Hello, we are just back from a great holiday cycling along the Danube in Austria with two kids, Emma (10) and John (12) and camping. It was a great introduction to cycle touring and I wanted to share some of the information here for anyone else that is thinking of doing it.
This is more of a technical post – see this post for a diary of the journey.
We are a family of 4. Jane and I cycled the C2C last year and the kids cycle to school but we do not cycle as a regular hobby.
Why the Danube and the Trip ?
We chose the Danube because it is pretty much down hill for the whole journey ( challenging side trips exist ) and there are good campsites.
We used to do more adventurous holidays before we had kids now that they are 10/12 we wanted to see if we could do some more. We did 4 days wild camping in canoes in Ireland last year so the kids have some experience of that kind of thing.
My big hope was that we could to show the kids that trips like this are well within their grasp and their budget when they are 16/17.
We had 3 x 26″ mountain bikes and 1 x 24″ mountain bike. The bikes were all more than 10 years old. We also had an old bike trailer ( originally used to take the kids to nursery so there was a certain nostalgia in using it for this trip ). The 3 larger bikes had full size panniers and the smaller bike had some mini panniers. We also had a trailer.
We had 2 x 2 man tents, 4 sleeping bags ( 2 quite large and 1 fairly large ), 4 x thermarest style sleeping mats, 4 x inflatable pillows, a large trangia, trangia fuel bottle, 4 x bowls, 4 x sporks, 2 x travel towels, 2 x head torches, 1 x spare tube for each wheel size, 2 x multi tools, 2 x sets tyre levers, 2 x puncture kits, 2 x bicycle locks, 2 x washing lines, tow rope, cargo net, bungees, guide book, phone battery power bank, tie wraps, duct tape, a handlebar mounted bag for passports, money etc.
Each pannier had a 25l Karrimor Dry Bay and then a smaller one for any wet rain gear. The tents and sleeping mats were in two largish Ortiweb bags and there were two waterproof duffel bags for clothes and pillows.
The large Ortliweb and waterproof duffle bags went in the trailer but with older kids we could easily have had each bike with 2 panniers and a largish waterproof bag across the panniers and no trailer.
We took :
- a ferry from Newcastle to Ijmuiden ( near Amsterdam ) as foot passengers with bikes
- Cycled @30km to Amsterdam
- Train to Hanover, Germany
- Sleeper Train to Linz, Austria
- 5 x days cycle
- Train into Vienna
- Sleeper Train to Dusseldorf, Germany
- Train to Amsterdam
- Cycled @30km to Ijmuiden
The trains and ferrys are relatively easy to book on the web BUT you cannot book bicycle on the web and YOU REALLY NEED TO RESERVE bicycles on the major trains ( especially if there are 4 of you )
Jane did the train booking and our phone bill came to almost £200. This included having to re-book them after it became clear that there was Engineering Works on the return journey.
We booked through the Austrian railway but it was very difficult as you had to ring Austria and English was not widely spoken. There were also issues whereby the cycle reservations had to be done in a phase 2 some time after the people were booked.
We later dealt with the German Railways to modify some bookings and the process was much much easier because there was a UK telephone number and the staff had excellent English. My recommendation would be to try and do everything via the German system if possible although we are not sure it is possible for the sleeper to Vienna .
We slept on 2 ferrys and 2 sleeper trains.
We camped 4 nights and at the end of the trip sated in an AirBnB in Vienna for 3 nights.
Day 1 – Ferry + 30K cycle
Day 2 – Sleeper Train
Day 3 – Campsite 1 – in Camping Au Donau . This was @30km from Linz
Day 4 – Campsite 2 – Campingplatz Grein – – This was @30km from Campsite 1
Day 5 – Campsite 3 – Inn and Campground Fam. Stumpfer – This was @45km from Campsite 2
Day 6 – Campsite 4 – Donaupark Camping Krems – This was @30Km from Campsite 3
Day 7 – 9 AirBnB Vienna – A fantastic apartment in the suburbs – This was @40km cycle + a train
Day 10 – Sleeper Train
Day 11 – Ferry ( with 30K cycle )
We brought our own food ( Pasta Boxes and cereal ) onto the ferry which is horrendously expensive. This worked well.
