike is a mean machine. It falls under the 15kg weight target, is functional with all high-spec features and is reasonably priced. This bike will take a few knocks and still be your best friend 3 years from now.
With the alloy frame and SR Suntour suspension fork, this Claud Butler Trailridge 1.2 14″ Girls Mountain Bike with 21 speed Shimano gearing, as well as a Shimano chainset and double wall wheels, produces a great quality and reliable bike that will certainly keep up with the grown-ups.
This Claud Butler Battleaxe 24″ Boys Mountain Bike doesn’t just look great with 18 speed Shimano gears, alloy rims, hubs and brakes it also performs to a top level.
The gearing on this bike is very well designed for the younger rider. Being only 12.4kg, it also falls under the 15kg target.
NOTE: Neither the boys nor the girl’s bikes have disc brakes. This is largely due to manufacturers adding a premium for disc brakes on children’s bikes. With children growing out of bikes so quickly, it is probably not worth the extra investment that would see the prices soar!
There are so many electric bikes to choose from, however, we have looked at weight being a consideration and have chosen the Green Edge for its favourable 19kg weight.
Remember: Electric bikes have a mileage range which will be affected by battery charge, average speed and maximum speed use.
Whatever you choose, enjoy your ride! And if it’s safe to do so, just close your eyes, free-wheel down the hill, breathe in the moment and allow yourself to be taken back to childhood!