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Posted: July 22, 2011 11:18 a.m.

Get off the couch and go ride a bicycle

The streets of downtown Covington and surrounding area in Newton County will be very busy this weekend. No, it’s not because of road construction. Instead the streets will be full of bicycles.

The Georgia Cycling Gran Prix rolls into town Friday and four of the six races will be held in Covington from today through Sunday. Saturday in particular will be a thrilling day downtown. From 2-6 p.m., racers will scream around the square and zoom right past The News as they head down Usher Street and back toward the square. It’s the criterium race. There will be eight of them. Criterium races are close-quarter bicycle races on a short, closed circuit. Think NASCAR on bicycles. The racing will be fast and furious (no horrible movie reference intended).

This weekend’s two-wheel activity reminds me of the days when bicycles were a child’s most prized possession. I am of the E.T generation. Before Steven Spielberg’s insanely popular sci-fi, feel-good movie introduced the world to Reese’s Pieces, we rode our BMX bikes everywhere. We rode them to school and parked them in the bike rack. We rode them on dangerous highways to our friends’ houses. If we wanted to get somewhere, we rode our bikes. After E.T. came out, BMX bike popularity increased even more. Everyone wanted a Kuwahara like Elliot rode with E.T. in the basket (minus the basket of course). Bicycles gave us a sense of independence.

Bikes also taught a lot of us how to fix things. I was constantly working on my bike — swapping forks and handle bars; installing new seats and necks; changing back-and-forth between freewheel and footbrakes. We customized our bikes with different rims and tires and for me it also planted the seed that grew into my love for cars. My how things have changed.

Kids these days don’t ride bikes like they used to. Instead, they sit in front of the TV or computer and play video games. Gone are the days where you would call a friend (on the house phone) and make plans to ride your bike to the mall. Lost is the independence kids had as bike owners.

Now for some disturbing statistics. In 1985, the obesity rate in California — my home state, was less than 10 percent. In Georgia, it was less than 14 percent. In 2010, the obesity rate in California jumped to 24 percent while here in Georgia, it rose to 30 percent. Does this have anything to do with the decline in bike riding? I believe it does. Kids aren’t as active as they were before technology supplanted imagination and baseball video games became the sport choice during the summer.

If you get a chance, go check out the bike races this weekend. Not only are you sure to see some hair-raising racing, you may inspire your son or daughter to take up cycling. The days of kids lusting after a new bike for Christmas may be gone forever. But society would be a lot better off if we can again instill that independence in our youth we as adults once enjoyed. Not to mention, kids would be getting exercise.

The last time I checked, video game controllers don’t do a whole lot for the midsection. Neither do Reese’s Pieces.

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