2003 Student Bicycle Essay Contest Winners
One of our most enjoyable activities every year is reading the entries for the student essay contest. This year there were almost 200 entries. They came from several countries in Asia and Africa, several Canadian provinces and 40 states of the United States. The papers addressed: learning to ride, bikes as an avenue to freedom, stress relief, spiritual experiences, mental and physical health, community infrastructure, bikes and society, history, racing, types of bikes, safety, bike touring, lessons of life, police and the bike experience. We really appreciate the time, thought and effort the student put into their paper. Picking winners was a real challenge. The winning essays are printed below. The winners are: The Magical Bike by Eric Horng, age 8, Marengo Elementary School, South Pasadena CA; Major Taylor by Jennifer Garcia, age 11, IS 218, New York City NY; Learning to Bike, Learning to Succeed by Alexander Huang, age 16, Warren Township High School, Gurnee IL. Congratulations to the winners. Some “honorable mention” essays are also posted.
The Magical Bike
Chapter 1: Fedor
Long ago there was a boy named Fedor Kossakoski. He lived in the village where the old and homeless people often got affected by diseases. One day he decided it was time for making the village a better place to live. With determination he chose the destination he would go search for medication for the people of his village. He picked England and swiftly got ready for his destination. By tomorrow he was ready to go to England.
Chapter 2: The Voyage
It was a long, hot day for Fedor because by the time he was first in line, for the boat trip the Sun had gone down. He brought his pet, Lightning for company. Fedor said to Lightning “I wish everything was done.” The next few weeks were intense because there were storms while he was on the ship. Waves were raging across the surface. The lightning broke off pieces of the ship. Then he asked a passenger near by “When will we reach England?” The passenger said We will reach England by tomorrow at one o’clock PM. The next day the ship reached England at exactly one o’clock. The first thing he saw was an old hermit living on the side of the street. He saw he was hungry so he gave him some food. The hermit said, ‘‘Thank you, for your generosity I’ll tell you where a magical that is in Afghanistan, Africa that will grant you three wishes when you ride on it.”
Chapter 3: The Search
Right after he met the hermit, he asked a near by Boat Renter he said “Can I rent a boat?’’ The Boat Renter said, “Its 50 cents then.” After that he headed to Africa where the wild animals roamed the land. He took a jeep and drove to Afghanistan to find the magical bike. When he got there he saw a tall mound of dirt and uncovered it and found the Bike. He wasn’t sure that it was the magical bike so he tried it. Immediately the bike said “I’ll grant you three wishes. “ Fedor said “For my first wish I’ll want my villagers to be exuberant and healthy.” The bike said “Abracadabra!” and the wish came true.
Chapter 4: The Second Wish
When they came home he showed his villagers the bike. He didn’t tell that it was a magical bike. While they played together, Fedor thought of his second wish he thought “I want to be strong, Nah.” Then he said “I want to be your friend.” Then he said “Abracadabra!’’ Then his second wish came true. Then they continued playing their games. The Bike’s favorite name was to play cards. After a few weeks, Fedor named the Bike, Sally. The Bike loved its new name.
Chapter 5: The Last Wish
The last wish was hard to think of because there were lots of wishes going through his mind. He couldn’t pick which one that was the best because it was his last wish. Then Sally said ‘’Let’s go out and play.” Then he said “o.k. let’s play Basketball.” After that Fedor said “I have my last wish now, my wish is to let me be a magical bike like you. So Sally said ‘’Abracadabra!’’ and his wish came true. So both of them lived happily ever after.
Marshal Taylor was born on November 26, 1878, somewhere near Indianapolis. He was the grandchild of freed slaves. He grew up at a time where colored people’s opportunities were controlled by a power structure that racism was upheld by in America. That time was called the Bicycle Boom.
