The New Skateboard

We live in a middle-class suburb; once something hits our neighborhood, you can pretty much assume it’s squarely in the mainstream. For many years, the vehicle of choice among the adolescents in our area was the skateboard. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing little packs of kids practicing their kick flips and doing their best to deface public property. These days, we’re seeing fewer and fewer skateboards. It took a while for it to sink in, but it recently dawned on me that the skateboard is slowly being replaced by the fixed gear bicycle (or one of its SS variants) in this age group. At least where we live, it appears the fixie is the new skateboard.

Those of us who care deeply about the bicycle and bicyclists hate to see bike riders behaving badly. We have the feeling that any bike rider who is riding inconsiderately or recklessly reflects badly on the rest of us. It’s easy to blame these new, young riders for their reckless behavior, but it begs a question for me: How can we expect riders to understand the rules of the road and behave like vehicle operators when they’ve had no more training in bike riding than they had in skateboarding? For them, the bike is just another way to fit in with the crowd and get around to meet up with friends. It’s really no different than how many of us used our bicycles when we were teenagers. Given the complete lack of education on this subject, expecting these young people to understand vehicular cycling is totally unrealistic.

So, how do we fix it? Certainly, blaming the kids is not the answer. And expecting non-cycling parents to fill the void is unrealistic as well. The solution has to be education. Most of these kids are not from cycling families, so it will probably need to happen through the public schools. And the earlier we can educate kids on bicycling best practices, the more likely they’ll develop good habits that will carry forward into adolescence and beyond.

So, the next time you see a young person weaving through pedestrians, cutting across lanes against traffic, or blowing a stop sign, remember that they know not what they do. And also remember that we’re highly likely to see more of the same in the future unless we help young people understand the rules of the road by implementing more bicycle training programs.

40 Responses to “The New Skateboard”

  • James says:

    Good points all. In Chicago there is more than enough red light running and traffic weaving to go around, but the one thing that witnessing such acts does for me is enhance my awareness for reflection on how I ride day-to-day. Sometimes I will proceed through a stop sign intersection and forget to look back to the right or left (I try and look twice just to be safe) and now it is almost automatic for my to say “what the hell did I just do?” and then take an inventory of my riding style. I do that because I used to be a light runner and weaver and then I started to feel uneasy about how I was riding. Now I just take my time (hard to ride like a bike messenger on a Loring) and enjoy the commute instead of turning everything into a race or a public obstacle course.

  • AJ says:

    Are you aware of http://smart-cycling.org/ ? I believe they have been trying unsuccessfully (due to lack of interest) to have some classes in your area.

    I think I know which city you live in and if I’m correct the City has hired someone as a Safe Routes to School coordinator, so your area might be getting some of the school level bike ed. The North Natomas TMA has done a lot of bike education work at the school level also if you are looking for local success stories.

  • Garth says:

    Alan,

    Good topic. I would argue you, however that these messenger wannabes don’t know what they are doing. I think they do, and that is why they are doing it. By taking on such an unpredictable riding style, they are creating a high risk sport that puts others at involuntary risk. Not cool. I hate to say it, but for such folks, a few traffic citations might be just the cure.

    Now, here is a curious thing about four way stop signs. In Chicago, my experience has become that at four-way stop signs not only do car drivers expect you to run them, they are frustrated when you don’t. Let me explain. It is preferable that you cross at the same time as a car is. Starting and stopping more often than not puts a bicycle out of sync with car traffic. It is usually frustrating for them to wait for a bicycle to cross from a standing start because it takes longer than if you’d merely synchronized your crossing for when they were slowing down to a stop. By the time you cross, their foot is now off the break and away they go. An exception to all of this is when the car is already accelerating from their stop. In this case, you should slow down to let them cross first, and to then cross with the car on your left.

