Free Range Bicycles

Today’s post comes from Renee in North Dakota

There are about 850,000 people in Amsterdam, and more than 1,000,000 bicycles.  Bremen was rife with cyclists, as well. It took skill to discern what part of the sidewalk was for bikes and what part was for pedestrians. We saw families on bikes, babies in infant seats perched precariously between handle bars, and dogs in baskets attached to the front frame.  People of all ages, even very old people, rode bikes to get places and go shopping. No one wore helmets.


We marveled at the freedom Bremen and Amsterdam parents gave their children. There were unsupervised children all over the place, riding to and from school and the shops, with no hovering adults to be seen.  Daughter-in-law commented that she wished US children could have a similar lifestyle. I read somewhere that German  parents encourage and expect a great deal of independence  and self-sufficiency from their children, and that “free range” parenting is the norm there. Risk taking is thought to teach safety.

I am sure that there are bad people in Amsterdam and Bremen, and that bad things happen to children there, but no one seemed to let that change their behavior or restrict their children’s mobility. I told this to some of the more hovering parents I know, and they were appalled, yet curious.  There is a dignity in risk.

How risky are you? 


76 thoughts on “Free Range Bicycles”

  1. Not very. I don’t jump out of airplanes or climb mountains or race cars or even go much more than 5 mph over the speed limit.

    My riskiest behavior is probably going on solo canoe trips in the BWCAW. Even that is a relatively safe wilderness compared with, say, Alaska, northern Canada, or even Yellowstone or Glacier NP where grizzly bears abound. But I do risk capsizing my canoe and drowning, hypothermia, getting hit by lightning, having a widowmaker fall on my during a windstorm, or breaking a leg and not being able to walk portages with my canoe.

    I suppose my riskiest behavior of all, statistically speaking, is the same as for most everyone: getting into my car almost every day and driving somewhere.

    Chris in Owatonna

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Good question, Renee. I should probably preface my answer by stating what most baboons already know: I don’t have any kids. I also no longer ride my bike! How’s that for wussing out in my dotage? Actually, truth be told, although I have ridden my bike all over Europe, and for years and years used a bike – without wearing a helmet – as my main means of transportation to school, work, and pretty much everywhere I needed to go, I have never felt safe on a bike in America. It’s simply not a bike-friendly place.

    About kids, I vividly remember the first time I visited Denmark ten years after moving to the US in 1965. One thing that struck me was how freely kids romped everywhere. Kindergartners climbing in trees in a forest preserve in the northern outskirts of Copenhagen, and riding city buses and trains under the watchful eyes of their caretakers – about half of which are male – kids were just a lot more visible everywhere. They were not cooped up in somebody’s den watching TV and eating sugary snacks. I recall thinking at the time, this is something that you would never see in the US, possibly because it’s such a litigious society, and someone would have to be held accountable for the slightest scrape or bruise. Another possibility, of course, is laziness. To be fair, I’m delighted every time I visit the Science Museum, the Minnesota History Museum or the MIA and see young mothers with their brood, or teachers with a bunch of enthusiastic kids. Such outings take a lot of extra effort but are so worth it.

    I agree with Chris, about the riskiest thing I do on a regular basis is getting into my car and driving on the freeway. Who are all of those maniacs out there?

    Liked by 2 people

      1. …and it amounts to risky behavior these days to enter an intersection without first making sure that everyone coming the other way is actually stopped. Having a green light is not enough anymore.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Odd that you mention this, Bill. My daughter entered an intersection near her home where there were no sight lines (because of parked cars on both sides of a small street) just blocks from her home. She was T-boned by a distracted driver who blew a stop sign. Nobody was hurt, but it makes you nervous to drive here.


  3. Great observations, Renee. I grew up in a free range world where kids used bicycles to go everywhere and parents did not obsess about their kids being snatched by strangers. When I became a parent my spouse told me I was living in a fool’s paradise, oblivious to the fact America had become vastly more dangerous than the world I knew in central Iowa in the 1950s. I disagree. What has changed since my childhood is not the danger so much as the perception of danger.

    Risk is such an odd thing. People rarely worry about the things most likely to hurt them. People who fear armed intruders keep loaded guns at home in spite of the real threat those guns represent. People who fear airline crashes fail to appreciate how much more dangerous auto travel is. To my (admittedly old fashioned) way of thinking, we now live in terror of threats that come to us through the media.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve often thought that people, especially politicians, who claim they keep firearms in their home for self protection get too easy a pass from the media. I’d like someone to ask them “protection from what?”.
      I think you can learn a lot about someone by knowing what (or in this case who) they fear.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Dollars to donuts, it will trace back to “the stranger” and/or “the unknown.” We fear what we don’t know (in general). Some take it to extremes and keep firearms as a means to feel they can take control of that unknown – others embrace it as a (non-violent) learning opportunity. Statistically I have the same chance as my co-worker who keeps a gun of having my house broken into – but lacking a gun in my home, I have a much lower chance of a gun causing unintended harm.