Much of this was related to the “Jim Crow laws.” Jim Crow laws are a system of laws that separated white people and colored people. From Delaware to California and from North Dakota to Texas many states and cities would impose punishment on people for consorting with another race. The following are some of the laws: “No person or corporation shall require any white female nurse to nurse in rooms in hospitals, either public or private in which negro (black) men are placed.” Alabama. “All marriages between a white person and a negro person are hereby forever prohibited.” Florida. These laws were from the 1880’s to 1960’s.
Marshall Taylor got a job near his parent’s farm. He delivered newspapers on his bicycle. When age 13, he was hired by a bike shop called Hay and Willits, in Indianapolis, to do publicity and odd jobs. He performed an exhibition of trick cycling while wearing a military uniform, which is why his adopted name was “Major.” After fondling a gold metal of a future road race he was really into cycling and racing. At the end of the race he won by 6 seconds.
In 1894, he started working at a real established bike shop, where he gave cycling lessons. He was also the house boy for a former record-breaking wheel racer, Louis Munger.
Taylor joined the League of American Wheelmen. The rules didn’t say that colored people could join, but it didn’t say that they couldn’t. And ever since Taylor joined he influenced more African Americans to join too. An Amendment passed to ban colored people, but wide spread protests saved them and now non-members could race in LAW sanctioned events. The Colored Wheelmen Association was formed with the growth of clubs that only allowed blacks to join, such as Taylor’s See-Saw Cycling Club.
Munger and Taylor moved to Massachusetts where Taylor joined an Albion Cycling Club for all black people. And he could train in the YMCA. In November 1896 on his 18th birthday he turned professional and had been baptized by fire at his first race at Madison Square Garden.
Soon Taylor rose to the top 10 of the 1897 American Sprint Championship series winning at many states across America. Once he won a race and his losing opponent strangled him, them Taylor felt unconscious. Sometime racers refused to race with him because of his color and talent.
In 1898, Taylor got an infamous letter that threatened him to leave here within the next 48 hours. It was signed by the white riders. They were obviously jealous!
Taylor didn’t care and kept racing. He continued setting records. He also kept racing in championship series. By the end of 1898 he had 7 world records. Taylor won the one mile sprint championship against Frank Kramer.
In 1904 Taylor finished his season and had a child. She was born in Australia so she was named Sidney.
At age 50, Taylor wrote his autobiography called “The fastest Bicycle Rider in the World.”
In 1932 his health dropped. He had a disease and stayed in the hospital. And on that same year, June 21 he died. He was buried in Mount Glenwood cemetery.
Major was a great person. He overcame racism and segregation to achieve national champion and world champion status, and to establish many world speed records, even though he was African American.
Learning to Bike, Learning to Succeed
We’ve all heard the old saying that once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget. The problem for me was that I had never learned how to ride in the first place. When I was five-years old, my dad overfilled one of the wheels on my first tricycle with air and it exploded like a giant popcorn kernel. For the next few years, I never went near a bike again without associating it with the horrible bang I’d heard in my garage that night.
So, I never got around to learning how to ride a bicycle. For a while I thought nothing of it. Bikes were simply scary objects that I could do better without. In fact, my aversion to bicycles grew so strong that I religiously avoided all bicycles and bicyclists whenever possible. I lived happily this way for many years.
However, there was always something missing in my life. Every time I saw a kid riding a bike around the neighborhood or heard my friends talking about buying new 12-speeds and helmets, I felt excluded from some great tradition. I couldn’t quite define it, but bicycles held some kind of forbidden mystique, something intangible and paradoxical that I could never understand. Bikes represented freedom, they represented youth and childhood, they represented fun and most of all, they represented an achievement comparable to scaling Mount Everest or swimming the English Channel.
One day, when I was 11 years old, I finally made up my mind to learn how to ride a bike. Of course, this was easier said than done. The challenge of actually riding the bike was nothing compared to the humiliation I faced in being an eleven-year old who could not ride a bicycle. I swallowed my fear and my pride when I asked my dad to teach me to ride, and every morning for a month I learned to sit and balance and even pedal with my dad holding me upright. It was a difficult struggle, a frustrating battle that threatened to take both the skin of my knees and the self-esteem in my heart. Despite all the times I wanted to give up, I knew I had to persist, and so I did.
