It is true that the young will inherit the earth. Whether we have cycling-friendly cities or gridlocked superhighways in the future is largely determined by the choices we make and the knowledge we impart to youngsters today.
There are so many benefits that children who cycle from an early age experience, as their parents can attest, including better health, a sense of community and overall wellbeing. Kids who bike learn to be independent and gain a sense of autonomy as they operate their own mode of transportation. They experience their communities and the outdoors while getting fresh air and exercise, which is more important in the age of digital technology and climate change than ever before.
I have fond memories of biking with my family as a child along the urban streets of Guelph, Ontario. Gazing up at the branches of trees passing above me, I felt like I was flying. Biking gave me transportation freedom: I could get to school, friends’ places and, when I got older, downtown on weekends, all without the help of my parents. I was free to choose my route, which improved my sense of direction and made me more familiar with street names and the geographical layout of my city.
Many families want their kids to experience the joys of riding. Some, however, have concerns about letting their kids bike alone to school or a friend’s place. Long-time Momentum contributor, Chris Keam, explores some of these concerns in his “Growing Up Velo” story on p. 37.
Statistics show that independent bicycle dealer unit sales of youth bikes – bikes designed specifically for ages 12 and under, including BMX and sub-20-inch wheel bikes – in Canada and the United States have stayed close to the 20 percent mark for the past decade. The number of youth cyclists in the US rose by 4.3 percent between 2007 and 2008, according to National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA) figures. Still, some industry experts believe more should be done to attract young riders.
Dave Overgaard, Norcoís bicycle division vice president, told me in a telephone interview that the bicycle industry needs to create bikes that fit kids properly and communities need to build the infrastructure that will encourage more kids to ride.
Robert Jones, statistics program manager for the Bicycle Trade Association of Canada, said key drivers for kids bike sales are cost, parentsí preferences and theft-prevention.
“The things that are working against it (getting more kids on bikes) are parents’ paranoia about allowing their children to get out of their sight and the fact that bikes get stolen.”
More work needs to be done to attract young riders, commented NBDA executive director Fred Clements in a June 2009 Bicycle Retailer and Industry News article. In the same issue, Jay Townley, manager of Gluskin Townley Group, made a plea to the bicycle industry to place a higher value on increasing youth ridership. “[I]f anything, it is even more important in the long-term to get more kids on bikes more often than to get more adults on bikes,î he said. ìOur future depends on it.”
Will communities continue to expand bicycle networks? Will there be plenty of green spaces? Will there be an emphasis on alternative forms of transportation? Will cyclists feel included or excluded? What the future holds comes down to the choices we make today and the lessons we pass on to the ambassadors of tomorrow. Our generation might not be around to cycle the streets 50 or 100 years from now, but our kids and their kids will.
Editor, momentum magazine
Originally published in the Sept/ Oct 2010 issue of Momentum Magazine and on momentummag.com.