        1. I’ve said this before: when the only solution you have is a gun, you turn every problem (or fear) into something you can shoot.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. For most things I am not a risk taker. I keep my speed down when driving and stay away from the edge of high places. Also, I don’t like to go into any enclosed space where I might get trapped. I am willing to go places that might not be safe such as places where there might be people who don’t like me or who might steal from me.

    I can overcome my fears by learning how to be safe. For example, at first I didn’t like being up on steep roofs. However, as a roofer who worked on some steep roofs, I learned how keep myself safe working there and lost my fear of those places.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I am risky sometimes. I drove my daughter crazy in Europe by insisting that we be really early to catch trains and other forms of transportation, so in that regard I am not risky at all. On the other hand, I am famous for pushing buttons on unfamiliar machines or suggesting courses of action just to see what might happen. I also love to set off fireworks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Reneeinnd, It’s surprising isn’t it how many people won’t ‘just try’ flipping switches to see what happens.
      I have examples of people standing in dark rooms because they’re afraid to try a light switch. Computers, watches, DVD players, alarm clocks– just keep pushing buttons until you figure it out. As long as you don’t hit ‘DELETE’ you’ll be OK.
      I’ve gotten far in my life by trying buttons.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Went to the MIA last night for the book tour and our last art object was an installation that we were encouraged to touch. Depending on which piece you touched and the timing of other people touching other pieces, the whole think would light up in different colors and patterns. It was a lot of fun to be able to touch the art but it did feel a bit, dare I say, risky?

        Liked by 3 people

    2. Hans is a button pusher (he certainly pushes mine a lot!). He jokes that the car radio in my car would stay tuned to wherever it was when I bought it if it weren’t for him. That’s a slight exaggeration, but I’m really not into pushing buttons, or adjusting dials. I have switched from heat to A/C in my car already!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. For myself, no. And yes. It depends on what you consider a risk. Risky behavior is to some extent subjective. There are people, for example, who consider getting married risky and postpone it for years and sometimes, despite being in a committed relationship, avoid it altogether. There are people who reside in rural areas that regard coming to any big city as risky. And there are, of course, the physically risky actions that range from skydiving and rock climbing to riding a bicycle or venturing into a bad neighborhood.
    Personally, I am not much attracted to the overtly risky stuff. Unlike simple recklessness, taking a risk implies that there is a potential upside to be experienced. Since I am not much attracted to speed and likewise not an adrenaline junkie, and since my self image is not enhanced by seeing myself as a daredevil, I generally eschew those things. I don’t regard riding a bicycle or driving on the freeway as exceptionally risky, though it only takes an unfortunate incident to see them that way in retrospect.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Morning–

    Daughter graduated from HS yesterday so we’re both on summer vacation now.
    I’m OK with risk. But that doesn’t mean you do something stupid.
    I’ve jumped out of an airplane. (well, I was strapped to a guy who pretty much pushed me, but same difference, right?)
    I climb up ladders to high places and hang heavy weight over peoples heads. And I run power tools and drive big machinery. But I do it all with training and care. I try not to do anything stupid or sloppy.
    Hearing protection and safety glasses are a good start. Know when to wear gloves. Be aware of your surroundings. ‘Keep your head on a swivel’ we say onstage sometimes.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. She turned 21 on Monday so she’s all done now. Got the actual signed diploma and everything! 🙂

        Many thanks to fellow Baboon Beth-Ann for helping with IEP’s and goals along the way!

        Liked by 4 people

  8. I do remember the first time Child rode her bike around the block while I sat on the front step, but I always tried to let her have whatever independence she needed. She went off to gymnastics sleep away camp when she was nine and then later that summer, she took her first plane trip on her own. She flew “unaccompanied” every summer until she was 14. It’s a little difficult to NOT be a helicopter parent these days because when you aren’t, you get grief!! I had one friend who never ceased to be appalled that I sent her off on a plane by herself (and never ceased to tell me).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I worry less about what might happen to Daughter than the earful I might get for things like letting her go to the library on her own (risky, I know – she might check out a book! Or three!).

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Moving to new places with just a couple hundred dollars (1970, 1977) are among the biggest risks I’ve taken – I learned that you had to sign up with not one but two or three temp. secretarial agencies to stay employed while you looked for your permanent niche.