Suddenly, one day in June, my dad had to go to work early and could not help me ride. On that sunny morning I decided to go out by myself. Slowly, I pulled on my safety equipment like a soldier donning his battle fatigues. With my forest green helmet firmly on my head and strapped tightly under my chin, I mounted my Schwinn and took off for the park.
I fully expected to wobble and fall with a few feet, but for some reason I didn’t. I kept going, I kept rolling, I kept moving…and before I knew it, I was flying! All the struggles of riding a bike seemed to disappear with the dust under my tires as I zoomed through the streets. Riding a bike was as natural as breathing now, and I pumped and turned and leaned instinctively. The wind whipping through my hair was exhilaration, and the sun smiled brightly upon my newfound freedom. When I returned home from my bike ride, I simply stared at myself in the mirror and chuckled with disbelief. I had finally conquered a task that had daunted me for years. I was filled with a newfound confidence that I truly could do anything I set my mind to.
As life rolls forward like a well-greased bicycle chain, I still remember that wonderful day. There are many challenges in this world, but that day I realized that I could learn to do anything if I persevered at it. The lesson I learned form overcoming my fear and shame to get on that bike and take a ride were priceless, and the inspiration I draw from that experience will stay with me forever.
To this day, I find great truth in the adage, “You never forget how to ride a bike.” On a figurative level, I will never forget the great courage and persevered that I needed to overcome my bicycles deficiency, and I face all the other obstacles in my life today with this same optimistic attitude. On a practical level, biking is one of my favorite activities for exercise, recreation and relaxation. Each spring, I eagerly await warm weather so I can get on my bike and ride into the white clouds where hopes and dreams are born. Once I learned how to ride a bike, I never forget – and I never will.
Annual Student Bicycle Essay Contest
Why Bicycling is Good for You
Joshua Bowman, age 8
Bicycling is good for you because it makes your health go up and it makes your weight go down.
Bicycling makes your health go up because bicycling is one of the many ways to exercise your body and heart. Bicycles don't have to be expensive. Because you only need one piece of basic equipment to ride bicycles and you can ride on any kind of surface, most of the excuses for not exercising are gone. You can bicycle alone or with your friends. You can ride really fast and get tired or you can take your bike out for a stroll.
Bicycling is a form of exercise for almost everybody. Other forms of exercise can hurt joints. But if your bike fits you right, you don't hurt your ankles, knees, or hips when you ride. You move your upper body to make yourself more smooth in the air so that you can go faster. If you have hand brakes or gears, you are even using the small muscles of you hands.
Bicycling exercises your brain by making you coordinate different actions and using balance. I heard my mom reading my dad an article about how practicing balance can delay Alzheimer's. That means that riding your bicycle can keep your mind and your body active when you get old.
Bicycling also does not pollute, like motorcycles and other vehicles with motors. That is another reason that bicycling makes you feel good.
It we take everything together, riding your bike is good for all of you: muscles, joints, heart, brain and spirit.
"You Can Do It!"
Molly Jarrell, age 12
I remember the first time I ever rode a bike...
I was about, hmmm, maybe 6 or so, my friend, Kerry (who was 6 years older than me), had come over and she was teaching me to ride. I started pedaling then all of the sudden I felt free; Kerry had let go and hopped on her bike to join me. I thought, "Wow! I'm doing it all by myself!" Together we rode to the top of the hell at the end of my street once we were up she helped me take my blonde hair out from my ponytail. Then she gave me a little push, and I was zooming down the hill, with my long, blonde hair streaming behind me. I looked over at her, she was laughing with her hair streaming behind her too. Together we did it over, and over until we were so tired we couldn't even stand up.
The next day she, and I rode again, as I started down my driveway a car sped out in front of me, I had to jump off my bike in order not to get hit. I skinned my knee, and was afraid to ride any more, but Kerry was there. She took me inside and cleaned my knee, we were right back out there on our bikes in a second but I was too scared to move. As Always Kerry was there for me, helping me. When I felt brave I said, "Okay lets do this." So Kerry gave me a push and yelled after me, "C'mon Emma! You can do it!" It was like her words lit a fire inside of me, I felt determined to be the best rider in the world.
