For a lot of people, riding a bicycle is a bit like reading and writing – you don’t quite remember when you learned it and it feels like you always knew how to do it. But that is an assumption that doesn’t apply to everyone. Our population is becoming increasingly urban and parents are buying their kids bicycles less and less. Over the last five years, the number of kids who ride bikes has fallen by around a million annually. Perhaps it comes as a surprise that parents need encouragement to buy their kids bicycles these days, but then again, bicycles have lost their place on the gift shortlist. Digital devices have become more desirable and simply easier to purchase than a bicycle. Instead of demonising the miracle of modern hand-held technology, it is worth pointing out the multitude of benefits that kids receive when they receive a bicycle for their birthday or as a Christmas present.
With an increasing range of entertainment options at home, childhoods are becoming sedentary. For a developing organism that can have some serious consequences. By giving your child a bicycle, you’re giving them a wonderful way to keep the body moving and burn those calories. Some parents might respond by saying that the child gets plenty of physical engagement by attending the sport that they have carefully selected for them. And it is wonderful that your kid is doing fencing, swimming or wall climbing, but it’s not the same as a bike. Most sports that are chosen by parents for the purpose of nurturing a sense of discipline and perseverance are devoid of imagination. A bike gives the kid a sense of freedom. They know they can go anywhere they want provided the get home in time before dark. Exploring those limits, as well as just exploring their surroundings without being monitored and assessed for performance has positive benefits not only on physical health, but mental health as well. Structure surrounds kids all the time, and with good reason. But there must be time where the can escape it, and not just by seeking asylum in their room, but by exploring the world, however much of it is within their range. That way they will carry a sense of adventure further into life, avoiding the apathy that has become so common.
Apart from the health benefits, a bicycle has very clear utility. As an adult, if you live in a big city and there is a gathering of friends happening on the other side of town, you might think twice before going just because the distance is so great. Now imagine that one of your kid’s friends invites them over spontaneously. If you live in suburban America, chances are they live some ways away. The kid then has a choice to either ask you, the parent, to drive them or to simply walk. If driving isn’t an option, then they are left with walking. This means that the likelihood that they will accept their friend’s invitation just plummeted. A bicycle has always been an elegant solution for the simple mobility needs of children. Kids went to school, to the mall, or to the local lake on bikes for generations. Now it’s more fashionable to drive them everywhere, encased in the safety of a two-ton SUV. That doesn’t increase their mobility, however.