    This big move to Winona is a greater risk than I had imagined – everything’s turning out fine, but there were some edgy moments, one when we weren’t sure if we could get the closing on House B when we NEEDED to have it. And it is physically taxing in a way I don’t remember from 27 years ago.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. My son had an earthy shaking experience this morning that did not include risk.
    I am not a risk taker, other than driving, which is the riskiest thing an American does. I suppose my eating is risky. Studies show we calculate risk badly, like, as Bill brings up, having guns to protect ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually, it was Steve who made the point about the miscalculation of risks. My point was that a lot of perception of risk is subjective, not only in terms of the potential danger and reward, but in terms of what one thinks is at risk.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. When I was an outdoor sportsman I routinely did risky things. People who hunt and fish often do. I can think of one friend who died that way, and there might be others if I thought about it more.

    Relative to other sportsmen, I was sensible most of the time. Yet there were times I danced right along the edge. I did things I wouldn’t do again now, even if I could.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Some of my riskiest moments have been in the context of home repair and remodeling. I remember one Sunday night. I was remodeling the basement in our house and I wanted to add a bathroom. I had already broken through the concrete floor to locate the main sewer line and I needed to cut through the cast iron line to add a “Y”. The cast iron pipe cutter consisted of a long lever and a chain that wrapped around the pipe. Arranged along the chain were beveled metal wheels, intended to apply focused pressure to the circumference of the pipe. With a sort of ratchet attached to the lever, one tightened the chain until the pipe snapped cleanly along the line of pressure. It was Sunday night, remember, and this was the sewer line for every fixture in the house. I slowly, gingerly worked the lever to tighten the chain. And a foot-long section of pipe crushed like an eggshell…

    Liked by 1 person

      1. When you cut cast iron that way, the two pieces need to be able to separate, to move away from each other. Since the portion I was attempting to cut was embedded in the ground and attached to plumbing on either side, it couldn’t separate and so it just crushed. I didn’t figure that out until the pipe had collapsed. Luckily, since I was assembling a whole network of pipes, I had on hand an extra length of cast iron and extra stainless steel connector bands. Now that the pipe had room to move, subsequent cuts went smoothly. I was able to remove the damaged section, shift the joint over about a foot and finish assembling the other components without further difficulty.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. ill never forget the time i wa sin downtown chcago leaving the art museum area to get back on the train headed out to the inlaws house b the airpoet when looked and looked again at the black cloud coming down the street making the citiscape disappear as it approached. 10 blocks away i spotted it and it was coming fast. 9 blocks 8 blocks and each block it passed was gone and no longer visable. i had debbie and my two kids ( i had two at the time) and we were walking in the middle of the downtown streets wit little traffic on a saturday afternoon. the speed this thing was coming at us with was breathtaking i told debbie to grab one kid and i grabbed the other and we started looking for cover. as we ran the wind hit and it was i would guess 70-80 miles per hour maybe stronger with the venturi effect of being squeezed between the buildings. the newspaper poxes on te streets blew down the street like popcorn boxes, the people who had not been looking to the west to see it coming were simply blown down and rolling down the road. some good deed doer came over to help debbie with tar on her shoulders negotiate her way to the side of the road where there was a doorway we could take shenter in. i remember people trying to get through rrevloving doors but being stuck because panels of steel siding had blown off the surrounding buildings and gotten blown ito the doors as the spun getting everything including the people in the doors not yet fully turned stuck.
      it lasted about 2 minutes then was done.
      then there was the hurricane on my forst trip first evening in hong kong. 150 mile an hour winds in a 100 degrees horizantal rain form the 25 th floor and the lobby of the hotel alternately.

      i tell my kids not to take risks wth drugs sex or jail. other than that go for it. mountain climbing is risky but i trst my kids judgement. my wife an i are polar opposites on this. it can be amusing. my kids know who to ask what.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My neighbor just handed me 4 gorgeous roma plants and 2 mystery peppers. You cannot buy plants the quality he grows in the basement while there is still snow on the ground. He says it holds off cabin fever.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Alas no, PJ.

          I have yet to meet those people. And that garden space is completely overgrown (not that have room to speak on that regarding my own space), but they are devoted to the lawn mower.

          This is the neighbor on the other side who gave me beautifil plants last year too.

          Liked by 1 person

  13. thanks reee
    great observations. i had the helmet thought the other day. what is it with the parents putting on a helmet to ride to the store two blocks away. is it an example for their kids to follow or a wacky new thing that people who were taught to buckle their seatbelts before they start the car learn in the new millennium that is now longer new.


  14. Ah, the old “parents are too protective” moment.

    I’m curious, Renee. What would you say the societal attitude to children is in Europe?

    As a parent I have really become painfully aware that the attitude in the US is very quick to treat children as an inconvenience whose parents really ought to be controlling their offspring more tightly.