On most of the camping nights we cooked on the Trangia with meals such as Batchelors Pasta ‘n’ Sauce, Cheese, Leek & Ham dry packets using 1.25 packets per person ( there is no way they serve 2 people ). We brought these packets with us.
For lunch we had fresh bread, cheese, ham and vegetables. For breakfast it was fresh croissants or cereal. Even the “Fresh” milk in Europe seems to last for days being bounced about on the road.
Trains and Bikes are stressful
There are three aspects to this.
One is physically getting bikes ( and a trailer ) on and off the trains. We got better at this with some practice and process ( remove panniers first, 1st adult on to receive bike, 1st kid larger with bike, first two bikes hung on hooks, 2nd kid with bike, last adult bike, panniers handed along a chain, trailer on last. It is worth noting that most of the platforms have train specific plans showing where the bike carriages will stop although it doesn’t always work as described.
Getting the bikes on and off the platforms can be tricky too. All of the platforms have small lifts which can take 1 or 2 bikes but in Vienna there was a real issue with the lift being permanently full from the floors above and below. i had gone to the airport to get my Mum so John ( 12 ) ended up carrying all of the luggage and bikes up 6 flights of stairs while Jane and Emma ( 8 ) stood guard over the kit at each end. Towards the end of the trip our preferred routine was to wheel the parents bikes down the stairs and just use the lifts for the kids and trailer. It is very worth while getting the “DB navigator App” which shows in great detail which platforms European trains will arrive at.
The 3rd ( and most stressful ) is not having reservations. We had reservations on the sleeper trains but the intercity into Vienna ( 1 stop ) and the trains to Dusseldorf and Amsterdam we didn’t. On the intercity we literally ended up standing in the isles with our bikes. On the other trains we got them into bike spaces but by the end of those journeys the 10 bike quota was well exceeded. We had contingency plans to abandon the trailer and /or split the group into two trains.
Carry Plenty of Food and Water
Shops along the way do not open on Sundays and Wednesdays, make sure that you have enough stuff for breakfast and lunch well in advance. There are generally good opportunities to refill water bottles but there were a couple of long hot stretches with no options. Next time i would take two water bottles.
Kids need a target
The motivation for my daughter was a swim at the end of each day ( there were lots of reasonably priced and well equipped outdoor pools ). This worked really well.
The motivation for my son was to beat his parents to the end of each day 🙂
Dutch Cycle Routes are scary for the inexperienced
Rather than being the safe haven that we expected the Dutch cycle routes were actually quite scary at first. The locals cycle quite quickly ( even on their town bikes ) and child stopping or turning on a cycle route causes loud exclamations and much annoyance. There were also scooters and micro cars on the cycle ways but to be fair they were almost always considerate to us.
The trick is to treat the cycle routes just like real roads with very strict lane discipline. The cycle way along the Danube was a lot more more relaxed.
Towing can be useful but scary
We had to tow on two occasions, one for about 1 km when Emma’s derailleur came off ( snapped hanger ) and on the last cycle day when Emma was struggling and we were under pressure to get a specific train so that I could get to the airport to meet Mum.
We had taken two bungees and a light rope specifically to tow. Technically it worked well but the issue was Emma’s concentration. It would get a bit hairy when she lost concentration. The solution would be to have one parent tow and the other ride alongside the child to keep them in the correct position. We agreed that we would only tow on quite cycle only routes and never on the road.
Never Assume a bike cannot be fixed
Emma’s drop out / hanger broke on the 3rd day. It had happened once before in the UK and the bike shop could only fix it with a specific replacement from Islabike which took a few days to source by post.
When the same thing happened in Austria I was resigned to removing the derailleur and leaving her with just one gear – and a 40km day the net day. I towed her the 1km to the bike shop where the owner was much more optimistic and took a grinder to a part from a different make and adapted it to fit Emma’s bike. After the repair it worked flawlessly. It wasn’t cheap but it made a big difference to the trip.