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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Kids, Books and Bikes

Years ago, in the period after I burned out on the software business the first time and before my friend Kevin lured me back in with the phone equivalent of Herman Mankiewicz's famous telegram to Ben Hecht - "Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots", Christine and I managed a used bookstore in Duluth, Minnesota. It was wonderful, dusty work that ultimately proved to be incompatible with Christine's lungs and one of the few jobs where it was possible to make even less than I do currently in the non-profit bike world. But books, like bicycles, are wonderful things that kids take to when given the right encouragement and context. Our kids have grown up with both bikes and books.

Christine and I have written and spoken elsewhere about raising carfree kids and today I'm going to write a bit about a few books, old and new, that showcase the simple wonder of riding a bike.

One book that my mom read to me and that Christine read to the boys, is H. A Rey's classic Curious George Rides a Bike. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it's a wonderful tale of a somewhat irresponsible monkey who fails to deliver the newspapers he's supposed to. Of course, bad things happen to him (he wrecks his bike) but his skill at trick riding allows him to persevere and everything works out in the end. Hmm, OK, maybe that's not a great lesson (being cute and tricky helps you get along in the world!) but it is a classic book and you can tell George is having fun. I recall as a kid it not only got me interested in cycling, it turned me on to origami as well (George made the papers into origami boats instead of delivering them.)

The next book, His Finest Hour by David Neuhaus, is a wonderful "Tortoise and the Hare" story featuring Ralph, the fellow with all the latest whiz-bang stuff and Dudley with his old balloon-tired bike. The delightfully droll delivery and illustrations lovingly list all the gear Ralph brings to the race countered with the simple sentence "Dudley brought his bike." A great little book.

Super Grandpa by David M. Schwartz is a the true tale of 66-year old Gustaf Hakansson who, in 1951, was told by the officials of the Tour of Sweden that he was too old to compete. Hakansson did not take no for an answer and rode 600 miles to the start of the race and then unofficially rode and came in first on the 1000 mile course. This is one of those books that really is a great story for all ages of readers.

It seems that every generation decries "kids these days" with their loud music and funny hair, but I get to work with kids every day at Bike Works and I'm here to tell you that the kids are alright. Every Earn-A-Bike class we can offer fills up. Kids still want to learn and still get a thrill from getting places under their own power.

A couple of days ago I got an email from my son Peter (the little tyke you see in the pictures here is now in his twenties, doing his post-grad work in Ice Physics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks). The email starts out "Hey Old Man". Both our kids feel like they've grown up in an extended version of a Jean Shepherd story and always refer to me as "the old man." Peter goes on to describe how a friend of his is commuting and crashing on "a very old bike shaped object from Walmart with a completely shot to hell drive train that should never be subjected to everyday use by anyone." He wants me to keep an eye open at Bike Works for a suitable bike for his friend. The supply of decent bikes in Fairbanks is poor, so Peter and his pals have pooled some money and when Peter is back down here for Christmas, he's hoping to get a used bike that he'll take north with him on the plane.

As I said before, the kids are alright.

Keep 'em rolling,


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