Boomers Were Born to Ride … Bicycles

There was a boom in bicycle purchases and riding between 1965 and 1975. It seems only natural, since baby boomers, the largest demographic in sheer numbers up to that point, were in their prime bike-riding years. Mister Boomer proposes there were other contributing factors to the doubling of bike sales in that ten year span. First, the move to suburban life put things at a greater distance than when more families were city dwellers. Schools, stores, the onset of shopping malls, doctors and others could be more than a mile away. Kids may have lived a mile from school, but had a classmate friend that lived a mile on the other side of the school. Where city dwellers might have taken a streetcar or bus for destinations further than a mile, now boomers could ride a bike.

Along that same train of thought are two other intertwining considerations: space and improved roads. Many boomers recall how roads in their area went from dirt and gravel in the 1950s to concrete and asphalt by the 1960s. Secondary roads connected with the new interstate highway system, and there was space for new roads. Streets in suburban subdivisions were all paved for the convenience of the boomer families moving in.

Another factor was, it became cool to ride a bike. When Schwinn introduced the Sting-Ray bicycle in 1963, every kid wanted one. (see: Young Boomers Inspired Stylish Bikes)

It wasn’t long before, in Mister Boomer’s neck of the woods, bikes were the main form of transportation for kids between the ages of 8 and 16. By 1974, bike purchases had reached their peak and more bikes were sold that year than cars. With more kids riding bicycles around, it was inevitable that rules for riding would follow as safety measures. Schools began to teach safety rules for riding as early as the 1950s, including hand signals for stopping and turning, and riding against the direction of traffic. There were no helmet requirements in the boomer years. Mister B did not know of a single person who owned a helmet. Night riding required reflectors and a headlight for optimal safety.

Mister Boomer rode his bike everywhere. For several years, he rode to school, to Little League practice and games, and for fun and adventure. There were large intersections to cross along the way, but he remembered his school training and crossed only at traffic lights, and walked his bike across busy intersections. Busy roads were scary to him, so he avoided them and did not dare bike on the highways themselves. Side streets provided a tree-lined casual ride, and in retrospect, a false sense of security.

Now we know that bike-riding rules have changed, especially in riding with traffic rather than against. More municipalities and states are requiring helmets, too. It is estimated that as late as the early ’80s, less than 20 percent of bike riders wore a helmet. That percentage has more than tripled since then. Take a look at today’s suburban kids on bikes and the change is striking.

How about you, boomers? Did you bike strictly within your neighborhood or was your bicycle the go-to form of transportation it was for Mister B?

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