header image

Bikes and cycling

Readers — This story is headlined, “Attempted kidnapping caught on tape!” but…was it? I’m glad the girl is safe but does a slowing car really equal = “kidnap threat”?

Unless there’s more to this story than what we see here, it strikes me as bizarre that everyone is acting as if the girl somehow only barely slipped the clutches of a demon. – L



Readers — This is just outrageous. I’m cutting and pasting from the site People for Bikes. In truth, riding bikes in urban areas scares ME, but that doesn’t mean I am against it. It just means that we should work even harder to make biking SO COMMON that when some politician says, “It’s just too dangerous to ride bikes,” the whole town tells him to quit thinking car-first! Why should a community only be safe for one particular form of transportation?

Anyway, in this post, the wonderful comments in bold aren’t mine, but I wish they were. They’re from the People for Bikes site, which writes:

After four of his classmates and his mother were all hit by cars while out biking or walking, 17-year-old Matthew Cutrone wrote a letter to his county legislators asking for safer roads. Suffolk County (NY) Legislator Thomas Barraga responded with a letter shared by Matthew’s mother and posted below, stating that “no one who lives in our hamlet or for that matter in Suffolk County should ever ride a bicycle.” Get a load of this (our thoughts in bold):

January 29, 2014

Dear Mr. Cutrone

Thank you for your recent letter concerning bicycle safety and bicycle lanes. Let me at the outset express the hope that you mother will have a complete recovery from her accident in September while riding a bicycle in West Islip. [But don’t worry, I’ll tell you later about “false hope,” so just take this with a grain of salt.]

I have lived in West Islip most of my life and my personal feeling is that no one who lives in our hamlet or for that matter in Suffolk County should ever ride a bicycle or a motorcycle. [I mean, hell, let’s just rule out anything with wheels that isn’t a car.] I cannot tell you how many constituents over the years have told me that they are taking up bicycling for pleasure and exercise. I have told them not to do so but they usually do not listen – 90 percent of those people eventually were hit by an automobile many like your mother with serious physical injuries. [Wait...really? 9 out of 10 people that you know who ride bikes get hit by a car? How is this not a major epidemic?!? PEOPLE ARE DYING HERE! COME ON, MAN!]

Read the rest HERE - L.

Guess where this city isn't? That's right -- American. (It's Copenhagen.)

Guess where this city isn’t? That’s right — America. (It’s Copenhagen.)

Readers — This story speaks for itself (as does the son!). It comes to us from Aimee Turner, who says she and her husband are “happy to know we aren’t alone in the fight against BWCS: Bubble-Wrapped Child Syndrome.” She blogs at The Maine Page Turner . - L.

Dear Free-Range Kids:This summer, instead of going to municipal rec camp (daily, highly supervised….. and so “safe” that it’s kind of boring), we talked with our spunky and independent 12-yr-old son about what he might enjoy better.  So this summer he is taking daily group tennis lessons as well as twice-weekly group golf lessons. 

His father and I both work, so in order for him to do these lessons, he has to get himself to and fro.  On the days he has both tennis AND golf, he has one hour to get across town (on his bike, about five miles).  He has to be sure he has everything he needs for both sports (he is able to store his golf clubs at the course – that would be difficult on a bike!), a lunch he has packed for himself, and appropriate clothes (he needs to wear a shirt with a collar at golf) etc. My husband (his dad) did a practice run with him on a Saturday before the sports sessions started, taught him how to change the bike tube, and they packed a repair kit, in case he gets a flat!

Yesterday I realized how easy it is for “mom guilt” to overtake Free-Range-ness.  DS and I were hanging out, and I almost said, “You know, I’m sorry you have to get yourself to all your stuff and that neither Dad nor I can drive you.”  And then I CAUGHT myself.  Yes, I thought it for a brief moment, but I didn’t say that, because I realized how ludicrous that line of thinking is!   What on earth would I be apologizing for?  That I’m not his chauffeur service???  For goodness sake, he’s 12, and he’s perfectly capable of taking a 20-min bike ride on a dedicated bike path in a bike-friendly town. I said what I really believe: “You know, I’m very impressed by how responsible you are with making sure you have your things, and that you are riding your bike safely the way on the route Dad showed you, and how you are getting everywhere right on time!” 

