Cycling - mountain biking and bicycle touring - is a fun thing to do on a Northwoods family vacation. Ride rolling bike trails that wind through the woods. Cycle flat track along crystal clear lakes. Pedal converted rail beds. Expend energy while having fun. Spot birds and animals. Take in the scenery. Picnic, fish and swim. With over 100 miles (160 km) of bike trails and a plethora of paved, lightly traveled roads family cycling in the Wisconsin Northwoods is an adventure on two wheels.
Distance isn't the only thing to consider when selecting a Northwoods bike trail. Flat bike paths are easier than trails with rolling hills. Cycling on paved track is easier than biking on dirt and mud and doesn't require a specialized bicycle or certain level of skill. Some bike trails run parallel to lakes. Others end at picnic areas, sandy beaches and ice cream shops. Some bike paths are wooded loops. Some are out and back. Some children are motivated by challenge. Some only pedal at a leisurely pace. Whether you pedal for an hour, day or week be sure that the cycling adventure you choose is commensurate with the age, interest and ability of the kids.
The best time to bike in the Wisconsin Northwoods is from mid-June to early October. It is too cold in winter for all but the heartiest bikers and too rainy in spring for a ride with kids to be anything but wet. Yet no matter what time of year you cycle check the weather before you set out. In the Northwoods it can be rainy and cold in the heat of summer! And while weather will condition your ride it isn't the only thing to bear in mind when planning a family cycling adventure. Trails passes are required for all NHAL State Forest trails. They can be purchased at park offices as well as trailhead self-regulation stations and are often available at country stores.
Bike touring in the Northwoods requires nothing more than bikes, helmets and daypacks. Unless you plan to cycle a century that is. Child bike seats, ideal for half-day rides, offer tykes little freedom. Bike trailers, carts pulled by an adult biker, allow the under 5 crowd to play, sleep and squirm. Trailer bikes or tag-a-longs make it possible for kids aged 5-9 to peddle longer. Bike bags and panniers, overkill on a day trip, are a must on unassisted cycling holidays. No room for helmets and bicycles? Bike rentals are available in Minocqua, Sayner and St. Germain. Most rent helmets, youth bikes, bikes trailers and tag-a-longs. Chequamegon Adventure Company and BJ's Sportshop have the largest selection.
The basics for a Northwoods bike ride include trail map, water, snacks, insect repellent, sunglasses, sunscreen and windbreaker. Families cycling with young children should pack the items they need for a day on the town (diapers, wipes, etc). All cyclists should dress in layers. If you are biking unmarked trails, add a compass, gazetteer and GPS to your backpack or pannier. If you plan to swim and fish en route, strap towels and poles to your rear bike rack. Pack a mini toolkit and spare inner tubes (one for each bike) in your seat wedge or seat pack. Don't forget a portable pump.
Cycling is a great outdoor activity yet it is important not to exaggerate. Select a trail that matches the interest and ability of the kids. Pace the ride to the slowest cyclist or youngest child. Teach the kids roads rules and trail etiquette. Take care when crossing streets and highways. Check each bike before setting out on a ride. Wear a proper fitting helmet and bright colored clothing. Stop frequently for water and snacks. Check on children regularly, even those not pedaling. Apply sunscreen to all exposed areas. Dress for the weather.