    Garth

  • Christina says:

    I live in one of the latest “top 10″ places to live according to CNN Money (http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/bplive/2010/snapshots/PL2718116.html) and I have noticed a decrease in skateboards and an increase in bicycle usage. We are a suburb of a large metropolitan city and do not have public transportation. I cannot say what type of bikes this age group is riding, but when I try to sneak peaks, I see mostly Trek and Specialized, although I did see an ANT just the other day. I doubt anyone where I live pays any attention to following the rules of the road, but I think that is due more to the fact that our town has made the sidewalks bicycle friendly and seems to prefer to see the bikes there rather than on the road. I think we’re a long way out from seeing bikes used as transportation where I live, mainly because we do not have any further supportive infrastructure, but we’re making slow progress. In the last 5 years, I have witnessed a very noticeable increase in bicycle usage to get to places like the library, pharmacy, a couple grocery stores, etc. I also have seen quite a few teenage girls on bicycles this summer. I always read that we don’t get our girls on bikes enough in this country but where I live we seem to be doing a good job of it!

  • sygyzy says:

    They know not what to do? How about common sense, respect, decency? They don’t know better because they came from riding skateboards and we all know skateboarders are reckless? Well let’s go one step back … why are skateboarders that way? Who raised these kids?

  • CTP says:

    Interesting angle… from a blog that usually very pro-bike! You want kids to ride bikes or not? I think you’re projecting some of your negative feelings towards fixed gears/fixed gear riders into the article. Like you said yourself, it’s not any different than what you (we) did as kids, it just so happens that they’re on fixed gears now and not BMXs or Choppers.

  • Tali says:

    On balance, I think that poor behaviour by cyclists in general, and young boys/men in particular, is more due to the recklessness of youth than ignorance. After all, young drivers are the most dangerous, despite being recently trained.

  • jp says:

    i think that fixies have become the new BMX. when i was younger (i’m 40), it was all skateboards and BMX. now it seems to be fixies and skakeboards. i don’t dispute that skateboarding may be taking a hit, but BMX probably more so.

  • Pete says:

    I don’t think these kids have many examples of “responsible” riding to follow. The vast majority of adults on bikes are just as bad. I was nearly run over at a crosswalk by one such adult just this morning, who firmly believed that traffic lights don’t apply to bicycles.

  • patrick says:

    Seeing all these people on bikes is really great. The fixed gear thing has really done wonders for the other cyclists. But the flip side is that local government wants so bad to squelch the fun. I have an idea for public education that involves real life cycling and situations. There would be a garage with padded cars and people doing very unpradictable things… well I’m still thinking it through.
    Also it helps to meet the “kids” on the road. And chat em up about their bike .. help set the pace and show em how its done.

  • Sharper says:

    Also remember that kids and teenagers are going to be stupid and reckless no matter what they’re doing, be it bicycling, skateboarding, smuggling M-80s in from the next state, playing organized sports, or cheating on a math test. As they get older and wiser, they’ll turn into we old fogies, complaining about how kids today don’t know and aren’t told how to safely operate whatever “the new fixie” is.

    Some will start off wiser and teach their friends not to be stupid and reckless. Others will learn the hard way. I figure as long as more of them survive into adulthood with cool scars than paralysis, I think human society — and bicyclist society — will be fine. If nothing else, their now-burgeoning presence will help force suburban motorists to start paying attention for bicyclists and to bicyclist issues. Win!

  • Alan says:

    @CTP

    “Interesting angle… from a blog that usually very pro-bike! You want kids to ride bikes or not? I think you’re projecting some of your negative feelings towards fixed gears/fixed gear riders into the article.”

    I don’t at all see how this post is anti-bike or anti-fixie; that surely wasn’t my intention.

    Alan

  • Andrew says:

    I’m all for anything and everything that gets more people on bikes. I’m already seeing first-generation single-speed riders beginning to graduate to the weird and wonderful world of brakes and derailleurs. Once you get the itch….

  • Rick says:

    @CTP: Sorry, couldn’t find any biases in the article, so perhaps the problem doesn’t lie in Alan’s projections.

