Why Don’t Kids Ride Bikes Anymore?

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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