I started to get older and I started to become an excellent rider. I did small races, competitive shows, and all kinds of things. Then the day of the big race was coming up, I was so nervous. The day before the big race, I got a call; Kerry had been in a car wreck. Both of her legs had been trapped under the car while on fire. They rushed her to the hospital but there was nothing they could do, both her legs had to be amputated. Her parents could not pay the bill, so I went to the race and won first prize, which was $1000, and gave it to them.
That was 3 years ago, Kerry had fallen ill and passed away last year. I still am very competitive in racing. Ever since her wreck, I have won every race, and even now after she passed away, I can still feel her giving me that push and yelling, "C'mon Emma! You can do it!" at every single race. Although most people will think I'm crazy, I think of her as my good luck charm and guarding angel, always there, keeping me safe, and helping me along.
I want to tell everyone, the in whole world, how wonderful she really is. Every time I win something, I raise up my hands up towards her and say, "This ones for you, Kerry!"
Police On Bicycles
by Alex Wood, age 11
The bicycle was invented in 1887. It was mainly used for transportation. As the bicycle has developed, so has its uses. It is used for sports, transportation, physical fitness, entertainment and for law enforcement. You may have seen police officers on bikes, but do you know why some police ride on bikes instead of in cars?
The use of police on bikes began in Seattle, Washington, because of busy downtown streets. There was a conference in 1991 and the International Police Mountain Bike Association was later formed. Today there are more than 10,000 police on bicycles from 45 states. There are many reasons why police are using bikes today.
The use of police bikes makes the streets safer. Officers on bikes can travel faster and further than foot officers and are able to patrol and pursue in areas unreachable by car. Bicycles are quiet, allowing police officers to ride up to the crime scene before being noticed. They can see over the handlebars into store fronts and cars easier than from the driver's seat of a car. They can cut through alleys and beat a cruiser to a call. In a traffic jam, they can move between cars and reach problem sooner than a car. In my opinion these things would make the streets safer because the police could do a better job.
Police on bikes has improved community relations. They are easier to talk to than officer in cars and you get to know them better. Many people know the officers well and the officers participate in bike safety and anti-drug programs at schools. Many university use bike patrols. They can get across campus faster than foot officers or cars. This improves the relationship with the university because the students are safer.
The use of bikes saves the police department money, because they do not have to purchase as many patrol cars. With fewer cars, there is less gas purchases, car repairs and maintenance. The International Police Mountain Bike Association reports that ten bicycles officers can be fully outfitted for the cost of one patrol car.
Bikes are more environmentally friendly that patrol cars. Using less gas means we have cleaner air. Also, bikes are quieter than cars which is important to the citizens.
As you can see, the bicycle has become an important tool for law enforcement. Bicycles are safer, create better community relations, save the police department money and improve the environment. As traffic increases in towns and cities across America, the use of bikes may become even more necessary and efficient.
What I Learned on Wheels
by Mariko Nitta, age 11
"Crash," I hit a garbage can and landed in a heap of trash. "Daddy, I can't do it! I want to go home," but my father wasn't giving up on me.
"Don't give up Mariko, try again." My father ran along side me, helping me to keep my balance on the bicycle. Before I realized, he had let go of the bicycle, and I was riding all by myself. I was flying! Ever since that day, when I think I can't do something and want to give up, I remember my first time on a bike. Now, I know that if I am determined, I can do whatever I put my mind to.
When I started elementary school, I discovered a unicycle in the playground. It looked like so much fun to ride a unicycle. It reminded me of the circus. I thought it would be easy to ride a unicycle. Boy, was I wrong, but I was determined to ride it. After 3 long months, finally, success! The difficult part of riding a unicycle is keeping your balance. If the rider doesn't his or her posture perfectly straight, he will fall down. In riding a unicycle balance is everything. Everyday I try to keep a good balance; I study exercise, and play a little.