    @Sharper: Ryan, I think you’re right, to a point: after working as an ER nurse for twenty years, I can tell you it’s difficult to explain to a parent that their child was killed because they were stupid and reckless; as Alan mentioned, it’s far easier (and kinder) to give them every opportunity to learn how to do things the right way, and doing so in an academic environment seems to be a good thought–because the Darwin thing is kinda cruel. :-)

    Think of it like a circular saw: any 12 year old can go to Home Depot and buy one, take it home and start cutting–but I’m sure that most parents would insist that they be properly educated on how to use it first; the issue here is getting parents to understand that if improperly ridden, their child’s bicycle can be just as dangerous as that saw.

  • Derek says:

    @ Garth

    I understand completely what you are trying to say concerning 4-way stops. I always yield the ROW that I am supposed to yield. Most cars at the intersections give me more than I should have though and this creates tension. I hate having to slow or stop for a car that should have cleared the intersection well before I came to it simply because they assumed I should ride out right in front of them. IMO, the more bikes on the road, the better drivers will understand how to interact with them, and the more efficient stops at intersections will become.

  • Sharper says:

    @Rick

    Note I’m not saying we shouldn’t have education programs. But the same kids jumping off of rooftops onto trampolines or into swimming pools are also (one presumes) taking basic high school physics. I do, however, wonder how to pull off an education program in the current and near-future no-public-spending environment, particularly one that’s school-based as Alan suggested. You’d have to start relatively young — say 11 or so — in order to get them when they start riding alone, but you might not be able to teach every nuance at that age, so you’re going to have to keep sending them back time and again for more age-appropriate instruction. Which wouldn’t be bad, but given scant education resources, even I’d like to see music and art restored to the curriculum before we went about adding proper bicycling.

    The way I see it, too, is that any such education is of limited use; after all, nobody drives the way they did when they passed their driving test. Instead, we all drive under a set of agreed-upon conventions that line up somewhat closely to the “official” rules. Bicycling is already developing its own unofficial ruleset (see also: Alan’s recent attempt to start following traffic signs), but as ridership grows (I, for one, welcome our new former skateboarder and BMXer overlords), it’s going to negate the utility of codified instruction, as more and more bicyclists and drivers learn how each other reacts.

  • sb mike says:

    I must admit that the whole fixie culture offers an endless source of amusement. I usually don’t take their bad riding/bike choice/tattoos too seriously and am mostly glad that the youth has found their own way of making our boring old bikes “hip” again.
    Yea, a responsible parent should take their kid to a good “how-to-ride a bike in traffic” class. But i somehow doubt that this would put a real dent in bad bike riding overall. If someone puts me at risk while riding i usually tell them off and keep on riding. I figure at some point the person acting like a douche will get the point, but then again maybe they won’t.

  • Buck says:

    That’s funny, I just broke my shoulder skateboarding in San Francisco and now I can’t ride a bike at all.
    I agree that fixies seem to be more like the new BMX bikes for upper middle class white kids (and as soon as the price gets driven down a little on bare bones Taiwanese offerings, they will be for the kids in lower income areas as well). There is still a certain association with fixies and a somewhat smaller subculture than BMX bikes or skateboards (which you can find painfully low end versions of at any big box store) but that’s sure to be obliterated when the marketing blitz comes on a tad stronger.
    When I was about 19, I mad a conscious choice to leave the BMX bike behind in favor of a more efficient bicycle for transportation, but for most of the people in my generation (I’m 24), the skateboard represents an entirely different fascination; and fixies are a quickly dying fad.

  • Molnar says:

    I find the 4-way stop observations entertaining. Here in Massachusetts (I’m a native Californian) drivers don’t seem to have any expectations at a 4-way stop, for cyclists or for other drivers- it’s a free-for-all. Whatever method of teaching basic rules of the road works in other states has bypassed Massachusetts; if we can identify what works for educating drivers, the same should work for cyclists, allowing for age issues, but a Nobel Peace Prize awaits the person who can figure out how to teach Massachusetts drivers the rules of the road.

