looking for child friendly charters

Am planning to do the ride with my daughter, who’ll turn 10 that week.

This will be her first travel-adventure, so I’d like to pay a charter to have the tent and gear all set than do it on our own (more time to explore and have fun), but I’m not finding any that emphasize children. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, just that I’m not finding them.

Also, when I was growing up in the Midwest, it didn’t seem as unusual for children to do the ride as it does today.

19 Replies

KenH, June 6, 2018 at 4:04 pm

I am guessing that the charters that do offer tent setting up services are all booked up by, well, a couple of months ago. But check with them, they will be happy to put you on their waiting list and you might get lucky. They may have charter space available for two, it is the full service tent service that is likely have been booked up for a while.

The only charter I have used is Riverbend-Argo. They are a smaller group and that would be less intimidating for a child but of course the bigger charters offer more stuff to do. I don’t know which ends up being most child friendly but I am confident that Riverbend-Argo would do a good job for you and your daughter. They have no tent service however, the two of you can use that as another bonding opportunity….

Good luck but I don’t think any of the charters would be unsuitable for children so not sure you need luck other than landing the tent service you want. You’d have to be a little more careful of going with a team. There is nothing wrong with any of them as far as I can tell, for an adult, but some are perhaps more suitable for adults than children.

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Bill Barry, June 6, 2018 at 6:05 pm

This will be my 3rd RAGBRAI, and my 1st with my 14 yr old son. I’ve used Riverbend/Argo on each of my rides and plan to do so again this year. As previously noted it’s a smaller group, but very friendly with a lot of regulars. I think my son will be very comfortable with the group. You will need to bring and setup your own tent. I asked John (runs the Charter) about kids in the group, he was very positive and welcoming. Hope to see you there. It would be nice to have another kid in camp!

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TeamPowellMom, June 6, 2018 at 9:39 pm

I’m with Ken… I think it may be too late to get the tent service. We used Pork Belly Ventures with the tent service when we rode in 2014. We had nine-year-old twin boys and a 12-year-old daughter who turned 13 on the ride. That was the second RAGBRAI for my husband and myself. We had such a hard time the first time that we knew we needed to make it easier with kids by having tent service. The following year we rode BikeMaine with tent service (as a family of five we needed two tents). The year after that the kids and I volunteered for BikeMaine and we bought a larger tent to set up ourselves. This year we are riding Cycle Greater Yellowstone and we will save over $800 by setting up our own tent for the family. The kids are older now and can help more.
I do recommend tent service, and we did like our charter. However, if it is too late to sign up for tent service, I think you can still do it. When my husband and I rode years ago by ourselves, the most difficult part was finding our tent and luggage. We went with a bike shop charter,and the only service they provided was the transportation of our bags, which were very hard to find at the end of the day. It was a small step up from the RAGBRAI regular service. If you go with a large charter like Pork Belly, you will easily be able to find your bags. I think you could even go with a smaller charter like Brancel. The key is being able to communicate with the charter service to know where to locate your bags. If you have a simple four person tent you would be able to set it up in a hurry, and your daughter can help you. In fact, I bet she would love it.
I don’t regularly follow the RAGBRAI forum any longer, but I put it in to be notified of follow up replies to this post.
I am happy to answer any other questions you have about riding with children. I am curious… When did you decide to do this ride and how many miles have you trained so far together? Is she riding her own bike? Have you done RAGBRAI before and are you from Iowa? I bet you are looking forward to this great adventure.

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Michael Mize, June 7, 2018 at 10:08 am

Thank you! This was helpful.

The plan is to do it in 2019, so we’ve plenty of time.

I’m particularly thankful for Teampowellmom, because she’s the only person who comes up in my searches as having done this with a 9-year-old (or two, in her case). 🙂

I’ve checked out Pork Belly Ventures and will look at Brancel (thanks again).

Having trekked across four continents and worked as a guide in college, I’m under no illusion about how much mental and physical effort it takes to get organized, set-up, and not shut-down upon completion of an arduous event, especially at her age.

And, there’s a huge difference between a 4th and 7th grader, so, even though she likes setting up tents, at her age, when we’re done with the ride, I want her be able to turn off. Then there’s my age (I’m older than dirt) and large amounts of metal hold me together, so I also want to be able to turn off.