Last year my father changed jobs and my family transferred to Japan. I was really blue about leaving my friends and home. I was also anxious and wondered whether I would fit in with the kids in my new school. Maybe I would never be able to speak enough Japanese to communicate with people in my neighborhood. On the day my family arrived in Tokyo, I wanted to explore my new surroundings, so I decided to go for a bike ride. I discovered that my new neighborhood, Kagurazaka, is so colorful with temples, geisha and sushi restaurants. Unfortunately, it is very crowded with narrow streets that cars can barely navigate, But this is not a problem with my bicycle. I maneuver through the streets and sidewalks easily. My bicycle is priceless! Since it is difficult to travel by car, my mother often sends me on errands. Now, I know many of the shop keepers, the grocer, pharmacist and of course, the toy shop owner. When I am out in the neighborhood people greet me saying, "konni chi wa," which means "good afternoon," or "Mairko genki," which means "how are you, Mariko?" I have made many friends on my bicycle.
I learned many things on wheels; determination, balance, responsibility and independence. I can't imagine my life without by bicycle.
Why You Should Ride a Bike
Ray Zhang, age 12
Many people wonder why you should ride a bike. There are many answers to this question. For an example, one possible answer is that it's good exercise. In the United States, about 25% of the populations is obese. Riding a bike helps you burn the fat and lose weight.
Another reason is to save time. If you live close enough to your school, you can ride a bike to school instead of walking, thus saving you some time. If you want to go somewhere nearby and don't want to drive there, you can ride your bike there instead of walking.
Another reason is that riding bikes save oil. In 1995, the US used about 7,000,000,000 barrels of petroleum a year. That's more than 1/4 of the petroleum used worldwide. At the current rate of oil consumption, the known oil resources will all be used up by the year 2100. About half of the oil in the US is consumed by cars. If everybody decides to ride bikes instead of driving cars, the rate of consumption will be greatly reduced.
Saving oil also saves the environment. Cars in the United States contribute to half of the urban pollution and 1/4 of the 'greenhouse gases' (carbon dioxide, methane, etc.) emission in the United States. In Europe, more people died from car-pollution-related deaths than car crashes! Car pollution also caused 300,000 extra cases of bronchitis (a type of lung disease), 15,000 cases of heart disease, 162,000 asthma attacks in children and 21,000 deaths in certain European countries. If people could stop driving cars and start riding bicycles, most of these deaths could have been prevented.
Since burning fossil fuels in cars increases the amount of gases released into the atmosphere, the greenhouse effect causes more heat to be trapped, and Earth gets hotter. This causes global warming. Droughts and flooding devastation by the end of the century. At the current rate of global warming the ice caps will melt in only fifty years, dramatically raising the sea level. A sea level rise of only 100 meters would flood the southeastern United States, the Amazon River basin, parts of Argentina, northeastern Europe, Siberia, East China and other places. The global temperature will rise a few degrees. While a few degrees may not seem like a lot, during the peak of the last Ice Ace, when glaciers covered most of North America, the average temperature was only 7 degrees lower than now. If people could ride bicycles, all of this can be prevented.
That is why you should ride a bicycle. I wish that everyone could say that they ride a bicycle.
The Spinning of Two Wheels; the Story of Lance Armstrong
by Casey Pitts, age 12
A bicycle is an interesting invention. With just the spinning of two wheels, a person can travel through his neighborhood or tour a country! A bike combines healthy exercising with unlimited fun. It can be a quiet, individual experience or a group-oriented activity. And if you're daring enough, you may meet the challenge and try racing.
