The temperature on the first morning of June was refreshingly cool.
I donned a long-sleeve exercise shirt and was on my bike before the sun rose above the horizon.
Riding down the Salem Creek greenway was exhilarating; mist rose from the creek and light reflected from bright leaves. Dew drops sparkled around my shadow in the grass, creating a halo effect. I huffed and strained a little while climbing the trail near the railroad tracks, right before the roller-coaster drop-off that takes the trail under U.S. 52. Otherwise I pedaled with ease. My shoes got a little damp at that one place — you know? — where the trail crosses Salem Creek and the water splashed up, but they were dry by the time I got to Salem Lake.
On the way back I counted eight fluffy brown rabbits alongside the trail. One ran with me for a few yards before bolting ahead, then into the foliage. Is he playing with me? I thought.
It was a golden morning, and the first time I’d been on my bike since last fall. It’s true what they say; you don’t forget.
Since then, I’ve only been on my bike once more, unless I made it out yesterday. Responsibilities and other opportunities — some just as fun — have made bike-riding a lower priority than it once was.
But that’s my loss and I intend to rectify it. I’ve never wasted a minute I spent on my bike.
It’s a Gary Fisher Trek hybrid, which I’ve been told aren’t made anymore. I walked into a bike shop one day some 20 years ago and said to the clerk, “Show me something that’s inexpensive, fun to ride and won’t need a lot of maintenance.”
Its gear shifts are inside the handles. Its brakes squeak. I had the crankset replaced once — some teeth were worn down — but otherwise, it’s held up fine.
I’ve had it on the Salem Lake trail hundreds if not thousands of times, as well as the New River Trail in Virginia, the trails around the Great Dismal Swamp and city trails throughout North Carolina and South Carolina. I’ve often been accompanied by friends, especially on the Virginia Creeper, which drops down, down, down, on an almost-constant decline, 35 miles through scenic forests and fields.
It’s a shame that others won’t know the pleasure of bike-riding. Or fewer will, rather. According to recent reports, fewer kids are buying bikes these days.
The number of children ages 6 to 17 who rode bicycles more than 25 times a year has decreased by more than a million from 2014 to 2018, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. It’s a drastic enough change that bicycle manufacturers and retailers are said to be bracing for rough times ahead.
What is it that’s keeping kids away from bikes? C’mon, you know. It’s screen time. So say youth fitness activists and sporting goods market analysts. A 2018 study from the American Heart Association found that kids and teens age 8 to 18 average more than seven hours a day looking at screens.
Children should be getting at least 60 minutes of active play a day, according to U.S. health authorities, but only one-third are achieving that much.
Bicycle manufacturers also claim that the Trump tariffs — 25% on $250 billion of Chinese goods — had an impact on bike sales last year. The overall cost has risen by 7.5 percent, according to Arnold Kamler, chief executive of Kent Intenational. That price was passed on to American consumers, of course. “When the holidays arrived, consumers were put off by the higher prices. Sales dropped, ending up 5 to 10 percent lower than our projections,” according to Kamler.
With hope, that will only be a temporary situation.
But tariffs or not, there’s reason for concern.
“There’s a lesson for parents in this, too,” according to NPR reporter Nancy Shute, “and not just that they need to push the kids off the couch. Adult’s aerobic fitness has been falling at pretty much the same rate as children’s, the researchers found.”
For me, riding is not just physical exercise, but a balm for my mental and emotional health, too. The sights and sounds, the fresh air, the friends who accompany me — they all contribute to fun and relaxation.
Of course, things change. Does anyone play marbles anymore? Or “Twister”?
But some things manage to endure, especially if we put a little effort into it. Someone contact Keanu Reeves. If he starts riding a bike around L.A., maybe there’ll be a resurgence.
In the meantime, Winston-Salem has invested in some pretty sweet greenway trails. Rental bikes sit in strategic spots downtown and in the Innovation Quarter. Check them out. Take the kids.
P.S.: Always wear a helmet!