Friday, August 19, 2011

Now and Then - Cycling Safety

I see people now taking their kids for a rides on the back of their bikes, and it makes me nostalgic. I'm reminded of the times when, as a child, I was taken for a ride on the back of my father's bike.
Sort of.
You see, it's not the same, really. Not even close. Right here I'd like to do a little "Now and Then", just to show you the differences that spring to mind when I make the comparison.

Nowadays I see people, men and women, cruising along smoothly on their 21 speed bicycles with adjustable seats, air shocks front and back, wearing their helmets and, I swear to God, in at least one case I've seen checking their on-board GPS. If they have their child with them, if they've dared to take a child out in this dangerous athletic situation, I have never seen the child having fun. In the child seat, there is no fun.
The child seat is a little more than a seat. It's more like the cockpit of a rocket car. The child, be they boy or girl, and the only way to tell  sometimes is the color of the gigantic safety helmet, is firmly and completely ensconced in flame retardent, shock resistant, molded plastic. The interior of this egg-shaped portable panic room is well padded; good thing, since each seat comes equipped with adjustable nylon straps and buckles, usually configured in a five-point restraint pattern that would make any member of the 'Dangerous" ward of any psychiatric hospital in America feel right at home. These straps have been designed, and are frequently used, to strap toddlers down to the point of suffocation. Once strapped in the children are almost completely protected from anything up to and including small arms fire. The only parts of the children that are visible are the tips of their chubby little fingers, the soles of their 'Kid-Keds', and the tops of their heads.
Oops! My apologies, I just misspoke. Not their heads.
Their helmets.
Their safety helmets are fitted, padded, impact resistant, fire retardant, shock proof, electrically insulated feats of safety-oriented engineering that sometimes weigh nearly as much as the children they are protecting. I recall seeing a child whom I thought was physically handicapped riding in the seat on the back of his mother's bike and thinking how brave he and his mother were. Come to find out the child was fine, but they had attached a HALO collar to the helmet as it was the only way the child could wear the helmet without the weight of the thing pushing him right out of the seat.
Now, you'd think that once all this safety equipment was in place the children would then be free to enjoy the ride.
Not exactly.
They're strapped into the seat so tightly they can barely move. They're wearing this over-sized helmet faintly reminiscent  of a 'Spaceballs' character, and the helmet pretty much fits into the shape of the seat the kid is strapped into. They can't turn their heads without leaning forward, and they can't lean forward due to the straps. They're pretty much strapped down in an eyes-front position like they're having some sort of 'Clockwork Orange' therapy. For the entire ride the only scenery they have at their disposal is ... Mom or Dad's flexing buttocks.
At least they are outside getting fresh air. Unless of course, Dad ate at Taco Bell...

Back in my day, the child seat was not the technological marvel that it is today. Mom and Dad had 3-speed bikes, and my sister and I rode on the backs of them. My child seat for the bike? Hard to describe, but I'll try. 
Take two 12 inch by 12 inch pieces of 1/4 inch thick plywood. Attach the two of them together along one side with a hinge, so they can open and close like a clamshell. Now, wrap that plywood in a thin sheath of foam rubber, say 1/2 inch thick.
That's comfort.
 Cover that baby with a thin layer of plastic to keep the foam from getting soaked by rain, pee or vomit, and you're almost there. To the plywood you have arbitrarily decided to call the 'bottom' or 'seat', attach two arm-rests made from two 'C' shaped pieces of metal tubing, with the open part of the 'C' attached to the sides of the 'seat' by another pair of hinges. This way when you fold the 'back rest' down flat upon the 'seat', you can fold the 'arm rests' in to hold the whole thing down flat. In this way, when there are no pesky kids sitting in it you can fold it closed and have it double as a carrying rack! Bolt that baby to the rear fender, or better yet, on top of the store-bought carrying rack, slap your toddler in there and take off like you were born to be wild!
I'm not sure, but I think there was a simple cinching strap to act as a seat-belt. I'll have to ask my mom.
Notice that I have not mentioned my helmet? that's because upon my head was... hair. Unless I was wearing a baseball cap to ward off the sun. Helmets weren't even required in professional hockey back then. Why would you bother putting one on your kid?

To sum up:
     Now - Children on the back of their parent's bikes can withstand anything up to, but not including, a direct nuclear strike, but they can't see much, and they have to be wary of Dad reaching for the Di-Gel before a ride.
     Then - Safety was not, repeat NOT a factor. In fact, if a parent today slapped their kid into my old-time bike seat, I'm pretty sure they'd get arrested and the child would wind up with Children's Protective Services. But I had a great view, the wind in my hair and the sun in my face.

I still had to worry about Dad eating Mexican, though.

Talk to you later!

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