The bike is in the garage

Sales of children’s bikes are way up, reports the Washington Post. Bike riding is way down.

When kids do ride their bikes, it is often a pale version of that childhood tradition. They ride endlessly around a single block or cul-de-sac, up and down the same street or, in busier neighborhoods, up and down the driveway. It is a far cry from days gone by when generations of children arrived home from school, jumped on their 10-speeds or banana bikes and rode — no helmets, no chaperones, no deadline except dusk or dinner.

. . . In a world that feels ever more dangerous, parents drive children everywhere to make sure they’re safe. And in two-career families, less free time for parents means less free time for children as well.

“There’s soccer or swimming or music lessons,” said (Bill) Wilkinson, whose organization lobbies parents to get their children to walk and ride more bikes to combat obesity. “Most kids are never out of direct supervision of an adult.”


About Joanne


  1. Walter E. Wallis says:


  2. Ken Summers says:

    The saddest part about all that adult supervision is how few of those adults are capable of providing supervision.

    I am of the firm belief that kids need to get hurt (don’t take that the wrong way). Bumps and bruises (both real and metaphorical) are part of life, and kids should not be insulated from them; they are part of the learning process.

    And while I wholeheartedly support organized activities like sports and music, kids also need time to make up their own activities. The world will not always organize their lives for them.

  3. I’m dealing with this now. My 9 year old has no interest in learning to ride a bike. He just doesn’t care. I think instinctively he understands that it doesn’t mean anything. When we were kids, the bike was freedom. You could be much farther away from home and still get home in time for dinner. He has nowhere to go. None of his friends live within bike distance, and promises of mountain biking adventures with Dad don’t seem to be doing it either.

  4. “In a world that feels ever more dangerous…”

    Parents have a self-reinforcing “feeling” (read: parenting through neurosis) and their selfishness is destroying a lot of childhoods. I really doubt the world is any more dangerous than it was 25 years ago; if anything, it’s probably a lot safer.

    Expect a lot of 21-year-olds living the childhood they never had, except they’ll be doing it without any supervision, and with access to cars, drugs and alcohol.

  5. I once saw a copy of “The Boy Scout Handbook” from the 1930s. It was assumed that the boys would go on camping expeditions on their own, with no adult leadership.

    Could the autonomy and responsibility of such experiences have anything to do with the formation of the “greatest generation”?

  6. My mother allows my sister (now 10) to bike, say, to a friend’s house (maybe a 45 second bike ride away). She’s also allowed to walk there alone. (She does need to wear a helmet, though. It’s reasonable — you can get more than hurt enough with the helmet on.)

    But her friend, sadly, must be accompanied on this trek.

    By 10 I was biking for ice cream (5 minutes) with friends, or to the library (rarely — it’s hard to carry that many books on a bike, but it’s about 15 minutes) or to and from a friend’s house (also 15 minutes). And all my friends were allowed to do similar things, and we went off and biked places.

    It’s not that my mother is any more concerned about my sister: she’s not. But my sister doesn’t have anyone who she’s allowed to bike places alone with, because all of her friends have parents who think my parents are dangerously lenient.

    I shudder to imagine what it will be like when I have kids.

  7. I agree with Ken. The possibility of harm was a great lesson for me in making decisions. When I was 14 and visiting my paternal grandparents during Christmas, I climbed a nearby mountain alone. In retrospect, it wasn’t the safest thing to do. Clouds were thick and low, the temperature was a only little cold (compared to Canada), and the snow was about half a foot thick. I could of had an accident (I did slip a little while descending), but I didn’t and the experience was extremely positive.
    As far as supervision, my parents never drove me to school, which was a 3/4 – 1 mile distance (one way) regardless of the weather. And why should they when my dad walked to the college he taught at (about 2-3 miles, but much better scenery)? I remember taking the bus at age 6 to the library with my sisters (8 and 5) and going to the movies with them when I was 8.
    Now, my wife insists on driving the kids to school, despite the fact that it is only 4 blocks away on well-traveled streets. She does not like my son climbing trees (sure, I fell out of one and broke an arm. But it healed!), and the idea of hiking off trail distresses her. But it is taking chances like this help kids to learn their limits, to gain a sense of accomplishment, and to also gain confidence. And they are all important.

  8. jeff wright says:

    > Most kids are never out of direct supervision of an adult.

    Depressing. I wouldn’t want to be a kid today.

    > None of his friends live within bike distance, and promises of mountain biking adventures with Dad don’t seem to be doing it either.

    The idea of the bike is (or was) freedom, which includes getting away from Dad. Don’t take that in the wrong way. It’s not about Dad (or Mom). It’s about independence.

  9. It’s true that kids are always under adult supervision. When I worked at a local science discovery museum, we had “summer camps” that lasted from 9am-4pm, which were pretty fun for kids, but were basically more school.

    I remember when I was a kid in the summers making myself scarce all day in the summer, only coming in for lunch and at the end of the day when my dad came home. Seeing these kids cooped up in classes all day, every day, just broke my heart. No wonder there’s all kinds of behavior problems – they just need to blow off some steam! They’re eight years old, for god’s sake! Sheesh!

    I used to get in trouble for not forcing the kids to play a supervised game during the “break.” I’d watch them to make sure no one got hurt, but figured it was 20 minutes for them to run around and do what they wanted to do. Turns out that wasn’t really allowed, I was supposed to lead them in an organized, educational “game” for the 20 minutes. Poor little yuppie kids.

  10. I agree with the comments made so far. My husband and I have an only child, an 8-year old boy. We have decided to try to give him the freedom that we had as kids, in the hope that it will help him develop self-sufficiency and confidence. It is truly sad, though, that so many of his friends are not allowed these same activities–such as meeting him at the park for a pick-up game of basketball (the park is less than a block away!). When I read of parents implanting their children with GPS chips, it makes me so sad for these kids whose parents will monitor their every move. Let’s hear it for pick-up games and time to daydream!

  11. Caffeinated Curmudgeon says:

    How times have changed.

    I grew up in small towns and rural areas in the 1950s.

    By 10-11 years age, it was commonplace for kids to ride bicycles 5 miles or more just to play, or watch airplanes at the airport, or whatever struck our fancy on summer days.

    We were all admonished to be careful, to ride on the LEFT facing traffic (that was the law in my state), and to be home by supper.

    Nobody got killed or even seriously injured, but we had lots of fun doing things on those klunky old Schwinns and Huffies that kids now need a thousand dollar “mountain bike”, another few hundred buck in safety gear, and a specially designed bike track to do.

  12. I blame me.

    When I was a kid I remember turning around too late and got home after the street lights came on. Today I would freak if my own children went on the adventurous treks I took when I was a child.

    In some ways my parents were lucky, they never knew the same fears of freaks, pedophiles and meaness that I and my wife have to deal with. I mean there are people out there who just like being mean. There are people who speed through residential neighborhoods without a thought; I don’t remember any of that as a child.


  13. Kalroy wrote:

    “I blame me.

    When I was a kid I remember turning around too late and got home after the street lights came on. Today I would freak if my own children went on the adventurous treks I took when I was a child.”

    Oh, I don’t think parents should expect their kids to tell all. A venerable comic novel from the ’50s: “Where have you been? Out. What did you do? Nothing.”

    There was even a film later.

  14. Jessie Rosenberg says:

    “Where have you been? Out. What did you do? Nothing.”

    I’m fairly sure (I heard it from a friend who would know) that a piece of literature from Sumeria, one of the oldest things we have, contains approximately the same dialogue.