To respond to Teampowellmom, I’m from Illinois & Indiana, but more than half of my life has now been spent on the left coast. As for training, I’m taking a broad view. She plays soccer, hikes, bikes and rides horses. At her age, 4 soccer games in a day is about 50-60 miles on a bike. My factor for converting hiking/walking/running to biking is 4, getting us to a hike of 15 miles being about equal to 60 miles on a bike. She is unlikely to hike 15 miles, but 12 is doable, and we’re at 6 right now. She rides horses 3-4 hours a day a few times a year. That leaves biking. If, in the two months before the event she plays 3-4 games in a day, hikes 12 miles, rides a horse for 3-4 hours in a day and bikes 50 miles, I’d be surprised if she didn’t succeed.

As for the ride itself, she’ll need her own bike, but I want her to be able to take breaks, so we’re looking at connectors.

Again, thank you very much!

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TeamPowellMom, June 7, 2018 at 10:34 am

Awesome! I’m glad to hear it’s for next year. You have plenty of time to plan and find a charter with tent service. If you call some that have been recommended, or others that you find, they’ll be able to give you a good “feel” for the atmosphere. I definitely agree with your thoughts on the tent service. The ride is challenging enough.
She sounds like an amazing girl. Our training strategy has always been the same: 1000 miles pre-ride, with at least one 80 mile day in a stretch of days in a row on a bike. We still thought RAGBRAI was hard. So was Bike Maine. But we keep going back.
You mentioned about there not being many kids on the ride compared to the past. I think that’s true. We noticed a real difference between our ride in the early 90’s compared to 2014. In the 90’s there seemed to be far more leisure riders and funny costumes. Now there are more serious riders, a handful who don’t think kids belong on RAGBRAI. But most people are great.
The great thing about RAGBRAI is that’s it’s for everyone. You’ll have a blast.

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Michael Mize, June 7, 2018 at 11:43 am

Yes, growing up in the midwest in the 80’s, I remember the ride being a regional event and hearing new stories each year of people wearing costumes, riding beach cruisers (or hunks of junk) and of people of all ages riding and having a great time. And, every year, at least one child from our little area rode.

But today, those aren’t the stories I’m hearing, or vibe I’m getting. It seems more adult, serious, and alcohol oriented.

Thank you – So, 80 miles one day in between two other days of riding and 1000 total biking miles AND it was still hard. Ouch.

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Bikingaddict, June 7, 2018 at 12:04 pm

I’ll mention Bubba’s Pampered Pedalers as a good charter that offers tent service. We’ve used Pork Belly Ventures a couple times for tent service and this will be our first year with Bubba’s, but I have friends that have used Bubba’s for both RAGBRAI and some of the other rides they offer around the country and they’ve got nothing but good things to say about them. Plus they offer HUGE tents that you can stand up in as an option as well.

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goodlaura, June 7, 2018 at 12:41 pm

My husband and I charter with Lostandfound Adventures and took our three boys in 2016 all week. They were turning 8, 10 and 12 that year. We had two co-pilot bike attachments and a third bike and the two oldest switched off each day riding on their own. L&F offers tent set up, and there are other people w/ kids in the group usually. We’ll be back this year, but they’re all on their own this time. I don’t have the will to pull a 60lb kid plus a 30lb bike along for 7 hours a day again 🙂

Your daughter will have a great time – ours are super excited about going back!

This reply was modified 1 year, 9 months ago by goodlaura.

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ratscallion, June 7, 2018 at 6:51 pm

+1 for Pork Belly Ventures with tent service. Pork Belly has all the amenities you and your kids will need plus in-camp entertainment so they won’t get bored or have to witness the beverage-fueled adult circus in town. My wife describes RAGBRAI as the ultimate summer camp for adults riding on bikes. There’s a lot of truth in that statement…

As a parent and rider I can appreciate both perspectives. I wouldn’t take my kids to certain activities until they were older, more mature, and physically able (backpacking, hiking, long-distance cycling, etc). One reason was to ensure they had a positive experience and didn’t sour to the idea of challenging activities. Your kiddo’s are quite young to ride the full daily distance. Unless they’re very hard-core riders, plan on sagging early and often, before they lose interest, get bored, or physically exhausted. I’d suggest to try riding on two successive days of 30-40 mile distance this weekend in you hometown, because RAGBRAI is not the best place to learn something new in a crowd of other riders… You can better gauge their endurance, abilities, and temperament on long rides. Your oldest is younger than I’d recommend to ride solo because of the distance, your youngest will definitely need a co-pilot bike.

