I wasn’t a big fan of the Pixar movie Cars. No, it wasn’t because the movie wasn’t about bikes.
It was that the underlying message was this: There is no problem in the world so big that a celebrity can’t fix it. The big problem in the movie was that the town of Radiator Springs, populated by anthropomorphized cars, was economically depressed. By the end of the movie, a celebrity anthropomorphized car named Lightning McQueen adopts the town, and because of his fame, the town is saved.
I try to teach the kids in my life that entertainers are no more important — less important in fact — than the people who live up an down our street, and who contribute something to society. People whose jobs are merely to provide distraction and lure eyeballs to look at advertisements are worse than useless!
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Where was I?
I also try to teach my stepkids that cars are a dirty and expensive form of transportation that is less essential than they think it is; and bikes by contrast are elegant and efficient.
I am failing miserably at both of these goals. I tell myself that it’s a long game, and they will come around.
But how do you teach kids to love bikes — and view them as legitimate transportation — when kids live in a car-centric culture populated by toys and adorable anthropomorphized car characters?
I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an anthropomorphized bike character.
I was able to find clip art of a freakin’ hallucinatory anthropomorphized molar riding a bike, but not a cute character that was a bike.
Why do people give their bikes names? Names like Betty, Myrtle, Josephine or any name other than the one bestowed on that particular model by the manufacturer.
My long-winded answer (that you can read in the comments) speculated that humans are innately animist. Yawn. And that was the short version.
But here is another answer: People anthropomorphize and name anything that we love. Psychologists, and marketers know this. Also people who make public service announcements about dental hygiene and other topics.
You want to make people love something, say… I don’t know… warts? Draw some sunglasses on a wart, and name him Mort the Wart. Viola! Instant logo and mascot for your pro-wart campaign.
So I’m going to name my bikes, and try to show the kids that I have a relationship with my bike that’s as deep and meaningful as their relationships with their iPods.
I think I’ll call my Dahon Bender, and my Diamondback Rattler.
To counter the deluge of anthropomorphized autocentric cuteness in which your kids are no doubt swimming, I would add these:
- Name every bike.
- Use your own damn bikes, grownups!
- Get your kids a bike worth loving.
That last one is kind of hypocritical. I’ve decided that I can’t afford to keep buyingÂ high-end, or even mid-level bikes for those no-good ingrates if they are going to make it so easy for the bikes to be stolen.
But check this out:
That cute kid on the tricycle is my mom.
My grandfather bought that tricycle for her during The Great Depression. At the time, he probably wondered whether he could afford it.
She loved that trike. And, damn, is it well made. It was made by The American National Co. of Toledo Ohio.
Back when I was still a no-good ingrate kid, I rode that trike when I visited my grandparents house. And I remember noticing, even then, that the quality was superior to the trike I had at home. And today the trike I had at home is probably 20 feet below the earth in a landfill.
My mom’s trike, however, is still around. In fact, it’s perched above our fireplace at home. The trike is more than 70 years old. I don’t know if she had a name for it, but she loved it — and she entrusted me with it because she knew I would too.
Now, my grandfather was not what we’d think of as a cycling advocate — although he was still occasionally riding a bike in his 90s. And my mom is not a cycling advocate either, but she owns a bike, and keeps it around just in case her intentions to ride a bike turn into real motivation. It could happen. Occasionally I will dust off the cobwebs and make sure the tires are inflated so that the bike will be ready for when motivation strikes.
My point? It’s easy to think of kids as little Philistines who don’t know quality from crap. (I know I tend to think of them that way.) But if you buy a cheap bike for your kid, they can probably tell. I could. And my stepdaughter knows that her Magna bike is inferior to the lost/stolen Kona that it replaced.
Kids will be less likely to love a bike if they know or suspect that you don’t at least value it.
For young kids, in case you haven’t heard, the paradigm has changed. Tricycles, and even training wheels are out of favor for the reason that they inhibit children from learning to balance on two wheels.
In favor now are balance bikes.
Balance bikes are basically tiny bikes with no pedals or drive trains. Kids who use these bikes learn to balance just by pushing the bike around the yard, or even the living room. They are available with frames made of wood, metal, or plastic.
If your kids are younger than, say, eight — or all the way down to age two — consider one of these instead of a tricycle.
Some people just buy a small bicycle and remove the pedals. That works too. But balance bikes work for kids who are still too small for most bikes made with pedals.
The sooner kids learn to balance and experience that feeling that we all love so much, the more likely I think they’ll be hooked on cycling for life.
But as with everything to do with parenting, turning your kids into lifelong cyclists is kind of a crap shoot. You could do everything “right” and still have your kids not interested in cycling. You could do everything “wrong” and the magic of high gas prices might lead them to cycling in spite of you.
So all I’m saying is this: Anthropomorphize and name your bikes. That’ll take some of the competitive edge away from all of those cuddly car characters.
Here are some more pictures of my mom’s awesome tricycle: