Why Don’t Kids Ride Bikes Anymore?

When Philip Gulley was a kid, no self-respecting adult would be caught dead riding a bicycle.

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My wife and I were out for a drive recently and saw two boys pedaling their bicycles down the street. “That’s something you don’t see too often,” she said. “Kids riding bicycles. Usually, it’s adults.”

I have several theories about why life today isn’t as magical as it was when I was a kid, including the absence of front porches and the presence of cellphones. Now my wife’s observation has caused me to add two more causes to the list — kids don’t ride bicycles like they used to, and adults ought to stay home instead of wearing funny clothes and clogging the street with their bicycles. They pass me on our country road when I’m out for a walk. I smile and say hello, but they press on with grim determination, never waving, never smiling, never responding, soldiers with their thousand-yard stare.

When I was a kid, no self-respecting adult would be caught dead riding a bicycle. It was not uncommon to see grown-ups chasing after a bicycle, teaching their children to ride, but swinging their own legs over a bicycle and going for a ride was unheard of. My father would have walked naked down Main Street before looping our block on a bicycle. Only one adult in our town, Cowboy Landon, who was too poor to afford a car, rode a bicycle — a black Schwinn Speedster, circa 1966.

“There goes Cowboy,” my mother would say when he pedaled past our house, her voice tinged with sympathy, pondering the circumstances that produced such a sorry situation.

When I returned to my hometown 21 years ago, I purchased a bicycle in a fit of nostalgia, but soon realized my mistake, hauled it up to our attic, and bought a motorcycle, something I should have done in the first place. But now I am reconsidering my contempt for adult cycling with the advent of the electric bicycle, a nifty little conveyance that propels its riders up hills, past snarling dogs, to arrive at their destination fresh as a daisy.

My father would have walked naked down Main Street before looping our block on a bicycle.

The electric bicycle has made me more proud to be an American than any politician ever will — it’s our ingenious talent for taking the purest, most efficient form of exercise known to humanity and strapping an engine to it. I get goose bumps just thinking about it.

There are three hills between our house and town. Bicyclists huff and puff up them, arriving at Frank’s Place for a plate of spaghetti sweating and stinking. How much better it would be for smeller and smellee alike if the smellee had engaged an electric motor to power up the hills, pulled up to Frank’s with a whirling hum, disembarked, and then enjoyed a sweat-free lunch. Instead, awash in perspiration, they chain their bikes to the lamp post, as if the local populace can’t be trusted, and clomp into Frank’s, their fiberglass soles tapping on the tiles as if announcing their superiority.

Let me be clear, I rode bicycles as a young adult, for days at a time, 200 miles from home. But I wore blue jean cutoffs, T-shirts, and Converse tennis shoes, on a Schwinn Varsity, like a real American. If someone said hello to me, I by-golly said hi back, and would even stop and visit. If a car approached me from behind, I got my butt over to the side of the road and let them pass, like my mom and dad taught me.

There’s been a lot of talk about the redistribution of wealth. Let’s start by taking the bicycles of every adult and giving them to kids, who will leave their houses and take to the streets where they belong.

Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor and author of 22 books, including the Harmony and Hope series featuring Sam Gardner.

This article is featured in the May/June 2019 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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Comments

  1. I didn’t know the Saturday Evening Post still existed until I saw this article in the May/June 2019 issue. I thought it died out long ago and after reading this drivel it needs to! I was equally amazed to see that this particular author is a pastor? Wow, I guess he is used to having a pulpit to stand and spew nonsense from. Kids don’t ride bikes today because the car-centric USA has made it too dangerous to let them. Americans are so chained to the automobile that I’m surprised that they can make it to the bathroom without driving down their hallway to get there. I’m constantly amused by all the talk about how obese our society has become, is it any wonder? And any knowledgeable cyclist who reads this crap is going to call bullshit on the part of Philip riding 200 miles in one day, in jeans and a t-shirt no less. I think Philip’s memory is slipping. I doubt it was 200 miles around the block. And all those self-respecting adults Philip speaks of, the ones that wouldn’t be caught dead riding a bicycle, are most likely already prematurely dead or well on their way. And the trip has not been easy with all the doctor visits and medications they need just to get out of bed each day. It’s amazing what a little bike riding or any exercise would have done for them! Of course they might have gotten in Philip and his wife’s way and had to sweat a little bit. If you really want to see kids riding bikes then we need to make the streets safe for them to do so. That would mean we need to enforce all the rules of the road that drivers break on a daily basis. Tailgating, speeding, no use of turn signals, rolling through stop signs, illegal u-turns, using cell phone while driving, speeding up to “beat the red,” etc, etc. Then we need to take a hard look at who should be driving. Teens receive no drivers education today and letting seniors drive too far into old age without real testing puts all road users in danger. Drivers also need to be held accountable for their actions behind the wheel. I do hope that Pastor Philip gets the new e-bike because it will be one less car on the road. I feel it’s my duty as a cyclist to inform Philip that he will still have to pedal the e-bike because they only assist your efforts they don’t do the work for him and to continue to get his butt out of my way anytime I’m driving. Also, he will still sweat and arrive stinky for spaghetti. Oh, and don’t forget the lock because most of the e-bikes are going for over $3000.