Someone mentioned negative opinion about children on RAGBRAI. I’m all about family time and I wholly support doing challenging activities with your kids. I find the negative perceptions tend to be fueled by obstacles and hazards that happen when riding with kids. The biggest hazard with young riders and inexperienced adults (aside from cars), is they don’t hold a line and tend to serpentine into the path of other riders. Kids lack the situational awareness of adults so they’re clueless when other riders approach from the rear, even when riders call out or ring a bell. Kids don’t ride as fast as adults, and the tendency is for adults to be continually overtaking slower riders. If a youth cuts into a rider’s path they can inadvertently take down an adult, or cause the adult to swerve into another rider’s line (domino effect). Don’t be easily offended when experienced riders spontaneously instruct your kids at a much higher volume and with a tone of extreme urgency (aka. shouting, yelling, scaring your kids). Having gone down on my bike while racing, cracked ribs road rash and all, I tend to have an aversion to riding next to novice riders. I’m not some curmudgeon that hates kids or beginners; I just have an appreciation for the dangers and consequences involved. It only takes a moment and an adult goes to the hospital, is off work for a month, and takes a year or more to heal. For some reason kids seem to be made of rubber and tend to come out unscathed. Also, consider the physics involved when a 185 lb rider approaches from behind with a 10+ mph speed differential and collides with a kid. It’s just not going to be a good outcome… Even though, if a kid were to take me out, I’d feel badly if the kid got hurt too…

I hold parents responsible to teach kids to wear a helmet, how to ride in a group, hold a line, and stay away from the adult riders. I appreciate the ambition and adventure in bringing kids along, and wholly support that if they’re ready, but I’ve also seen way too many ambivalent or inattentive parents. Some experience denial, the “not my kid” or “it won’t happen to me” effect. A few parents even subscribe to the every other rider is responsible for themselves school of logic. I wonder if they’d allow their kids drive a car on public roads because all other drivers should be responsible for themselves? There are just some things that young kids aren’t yet ready to undertake.

Consider if it’s predictable, it’s also preventable… You already accept a responsibility your kids might fall and get banged up, and you mitigate that risk by doing things like wearing helmets and gloves. Are you also ready to accept responsibility for your kids riding in a group with adult riders, and are you willing to do the things necessary to mitigate that risk? If you choose to bring kids it’s going to be a lot of work for you minding two kiddo’s over seven days and giving continual instruction to keep them in-line. If you’re up for the task, I think you and the kids will have a grand adventure that you can talk about for many years…

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Sarah Prudhomme, June 8, 2018 at 7:51 am

Add another for Pork Belly! As someone with lots of kid experience (elementary school teacher and parent), I highly recommend it! I’ve used PB the last 4 years and have had a great experience. Honestly, I think that a kid would dig the vastness of PB…you feel like you’re part of something big! Plus all the amenities are amazing – showers, food, music, flushing toilets…I’ve seen many other kids at camp and it’s a very kid-friendly atmosphere.

Just call Tammy once this Ragbrai is over and get your spot! I’ll be there with my kids one day soon!

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Corey, June 8, 2018 at 9:28 am

I think we might be some of the “other people w/kids” that goodlaura mentioned in the Lost And Found Adventures charter. We have always liked that charter and there are other kids for ours to interact with. Very laid back group of people and a lot of variety in ages.

Laura, I’m glad you guys will be back this year. I’ll be bringing my 11 y/o son this year instead of my daughter. He’ll be happy to hear that there will be 3 more boys to run around the campground with.

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KenH, June 8, 2018 at 8:49 pm

Aha, you are asking questions a year in advance, good for you! If you really want a charter’s tent service be sure to sign up for it as soon as they open for business next year and you should be fine.

