Friday, June 21, 2019

What does it mean for motorcycles if fewer kids ride bikes?

Little girl on bike with caption "Off go Annie's training wheels!!"
Daughter, Anna, 5, takes off on her bike, bound for her future.
There are seven bicycles in my garage, six of which are rideable if you put some air in the tires. Why so many?

Oddly, they aren't even part of the debris field left when my daughters grew up and moved out. Their bikes went with them to be abandoned on some college campus, or were donated to charity.

No, the accumulation is pretty much just what happens if you never throw anything out. And I love bicycles too much to part with them easily.

But not everyone likes bikes.

News Alert: "Children's bicycle manufacturers and retailers are bracing for rough times ahead as market research shows fewer kids are riding bikes..." — The Washington Post

Yes, surveys show kids aren't using their bikes as much as they used to.

I'm curious whether this is just because of competition from social media and the Internet (likely) or because kids aren't even learning to ride bicycles as much as they used to (possible).

The story says that from 2018 to 2019 the number of children's bicycles sold decreased 7.5 percent. That's why the industry is concerned.

In part the decline is probably because tariffs on China have increased bicycle prices, causing parents to put off purchasing bikes for kids.

But what if the Big Picture is that bicycles increasingly aren't going to be as much a part of growing up in America as they used to be?

And if that's so, what about — motorcycles?

Because here's the thing: as a kid I did want a bicycle. But what I really wanted was a motorcycle, and the only obvious way to get one was to learn to ride a bicycle. (We used clothes pins to attach baseball cards to our bicycles so the cardboard made a "motorcycle" sound as the spokes hit it.)

Learning to ride a bicycle is the obvious first step (maybe the single largest step) toward learning to ride a motorcycle.

Were my little girls thinking about motorcycles as I ran along beside them and gave them that final shove forward on their two-wheelers — me knowing they would fall (hopefully not too badly) when the momentum ran out?

Probably not.

But I still recall the day my dad gave me that shove, and the recollection I have is that the push wasn't just a physical boost into my future. It was a token of the joy, adventure, freedom and independence that lay ahead for me if I could just keep pedaling.

I was never going to get far walking. But with wheels, the whole world suddenly seemed within reach. And I planned to escape to it.

My bicycle became my refuge as I pedaled for hours, exploring the neighborhood and beyond.

Sometimes I just rode in circles to work off the mental pressures of growing up. Eventually I would pedal miles up into the mountains around Los Angeles, straining uphill, knowing that the reward would be the long, cool glide back down.

Teenagers in my day eventually got cars and the freedom that went with them. I stuck to my bicycle. My younger brother learned to drive and got a car before I did.

I bicycled to my summer job, racking up so many miles that I eventually did get a ticket from a Los Angeles motorcycle patrolman who caught me running a light. I routinely stopped for red lights, but there were so many intersections that my rare (perfectly safe) transgressions eventually got me caught.

Usually, whether just getting out of the house or commuting to work, I rode alone. Maybe, if you're a bicyclist or motorcyclist of a particular sort, you will recognize this kind of riding.

The point isn't physical health. It's a mental health thing.

I doubt my girls will ever choose to ride motorcycles. They currently live in a city where even riding bicycles is challenging to the point of being unsafe.

But I take comfort that they do know how to ride bicycles, and I am glad I gave them that push so long ago.

That there may, in the future, be many fewer people who can't balance a two-wheeler may be bad news for the future of motorcycles.

That's too bad. But I feel worse for the kids who may never experience that instant of knowing that they can keep going in life, if they just keep pedaling.


  1. Anonymous6/21/2019

    i got a old bike from the neighbors when there kids grew up.It had a "Gas tank"and a "Head light" :-D

  2. Great article, which has made me think. I'm not too sure bicycling leads to motorcycling in most cases. Even though there are two wheels on both, that's about where the similarities stop. My daughter rode/rides a bike, although much less now in college. She is somewhat interested in riding a motorcycle, but that will be at a of at all. I certainly did my best to stoke her interest in them, but other things are a bigger priority now. I love in Berlin, Germany, where the use of bikes is definitely on the rise. Tons of them, and as fuel gets more expensive and awareness of he environment grows, people are indeed switching their modes of transportation. NYC is full of bikes and bike paths. I think the future of the bike is good. Motorcycles are another thing all together. Too big, too fast, too expensive. But then again, maybe that's a good thing for RE! They are the perfect bike for many things, and are affordable and fairly economical.

  3. Anonymous6/22/2019

    I can definitely see the practicality of bicycles in an urban environment. What I see in the suburbs and countryside (USA) is groups of ADULTS riding expensive purpose built machines for either road or trail. And always wearing the most garish skin tight attire imaginable with those spacey looking crash helmets. Gone are the days of mom,pop, and the kids out for an afternoon or evening jaunt on their Schwinn bikes leisurely meandering down some quiet country road, taking in the sights and sounds of nature. Good thing too.. 'cause these days they'd probably get run over by some idiot doing 80 whilst texting or an elderly driver that can't see 50 feet in front of them !

  4. Also gone are the days off kids having the freedoms that previous generations had. I could go anywhere as long as I either stayed within the city limits..or didn't get caught breaking rule number 1. My experience is not unique to my generation or my kids, but now.... a play date or nothing

    1. One of the hardest things to judge as a parent is when to let your kid think he/she didn't get "caught."


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