Recently I surveyed 32 baby boomers and thereabouts, asking two simple questions: Were you an indoor kid or an outdoor kid? When outside, what activity did you participate in most often?
Every man I questioned professed to being an outdoor kid. The two most common activities among them were bike riding and sports—mainly wiffle ball/baseball.
Similarly, of the girls I surveyed, 78% claimed to be outdoor kids with an additional 15% considering themselves to be “half and half.” Most common activities were bike riding and playing jacks.
How many of you got home from school, maybe ate a snack, and then hopped on your bike in a concerted effort to rid your mind of spelling tests, fractions, and the capital of every state in the Union (unless, of course, your mom made you finish your homework first)?
During summer vacation, how many of you got up early, wolfed down your Sugar Frosted Flakes, and took off on your bike to seek adventures with the neighborhood kids, perhaps not returning until lunch or even dinner?
Flashback to the 1960’s: Kids enjoying a sunny day with their Schwinn bicycles.
1960 Schwinn bicycle ad
Our bikes were our consummate companions—with the trifold benefits of fun, exercise, and transportation. I could write a book on vintage bicycles and the stories they elicited. Many have already been written. As a matter of fact, I told a few bike stories in my mostly fictitious memoir The Crab Hollow Chronicles.
In the first chapter, which is largely true, the neighborhood boys suspiciously offered to let me ride Lorenzo Vecchio’s (name change) new 1961 Raleigh English Racer—with hand brakes. They wrongly assumed that I had never ridden a bike with hand brakes, and, with visions of mayhem dancing in their heads, they stood at the bottom of the hill, waiting for me to come hurtling down. “Ah, the pleasure they would get as I futilely spun the pedals, desperately attempting to brake by foot, and ultimately crash landing in a heap of bruised knees and scraped elbows” . . . or worse.
Obviously, I survived, but did I suffer “more than a few superficial wounds, limbs contorted beneath my body, sucker stuck down my throat?” Or was it merely another in a long line of indignities suffered at the hands of the neighborhood boys? Or did I cruise to a perfect landing, chalking one up to the victory side, as the boys stood wide-eyed and open-mouthed in disbelief? There’s one way to find out . . . .
As for writing a book on vintage bicycles, I must wisely decline because I am certainly no expert on the popular bikes of the 1950’s and 1960’s. You see, I had only one bike, and it was a hand-me-down one—a 22 inch gently worn one, which became well worn by the time I was done with it.
Having little expertise on the subject of bikes, I will proceed to the alternate means of kid fun, exercise, and transportation in the 50’s and 60’s—scooters, skates, and pogo sticks—all of which I have first-hand experience and pleasant memories.
Of the 32 people I surveyed, no one mentioned the scooter! So soon you forget? Holding onto the handlebars, I delighted in pushing off with my right leg, getting a good run, then putting both feet on the deck and cruising down the road, full speed ahead, pigtails blowin’ in the breeze.
The most noted advantage of scooters over bicycles, as far as I was concerned, was that, being closer to the ground, you were less likely to break your neck when you toppled onto the concrete.
I have only one old family photo that includes a scooter. Back then you couldn’t just snap, snap, snap your camera to your heart’s content and then store the photos on your 8 G flash drive or stick them in your Picasa Web Album. You had to pay for every paper print, so you had to choose your photo ops judiciously.
Here is my older sister Shirley circa 1949 in our back yard. The scooter is on its side. Click to enlarge.
The scooter, sometimes called a push scooter, fell out of favor for years until resurrected as a “kick scooter” by Wim Oubouter in Zurich in 1990. Now kids can choose from folding scooters, stunt scooters, and electric scooters with seats! Read more at Maya Potter’s “Invention of the Kick Scooter.”
Below is a video of my grandson Mikey riding his new scooter. Here is a quiz for you: What is the difference shown here between riding a scooter in 2014 and riding one in 1950 or 1960?
When family members, friends, or neighborhood kids needed a respite from bikes and scooters, we would break out the roller skates—the one-size-fits-all metal roller skates that were adjusted with a key. You didn’t even have to take your shoes off; you just put your shoed foot in between the clamps of the skate and strap them in.