  • Doug R. says:

    Alan, thanks for putting the “Burden” on the school’s again! Let’s just have the schools fix the problem. Holy crap, how many more problems that should be worked on at home are going to become the responsibility of “THE SCHOOLS”! What a cop out! As an educator, I cannot tolerate your line here! Families and cyclists , (role models) should meet and ride and “TEACH” the kids the DAO of cycling. You have a new skateboard alright and many kids and young adults are being hurt/maimed etc. on the fixies! I actually hate the damn things, but I remember being a dumb kid who rode regular stingray bikes and skate boards like a maniac. It was fun and stupid, and I loved it until I experienced enough broken bones, road rash and sprains to slow it down. Kids are kids! In summation, we humans tend only to learn our lessons from “hitting” the brick walls of life and no amount of “EDUCATION” in the schools will correct their behaviors.
    There is a great short film on Vimeo by a guy named Kellett, which tells the story of the Colorado Scorchers. These hooligans in the 1890’s were our fixie kids today. (worth the viewing)! Each generation brings the “uniform” and dress code of the youth, and they must rebel just as we did! There will always be “Bad Behaviors” and although I am on the other side of the coin nowadays, I embrace the acts of seeking freedom and to be different than the old farts! I cringe when these kids pull the stunts around me, but I remember being one of them, and it was (to some extent today) a BLast! I ride my motorcycles in excessive manners today! I just choose when and where a fast run or little wheelie is to be pulled! I think I need to build a fixie now dude!

  • Rick says:

    @Buck:

    Ouch! Hope you feel better and can get back on your bike soon! :-))

  • Alan says:

    @Doug

    While I certainly agree that parents should be the ones to set good examples for their kids, when most parents view the bicycle as a toy and have absolutely no conception of it as a tool for transportation, it’s hardly realistic to think they are equipped to teach their children about vehicular cycling. We teach driver’s training in (some) schools, so why not bicyclist’s training? Seems reasonable to me.

    Of course, in cases where the parents are bicyclists, it’s highly likely they’re already schooling their kids in how to ride safely and effectively.

    Alan

  • Alan says:

    @Buck

    Get well!

    Alan

  • Justus says:

    I agree with you on the why Kids do this, however the problem isn’t just bicycle training but common courtesy and proper manners. People who are courteous will realize that breaking traffic laws and weaving around pedestrians is dangerous and rude.

  • Fortis says:

    Ah yes, the reckless kids will magically stop their reckless ways if some very uncool old person comes and “educates” them on the dangers of their recklessness. The idle fantasies of old people (I’m old myself), expressed in every generation. Good luck with that.

    It’s very important that young adults engage in reckless behavior. This is how they learn the limits of the world, and their own limits. More importantly, it is the reckless that push the world forward. There would be no bicycles, no airplanes, no walks in space, without recklessness.

    So please come to the kid’s school and show the video that illustrates the horrible danger they are putting themselves in. Thankfully there will still be those few, in the back, who roll their eyes, leave, then go outside and become the next Tony Hawk or Wilbur Wright.

  • neighbourtease says:

    Based on my time living in European cities where cycling is part of the mainstream culture, I think this is probably not a problem solved by education. Teenagers are teenagers everywhere. I imagine that, say, Danish teenagers grow into better cyclists not only because they’ve been on bikes since they were babies, but also because of extant and growing cycling infrastructure that inheres better behavior. I wonder if there is formal cycling education in these countries — I do not know if there is.

    I did not go to public schools so I don’t really know how they work nor what kind of programs are successful there. Maybe driver’s education is a more appropriate venue for cycling education?

    One thing I know for sure is that I would prefer to be patient with a few spastic teenagers on fixies. They might later become competent or passionate fixie riders or even just workaday cyclists. It’s so easy to turn kids off to activity and certainly we are doing a cracking good job of that here in the US by legislating all our activity whilst somehow simultaneously making everything into a competitive sport. Maybe institutional interference when kids are at an impressionable age is not the best route to more cyclists in the long term?

