Riding a bicycle has changed – and the change may account for the waning of interest in driving as well as the waxing hostility between cyclists and drivers.
Cycling is mostly an adult activity now. It’ rare to see kids out riding their bicycles – especially by themselves.
They used to.
A bicycle was once upon-a-time a kid’s first taste of real freedom. This appetizer tended to instill a hankering for more. An expectation. An awakening.
Those who grew up before the era of helicopter parenting commenced in the ’90s will remember it because they lived it. Saturday morning came and as soon as you were finished with breakfast, you bolted outside, got on your bike – without putting on a helmet- and took off.
By yourself. To find your friends – or just find adventure.
Popping wheelies whenever the urge hit.
Sometimes, you wrecked. Unless a bone was poking through, you usually kept on riding for the rest of the day. It was no big deal. Certainly no reason to go home.
You’d knock around the neighborhood, check things out. No real plan. Everything on the fly. Maybe take that trail through the woods only the neighborhood kids knew about that took you to the pond, there to throw rocks or look for turtles.
You were maybe eight or nine years old. And you were free. Entirely on your own, for hours – all day – until the sun began to wane and it was time to pedal back home in time for dinner.
It was normal life.
Kids who grew up this untethered way were in a very real sense already drivers years before they were eligible to get a driver’s license. They learned to negotiate traffic, find their way there – and back. It was expected. Kids pedaled to the pool. Or to baseball practice. Or wherever.
Kids who were raised in the America of before-the-1990s had adult liberties before they were even teenagers.
A car was the natural progression from their bicycle. Not much changed, really. They were just able to go farther, faster.
Instead of pedaling over to their friend’s house, they drove over.
Cruising around the neighborhood led to Friday night cruising in the car.
Contrast this with today’s abrupt transition from being driven everywhere by an adult and almost never out of sight of adults until one is within sight of being an adult himself. Cars are not freedom extrapolated anymore. They are foreign – and scary – things. Millennial and up kids have been conditioned to so regard them, both explicitly and implicitly.
They are strapped into them from earliest memory; never allowed to sit up front much less loose. It isn’t saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafe. The tedium of being strapped in – and not free to just get out until unstrapped by an adult – works as a kind of aversion therapy.
There is no fun to be had here. Certainly no association with freedom.
All parents – not just the neurotic – must play neurotic when it comes to saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety. This neurosis inevitably rubs off on the kids, who are never free to go anywhere by themselves, on bicycles or otherwise.
Danger lurks, everywhere!
Even to play in the yard without an Adult Authority Figure supervising is warrant enough to bring down a Hut! Hut! Hutting! Most parents helicopter because what choice have they got?
The kids, meanwhile, never learn what freedom means via their bikes and so don’t have the same urge to acquire more of it via a car, as soon as possible. They peck at their cell phones instead.
Under the supervision of their new parent.
Pre-Millennial generations of Americans champed at the bit to get behind the wheel – having already been behind the handlebars for years. They had also already acquired motor skills and muscle memory and habits of mind that prepared them for driving.
Do I have time to turn left in front of that car coming at me? It’s the same on a bike as in a car. Learn how to do it on a bike at 10 and you’re much more prepared to do it in a car at 16.
You learn that grip is less (and it takes longer to stop) in the wet – and how to ride accordingly.
It prepares you to drive accordingly.
Pedaling a bike through the gears also gives you a visceral understanding of leverage; you learn to avoid “stalling” a bicycle by gearing down – just the same as in a car with a manual transmission. There is a reason why pre-Millennials know how to drive stick to a much greater degree than Millennials. If you never shifted a bike, shifting a car is that much more remote.
If today’s youth drive at all (about a third do not) they drive later – and with less skill. They are much more dependent on “safety” features which are really compensatory features – the automotive equivalent of a walker for a cripple.
Except in this case, the crippling is learned – mental rather than physical.
When these conditioned cripples encounter a cyclist on the road, they get flustered. They lack the skill – and the initiative – to just pass the cyclist. Instead, they sulk angrily behind the cyclist. They never learned to deal with situations like this; indeed, have been conditioned to regard dealing with any unscripted situation using their own best judgment as unsaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafe.
They are accustomed to waiting to be told what to do by a supervisory adult authority figure.
Adult cycling, meanwhile, seems to have become a much more scripted/organized thing. Special outfits. Competitive. It’s true that many adults cycle for just the fun of it – and there’s nothing wrong with the special outfits or being competitive. But it is a very different thing than a bunch of kids just riding wherever, wearing whatever, on whatever – getting their very first taste of being free adults.
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