Now, you might have to make some adjustments using the key. One end of the key shortened or lengthened the foot, and the other end loosened or tightened the toe clamps. With a few turns of the key, one pair of skates could fit every sibling in the family. Hang your key back around your neck or pop it into your pocket, and you were good to go. Lots of fun if you didn’t mind skinned knees and Bandaids. Unchanged photo courtesy of Diane Cordell License
Of the 27 girls I surveyed, seven mentioned roller skating as a favorite activity. Karen J. reminisced, “I couldn’t wait to come home from school and roller skate.” Verne K. recalled, “I would skate on those babies every day after school in our basement! Such a blast!”
Most often, we neighborhood girls skated outside in the street. But I distinctly remember one year when my dad rearranged the basement so that we had a clear space to skate—even in the winter! He also cleared out items stored behind the furnace so that we could whiz through “the tunnel” as well. We had ourselves a mini roller rink!
Neighborhood roller skating usually gave way to indoor skating at the local roller rink. Remember All-Skate, Reverse, Couples, Ladies Choice, Adults Only?
Over the years, roller skating as a kid’s pastime has diversified into roller blading, roller hockey, and roller derby. Remember Farah Fawcett as a skater on Charlie’s Angels in the late seventies?
In addition to my bike, scooter, and skates, I loved to cruise the ave on my pogo stick. No one in the survey mentioned pogo sticks, either. If you’ve never ridden one, you don’t know what you’re missing. Who knew that such a simple pole with two foot pads and a spring could be so energizing? On what other means of transportation can you rhythmically bounce into the air on one two-inch diameter metal leg, all the while making haste down the road?
In reality, it wasn’t “my pogo stick.” I thought it was community property (for our family of seven) until I checked out this photo recently and saw that my brother Billy had received it for Christmas in 1959. Looking back now, I wonder if he had allowed me to borrow it, or if I had absconded with it whenever he wasn’t around. Most likely the latter since touching his pogo stick would ensure Karen cooties on the handle, a plight to be avoided at all costs.
Kids can still buy simple pogo sticks today, but advancements in stick design, beginning in 1999, spawned the latest innovation in the sport: Extreme Pogo or Xpogo. With the potential to rise more than ten feet in the air, these durable pogo sticks are now used to perform back flips and other breathtaking tricks, with the most gifted riders competing in the World Championships of Xpogo, the Pogopalooza.
Wacky Chad doing the pogo flip at the Oklahoma City Arts Festival
No-handed backflips on extreme pogo sticks in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Pogopalooza 2013 Xpogo World Championships Highlights
FYI: According to The Guiness Book of World Records, the most consecutive jumps on a pogo stick is 70, o76, achieved by William Hanrahan in Waterford, Connecticut on October 9, 1976. From what I’ve read, there are plenty of young kids still trying to break that record today.
There was one last means of kid locomotion out on the road in the 50’s and 60’s, and that was putting one foot in front of the other, otherwise known as walking, which I did often. Most moms back then didn’t drive, so when your dad was at work, you mostly pedaled or walked to your destination. Not too many obese children around.
In my next post, I will report in more detail on my baby boomer two-question survey. If you weren’t riding your bike or other form of transit, what were you doing?
By the way, the answer to the scooter quiz is “helmets.” Twenty-two states now require children to wear helmets when riding their bikes. Skaters and scooter riders with helmets are a common sight as well. So might I suggest that if you wish to impress your grandchildren by flipping your extreme pogo stick ten feet into the air backwards, wear a helmet? I’m just sayin’.
Do you have any scooter, skate, or pogo stick stories to add?
KAREN GENNARI is the author of The Crab Hollow Chronicles, a fictitious memoir based on her experiences growing up in a neighborhood full of boys in 1961/62. It also explores the merits and challenges of life in a Catholic family of seven.
Join nine-year-old Karen Schmidt in her attempts to navigate Crab Hollow Road amidst the overwhelming male majority who beleaguer her at every opportunity. Does Karen have the fortitude to weather toadnappings, midnight escapades, false impersonation, and more? Along the way, relive the people, products, music, sports, and headlines of the early 1960’s. Virtually every page references the 1960’s. Lots of your favorite toys are mentioned in these pages.