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Off Your Duffs, Kids!


Bring back the bike.


By Saul Schachter

At a party recently, I was escorted over to meet a young mother.

"Hello, I'm Saul..." I said, starting to introduce myself.

"I know who you are," the woman laughed. "You're the one who rides a bicycle!"

I had to pause. I'm the one who rides a bicycle? I never thought a bicyclist would be considered an oddity, but it's true. I draw quizzical looks from my 13-year-old students when they encounter me for the first time on my Schwinn.


Saul Schachter riding his bike to work.
PHOTO: NORMAN Y. LONO

"Don't you have a car?" they wonder. And, I guess it's not a surprising question. The only bicyclists they have probably ever encountered are some of the poor South American immigrants that work in the area.

Their teacher isn't poor, so why is he on a bicycle?

It's a question that is probably only posed in the United States. In Europe, a continent with a high standard of living, many people ride bicycles. Early in the morning, men in their suits and women in dresses, pedal off to work.

Perhaps the high cost of gasoline encourages them to opt for "pedal power,"  but I think not. They enjoy riding.

I do, too. I live only a mile from school. So, I ride my bike. I can arrive at my destination in 12 minutes, 10 if I make all the stop signs.

I ride because I like to stay in shape and I enjoy the activity. After a hearty breakfast, I love getting out in the brisk mornings, pedaling through my neighborhood to school, my briefcase balanced on the handlebars.

I wave to my friends preparing to leave for work and to the intrepid walkers, hoping to shed a few pounds, shuffling briskly through town.

In the winter months, I simply add a hat, gloves, and a sweater. If it's particularly cold, I pedal faster!

But, when I ride through my community—a community in which I was born and raised—with its well-manicured lawns and tall trees, I wonder: Where are my students? Why aren't they biking?

Oh, I see them. But they're waiting at the end of their driveways for their parents to drive them to school—and some live only five blocks away. (By the time their parents emerge from their house, they could have been at school!)

When I get to school, refreshed and eager to start the day, I look at my students and sadness overwhelms me: Many of them are so lethargic. I find each year they're growing increasingly overweight. For some of them, getting out of their chairs requires a major effort.

I'd love to say, "All right, kids, put away your history books [that would draw a loud cheer or two]. We're going bike riding."

And off we'd go! Through our own Sea Cliff and its magnificent Victorian homes! To Planting Fields to admire the flowers! To Roslyn to feed the ducks!

And for the great finale, we'd pedal to Baskin-Robbins for a scoop of ice cream! (If it had been a particularly grueling ride, we'd reward ourselves with two scoops.)

We'd laugh, we'd sweat, we'd enjoy each other's company.

And at the end of the day, no need to call Mom and Dad: We'd find our own way back.

Saul Schachter teaches at the North Shore Middle School in Glen Head, New York. He is also a freelance writer.

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Published In

February, 2008