Most of us get our first bicycle around age six. Lance Armstrong, born September 18, 1971, was said to have received his first bike at age seven. It may have been an ugly brown bike with yellow wheels, but it represented freedom and transportation to him. Lance loved his bike and realized he could go very fast. It's reported that one day as a youth he kept riding from his hometown in Plano, Texas, and ended up in Oklahoma! He actually had to call his Mother for a ride home! Lance loved bicycling and believed in himself. At the age of sixteen, Lance Armstrong was asked to join a racing team. Soon, he was becoming known in the United States, but that wasn't enough for him. Hearing that the best cyclists race in Europe, he desired to move to Italy when he was eighteen years of age. He had high hopes for his first race in Spain. Lance, however, placed last! Feeling defeated, he did not give in and give up. He decided to train harder. He rode into the mountains where the terrain is more difficult. Lance became friends with the great racer, Fabio Casartelli. Their friendship was based on cycling. They shared a common bond, a love for the sport. With encouragement and training, Lance was determined to become the best cyclist he could. After all, he had dreams, determination and was blessed with the swiftness and strength. In Italy he ate a lot of pasta and then burned the starches off by cycling. He made it a point to seek out hills and not let rainy weather interfere with his training and enjoyment.
On August 29, 1993, he raced in Norway in a 160 mile long race! It was very rainy, but luckily Lance was used to bad weather. It's said that he pumped so hard that day that he was biking at 40 miles an hour! He crossed the finish line as the youngest new champion of the world! He received a gold medal, and of course, the rainbow jersey honoring the best!
A few years later, in 1995, Lance cycled in the Tour de France. It's a race 2,500 miles in length held during the entire month of July. After 2 weeks of racing, tragedy hit. His friend, Fabio, who was also a cyclist crushed into a cement wall. Cycling had been responsible for their friendship. Fabio died while doing something he loved. Knowing this, it gave Lance the strength to honor him by racing even faster and harder. Lance sailed through that finish line, feeling that Fabio was beside him!
In 1996, at age 25, another tragic event occurred.. Lance was diagnosed with cancer. He had an operation to remove cancer from his brain. He went through chemotherapy and was given various drugs to deal with the cancer. Lance Armstrong had gone a full year without cycling. He had to fight for his life. In October 1997, he celebrated his cancer remission. He decided, then, to return to cycling. He had missed the sport of racing and the feel of freedom. Upon returning, he was very tired. Lance believed in himself. He tried very hard and slowly he became stronger, although many people believe his career was over. Lance joined the U.S. Postal Team, who welcomed him. They gave him the chance that he needed. We all need people to believe in us especially when things look difficult or maybe impossible! In 1999, his goal to race again in the Tour de France was achieved. The media paid particular attention to the rider who had once had cancer. Lance Armstrong became a known name. He rode as hard as ever -- even up the mountains. Lance had a faith and the will to succeed. He knew he could cross that finish line. And he did with the fastest time in the peloton. Lance gave it his all and gained world-wide recognition. He was draped in an American flag. Lance was honored by many. People cried tears of joy for his triumph. Lance was a symbol for all. He is a real hero who overcame many obstacles. He proved to all of us that anything is possible. Lance took his childhood dream and made them into reality. He's a survivor who actually got to "ride" off into the sunset like a hero.
Perhaps the benefits of cycling helped his body to battle the cancer. Bicycling kept him strong and healthy. It gave this man's life purpose and meaning. It introduced him to many new friends such as Fabio. Cycling even helped Lance to see- and to tour - the world.
A bicycle made him famous and in return, he gained recognition for cycling! Just think, an ugly brown bike with yellow wheels, once given to a little boy, actually changed his life forever. You know, I just saw Lance Armstrong on a television commercial, yesterday. He looked great! I also read that his son, Luke, is almost four years old. I wonder what color his first bike will be! A bicycle is definitely an interesting invention. With just the spinning of two wheels, the possibilities are endless!
WE HAVEN'T ADDED MORE BECAUSE WE DON'T HAVE TIME TO TRANSCRIBE THEM.
Annual Student Bicycle Essay Contest
Essay: Bringing bicycles out of hibernation
What’s in your neighbor’s garage? Do you know? Have you ever noticed a lonely bicycle?
