Racking My Brain

a kid's view of the importance of bike riding.

I remember when I got my first bike – it was a present – it was a great day for any kid. I spent most of my younger years riding my bike to something – into town, to baseball practice, or over to a friend’s house. Not too long ago, bike racks used to be everywhere but have since been dying off. While taking the dog for a walk to a local school to let him run around this past weekend, it came to me why less children who bike don’t turn out to be adults who bike.

I’ve been wondering why it is that, what was once a prized possession and one’s most memorable present growing up, has lost its luster. We, as a society, have been so auto-focused (unless you live in Austin, Minneapolis, or Portland) and this mentality has trickled down to our schools and our youth. The bike rack that is pictured above (black and white to add to the drama) is a symbol of this one-sided way of life.

No kid in their right mind probably looks at bike riding as a fun and exciting thing when their school’s bike racks are old, rusty, and neglected. However, if we could make something that is now a rusty artifact into something more artful and youthful, we will be able to renew kid’s interest in riding his bike again. When the school and students take ownership of a bike rack, it becomes something more than a hunk of metal to which you lock your bike. Some schools and communities have already started this movement, but it’s time this gets fully adopted.

The need for more bike riders is about more than just a fun activity for kids. It is about making an impression on our children, and in turn, our communities in more ways than one. First, (and most obvious) – it is a healthy choice and provides that needed exercise for kids. Secondly, by more kids riding to school, it should, in theory, reduce the amount of kids on the bus. If less kids are riding the bus, there is a possibility to reduce the amount of stops, gas, and buses needed in total. It could even reduce the amount of parents taking their kids to school in their own personal vehicles. Lastly, if children of all ages (from elementary up to high school) were to use this as a viable means of transportation, we could explore substituting gym with a different class.

Why haven’t we made this a top priority? I guess it comes down to adults who don’t view bike riding as a viable means of transportation. Most parents, teachers, and school board members are stuck in the auto rut. Once you get your license and the supposed “freedom” that goes with driving a car, you begin to look at bike riding as child’s play or something to do for leisure. You think you will get your exercise elsewhere, that children riding to school is dangerous, and that you don’t have to be worried with the city budget.

These are all easy claims to make, but we aren’t doing anyone any favors by continuing this way of thinking. Riding a bike is certainly cheaper than owning and operating a car. Our streets are dangerous because of the amount of cars travelling on them and how we have created them to go as fast as possible. Cities have been held back from growth because they are shackled with the rising costs of transportation.

Sometimes solving our problems are “As Easy As Riding A Bike.” It was, and still is, one of every child’s favorite presents growing up. Before you got your license it was the freedom of owning a bike that made you independent. If we remember that now as adults maybe we can help future generations break the brain drain that comes with letting cars rule our lives. Teachers could be the leaders of this movement, parents could assist, and schools could reinvest in something other than more of that ugly black pavement.

even kids can see where the importance lies...
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5 thoughts on “Racking My Brain

  1. Great post. In a way, it seems we in the Peoria, Illinois, area occupy a time in which adults riding bicycles for recreation is somewhat grudgingly accepted by community planners–hey, here’s the bike path through Peoria we promised 30 years ago–but children riding bicycles for transportation is not, almost exactly the opposite of the social norms of the mid-20th century. Well-designed and maintained racks, along with safe routes to school, might help reverse declining bicycle ridership, but the cause could be jump started by a principal and a few teachers riding to school. Imagine the classroom discussions about governmental, environmental, quality of life and transportation issues if alternatives to motorized transportation were more than hypothetical.

    1. Thanks for reading! Peoria, is not alone in the way they act. It’s a sad truth most cities face. The Complete Streets movement provides much hope, but hits a wall against the old status quo of many areas.

      I rarely hear teachers bragging about their salaries. I would assume riding a bike or walking to school could help their financial situation. It sets a positive example for the kids, and has a positive impact on themselves. We’ve sacrificed many of our local neighborhood schools, which of course makes it harder for this to occur. It is another result of state of mind we’ve been stuck in.

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