When the coronavirus pandemic triggered shutdowns and stay-at-home orders in March, Daniel Byrd remembers having one immediate thought, one big regret.
“I wish we had gotten every kid a bicycle,” said Byrd.
Because learning to ride a bike is a rite of passage that every kid should experience.
Because learning to ride a bike isn’t just about learning to ride a bike.
“It’s a sense of freedom and independence, and now it really takes on a whole new level of meaning,” said Byrd, whose Colorado Springs nonprofit, Kids on Bikes, teaches bike safety and helps get refurbished cycles and equipment to kids who might otherwise go without.
Kids on Bikes has been pursuing that mission since 2005, hosting camps, bike clinics, family rides, carnivals and programs that teach riding and safety skills. Kids can “earn” a free bike, helmet and upkeep equipment, by completing a program on bike safety and cycling basics.
Like all learning during COVID-19, those lessons shifted online.
“All our curriculum before the pandemic was a minimum of four to eight weeks of after-school bike club type activities, where they’d learn with, and from, their peers,” said Byrd, whose nonprofit coordinates with program partners, at schools and community centers. “We consolidated it and condensed it and said, let’s give them any and all resources we have and make it online.”
The group’s website, at kidsonbikes.net, has a wealth of resources as well as safety videos developed by kids, for kids. You can also sign up for Kids on Bikes’ summer day bike camps, which started up June 1.
“Both parents and kids overall seem very excited to be getting out. It’s outdoors, it’s a safe, low-risk environment,” Byrd said. “When you are doing it well and the way we have always structured it, we have small groups and are always keeping a safe distance with these kids on their bikes because that’s the safest way to do it. So social distancing is rather easy, which is great, and now we’re also taking extra measures.”
Before the pandemic, the number of children who regularly rode bikes — or, at least rode more than 25 times a year — was in steady decline, falling by more than 1 million between 2014 and 2018, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. Since March, the bike industry is booming, with sales of kids' bikes up 56% over the previous year.
But a bike isn’t only a way to get exercise and fresh air, it’s a vehicle for experience, and memory.
“You yourself can probably remember the first time you rode a bike — who you were with, where you were. It was amazing,” said Byrd. “This pandemic has highlighted why something so simple as a bicycle should be accessible to every kid."
He and his wife have twin 8-year-old sons, and Byrd said that rides with them over the last few months have had a special kind of resonance.
“You know they’re getting older, pandemic or not, so I need to teach them, I need to show them how to ride safely through the neighborhood. And now I have more time with them, I’m making sure I pass on what knowledge I do have,” Byrd said. “It’s a good reminder of what to be thankful for, maybe of what you could have been taking for granted.”