  • Alan says:

    @Doug

    So, let’s see Doug, you support teaching ceramics, automobile driving, basketball, and badminton in the public schools, but how dare we suggest a little education on safe cycling? I guess I don’t get that. As an educator who is also an enthusiastic cyclist I figured you’d be the first to support such an idea.

  • Doug R. says:

    Alan, I would support a fully immersed program which includes building, maintenance, and design. If a kid values something on a personal level, they will by nature want to take care of it. Then, you will see the respect and safe road manners develop. If you dare to get involved with teaching students, then step up! At E. C. we have a young shop teacher who has a fledgling H.P.V. ( human powered vehicle) segment where the kids have teams and must create a pedal powered transport. (Ryan Tompkins). I have waited patiently to drag you out old friend. Now I seize the moment! Carpe Diem!!!! We would like to get folks from the industry and social bike network to start lecturing and donating their valuable skills and expertise/ wisdom. to “Educate” our youth. Talk is cheap, so what do you think? How about really putting in your two cents where it may count? Lets do coffee with Ryan and brain storm some real life ideas to help kids! ( don’t give me the I am too busy crap, if you want better kids then put in some time dude!)

  • Saddle Up says:

    These fixie kids are out of control! Something needs to be done to stop this behavour. This rider behaves like there are no traffic laws…

    http://www.vitalmtb.com/videos/member/Jackson-Run-Bike-to-Kindergarten,3025/bturman,109?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=addthis

  • Alan says:

    @Saddle Up

    Awesome! :-) Is that your kid?

  • Rick says:

    It’s interesting–and fun—that this post (which I encouraged Alan to write) has turned into a somewhat philosophical discussion about what “Fixties” represent in mainstream bicycling culture; honestly, when we were discussing it, I was the one with the “eureka” moment, because I couldn’t see why the kids who own those bikes rode the way they do, and this analogy–of looking at fixties as skateboards–made perfect since to me: that’s just the way my brain works, I guess.

    Doug, I understand your initial point–my Dad and Stepmom were teachers for years, and I remember many nights where they came home feeling frustrated that “school” was a place for not only educating children, but doing many things that would be considered a “parental” responsibility as well. This is not what Alan is advocating.

    Neighbortease, I think nearly everything you wrote was right on the mark; like yourself, I grew up in Europe, and since we were surrounded by multi-modal transportation, I didn’t need to be taught certain things–all I had to do was look around, and mimic what others were doing. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy here in America, because we still don’t appreciate transportation that doesn’t come with a key and an ignition switch. Still, time will tell–but like Alan, I believe in getting the word out about safety: if young cyclists aren’t getting instruction at home, and they’re not getting instruction at school, then, knowing kids, they’ll probably make up things they believe, no matter what connection to reality that stance takes them. (I’m thinking of teenagers and Sex Education circa 1965 here, if you get my meaning.) Telling parents, “hey, if they don’t die, they’ll be good riders”, probably isn’t a way to inspire the confidence of non-cycling adults, no?

    So, Doug, let me add this: be patient for the summer. You thoughts are noted, and are being considered as new organizations are being created to meet with the needs of people in Sacramento. Get a hold of me next month, we’ll discuss things further, and perhaps we can actually roll out something that makes sense, without asking the School District to play nanny once again.

    In the meantime, try to give Alan a break: he’s not an educator like you, a public health guy like me, a transportation specialist, a professional advocate, or a “my way or the highway” zealot; he’s just a guy who writes a blog about bikes, and makes–seriously–about ten cents an hour while doing so. When responding, please note that his ideas are from the hip, and aren’t to be taken as truth–just one guy who loves what he does, who loves sharing those thoughts with others, and who loves to start intelligent discussions. Let’s keep encouraging him to do that, ok?