  2. I don’t criticize. I ride my bike for exercise and will ride in the middle of the road if a car won’t move over. I enjoy fighting the cretins that like to try to annoy us bikers. Have kicked off a few car mirrors in my time, humors me.

  3. I guess it depends on where you live. I live in Minneapolis. Kids and adults alike ride bikes for both transportation and recreation. Many people choose to ride a bike because they believe it helps to offset the effects of too many people who drive and pollute the air. In Minnesota, state law requires motorists to give bicyclists three feet of space as they pass. No one pulls off to the side of the road to let a car pass. Is it that hard for a person stuck behind a bicyclist to wait half a minute before passing safely? Thank God I live in a state that promotes bike safety and the rights of bicyclists.

  4. Many kids unfortunately live in places that are too dangerous to be outside for any length of time, much less spend entire summer days exploring on a bike with friends.

  5. People tend not to like a scold, but I have one of America’s most common names, so you’ll never be able to find me to scowl with disdain at.

    I, very much an adult, love to see bicyclists of all ages, and agree that currently there is the dearth of kid cyclists which the writer laments, and which used to be the norm.

    I think a big part of it has to do with the withering of neighborliness, which has been brought about by the horrible diminution of the traditional family, by the massing of women to jobs outside the home, and by our common impermanance in the places we do inhabit; why get to know the neighbors when they’re likely not to be your neighbors in a year or two?

    Oh, the scolding: few things bother me the way the sight of a biker without a helmet does. No, ordinary bicycles are not motorcycles, so if you wipe out, your brains are not likely to go flying half a block in several directions the way they will if you wipe out on a Harley. But a fall from a bicycle or a skateboard has killed many people by closed traumatic brain injury, and left many others miserably disabled for life by a TBI.

    Several years ago, I was about to walk across an intersection when an obviously retired sport on a bike pulled up at the red light on his side. Briefly and politely, I implored him to start wearing a helmet when he rode. Not rudely or dismissively, yet indicating he wouldn’t consider doing such a thing, he shook his open right hand back and forth a little, made a slight face, and shook his head as if to say that a fall from a bike couldn’t possibly be all that serious.

    I thought of asking him to consider how many people his age die from falls in their homes each year, and that not many people I know live in homes in which the floor is as emphatic as concrete, but the “Wait” sign was flashing, I had ten seconds to cross the street, and I moved on.

    So here comes the scolding: yes, cyclists do love that wind whipping their unhelmeted heads get as they glide along, the same as dogs with their heads protruding from car windows do, but please, if you’re going to be a bicyclist, wear a helmet. A broken knee you can recover from, but a broken skull poses a much greater challenge.

  6. My grandfather rode his three speed bicycle every day, weather permitting, around the streets of Pittsfield, Mass until he was ninety five years old and was having mini strokes which made it dangerous. For many years he averaged over ten miles a day. This was the subject of many stories in the Berkshire Eagle newspaper.

  7. I blame the News Media too . And Histerical parents.
    I still see a occasional young bike rider go by the house usually locally.
    Most kids ride skate boards at the park. They weren’t thought the rules of the road.
    When I do see one on the road they don’t respect the right of way of the cars.
    Drivers have to be constantly aware of kids running out in traffic .
    I learned young to respect traffic . I lived on a busy street and I survived.
    Kids aren’t taught that today. We were street smart when I was growing up.

  8. I’m surprised the real reason went unmentioned. Too many kids are allowed out of the house only under supervision, usually for organized activities of some kind or other. Kids riding bicycles is the antithesis of that, since it implies individual choice as to where one might go and who one might hang out with.

    Helicopter parents are the reason you don’t see kids tooling around town on bicycles.

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