Instead of infantilizing him, I empowered him.  And his summer days are a lot more interesting than they would have been at rec camp.  (Other side benefits: these activities are 1/3 of the price of rec camp, he’s getting a LOT of exercise, and we’re not increasing our family carbon footprint with lots of unnecessary car-based kid schlepping.)

This morning – no lie – he said to me, out of the blue, “Mom, thank you for not being a smother-y, helicopter-y mom who wouldn’t let me do golf lessons just because of the bike ride there.  I love riding my bike there!  And my coach thinks it’s awesome!”  (He really used the words “smother-y” and “helicopter-y”.)  Not many kids actually thank their parents for driving them around…. But mine thanked me for NOT driving him around.  Imagine that! - Aimee Turner

An old equation. Kids + bikes = joy. (Even in the parents.)

Hi Readers — Security guru Bruce Schneier (author of  “Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive,”) is so right about a whole lot of things, including the fact that we should almost ignore what’s on the news when it comes to making both policy and personal decisions. Why? Because the news is filled with the rarest and most horrific events. So trying to plan our lives around them is like planning a trip to Florida solely around how to avoid shark attacks. Do that and you’d spend your whole beach vacation avoiding the water. It just doesn’t make sense. So here’s a link to Schneier’s smart piece in The Atlantic about the Boston Marathon tragedy. And here’s my favorite bit from an interview Ezra Klein at the Washington Post did with him:

EK: You seem skeptical of the ability of policy to keep us safe, but doesn’t the relative safety of the last few years suggest that our post-9/11 policies have actually worked?

BS: The problem with rare events is that you can’t make those sorts of assessments. I remember then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, speaking two years after 9/11. He said that the lack of a repeat event was proof that his policies worked. But there were no terrorist attacks in the two years before 9/11, and he didn’t have any policies in place. What does that prove? It proves that terrorist attacks are rare.

It also proves the fact it’s hard to prove a negative: Just because something DIDN’T happen doesn’t mean that any security measures “worked.” This is the argument I am always burbling when folks feel that the only reason their kids have not been kidnapped is because they never let them out of their sight.

But, like terrorist attacks, stranger-danger is rare. Sure, take some basic precautions, like teaching your child never to go off with anyone, and then — send them out into the never-can-be-perfect world.

I realize I keep leaping from terrorism to everyday issues of parenting. But the link is this: Tragedies are dramatic and searing, but as they are also rare and unpredictable, they don’t deserve much weight in making our “safety” decisions. And the same goes for making our political decisions. As Ben Miller, a policy analyst at the group I’m working with, Common Good, puts it, “In the wake of any tragic event, our instinct is to write a rule that’s supposed to stop it from ever happening again. But the next tragedy needs a new rule, and the next, and so on, until there are too many rules for anyone to keep track—and we end up worse than if we had no rules at all.”

Rules always beget unintended consequences. Think of all the schools that have implemented background checks to keep their kids “safe.” How many otherwise eager (and non-threatening) parents have decided not to bother volunteering? Are kids better off (considering they were safe already)? Or worse (considering they have lost those free helping hands)? You could say, “Now parents aren’t harming kids at school!” But…wasn’t that true before the background checks?

Or think of the advice tendered yesterday by some know-it-all on Facebook:  “If you love your kids, don’t bring them into crowds.”  That was a quick, stupid fix, as if crowds are inherently unsafe. (As someone commented, “So maybe no one under 21 should be allowed into Disneyland?”)  Let’s make sure we don’t put equally quick, stupid fixes onto the lawbooks where they are anything but quick to be erased, even if they’re worse than useless. – L

We haven’t had a second 9/11. How come?

