The no-bike zone: do we have to teach kids to ride bikes?

Posted by Erica Noonan  June 10, 2010 12:32 PM

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(Boston: Not an E.T.-in-the-bike-basket kind of town?)

How emotionally damaged will my kids be if I never teach them to ride a bike?

Yes, yes, I know it's that time of year. Cue the springy Saturday morning with the proud mom and dad giving the madly grinning kid a shove and a wave as he pedals away for the first time.

If suburban life was a movie, this would be the opening scene.

Except at my house, a no-bike zone that borders a busy road.

It's not for a shortage of bikes. The well-meaning grandparents have picked up several second hand. There is a constant stream of biking families out the window pulling kids in trailers with the cheerful little safety flags.

Those happy scenes give me the chills. I know too many veterans of bike accidents who had head injuries and required cosmetic surgery. I knew a teenager who was killed on his bike. I have covered too many stories of young adults getting mowed over by trucks while biking to work.

For the nostalgic types out there, I have to point out that cars are way bigger than when we were kids. Every day here in the suburbs, I see some jerk on a cell phone piloting a monstrous SUV nearly hit a pedestrian out of carelessness.

Greater Boston is just not a-kid-with-E.T.-in-his-bike-basket kind of place.

I don't need a therapist to tell me that this is probably more about being afraid of the unknown than an actual dislike for cycling. And I don't need Lenore Skenazy and the Free Range Kids Movement to tell me I shouldn't "protect" my kids by denying them simple, free and healthy pleasures.

But can't we just skip the bicycle? I'll teach them to ski, ice skate, swim, rockclimb, even scuba dive. Isn't that enough?

Do you think teaching kids to ride bikes is a must-do for parents? Is it really such a fundamental life skill? Have you had any regrets about letting -- or not letting -- your kids learn to ride a bike? Leave us a comment or email me at enoonan@globe.com

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about the author

Erica Noonan is chief of the Globe West bureau. Before joining the Globe in 2000, she worked for the Associated Press in Boston. Raised in Wellesley, she has a master's degree in political communication from Emerson College and a BA in political science from Trinity University in San Antonio. She lives in Natick with two energetic children: Dennis, 6, and Lila, 4.

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