Ride Like a Kid

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Words: Andrew Titus
Illustrations: Stephen Haynes

Recently I got back to work after lunch unbelievably dirty. My face was splattered with mud, my arms and legs were completely covered and straight up my butt, like a big fuzzy squirrel’s tail, was red muck and gravel, the kind that the cleaning lady in the office hates and the kind that clearly says, ‘I spent that precious hour absolutely bombing the woodlot on my bike.’

What can I say, it doesn’t just make me feel like a kid, it reminds me that the best part of me is still a kid, still capable of hours of continuous effort, still wantonly splashing through puddles at top speed, still daring hills and challenging jumps to rip either my back or my bike to pieces. Very few folks get it, and most of them are under 12.

Like my 11-year-old son.

The other day we were out for a rip in the woods — he biking and me running — when we passed through a gravel pit. “Wanna stop and play here for a minute?” he asked. Sure, says I, that sounds good. So he pedaled up to the top and stopped — I whipped by him and then flew down the hill, taking high jumps by tucking my feet up under me and recoiling into the landings, protecting all my soft bits and letting the larger muscles take the brunt.

My son, seeing what I was up to, got off his bike and came down after me, arms in the air like he might lift right off. After an hour or so of running up and down the hills we left and he said “I think I can bike it next time.”

“No doubt you will,” I said, “no doubt at all.”

See, the thing we forget is that while we are righteously endowed with a powerful fearlessness when we’re kids, we lose that when we get older and become more ‘reasonable.’ Just as unfortunately, is that we forget that maybe, just maybe, it’s not just our kids that have to take lessons to get good at things. I mean really — we take lessons to learn how to swim, to skate, to dance, to paint, to scrapbook!

And yet, somehow, we figure that we should, miraculously, just KNOW how to bike. Partly I think that’s the fault of a society that hinges the very act of riding itself on that age old weird-ism ‘you never forget how to ride a bike’ and while that’s true of the magic formula ‘balance over inertia equals freedom,’ we do ourselves an incredible disservice by thinking that that’s that.

I can’t say I blame us though — the spectre of cycling athleticism (not to mention the FASHION that goes with both ends of the professional cyclist/ hipster spectrum) is enough to leave anyone with the feeling that nope, can’t do, just gonna ride the thing on the path once a week, when it’s nice, with one friend, and be done with it. And that’s not even talking about traffic. Or The Hill.

But the kids know — they know that hills only exist in the mind, that if you don’t have enough power to get up it (yet!), then you get off and walk for a bit — hell’s bells, the thing carries you enough, it’s okay to push it for bit. They also know traffic is okay if you respect it and understand that cars don’t give a shit about you and that, ultimately, you have way more pick-up from a dead stop and maneuverability than those clunky hunks of metal and fossil fuels anyway. And the kids know that if the weather looks bad, you add a layer that you can peel off later when you’re ready to lock up your steed and head inside.

Lessons off end though, right? There’s something terribly ‘kid-ish’ about having to go to class to learn how to do something as rudimentary, something as intimately HUMAN as riding a bike. Understandable. Perhaps, then, we might want to consider it more of an apprenticeship or mentoring — would that make us feel better in asking for a little help? Would that assuage our sense of self-worth? Yeah, dealing with adults is impossible, requiring such tact and sensitivity to people’s fragile feelings and egos that it’s hardly worth it. Kids, on the other hand…

Ride-Like-a-Kid-BT31An article recently went around wondering aloud about giving adults lessons in commuting and ‘street sense’ and while I agree that it’s a good idea, fighting against the general malaise of grown-ups, their fear of trying new things (and not being 100 percent perfect right off the bat), their distrust of Lycra as much as beards and skinny jeans, their Eeyore-ish attitude towards both the hill and the weather (oh, that hill always happens to ME), and their overall lack of interest is just too much.

On the flipside, however, it seems to me that that’s putting the cart before the horse, as it were, that getting kids on bikes, teaching them how to ride smart and hard and fast and confidently, not just for fun but for travel and adventure, is exactly the way to get more people on bikes.

Seriously, if you start young and it becomes a THING for you, if you are 10 or 11 years old and you can identify as a BIKER, it’s a powerful thing. And that’s really what this revolution is about, isn’t it? Isn’t it about encouraging folks to be healthier, stronger, more independent, more ecological and community minded? Isn’t this about changing the world?

Maybe. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s about riding bikes. Maybe we don’t need lessons per se, but we do need a generation that grows up seeing their bicycle as part utility, part sexy and a whole lot of unstoppability. Maybe by getting kids riding their bikes (and thereby guilting their folks into doing the same) a whole lot of problems will be taken down in one fell swoop, a regular ol’ panacea for obesity, fossil fuel dependence, urban sprawl, etc. Maybe it’s just about riding bikes and in the fall out tons of good serendipitous things will happen. Imagine that — it’s hard to, isn’t it? Almost beyond our wildest dreams that something utterly NEW could happen.

Kind of like in 1817 when one Karl Christian Ludwig Drais von Sauerbronn put one wheel in front of another and, for the first time in human history, someone came upon the astounding revelation that a human being could balance like that and move forward at the same time. Fast, even elegantly one might say. Revolutionary. What a kidder that guy must have been; betcha anything the first thing he tried to do, once he got it going, was cruise by some lady’s house, call her name, and try to ride it with no hands.

