Bicycles play an important role as the intimate mediating machinery of childhood. They offer children physical, emotional and symbolic independence, and are also a means of social interaction – of play, competition and performance. For example, it is striking how intense many people’s memories are of being taught to ride a bicycle by their parents, which suggests it is a paradoxical moment for us; learning to ride a bike is a moment of close physical and emotional contact, and of traumatic separation, and so the meaning of the bicycle is similarly ambiguous, symbolising both freedom and isolation.

This song, ‘Riding Bikes’, released last year by the American rock band Shellac, captures the childhood experience of childhood friendship mediated through bicycles in a typically succinct and sparse fashion. The singer and guitarist, Steve Albini, explains the song in the following way:

“Riding Bikes” is in the context of children or adolescents riding bikes, where it’s a mindset and an activity put together. Like, you and your friends go riding bikes and that implies a certain degree of intimacy or closeness with your friends. You’re not just riding bikes, you’re having adventures, you’re breaking things, you’re stealing things, you’re causing minor vandalism — all that sort of stuff.

 

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