Today was Fathers Day.
I don’t have any children of my own, but I have two stepchildren, and neither of them are around today. They were with their real dad today.
And these kids, since the time they’ve been a part of my life, have been the recipients of the best bikes we could afford. My idea. And the most recent of these bikes are gone now. Left unlocked and stolen. Neither kid currently has a bike.
And I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve been wrongheaded in my thinking about kids and bikes. Not only that, I’ve been ignoring a family tradition.
I grew up with a good dose of the benign neglect that parents these days lament. Although these same parents simultaneously are too terrified to give their own kids the benefit of benign neglect. Perhaps they are stifled by their peers, or even the law. Although my guess is the problem is that they get their news from TV.
But this isn’t going to be one of those “How did we survive our childhood” essays. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll be happy to forward you every e-mail I’ve ever received on the topic–or we could even cut out the middleman and I’ll give your e-mail address to my mother.)
But I can’t remember ever being without wheels and freedom. I think my stepkids deserve the same–in spite of the roles they each played in the disappearances of their respective bikes.
My parents split up when I was three years old, and I had wheels in two different homes.
First I had two tricycles. Later I had two bikes. I didn’t feel particularly lucky–broken home and all–but neither of my parents gave a second thought to the idea that I should be the hell out of the house whenever practical, as far away and as fast as my own power could take me.
One Christmas, I think when I was five, my dad got me a Mattel X-15 trike: recumbent, fixed gear, front wheel drive, with a V-RROOM “engine.” But best of all, it had rear-wheel steering. Every turn was a fishtail–and it didn’t much like going straight.
Later I got my first two-wheeler with training wheels. It was a “convertible” which meant you could give it a sex change at any time by switching the angle of the “tank” that served as a top tube.
I didn’t like to think about that.
It’s counterpart bike at my mom’s house was a purple banana-seat wanna-be Stingray. It might even have been a Huffy. I still don’t want to think about that.
Neither of my parents were cyclists. All the bikes and trikes I ever had as a kid were cheap. If there was another bike I’d have rather had, Tough.
Bike envy is very shallow. My lust for a real Stingray didn’t keep me from riding my faux Stingray. If I’d been given a real Stingray, I wouldn’t have ridden it any more than I rode the fake.
I’ve decided I won’t succeed in teaching my stepkids to love bikes and the freedom of mobility by buying them high-end bikes. These bikes only make me worry every time they’re out of the garage. And they are bikes that the kids can’t possibly replace from their own meager financial resources. It imposes on them a high-stakes responsibility proposition that they may not be ready or willing to accept.
Buying status-symbol bikes would teach the kids more about my shallowness than it would teach them about the beauty and freedom of cycling.
So crappy bikes for kids are the way to go. As I wrote recently, “Cheap, junked, fixer-upper bikes practically do grow on trees.”
About a week after I wrote that, my wife called me from a garage sale. She said she’d found a bike for five dollars.
“Should I get it?”
“Does it look like it’s the right size?”
So I’ll probably have to put a couple of hours of my labor into this bike, and maybe at least 50 bucks. And just to make sure she’s a little invested in the project, I’ll have my stepdaughter help.
One down. One to go.
And when they start to love cycling, and begin to aspire to higher quality, I’ll help them to get whatever bike they want to get–and they’ll be invested in it. But until then, they’re riding the cheap stuff.