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Let’s recycle bikes for our kids

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If they were riding on bikes rather than as passengers, they would be better off.

By Steve Doyle

One of the travesties of what has become of the modern Olympic Games that was not caused by programmers at NBC is the inclusion of BMX bicycle racing as a full-fledged medal sport.

You know BMX, that’s when oversized children and underaged adults catapult themselves over hill and dale while riding bicycles too small for your 11-year-old.

At the risk of sounding my age, why is this an Olympic sport? How does it rank with running, jumping, swimming, diving and moving balls around with hands, feet, heads and sticks? Which god on Mount Olympus thought of this?

Sure, it takes guts and skill and good equipment, and I’m jealous.  But when I think of the sort of stuff BMX riders do, I think of those kids trying to sneak E.T. away from the bad guys – minus soaring high over cops in old Plymouths. It’s entertaining but hardly Olympic.

I can see this competition a lot of places, but there among Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and precious little Abby, I do not.

Perhaps that’s because I have a more transformative view of bicycles as a lost mode of transportation that is geared not so much for tricks although sometimes for speed.

That point, too, was driven home the other evening when I saw a girl of maybe 13 pedal with purpose between two houses, across a driveway and into a  yard while riding what I would call a conventional girls’ bicycle that perhaps had no gears and required rear-caliper brakes.

No, that wasn’t a mirage, but it certainly was a flashback to when kids used bicycles for their true intent and not as some skateboard with a seat.

Bicycles, you see, should be the way kids get around rather than mess around. Kids shouldn’t be relying on their parents, their friends’ parents, their grandparents or anyone else who will give them a ride. They should make their own ways.

I hear you laughing, but is it so archaic and anachronistic for me to suggest that getting exercise while moving from one activity to another is a bad idea?

No, we, as parents have blown this in the name of protection, and I count myself among the biggest inflators of a bad lifestyle habit.

More and more of our fattening children need exercise, and all of us need to use fewer and fewer gallons of fossil fuel. Yet, we do little to encourage our children to use bicycles to get to places they want to go. Heck, we discourage it, out of mortal fear of, well, everything.

You seldom see kids riding bicycles outside a 1-minute search zone of their homes. When was the last time you saw a bicycle at a school? When was the last time you passed one going there? Do you see kids riding bikes to Clear Creek Park to go to the pool or practice baseball? Do you see them ride them to the movie theater or to Cuberts for a soft drink or  McKinley’s for a milkshake or, really, anyplace else?

Those concepts are non-starters. Literally.

You point to crowded roads, unsafe drivers, child molesters and lack of dedicated passageways, which are all perfectly valid points. It’s too hot, or it’s too cold. There is certainly a lot of danger and evil out there, but are we being too protective? Are we killing our children in a different way?

In some parts of the country, you can find many college students and fitness-minded adults riding all over the place, saving fuel and improving their cardiovascular vitality. But from the ages of about 9 to 19, that just doesn’t happen. We parents provide the rides, and the kids save the energy, not the planet.

As a child I never lived in a city. I grew up on a farm about a mile from the civilization of Simpsonville, and I can assure you I would’ve gone many fewer places and had much less fun were it not for my trusty bike.

From the time I was about 7 and my parents’ bought me a used girls’ fat-tire bike – those with skinny tires sputtered on gravel and dirt, you know – and my dad customized it, I was on the go.

Throw in a basket for my books, gloves, balls, bats and whatever else, and my bike was my ride to school, to friends’ houses, to fields and gyms, to the Bookmobile, to catch a ride to Shelbyville for a little league game and even simply to see places that I had not explored on foot.

There were many days during summers when I took off early, came home for lunch, and then went back out again, spending all day riding around neighborhoods, visiting friends, looking for the ball game of the day, making my own little tracks between houses, across yards, through holes in fences, short-cutting to whatever place offered allure.

Later when I had a new, somewhat flashier bike, I sat on the flat bookrack in back when my buddy Howard wanted to come along and volunteered to pedal so we both could get to where we were going.

That bike covered thousands of miles. It was practical, and, yeah, maybe a bit nerdy, being minus a banana seat or butterfly handlebars.

And, yes, my parents approved to the point that I often was dispatched for an emergency run to McDowell’s or Herrick’s to fetch a loaf of bread or whatever immediate need there might be.

All these years later, I may not be the healthiest person in the county, but my legs remain fairly strong. I’m a believer.

I’m also not naive. I don’t expect us to go back to a time like that, when bicycles are lined up outside elementary schools or movie theaters.

But I am not ashamed to suggest that we perhaps should, that our kids would have stronger bodies, our communities stronger fabric and our planet a more sustainable future if bicycles still were used more for transportation than tricks.

Although getting BMX out of the Olympics would be a nice trick..