RPG Evolution - True Tales from Stranger Things: Kids on Bikes

Stranger Things tells a tale of inter-dimensional entities battling kids in the 80s. To get around, the kids use their bikes, a genre that launched its own RPG. And yes, kids really did have that much freedom then.

kids-1801516_960_720_png.png

Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

It's Not for Everybody​

It's worth noting that despite the reputation of the Kids on Bikes genre taking place in the Midwest, my experience was in the Long Island suburbs. There are a few elements required for a Stranger Things-style of gaming, so being a kid on bike was potentially feasible anywhere :
  • A lot of kids of similar age within biking distance. I grew up surrounded by kids all the same age. We all walked to school, and later took the bus, together. Two of the kids were my next door neighbors, and one a little further (we're still Facebook friends). The rest were from the surrounding area and could bike to meet up.
  • Stay-at-home parents. Most kids didn't understand this at the time but parents trusted that if there was one stay-at-home parent (almost always a mom), then that was the default parent to talk to if there were issues. My mom didn't work until I was in high school, so it was usually her.
  • A place to game. Not every house was suitable for this: some were too small, some were too raucous, some had siblings that wouldn't let you play in peace for hours at a time. That was usually my house.
  • Kids have free time. None of our families could afford to send us to camp, go on vacations for long periods of time, or otherwise keep us occupied. We filled that time with Dungeons & Dragons.

Did Parents Really Let Their Kids Do That?​

Yes, or at least my parents did.

My best friend was a few blocks over, and I would ride my bike to visit and vice versa. We did this just about every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and practically every day during the summer. We would also sleep over each other's houses for as long as we were able, sometimes several days in a row.

How Did Parents Keep Track?​

Because we played Dungeons & Dragons, our parents were collectively happy with the assumption that all of us were easy to find at one house. This expanded to playing Laser Tag at certain houses where we could range freely (this was one case where my house wasn't suitable but two of my friends' houses near open land were perfect for).

During the day, when we were playing outside (which we did often, usually street hockey), our parents would simply open the door and shout out our names. My one friend's dad could whistle a high-pitched whistle that was unmistakable and could be heard at a distance.

You also knew generally when you had to be home. Mostly, we woke up, had breakfast, watched cartoons, ate lunch, and then left to play whatever until dinner time.

What If You Got Lost?​

With no cell phones and no maps, this rarely happened. But it did happen at least once, when we tried to go to a new friend's house on our bikes, and my one friend peeled off in one direction while I was looking the other way. I got so lost I had to bike home.

There were a few times where I miscalculated how far away my house was from other places and attempted to walk home, including wrong bus stops. You only have to make that mistake once to learn the hard way the geography of your home town.

In short, it wasn't much of an issue because everyone was within walking distance and if things really got confusing, you just went back to where you started which was home (or home base, if you knew a friend's house nearby).

Add this all up and it was fertile ground for tabletop gaming, with a large enough group that we never lacked players for a good five years, from seventh grade to graduation.

You Turn: Were you a kid on a bike?
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

Kannik

Hero
-raises hand- Kid on bike here for sure. Biked to friend's houses, biked to school (starting around grade 5 I think?), basically biked out with friends to various places to hang out in fields and creeks and near train tracks to watch trains go by, and later to a provincial park 13+ km way. Fun times. :)
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
So from this synopsis I take it Julian, Dick and Anne, George and Timmy the dog arent kids on bikes?

So what genre are they?
 

Dausuul

Legend
People who weren’t there really have no concept of how deeply weird the 80s was for being a kid. From Seeing movies my grade school self had no business seeing, to there being toys aimed at kids based on those movies, to just how far we could roam. A real good documentary to get a sense of it is “Class Action Park” it was on HBO Max when I watched it. Watch it, then if something comes up in a game just think “is it worse than letting your kid go to Action Park, if no let it continue.” But yeah parents and kids of the time had this weird oblivious sense that everything would work out for the best.
That's normal. It's how parenting has worked for most of history, and still does in a lot of places.

The way things are today (at least in the US) is what's weird.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
I was born in 91 and I was a kid on a bike, so I don’t buy that.
We're talking generational trends, not absolutes. The "era" of kids-on-bikes peaked in the 70's and 80's, and began to taper in the 90's, and is almost non-existent today.

