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Prompted By Riding a Bicycle

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Grandson learning to ride his bike

My mother claimed I loved to ride my trike back and forth in front of our house in Detroit. She never had to watch me as I was so compliant that I never ventured more than ten squares in either direction (her rule). Of course, I don’t remember this, so I have to take her word for it.

I have no memory of learning to ride an actual bike.

I have no memory of learning to ride an actual bike. It was not viewed as exercise or good for the environment in the 50s, just a way to get to friends’ houses in suburban Detroit. My kids learned because my husband is extremely patient and determined. He attached a broom handle to the back of their bikes, removed the training wheels, and took them to the grassy field by their elementary school to cushion the inevitable falls. No helmets or bike lanes back then.

July 4th bike parade


Same parade, 1981 — remember those banana seats?


Another cool bike being decorated by my son

We did enjoy biking up the lake front from our Evanston home to past Northwestern back in the day. Not too crowded then. Not like today, with spandex clad bikers whizzing past pedestrians, making the biking/walking path a danger to folks out for a walk or pushing baby strollers. Bikers are everywhere these days, which is a good thing in terms of getting cars off the road, but also a danger in safely sharing the streets. It might help if bikers followed the rules of the road, but they rarely do.

Granddaughter on her trike, a plastic version of mine

My grandkids all learned to ride bikes, but it seemed to me it was more of a project. First came balance bikes, then a variety of trikes, followed by a succession of bikes with training wheels and built-in devises for the person holding on. A couple of them learned themselves but for most the grand achievement of mastering the two-wheeler took some parental effort and money for a series of appropriate bicycles. Of course, they all wore helmets, which is a good thing. As far as I can tell, only one of them occasionally rides hers to get to school. No one has a paper route anymore and they are usually driven or walk to friends’ houses. I guess learning is practice for adulthood when they use their smart watches to record bike rides as exercise rather than as a simple means of transportation.

Remember Big Wheels? My grandson rode in style.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: funny, right on!


  1. You’re so right Laurie, our childhood memories of riding our bikes are indeed passe. We had no thought we were “getting exercise”, we were just having fun!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    What wonderful photos you have of you and your family throughout the various stages of bike riding, Laurie! You are absolutely adorable on your little trike in Detroit. I used to enjoy a good ride along Lake Michigan when I lived in Chicago. I was one block off the lake and it was glorious 40+ years ago!

    Your description of the changes in the ways your grandchildren learned with their plastic devices is quite something, but with distance and traffic, I can see why no one rides to school any longer. Thank you for sharing this “bike through the ages” story.

  3. Marian says:

    Love the pictorial history of all the bikes, Laurie. The adult cyclists today can be pretty intimidating, and auto drivers here get grumpy about half the street being taken up by a bike lane. It would be fun, though, to be able to ride safely again.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I don’t think I would have the nerve to try urban bike lanes. There have been so many serious accidents around here, some fatal. Even with a dedicated bike lane, if the biker runs the light and a car is turning right, it’s a recipe for disaster.

  4. John Shutkin says:

    As mentioned, really good point that, as kids, we just “had fun” and didn’t think of these activities as exercise or — God forbid — actually good for us. Also, in my rural neighborhood it was also a pretty important mode fo transportation, and a lot faster than walking.

    In any event, I really loved your story and was particularly taken by all the great photos. I know of none of my own children. Are such photos a requirement in your family? In any event, they are adorable.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      John, I am (like another Retro writer we know) obsessed with family photos. Not so much of my own kids, when we took mainly slides and then couldn’t find anyone who wanted to see them. At some point, I had them digitalized, which was a good move. Digital cameras coincided with the birth of my first grandkids and I really went to town. My problem is not being able to discard any because I think they are all so cute.

  5. I agree with you about the behavior of many adult cyclists. I get so frustrated with their sense of entitlement and ignoring of common-sense rules of the road. Most of us are drivers at times, pedestrians at other times, and cyclists at still other times. Why can’t we all keep that in mind and give slack and courtesy to our fellow travelers? I actually wish the cops on Cape Cod would give out more tickets to cyclists. I’m tired of being one of the few who gets off and walks at crosswalks (for example). Anyway, your piece was very well written and evocative. A bit snarky at the end but you earned it.

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