Hi Readers! Laura Alves is a mom of 4 who has made a change in her  world — and beyond. As can we all! – L

Dear Free Range Kids: I’d like to share my little story (actually three) of Free-Range happiness in our small central Wisconsin town.

I have four kids, ages 9, 6, 4, 2. I generally allow and encourage (and sometimes require) my older two to ride their bikes. My philosophy is that if it is safe and reasonable for them to propel themselves somewhere, than they should. I have little kids at home who don’t want to spend their summer days in a minivan while I chauffeur the older two around. A neighbor, whose daughter is 10, asked me if I let my kids ride their bikes alone to the park, which is one and a half miles away with one busy County Highway to cross. I told him that yes, they’re allowed to ride there together. They know the safety rules of biking and of crossing busy roads. The neighbor said he’d been hesitant to let his daughter do this, but if she went with my kids, he’d feel better about it. So, they all went together and had a blast! He lets his daughter regularly bike to the park now.

My oldest daughter’s friend lives about a half mile away, across the same busy County Highway. The friend called one day and asked if my daughter could come over. I sent Charlie on her bike, and when she arrived, the other mother called me to see if I knew my girl had ridden alone there. I told her of course I knew! We talked about it and she agreed that even though it made her nervous, IT MADE SENSE to allow the girls to ride alone at this age. They are now BOTH coming to and from each others’ houses solo!

We are very good friends with a family whose oldest two kids are best friends with our oldest two kids. We were all talking one night about letting them do more stuff alone. Our friends said that they had been on the fence about letting their kids bike/walk to our house, the park, the school, etc. We shared our feelings about how it’s good and healthy for them to do things on their own. They agreed and now ALL the kids are riding their bikes around in a big pack, exploring, and having a blast. They’ve managed to stay safe, stay out of trouble, and have a ton of fun all summer long!!

I’m realizing that there are a lot of parents out there that WANT to give their kids more freedom. They just need a little push from someone letting them know it’s okay. The “safety” movement has created sort of a mob mentality with parents, but a lot of people don’t necessarily want to subscribe to it. They just think making a lot of rules and restrictions is what good parents do. I’m grateful that Free-Range-Kids has inspired me to break free of this delusion, and that I in turn have inspired these other parents to give their kids some much needed freedom. Perhaps these parents will inspire more. Perhaps by next summer our playgrounds and streets will be filled with kids having a safe, and happy-go-lucky summer with their friends. Could this be possible? Here’s to hoping!! - Laura Alves

No, there is actually no mention of wombats in this post. But kids on bikes, yes.


Hi Readers! Quite a few of you sent in this story, now gone viral, about the high school principal who suspended upward of 6o students for their “prank” — a mass bike ride to school. As WOOD TV reported:

Seniors called police for an escort, and even called Walker’s mayor, who rode in the parade.

“Police escort, with the mayor, who brought us donuts. …The mayor brought us donuts…” said a group of seniors following the ride.

But school official weren’t told in advance, hence the word prank, and were not happy with the event.

They kicked the seniors out of school for their last day and threatened to keep them from walking in graduation ceremonies set for May 30.

The principal was upset not only because the ride led to traffic snarling (and principal snarling, apparently), but also because, “”If you and your parents don’t have sense enough to know your brains could end up splattered on Three Mile and Kinney, Fruit Ridge, then maybe that’s my responsibility.”

Or maybe it’s not. Maybe things that go on outside of school have nothing to do with the principal. And maybe people who are 17 or 18 and are responsible enough to call the police AHEAD OF TIME are responsible enough to take a bike ride. And maybe bike riding is GOOD.

All these points seem to have occurred — belatedly — to the principal who has since issued an apology. Mostly it seems she was taken by surprise and overwhelmed with worry. In the cold light of dawn (and massive media attention) she realized this was not truly a “prank.” It was the way we’d like our kids to act pretty much all the time.

So — hats off to the biking seniors, and to a  principal willing to do the brave thing and say, “I was wrong.” Everyone is growing up so fast! – L.