I don't get any health insurance, or even a free bike, but my job as executive director of Bike Delaware does have some other perks. And one of the best perks are the cycling stories. As soon as I meet someone and they learn I work for Bike Delaware, I invariably hear a new cycling…
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I don't get any health insurance, or even a free bike, but my job as executive director of Bike Delaware does have some other perks. And one of the best perks are the cycling stories. As soon as I meet someone and they learn I work for Bike Delaware, I invariably hear a new cycling story. My favorite ones are the joyful ones of course. But I also hear the scary ones too.

Perhaps the most common type of cycling story I hear, however, is some version of the “father” story. For example, a middle-aged man I met told me how he grew up in the northern New Castle County suburbs between Wilmington and Newark. When he was a boy in the early 1970s (he told me), he and his friends practically had the run of northern New Castle County on their bikes. They would get home from school in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, hop on their bikes and head northeast towards Winterthur. Or they would go north towards Kennett Square. Or they would go west and into Newark. They would ride for hours and, on a weekday afternoon of joyous cycling, they might encounter only a dozen cars in hours of cycling on sleepy country roads.

Today it's completely different of course: traffic has exploded in the intervening 40 years. And “sleepy country roads” have all but vanished from northern New Castle County.

I have heard some version of this story dozens of times. But here is the real kicker to these stories (and why I categorize them as “father” stories). After telling me how important bicycles were to them when they were boys, I usually hear about how their children today experience very little of the joy of bicycles that they had. Sometimes these fathers tell me their children only bicycle very occasionally or only when they go on vacation somewhere. Sometimes I hear (and this always completely rocks me), their kids actually don't know how to ride a bicycle.

When we were kids, this is how we knew where to find our friends.

For many geezers like me, we remember growing up with bicycles. A bicycle was how we first learned to explore the wider world on our own. But there are already a lot of younger people in Delaware who have now basically grown up without cycling. They think of cycling (if they think of cycling at all that is) as just another scandal-tinged spectator sport. It doesn't have any relevance to their day-to-day lives. And, of course, it's also not something that they will share with their own kids.

Some people say the big difference with kids today is computers and the internet. At the risk of getting into an argument, however, when it comes to bicycles at least I think that's nonsense. Do computers keep our children from exploring the world on the 50 mph arterial roads that, in our wisdom, we have built to connect the subdivisions where we live, the office parks where we work and the shopping malls where we shop? What does the internet have to do with any of that? I have been bicycling since I was 5 years old. At times in my life a bicycle has been my main way of getting to work. I have bicycled thousands of miles touring different parts of the country. But even I loathe, and sometimes fear, cycling on those scary high-speed roads. What are the chances that our children will want to? What are the chances that we would ever let them bicycle on those roads even if, by some miracle, they did want to? (And even if fathers could be convinced to permit that, you can be pretty sure that our wives are going to be even less cool with the idea.)

So the bottom line is: we have screwed up the world badly for our children. But we are not allowed to throw up our hands in despair and give up. It's part of our job as fathers to leave the world a better place for our kids. We can never stop trying to do that. It won't be easy and it won't be cheap but that's a big part of why I work for Bike Delaware. And that's what we are starting to do:

We are about to complete a “low stress” kid-friendly bicycle route between downtown Wilmington and downtown New Castle. It took years and a bunch of money. And it's just the beginning of the work we need to do for our kids.

So on this Father's Day, if you are a father too, I invite you to add your voice and support to creating a more bicycle-friendly Delaware so that all of Delaware's kids can experience the same joy and freedom of bicycles that we knew as children.

 

 

  James Wilson is the executive director of Bike Delaware.