    From the “where were the parents?” comments that abound whenever there is an unfortunate incident to the dirty looks and sometimes nasty comments freely doled out to the parent whose child is “too loud” or “too messy” in the opinion of the casual stranger nearby, the message is pretty clear-children are YOUR problem.

    Social policy here reflects this as well-

    I know much of Europe has a vastly different policy regarding maternity leave, and I wonder if the cost of educating the next generation brings out the quantity of rancor it does here.

    When children are considered a personal luxury rather than a national treasure to be cherished by everyone, don’t be surprised if parenting is considered risky behavior instead of a joy and privilege.

    It takes a village to raise a free range anything. When the village makes it clear that YOUR livestock had better not in anyway trespass on MY anything if you don’t want something bad to happen to it and/or both of you receiving the rough side of my tongue, you jolly well confine your livestock.

    Am I a risk taker? I make my living without being on a payroll and I decided to raise a s&h in the face of solid opposition from every other immediate ancestor he has. I am downright reckless.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I almost got into an argument about “my” child and children in general at restaurants. Now – the issue came up when I said we have tended towards one neighborhood restaurant in part because there is more tolerance for kids who can’t sit quietly through the whole meal. Not that I was letting Daughter run laps around the restaurant nor was I letting her use the booths as a jungle gym. Just knowing that younger children are not going to sit quietly, no matter your expectations. Friend seemed to think I should be able to keep Child quietly sitting at all times lest she spoil some adult’s meal with her…well, childishness. Yeah – well, that rubs me the wrong way. I can to my best to help instill good manners and ensure that my child is not disrupting other patrons. And when she was really too young to sit through a whole meal I just didn’t take her most other places – it wouldn’t have been fair to her or the other diners. But to expect that all children will stay home until they are ready to behave like little adults in public seems frightfully Victorian (not to mention stifling).

      Liked by 2 people

  15. Happy Saturday, my baboon friends. Oregon made the national news yesterday. A woman in a WalMart parking lot saw someone steal her bike. That is not news here. We take pride in our industrious and skillful bike thieves; it is an area of life where Oregon is clearly Number One. This woman chased the thief, yelling. Also in the parking lot was a cowboy with a horse in a trailer. He jumped on the horse, ran down the thief, lassoed him and kept him hog-tied until the cops showed up. That just doesn’t happen a lot in Minnesota WalMart parking lots.

    I’m working on a guest blog.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I, too, will submit a post. I suggest other Baboons do the same, or else they will be inundated with unlimited photos and observations from my vacation, which may or may not be amusing.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. i bet you always have been you are just more aware of it today
      i love your observations on the mess the world is in. i hope you are able to stay positive with your humerus curmudgeon chides. i sure enjoy your cynicism

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Thanks so much, Linda and ljb. Yes, we are having one of those achingly perfect days here, with cool temps (yay!) and sparkly sunlight. Couldn’t be nicer.

    My daughter and I recently met with an investment banker to put what is left of my estate in a good fund. My grandson Liam sat in a corner playing a video game. Almost all my Liam stories involve him saying something so original and nicely put that a stranger is amazed. They then ask, “How old IS he???”

    My daughter and Liam had been at his school for an end-of-the-year party. Molly said, “Liam, when you got into that peanut butter sandwich I swear you got more on your shirt and face than inside you. It’s still on your face.”

    Liam began licking away the peanut butter on his lips. “Well,” he said, “it’s a lot quicker to change your shirt than change your face.”

    The banker stared at Liam a long moment, then asked, “How old IS he???”

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Kelly and I were at Target Center Saturday night for Brandi Carlile and The Avett Brothers. Said hello to Mike Pengra there.
    We really went to see Brandi and she didn’t disappoint. I wasn’t as familiar with the Avett Brothers and while they were fun, I just didn’t click with them like with Brandi. But their violin and cello player had fun playing off each other. Plus, the cello player had a hat that tim would have admired. (some kind of cowboy hat; like a flat brim, 10 gallon hat, but crunched in).

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Having three day weekends does have one unfortunate side effect. Now Tuesday is the new Monday. Anybody feel sorry for me? On the bright side – 15 jars of jam and 12 quarts of frozen berries accomplished yesterday!


      1. Poor you.

        My raspberries are starting to ripen…and, thanks to Ben’s chicken poop, it looks like there will be a bumper crop. It seems awfully early for raspberries…


    1. Oh, bless you – I ran into a snag and may not get one in.

      OT: On the good side, we found out there is an opening for my mom at St. Anne of Winona, where we were hoping she could come soon after our move. I guess this is soon enough; we head back to cities Wed. to finish up, and will move Mom hopefully on the 24th. But I have reams of paperwork to complete… (instead of writing a guest blog). We won’t have a computer for the next week (unless I run into a laptop), so I’ll have to go to the library I think.

      Liked by 1 person

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