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.

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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?
 
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

The "era" of kids-on-bikes peaked in the 70's and 80's
Kids had a lot of freedom in the 50s and 60s too (at least my dad did). But bicycles where more expensive, and they didn't get them until older. Still, my dad used to cycle the 20 miles from Liverpool to Chester in his teens, around 1960.

My mother seems to have spent a lot of time in cinemas and dance halls.
 
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The first scene in Stranger Things with the 13 year old kids in the basement was us.
In the UK, what we didn't have, was basements.

My experience, in the late 70s, we wandered several miles from home to the park, to the beach, to visit friends, from around 7. By the time I was 9, we were taking the bus into town. Now, for me things changed a bit in 79, because I went to boarding school. There, we were often unsupervised at weekends, and could wander anywhere apart from town, where we were only allowed on exeat days. More to protect the town from the boys rather than to protect the boys from danger.
 
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aco175

Legend
We had an empty house lot near by where we made a circle and a few jumps and such. I remember getting a bike with the pegs on the front and back to try and do some stunts but I was not very good at that. Kind of like break-dancing and skateboarding. We would be gone all over the greater neighborhood, but someone would feed us and I do not think anyone would call the police to report us missing for at least a couple days. Mall was never close enough to go to and we would have had to take a few busses to get there.

I never had a cool light on the front of the bike though.
 

Wait... do kids not ride bikes anymore? What is the world coming to!?


Catastrophic? So you're the reason that the economy tanked? Cold war, was that you? 🤓
My grandfather was a mathematical nuclear physicist who game me chemistry sets that included all the fun bits still added. I was logging into govt computers to access the internet before it was even heard of. On a 300 baud modem. I did computer tech services at age 12 for what they now call the cornbread mafia…. Who the heck knows what I did anymore.

My childhood was bloody weird.
 

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
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.”
We just watched Class Action Park at your recommendation and loved it!

Most of it is hilarious. And then some of it is sad as you realize the damage it did to some people, including death.

Well worth watching. Thanks again for the recommendation, and I pass that recommendation on to others. Check it out if you can.
 

OB1

Jedi Master
I was a kid on a bike in 80's Western Kentucky (a smallish town of 25k called Paducah) and had similar experiences to most here. Summers I'd find myself and my friends leaving the house after breakfast and not return till dark, riding thru the woods or the neighborhood, grabbing leftover construction materials from new homes being built to build our own tree 'forts' and generally trying to avoid 'the big kids' who were 3-4 years older than us and loved to give us hell if they caught us.

While the memories are fond, I often am surprised that me and my friends made it out of that period without someone getting seriously hurt or worse, and don't think it's a terrible thing that it's not a thing for kids today. That said, I still love to ride out on my bike on Sunday mornings for a 20 or 30 mile ride through the desert of Southern California with nothing but the wilderness around me.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Kids had a lot of freedom in the 50s and 60s too (at least my dad did). But bicycles where more expensive, and they didn't get them until older. Still, my dad used to cycle the 20 miles from Liverpool to Chester in his teens, around 1960.

My mother seems to have spent a lot of time in cinemas and dance halls.
My grandfather was biking the Ribble Valley (Preston) in the 1930’s/40s all before he turned 19 (and joined the Merchant Marines), but yeah I can understand bikes being the car purchase equivalent before the 70’s.

The 80s was awesome. Our neighbourhood featured Beaches, creeks, a Railway line and subway, BMX track, an Ice skating rink (I had uncles playing Ice hokey) and an industrial zone which included a chocolate factory (we sometimes may have raided their storage bins). I loved my bike, we would go BMX then ride to the wharf to swim (jumping the bikes in to the water) Then ride over to the courts to watch the netball girls or to the field to watch the marching teams
 
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Ace

Adventurer
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.
It almost always did. The 80's were for the most part very safe and kids weren't that stupid. I didn't do the "kids on bikes" thing as we grew up in terrain where affordable bikes didn't work but otherwise most of the genre is true.

The D&D we saw in Stranger Things was pretty true to life though if we cursed as these kids did, we'd have had our mouths soaped which BTW was perfectly acceptable at the time . Its not... pleasant shall we say.
 

Ace

Adventurer
Wait... do kids not ride bikes anymore? What is the world coming to!?


Catastrophic? So you're the reason that the economy tanked? Cold war, was that you? 🤓
Kids today seem far more fearful . I don't know if its parenting, schools, Internet or just observation but it seems like these kids have had there spirits broken . As an example, I saw a young adult freakout over a small white dog on a leash. Sure the dog looked a little coyote like but cowering one's car and having the manager have to come and deal with by reliving him isn't healthy . And this was Arizona too which was rough and tumble not that long ago.

Young kids would have gone up and said "Cool dog is it a coyote?" Hell one of the greatest child hood memories was me and a buddy poking a dead bloated racoon with a stick , its a bit Stand By Me Super Gross Trash Panda Edition but like scrumping (which is only a UK thing, we take even petty theft seriously in the US) its just kids being kids.

No one would have handled it bare handed and when we told our parents they were look "Cool, did you learn anything?" because they knew we didn't kill it
 


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