But of course, you had kids whose parents wouldn't let them go anywhere unsupervised back in the day, and you have communities today where parents can still get away with allowing their kids to roam. In many communities today however, you practice free-range parenting and you risk having CPS make a housecall (in the US, at least). This does, sadly and of course, get targeted at lower income and minority families.

And of course, even if kids today have parents that allow them to roam . . . . many would rather stay indoors and online. :(
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
We're talking generational trends, not absolutes. The "era" of kids-on-bikes peaked in the 70's and 80's, and began to taper in the 90's, and is almost non-existent today.

But of course, you had kids whose parents wouldn't let them go anywhere unsupervised back in the day, and you have communities today where parents can still get away with allowing their kids to roam. In many communities today however, you practice free-range parenting and you risk having CPS make a housecall (in the US, at least). This does, sadly and of course, get targeted at lower income and minority families.

And of course, even if kids today have parents that allow them to roam . . . . many would rather stay indoors and online. :(
Oh yeah, it has definitely all but disappeared, and it was much less prominent by the 90s when I was growing up. I think my kid on a bike experience was pretty different than the typical 70s-80s one as well. It was like… kids on bikes lite, in my case.
 

We're talking generational trends, not absolutes. The "era" of kids-on-bikes peaked in the 70's and 80's, and began to taper in the 90's, and is almost non-existent today.

But of course, you had kids whose parents wouldn't let them go anywhere unsupervised back in the day, and you have communities today where parents can still get away with allowing their kids to roam. In many communities today however, you practice free-range parenting and you risk having CPS make a housecall (in the US, at least). This does, sadly and of course, get targeted at lower income and minority families.

And of course, even if kids today have parents that allow them to roam . . . . many would rather stay indoors and online. :(
This is pretty important. There have been a lot of legal changes too that contributed to this change in culture. There are plenty of cases of parents getting in trouble because their children were outside and unsupervised (which I can't imagine happening when I was kid: maybe it did and I was unaware but we were constantly outside away from home during the day).

My impression is my parents just raised us the way they were raised, and that we were one of the last generations to be raised that way. But I think people also have a false impression of what the 80s were like sometimes (especially stranger things which seems to base a lot of its knowledge on movies from the time). For example my parents were very strict about movies, toy guns, TV, etc. But as young as 7 or so I remember spending time on my own outside (possibly earlier, I don't really know, I just know my earliest memories are walking around town with my friends). We roamed outside during the day like most kids (and if I saw an R rated movie it was either because I saw it at a friends house----somehow I managed to see Deliverance this way----or it was an R rated science fiction movie my dad wanted to watch with me; in which case he would usually fast forward through certain parts. I didn't get a bike until later (when I was about 11 or I think). I also remember bike getting stolen ALL THE TIME.

Of course some of this roaming came at greater risk. I had a cousin who died in a bike accident and we knew another kid killed in this way. I got hit by a car myself, and we all had our share of accidents and spills. So I get why there may have been a shift when you combine that with changing laws and, it seems, more widespread daycare.

I was born in 91 and I was a kid on a bike, so I don’t buy that.

I think a lot of this varied by geography, individual household, and other things. I still see kids riding around my city on bikes so it isn't like every parent hovers.

But I was born in the mid-70s and was raised as a lot of people here are describing. My sister was born a decade later and was pretty much a 90s kid and had an entirely different upbringing than me or my other sister did.
 

Edgar Ironpelt

Adventurer
Yes I was, but I'm a Bearded Elder One, so my "kid on a bike" days were back between the second half of the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s. This was before I started to play D&D (although I did play chess in those days).
 

Dizlag

Explorer
I was a Kid on a Bike in the late 70s and well into the 80s. The first scene in Stranger Things with the 13 year old kids in the basement was us. That scene alone hooked me into the show. LOL!
 

TarionzCousin

Second Most Angelic Devil Ever
I grew up outside a medium town of 15,000 in the Willamette Valley of Oregon in the 70's and 80's. I had to ride my bike two to five miles to friends' houses. Several times I rode around on a weekend and didn't find anyone--so I rode home.

So, yeah: I relate to Stranger Things, too.
 


Remove ads

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top