My neighbors are a bit of an anomaly—where I live in Colorado is an anomaly. The guy across the street has a high-end carbon mountain bike that gets upgraded fairly frequently. I regularly see a guy drive by in a beat-up old Subaru with a gorgeous titanium hardtail on the roof. Every morning, scores of parents on cargo bikes haul their kids past my house on their way to the elementary school up the street.
On the corner opposite mine lives a quiet gentleman who doesn’t drive; he only rides a silver, big-box store bicycle with a huge orange flag attached to the back, a drink holder on the handlebar and thick foam padding wrapped around the bar ends. Anywhere he needs to go is accessible by off-street paved path or bike lane. Across the street, the elderly friend of one of my elderly neighbors gets around on a gas-motor-powered bicycle that one of the teenagers on the next block built for him.
A mountain biker who lives two blocks away actually knocked on my door one afternoon just to say “Hi” because he recognized my truck from a piece I wrote for Dirt Rag magazine.
I haven’t always been in a bicycle-loving area. Shortly before leaving Texas, I lived in one of those charmless, cookie-cutter neighborhoods where all of the modest homes looked exactly alike and the streets were all named after a variation on a theme. Despite not being a particularly upmarket neighborhood, it was gated, and perhaps that gate is why people tended to leave their garage doors open.
My husband and I would go for walks at night and I would look into my neighbors’ garages. Almost all of them housed a bicycle or two; almost all of the bicycles were older and in obvious disrepair, or stored in a manner that they were obviously not being used. I remember wondering why all of those bicycles were there, why people hung onto them, still. I also wanted to know this: Why had they bought them in the first place?
When I was a kid, it was still a “thing” for everyone to own a bicycle, though not necessarily a fancy one. That was true for adults and kids alike, sometimes for no specific reason. Even my mom still had a blue fade step-through hybrid until a few years ago. She bought that bike for about $300 after giving up road riding when I was a toddler, and it stayed in the family for the next two decades. Sometimes we’d just ride around our neighborhood, which only netted us a few miles, but that alone made owning a bike feel worthwhile.
I thought of this again on one of my daily dog walks. The mutt and I hit the road during the lunch hour (without routines, working from home can drive you nuts) and though this neighborhood isn’t gated, people still leave their garage doors open when they’re home. Despite the high level of cycling participation here, I still see them: bicycles hanging dusty and rusty from ceilings; chained to back fences with broken parts; hidden behind large boxes or shelving units.
And I know that not all of the owners of those neglected bicycles are too old or unfit or unwell to be out on two wheels. I see them in their running clothes, pushing their baby strollers, loading their climbing gear into their hatchbacks, working on their older homes. What was the charm, the dream or the goal that got those people to buy those bikes in the first place? I want to know. I wish I knew.
I wonder what would happen if we tried to bring those bicycles out of hiding, out of retirement. What would happen if we tried to reach people who don’t go to the local shops, read the Facebook cycling forums or frequent popular riding routes? What would happen if we simply invited those bicycles out to play—if we literally put flyers on doorsteps and invited people to a park one evening where mechanics were ready to clean and tune the old bicycles and friendly neighbors were ready to serve grilled food, cold drinks and lead the whole crew on a casual ride around town?
Could we remind people of why they bought their bicycles in the first place? If we could, it would benefit all of us.
Those kinds of casual social rides do take place where I live, but there’s never been a component to the events that says, “Bring us your tired, your downtrodden, your neglected machines.” I have friends who own old bicycles that don’t function properly, and that is the number one excuse they give me for not riding. Go to a bike shop? That’s intimidating, time consuming and expensive. And yet, on the rare occasions that we do pedal together—even if we just coast one mile down the hill to a happy hour downtown—they love it. My friends will talk about riding more, which means investing more, which means noticing cyclists more readily when they drive, which means supporting more riding opportunities where we live.
When organizing community cycling events, it might seem like a small thing—or maybe even a hassle—to offer free bike repair, but I think it could make a significant difference. Sometimes you have to approach a bike ride as a total non-rider in order to invite those dusty, rusty, old machines out of hibernation, and get them back into the lives of our neighbors.