Wendy Chervin, 40, of Lindenhurst, has twice sat on juries hearing cases involving bicycle injuries, and she says that's why she won't be letting her children, now ages 7 and 4, take spontaneous rides on neighborhood streets. “People blow stop signs, speed through school zones. One bad accident and you have a disabled child for the rest of your life. I’m just afraid for them,” she says.
Other Long Island parents mention screens being a deterrent to biking — and they don't just mean kids spending more time playing video games and streaming movies instead of hopping on their bicycles and taking a ride. A prevalence of distracted drivers who are on their cellphones while on the road has parents uneasy, they say.
“Where I live we have no sidewalks. There are a lot of people out there who are just not paying attention. I’m afraid they’ll get hit by a car,” says Jennifer Snyder, 50, of Lindenhurst, a licensed veterinary technician who has two daughters, ages 14 and 10.
Such safety concerns may have contributed to a decrease in the number of kids biking nationwide, biking industry experts say. Youth bike sales are down 8.9 percent from the year ending April 2018 to the year ending April 2019, according to the NPD Group, a Port Washington-based market research company. And the number of children ages 6 to 17 who ride bicycles more than 25 times a year has decreased by more than 1 million from 2014 to 2018, according to figures provided by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
“As an industry, we’ve really recognized that parents are concerned about kids having a safe place to ride,” says Brandee Lepak, president of the California-based National Bicycle Dealers Association, a trade association representing specialty bike retailers.
Russell Gobetz, manager of Brickwell Cycling and Multisports in Farmingdale, who has been in the industry for 20 years and also buys for the local chain's stores in Greenvale and Great Neck, agrees that Long Island kids aren't using bikes as much as kids in the past. "There are less safe places to ride is the No. 1 reason, at least around here," Gobetz says. In 2017, for instance, there were 170 children injured on Long Island in bicycle crashes and one child who died, according to data from the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles Accident Information System.
Some Long Island parents say they are taking their kids to bike trails instead of having them on the roads — and that extra effort causes some to ride less than they otherwise would. “To take a long bike ride, it means packing them up to go someplace like Massapequa Preserve or Belmont Lake,” Snyder says, each of which is about six miles away. It’s a challenge fitting three or four bikes in the car, she says.
Henrick Beausoleil, an IT consultant from Port Jefferson Station, and his wife, Sherley, a project manager, say they are apprehensive about their son, Erick, 13, riding around neighborhood streets for an additional reason. They worry their son may experience racial prejudice, Beausoleil says. Their older son, Kendrick, now 21, experienced that when out riding with friends when he was younger, he says. “They’ve had racial slurs thrown at them. As an African American in Suffolk County, we are definitely concerned about safety.”
But Erick says riding locally means being able to get to a store or a soccer field during summer vacation. “I’m done with school. There’s nothing else I can do at home,” Erick says.
Despite the downturn in children riding, enough kids are still biking in the streets to cause flare-ups of complaints on social media about groups of teens popping wheelies in front of cars, for instance. “I see it on the Kings Park moms group. Kids riding recklessly, basically being nuisances," says Kathleen Sisti, 34, a social worker from Kings Park who attaches a trailer to the back of her bicycle to take her kids, two boys ages 2 and 1, for rides on bike paths in area parks. A recent post on a Huntington group caused a debate over whether kids on the roads were just having fun or were a danger to themselves and others.
“These kids think they’re invincible,” says Lisa Jensen, 46, a stay-at-home mom from West Islip. “I just can’t believe how insane and out of hand it’s gotten. Something really needs to be done about it.” The Village of Babylon is currently exploring a new law that would let code enforcement officers confiscate bicycles of anyone younger than 16 who is riding recklessly, notify their parents and later return their bike. Those older than 16 who are issued violations could have their bicycle confiscated and be fined up to $250 and/or imprisoned up to 15 days if found guilty.
OPTING FOR BIKE TRAILS
Still, some families are trying to make biking a frequent activity as safely as possible. Natalia Kesabian, 43, a second-grade teacher from Westbury, and her two children, Cristian, 14, and Valentina, 12, frequent Bethpage State Park and have done the Jones Beach Bike Path. "We're trying to make it a part of our routine to go biking as much as possible," Kesabian says.
Jeni Kreiger, 39, a massage therapist from Riverhead, bikes on trails with three generations of her family — they recently rode along a Calverton bike trail to have dinner to celebrate her brother’s birthday at the nearby J & R Steakhouse. Kreiger put her 2-year-old and 9-month-old into a bike trailer, and her niece, 9, and nephew, 6, rode their own bikes. Even Grandpa came. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Devang Shah, 42, an IT consultant from Woodbury, agrees with Kreiger. Shah just took the training wheels off his 7-year-old daughter Anya’s bicycle and is teaching her to ride a two-wheeler. He says he is confident that soon she’ll be riding in local parks with with mother, Shetal, 42, a business analyst, and older sister, Rajvi, 14. Cycling has been a stress reliever for Rajvi, Devang Shah says. “When she’s exhausted from school, we go biking on the trails, and then she feels better. I think cycling is one of the most basic exercises, and it’s so much fun."
Where 'everybody bikes'
A drop in youth recreational biking doesn’t seem to be uniform across Long Island — bicycle riding is still going strong in some neighborhoods, parents and kids say. David Brown, 15, of West Islip, called his bicycle “independence personified by an object.”
“I can make my own plans, I can really go wherever I want with my friends,” says Brown. “It’s a way for me to get around on my own without needing my parents or a car.” On a recent weekday, Brown and three teenage friends ride to Ralph’s Italian Ices, Belmont Lake State Park in Babylon and the local McDonald’s.
“I just got a bike last year,” says Alyssa Jansons, 14, who is riding with Brown. “Now I’m outside every day.”
Evan Gaffney, general manager of The Bicycle Planet in Syosset, says he hasn’t seen a decrease in sales. “Our kids’ bike sales are steady, if not up,” he says.
"My kids have really embraced riding their bikes,” says Christine Rizzo, 45, an interior designer from Rockville Centre who has two daughters, Elizabeth, 11, and Alexandra, 9. The girls ride their bicycles about four times a week, Rizzo says, often heading to the local school playground with their friends.
Susan Callahan, 40, a receptionist from Lindenhurst, says her 8-year-old daughter, Jillian, just got a two-wheeler and her older kids, Sean, 9, and Faith, 12, ride to town hall and the park. Faith is even allowed to ride to the local Dunkin’ Donuts. “On a nice day, it’s the whole block. These kids are out until the sun goes down,” Callahan says.
Nicole Marino, 45, a stay-at-home mother from West Islip, echoes Callahan. Her son CJ, 12, and his friends are constantly riding. “When we lived in Melville, nobody biked. We moved here and everybody bikes,” Marino says. “They bike to each other’s houses. It’s a big social experience here in West Islip. It makes me a little nervous, but I think it’s a good thing for them to have some independence.”