If you haven’t ridden a bicycle in a while, you may or may not have noticed that the styles have changed quite a bit compared to the bicycles that boomers rode as kids. For one thing, what the heck happened to the kickstand? Newer bikes rarely come with an attached kickstand anymore. Some children’s bikes still come equipped with one, and lower-end adult models sometimes have the device, but for the most part, the kickstand — standard equipment on a bicycle in the 1950s and ’60s — has disappeared.
Kickstands were that metal rod with a spring attached that was mounted below the pedal wheel sprocket. The spring enabled the metal rod to be kicked up or down for use. The purpose of the kickstand was to allow the bike to stand upright on its own. Kickstands usually had a bend near the bottom that set a more parallel surface to rest on the concrete or ground. That bend, plus the roundness of the rod, meant the kickstand was not always very stable. A brush against the handlebars or even a gust of wind may have toppled the bike over.
The thing was, many boomers had their bikes with them all day, every day. If they rode to a friend’s house, the kickstand could be employed when there was no rider. Boomers would pedal to baseball practice, parks, or, as was the case with Mister B, the occasional A&W Root Beer stand with his neighborhood friends, where the kickstands kept the bikes upright while they were at the outdoor counter, enjoying a cold root beer in a frosty mug.
So what happened to cause manufacturers to ditch the kickstand? Several factors seem to be in play, starting with the “cool” factor. The Schwinn bicycles of the 1960s set the standard for cool in boomer bicycles, picking up the mantle from Radio Flyers of the 1950s. As the 1960s rolled along, it just didn’t seem cool to have a kickstand any more. Yet there were probably other reasons that were more pertinent. For one thing, a whole “serious” class of riders was emerging. There was a split between leisure riders and racers and road riders. That contributed to the increased adoption of hand brakes over the more traditional coaster brakes boomer kids had learned to use, and multiple-speed shifts as well. Two-speed and three-speed bikes were available as far back as the turn of the century, but most boomers (in Mister B’s unscientific poll) had bicycles with only one speed, coaster brakes, and a kickstand. Pedal forward to propel the bike, flip the pedals back to brake. Hop off the bike and deploy the kickstand, which was always on the left side. The story goes that people usually mounted horses from the left, so when bicycles came around, people kept that tradition, and the kickstand followed suit.
As trail and mountain bikes became more popular in the 1970s, it became apparent that there was no reason for a kickstand. Riders were hopping on and pedaling away, not stopping at a store or an ice cream shop. Serious bicyclists didn’t want the added weight as well, and even though the spring was meant to keep the kickstand stowed when riding, the shock of rough terrain and the need for clearance below the pedals for potential objects on the trail could easily trip it into flipping open, thereby endangering the rider.
Finally, there began in the boomer years a rise in bicycle theft that required users to lock up their bicycles when not in use. Locks could be attached to street signs, fences or bike racks. In any case, a kickstand was not necessary.
Today’s bicycles have a myriad of styles, seating, speeds and tire options, so much so that they are barely recognizable as the same vehicle boomers rode as kids. Remember fenders on bikes? They were another casualty of the changing times.
Did you keep your boomer-era bicycle, or repurchase one as an adult, to relive that nostalgia for the freedom a bicycle offered? Does it have a kickstand?