  • Doug R. says:

    Rick, I do support the “real” and effective education of our kids. Teaching embraces not only the subject matter but the forming of values and social consciousness! I have found that students are lacking home role models and if WE can be their daytime parents, and mentors we can truly help them. I need folks like you and Alan to get involved with these kids, and help them become great citizens and even greater souls! I would like people like Steve Rex to bring out some bikes and do a demonstration in our shop of hand fillet brazing / wheel building etc. Please do not misunderstand me, this banter may turn into something “Wonderful” if we work together for the kids! I remember just sitting through driver’s ed. watching Death On The Highway, and those other stupid films and laughing about it. We teens still got high and drove like maniacs on the weekends. If I had a teacher help me rebuild a bike or car and take me out to the races etc. perhaps I would have thought more before doing something stupid. If there is social bonding, there is hope for a young mind!

  • Brad says:

    I think that the crux of this discussion should include the line “It’s really no different than how many of us used our bicycles when we were teenagers.”

    That is the one line to remind us not to become that old guy yelling “get off my lawn”.

    Biking is for everyone, and everyone will bring something different to it.

    Live and let live.

  • Supp Suppinger says:

    traffic lanes and especially traffic signs are something for automobiles with their high speeds.
    humans (=pedestrians) and in this case maybe also cyclists don´t need traffic signs, they usually don´t travel at such high speeds. traffic signs are to protect car drivers from each other, and to protect automobile streets from being obstructed by humans and cyclists. of course there are differences between cities, suburbs and rural areas. in cities, if traffic speed would slow down overall, it would get much safer, and less traffic signs would be needed.

  • Saddle Up says:

    @Alan, no I seen the video on the web.

  • Sharper says:

    @Saddle Up
    That Jackson kid’s rocking it pretty hard. Now I’m tempted to rip the bottom bracket out of one of my bikes and start run-scooting it off some curbs around here…

    Back to the subject at hand:
    If we’re going to advocate for using school instruction to make better cyclists, I want to hear proposals on how we fill in the gap between the behavior we would tell kids to engage in and the behavior they’d actually engage in. Even though I didn’t ever get high and get behind the wheel like Doug, I did pull an accidental 360 after losing control around a blind curve on California Highway 41 literally the day after I passed my driving test, when my formal education should have been sharpest.

    As I’ve said before, knowing the rules of the road is less important than knowing the predominant common understanding about how the roads are used and shared, and that is only going to come through experience. That experience might be harder to gain and more dearly earned here in America than in multi-modal Europe, but American kids are pretty bright and the fixie craze is helping give them that experience.

  • John Boyer says:

    Ooh some buttons were pushed! Let me interject an old saying;
    The wildest colts make the best horses.

    And so we must train.

    Yes the angry mob hates on these kids without a care in the world. But we must turn this angry mob into steady in the eye educators and not rabble rousers with a chip and a brush off of their own responsibility on this subject.

    Have we forgotten the fact that we must educate if were to get anywhere at all?

  • Wade says:

    20 years ago I was a reckless kid on a skateboard. At that time in So. CA there wasn’t any place to skate without being a nuisance. Now I look around and multiple city parks, malls etc have areas dedicated to skateboards, with ramps and rails. With a new generation on fixies, it is my hope that in the next 20 years infrastructure will improve to accommodate what we might now see as a nuisance.

  • Ken says:

    A serious cool looking bike

  • Doug R. says:

    I have an idea: If gasoline goes to $50.00 bucks a gallon, then by default we can eliminate the “Drivers ED.” classes altogether and replace them with the “Safe Bicycling ED”. class. I am not being flippant here, Think about how much the school districts will save on the programs and the parents are the real winners, because insurance, car, reg. fees and gas/maintenance all go away!
    Moreover, even after Driver’s Ed., the parents spend a typical $400.00 for the behind the wheel training for their young driver! What a BOON, to the economy and sustainability if we become like Holland or other European cities. (bikes first)!

 
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