Crappy Fathers Day

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.

Mattel X15

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.

Convertible Bike
The Unthinkable | Photo: RATRODBIKES.COM

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?”


“Get it.”

Magna Mountain Bike
Higher bike aspirations begin here.

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.

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13 thoughts on “Crappy Fathers Day”

  1. Jim says:

    Well said! It took me three thefts to finally get the message.
    . But then, I’ve always been a slow learner

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Three was the magic number for me too.

  2. Jim Tolar says:

    I have three grown-up kids, two girls and a boy. Only one of them, the boy, grew up to be a bike rider, although all three of them had bikes and rode as kids. Now my son and I occasionally work together and rebuild garage-sale rejects just for fun. We’ve probably spent more time together working on bikes in the garage than riding together.
    Get your step-kids involved in the rebuild process and make those bikes their own.


  3. kit says:

    Just make sure you adjust that bike seat or the caption may need to change to “Procreation aspirations end here.”

  4. BluesCat says:

    I bought a pair of Magna mountain bikes for my son and myself way back in the late ’90’s; spent maybe $160 total for them. They were both eventually stolen.

    When he got serious about getting the Boy Scout Cycling Merit Badge, I felt justified buying him the brand new, just-off-the-truck Specialized Hardrock.

    Last year, he “re-gifted” it back to me. He had taken pretty good care of it.

    So I guess I accidentally did some things right: I bought the cheap bikes first, so when they were stolen I didn’t feel so bad; I got him another bike only when he had expressed an interest and a reason for having the bike and taking care of it; I made sure he knew that if he didn’t feel like riding it any more, I would.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Here’s a marketing slogan:

      Magna: You won’t miss it when it’s gone.

      Yep. I think you did it right. The bikes we handed over to our local thieves were Konas.

  5. BluesCat says:


    Konas … ouch … that’s gotta hurt.

    If it makes you feel any better, I had a sheety Dad’s Day, too: I worked.

    I had given all the bikes a bath on Saturday (I worked on Saturday, too). When I got home from work on Sunday, I saw that my Giant had a flat rear tire. I swapped out the tube for the one that has been banging around in the seat bag for about a year, and it had a hole in the seam and went flat almost immediately! So I swapped it out for ANOTHER tube and that one looks like it is holding air.

  6. Chuck Harmon says:

    Another approach, buy your kids affordable bikes and also invest in a quality tandem. I purchased Burley Duet when my older daughter was 11 years old and my younger daughter was 9 and could just reach the pedals without a child conversion kit. I figured that between my wife and two daughters I would find at least one stoker. As it truned out my older daughter loved the tandem and we spent 10,000 miles together on it during her teenage years.

  7. My blue stingray (3 spd, sissy bar) was stolen when I was a kid. I spotted it on another kid’s yard, with upgraded tires. I stole it back, then traded the tires with my friend Todd, who had just gotten a new Stingray but liked the color of my tires, which I think were blue. My dad talked to the thief’s dad, notifying him that his son was a thief. Thief’s dad told my dad yeah, but we want the wheels back. I said, What wheels? I learned several valuable lessons through this experience.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Thief’s dad told my dad yeah, but we want the wheels back.

      Man. Way to set a positive example.

      If I’d stolen a bike and got caught, my Dad would have offered the victim my bike as a parts bike just in case anything was missing.

  8. burnhamish says:

    My kids have a used Kona kids bike and a fairly new Schwinn comfort bike Grandma isn’t riding anymore. The kid(s) who demonstrate(s) a serious interest in riding regularly (and personal responsibility) will get higher quality new stuff when the time comes…

  9. BluesCat says:


    The wheels were probably stolen, too!

  10. BluesCat, what wheels?

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