When my brother and sister and I were kids, we rode our bikes a ton. My parents encouraged us to head out any given day and just ride as far as we wanted. We were supposed to give them a general idea of our destination and time of return, but were given pretty free rein. One day, in fact, my brother was riding in the high heat of the San Joaquin valley and he passed out in the middle of the road. A man picked him up and put him in his truck and drove around until he found someone who recognized him. My brother was OK. Totally OK. He ended up having a great story and we were allowed to continue our rides — but were told we needed to pack enough water in high heat.
Now, the fear of such an event happening means that parents don’t encourage free riding around. And it’s taking a huge toll on the bicycle industry. According to the Chicago Sun Times, in 1976 there were 200 million people in the United States and about 30 million bikes sold. Last year, with over 300 million people in the country, only 27 million bikes were sold. This is Bike To Work Week but Chicago area bike shop owner Jeff Crittenden suggests it should be called “Bike Someplace Week.” No need to take the bike to work, but how about a ride to the ice cream shop?
Sounds like a great idea. I have a friend and neighbor who rides his bike to work in downtown D.C. every day of the year, rain or shine. Maybe he takes the Metro if it’s super cold. But he swears by the practice. It gives him a great boost of energy to start the day and can help him wind down on the way back home. But how many of us can do this? I mean, my commute is a trip down the stairs. But I wouldn’t mind biking our girls around to run errands.
And when our kids are older, I’ll pretty much insist they bike their way to their extracurricular activities and to school — about a mile away from here. I might not be in the majority here:
Parents back then, too, were not as worrisome as many seem today about their children’s safety, Crittenden said.
“We wonder why we have an obesity problem when people tell their kids that they can’t ride a bike past that house a few doors down that way and that house over there the other way,” he said.
Protecting our children from our every fear, real or imagined, is no way to raise healthy kids. It also keeps them permanently infantile. They’ll need to learn how to navigate the world’s threats and a simple bike ride around the neighborhood is probably a good way to start.