Considering my experiences traipsing the country with Lisa, it's common for folks to ask me about riding with children. My first answer is to get the right child!
I just received this inquiry from an ADV reader, and decided to post my response. If you aspire to plan a ride with a child, I hope you find some pointers in here.
My daughter and I are planning a cross country trip next summer, and I know that you and your daughter did the trip fairly recently.
If there was any caveats or things that we should be aware of, or things that you've learned that you think might be helpful to us, I would greatly appreciate any advice you might have.
Also, if there was any advice your daughter might have for mine, I'm sure she would appreciate that too. That's a long way to ride as a passenger on a motorcycle
Have the right child.
Sure it sounds like my usual glib reply, but it is loaded with truth. How you are able to relate to your child is an important factor for a successful adventure. Your child may be great for 2 hours, but do you want him/her attached at your hip for 2 days? 2 Weeks? You get the idea. Prior to our cross country trip, Lisa had never been on the back of the bike for more than 4 hours. I thought about taking day long test rides, but it never happened. Because I knew what to expect on the road, I felt prepared to give her just enough information, and plenty of pep talks. A positive attitude can be contagious; at least I knew that to be true with my kiddo.
Have the right gear
In addition to the usual concerns about good riding gear, give some thought to entertainment gear. A camera tethered around her neck provided Lisa hours of entertainment. But she also made up her own, she’d doodle on a motel notepad, or make shadows riding her hand in the wind, she even took to reading. She wore a fanny pack in her lap to stash her stuff. She had a water bottle in the side pocket, and candies at the ready.
Have a plan
I don’t recommend winging your trip. Winging it is fine when you are on your own, and only you suffer the consequences of poor planning. But when you are traveling with your little loved one, planning pays off. I recommend that you and your child decide on several places you want to visit, think of these as anchor points, places that hell or high water will not keep you from. For us, it was Glacier National Park, a few friends’ houses and the BMW National Rally. Calculate a rough schedule for making your destinations. Pull out the atlas, pick out things in between that you’d like to see, routes you’d like to take, areas of interest. For us those where several National Parks, particular states and cities. If you are working on this together, discuss the difference between “must see” and “would be nice” destinations. This is key for flexibility. When I was doing my meticulous planning, it never occurred to me that we would not make it to all the sites. But I realized soon enough, that bailing out on a destination, due to weather, was not a loss, but a compromise. Roll with the changes.
Have a good attitude
One of the best pieces of riding advice I was given was to remember “this is not a forced march”, if at any time it begins to feel like it, stop and think about what is going on. This is your vacation. Are you both feeling relaxed? Are you taking enough breaks, smelling enough roses? If you are feeling pressured, what is causing that and what can you do to remove it? If you need an extra couple of hours hanging at the motel because you are tired, then do it! For us, it was important to find a hotel with a pool which was Lisa’s reward at the end of a long hot day. It wasn’t necessary a priority for me, but making things easy for her made us both happy.
Have some personal space
There is almost no such thing when riding a motorcycle 12 hours a day. It’s not something you can plan, but you can make it happen. Sometimes Lisa and I would drift apart at a rest area, giving us time to make calls, or just power nap on the picnic bench, or take pictures of flowers and birds. Also, if you have communication devices, which I totally recommend, it makes sense to keep them off if you’re not both in the mood for chatter. Expect that you’ll eventually get on each other’s nerves, but lightened up, and remember, you’re both in it for a good time.
Remember to let your child know what is going on, where you are heading, how long before the next break, Lisa liked to look over my shoulder and follow the route on Garmin; which also provided her with an estimate of when we’d “be there”. Afternoon coffee or ice cream breaks became our routine. You’ll find something that works for you and your child. And if your trip is long enough, you’ll learn so much about your child and your relationship with him/her. Plan well, ride safe!