Yeah, there is a lot of talk about alcohol on this forum but don’t let that give you the wrong impression. The ride itself is completely suitable for families with young children. Families ride together in all manner of bicycles. There are independent children, children on tag along bikes, children in trailers, and I once saw a couple of young boys in “panniers”. One year at a roadside food vendor I saw a “tandem” bike that was actually a three seater and attached to the back of it was a tag along, and attached to the back of the tag along was a second tag along!

Do try to get her to commit to training with you. Children seem to need less training than adults actually but training rides will give you the opportunity to judge how well she will deal with the ride. You will need to make the judgement call as to whether she is ready for the challenge or would be better off waiting for a year. And as far as training is concerned keep in mind that you are not trying to maximize your athletic performance, or hers. You are trying to build up your stamina and toughness. So take long rides, take rides on rainy days, take rides on hilly routes, take rides on hot days, and take rides on windy days. Both of you need to be ready to do that all during RAGBRAI week.

Teach her to ride in groups for sure. If there are child friendly group rides available in your area take her on some. By all means teach her to ride in a straight line and listen for people behind her announcing their intentions. Teach her to look before she moves out of her line and to announce her intentions when passing people. Those are all excellent habits for her to have and practice.

But to those of you who are constantly lecturing the rest of us about these things please know that you are preaching to the choir. It is an old expression that has at least two senses that are important in these discussions:

A) the choir already knows your sermon quite well
B) most of the people in the congregation are not in the choir and will never hear your sermon

If you are a fast rider on this ride you must acknowledge that this is not a race, this is not a fast club ride, this is a crowded event full of people who will do anything at any time and who don’t know noting about your rules of proper bicycle ettiquette. I know you hate to hear this and protest loudly that you are right and everyone else is wrong but this is how it is and this is how it will always be. Under these circumstances you need to take responsibility for your own actions and ride in a fashion appropriate to the minute by minute circumstances on the road. You cannot depend on anyone ahead of you to do what you think they should do. If you are passing people on this ride then you are responsible for doing so safely. The faster your relative speed, the more careful you need to be. This is not a ride where you can weave in and out of traffic, cutting as close as possible to other riders, and sprint as hard as you can to win the stage. There is no first place in this ride and the only prize you can win is to arrive in the overnight town in one piece, having been polite to a fault to your fellow riders, and having enjoyed many fine interactions with riders and townspeople during the day.

Would you feel bad if you were to run down a child? Well you should because if that happens with a child or an adult the fault is 100% yours, no matter what they did. This is not a ride where you have the right to ride fast. This is a ride where you have the responsibility to look out for the other rider. It is too crowded for any of us to adopt any other attitude.

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dalebob, June 9, 2018 at 10:19 am

Yes, growing up in the midwest in the 80’s, I remember the ride being a regional event and hearing new stories each year of people wearing costumes…..

But today, those aren’t the stories I’m hearing, or vibe I’m getting. It seems more adult, serious, and alcohol oriented.

Our group is doing its best to change this! We all dress in costume every day, and we dance at every opportunity. Bling, Uncle Sam, and the two big babies will be riding and not racing every day, and we do our best to encourage and support every young rider we pass(or are passed by).
KenH, thanks for speaking so eloquently regarding this being a ride , not a race. Just because your “average” is 26 or whatever doesn’t mean you should or can ride that speed whenever and wherever you want. Would you cruise along at 30 at dusk in the rain? Or do you adjust for conditions? It seems the conditions of RAGBRAI dictate an adjustment to your normal riding style. Like, slow down. And please, if you can’t bring yourself to say hi as you pass by a youngster, at least don’t yell at them.

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Brandi Bresson, June 17, 2018 at 4:41 pm

I wanted to chime in on this thread because my 10 year old daughter and I are planning to ride 2 days. We are both new to the scene. I’ve been questioning the wisdom of this decision. But I figure I’ll never know if I don’t try. It will be nice to see other kids out there too!

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Bill Barry, June 17, 2018 at 5:39 pm

I’ve wanted to take my son since he was 12. He’s now 14 and this will be his 1st year. We plan to do the whole week. He’s been training with me all summer and getting his miles in. Not a lot of hills in Central Ohio so that has him a little nervous. But we plan to go slow, stop and eat a lot and just have fun.

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