Originally published in Issue #31. Don’t miss any Bicycle Times content. Subscribe to our email newsletter, today! No SPAM, just bikes. 



Mission Kidical: Family bikers gather to inform, inspire and of course, ride

Originally published in Bicycle Times #38, our family-themed issue

Words: Adam Newman
Photos: Russ Roca and Adam Newman

For Katie Proctor, the director of the Portland Kidical Mass “chapter,” her love affair with family biking began even before she had a family. A journalism student at the University of Oregon, she interviewed her future husband for a story about sustainable business practices. He told her to look into Burley, maker of kids trailers, which was based in Eugene, Oregon, at the time.

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“He gave me this catalog and all of the models in the catalog were Burley employees. Their families would get together and do these big shoots with all their products. And I looked at it—I was 19 years old—and I was like, ‘That’s us. That’s going to be us. I’m going to marry you, we’re going to have babies, we’re going to get a Burley and that’s going to be our life.’”

Fast forward a few years and it all came true. Proctor would find her and her family living car-free in Portland, getting around on a mix of tandem bikes and trail-a-bikes (sometimes together). When the local Kidical Mass chapter was in need of leadership, she didn’t hesitate to step in and begin planning the monthly rides for kids and families.

Founded by Shane MacRhodes in Eugene in 2008, Kidical Mass is more of a movement than an organization. As the Safe Routes to School director in the transportation department of the local school district, MacRhodes wanted to host a family-friendly ride inspired by the famed Critical Mass rides. At the time MacRhodes didn’t even have kids of his own, but now he rides regularly with his daughter and twin sons. “Now communities around the country are holding their own, at times and places that work best for them,” he said. “It will be interesting to see the movement grow and our rides change a little bit.”

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Each city that hosts Kidical Mass events has evolved the concept differently. There is no central leadership structure or schedule and the events can vary from city to city. For example, in Portland where large groups of cyclists are a regular occurrence, it’s sometimes necessary to block intersections (known as “corking”) so all the riders can pass through, but the rides in Eugene would never do so. In some cities the rides are on public streets and in others they stick to bike paths.

The group rides are an opportunity for both parents and kids to make new connections in the community. Parents can check out other families’ bikes and sometimes take them for a test ride, while some kids have friends they only know through biking, Proctor said. “When they were babies it was fun because they were chillin’—happy on the bike and it was a chance to get out and be with other adults who had kids. It was very much about having that interaction but also about sharing gear ideas, what’s working for you, test ride each others’ bikes, that sort of stuff,” she said. “In 2009, 2010 there was a lot less gear commercially available, so it was like ‘What hack have you done?’ and ‘How does your hack work?’ ‘How can we make a better hack?’ And also just the support when we are all doing this crazy thing that seems less crazy now, I think, because of the rides.”

Showing people that riding bikes as a family isn’t crazy is part of the mission. Kidical Mass isn’t an advocacy movement, per se, most of the participants agree, but being an active presence in the community can show others that it’s safe and fun. “It’s fun and advocacy all wrapped into one,” MacRhodes said. “What I was advocating for before was pretty much the same but now it’s coming from a whole different viewpoint because I’m not talking about me, I’m talking about my daughter who’s 6 and by the time she’s 10 I want her to be able to ride around the whole city by herself.”

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“You sort of fall into advocacy if you’re a family biker,” said Madi Carlson of Seattle. “It’s really hard to make that jump [to family biking]. Friends and knowledgeable people and the whole safety in numbers thing made a huge difference.”

Like Proctor, Carlson was fascinated with the idea of family biking before she even started a family. “My mother is from the Netherlands, so I grew up every few years going to visit my relatives there and seeing everyone on bikes. My uncle rode his bike to work in a three-piece suit and when my cousins started having babies they put them on bikes. I saw that and thought when I have babies I’m going to do this, too.”

And she did. Now Carlson runs a website, familyride.us, where she shares tips, tricks and experiences for families on two wheels. “I love showing people sneaky routes to get to places that maybe they don’t know about,” she said. “The more you ride, the more routes you learn and streets to avoid and I also know the flattest routes to get to any part of town.”

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Flat-routing is big in the Kidical Mass movement. “I double the ride times on Google Maps,” said Kath Youell of Portland, who prides herself on knowing the flattest route from A to B. After moving into the city from the suburbs and ditching the car in favor of a bakfiets bike, she had to adjust her family’s lifestyle a bit and she had to keep reminding herself it was worth it. “You can do this. Cargo biking is fun. Slow transportation is fine, just like slow food. That’s the kind of stuff that goes through my head as we are passed by joggers and passed by people on little bikes.”

Transporting her 10-year-old, special-needs son to school is in many ways easier by bike because they aren’t tied to a specific bus schedule and can make stops easily along the way. “A really big thing to me is modeling for Evan that you don’t need to have a personal vehicle to do whatever it is you need to do,” she said.

Teaching kids that cycling is fun, safe and worth continuing beyond their childhood years was the foundation for creating the Kidical Mass rides in the first place, MacRhodes said. “Our goal as parents is to build independence into our children and cycling is an important part of that. I think most people will remember the freedom they felt as kids when they started riding, [and we’re] trying to rediscover that again and help families rediscover that again.”

Learn more: kidicalmass.org

Also in this kid- and family-focused issue of Bicycle Times was a story about bike touring around the world with a toddler, including tips on how to plan and pack for your youngest travel partner. Read it here.


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