Kids on Bikes: Genre, Trope Or Something Else?

Kids on Bikes: Genre, Trope Or Something Else?

27th January 2019 Off By Jimmy

Kids on Bikes is pedalling at top speed towards season three of ‘Stranger Things’ so it’s time to discuss what Kids on Bikes really means.

‘Scream’ (1996) © Miramax Films

There were no surprises in Randy’s (Jamie Kennedy) outlining of ‘The rules’ for horror movies in ‘Scream’ (see above) but in my quest to become a ‘Kids on Bikes’ historian and scholar, it got me wondering: are there similar rules for these little stories that have become such an important part of my life?

Disclaimer – I’m a fanboy, not an expert!

This is not a definitive list, and there will be exceptions to these rules. I invite anybody and everyone to challenge my ideas so that we can ascertain whether Kids on Bikes IS a genre or merely a trope. Over time, and with your help, I plan to update and refine this post until we have as close an approximation to rules for Kids on Bikes as we can.

The disapperence of Haruhi Suzumiya
Haruhi Suzumiya. One of many animés that might have Kids on Bikes qualities

Additionally, my observations are coming from a predominantly western point of view. There is a case for exploring Kids on Bikes and whether it translates to other cultures, but for now I’m sticking to what I can comfortably discuss, with at least a little bit of knowledge!  

Note: Although certain stories will be touched on, I want to try and avoid being too bogged down in examples, until we’ve identified the key ‘rules’ of ‘Kids on Bikes’. Don’t Y’all worry though, we’ll be looking at a whole host of films/shows/books very soon.

Some of the cast of 'Stranger Things'
The kids’ perspective creates a greater sense danger. ‘Stranger Things’ (2016) ©Netflix

1. A Kids Perspective

This, for now, seems to be the one unbreakable rule within any medium that might be described as Kids on Bikes. Seeing the narrative through the eyes of the young makes any signs of peril that little bit worse. Also, you could argue that it calls to question the reliability of the story being told. Are the audience supposed to believe what they see or are they watching/reading/listening to a child’s version of events? Are the extraordinary events of the story simply a kids way of understanding a far more mundane situation?

Super 8's Joe Lamb has an awkward discussion with his father.
The much underappreciated ‘Super 8’ (2011) ©BadRobotProductions

2. Adults are dumb

For every smart, wise-cracking kid, there is always an authority figure (be it a parent, teacher, law enforcer) who is several steps behind the main characters of the story. Eventually there will be an adult who believes our heroes, but not until we are into the final act of the story. Adults are often portrayed as weak, like in ‘Super 8’ (pictured above) giving us a reversal in the adult/child relationship. Occasionally, a sympathetic adult will appear but usually as a device to help the kids overcome limitations. Adults will consistently write off the kids; preferring to justify any unusual happenings in a more logical way – regardless of the evidence that is right in front of them.

Scene from Attack the Block
‘Attack the Block’ takes one minute part of London and turns it into the Kids entire world.

3. Community

This is a very broad category but appears to be a theme consistent with many of the stories that we would consider ‘Kids on Bikes’. Small towns predominantly (though not exclusively) tend to be the most common setting for a KoB adventure. Furthermore, the community could be defined as a school or even restricted to just one neighbourhood. Some of the best ‘Kids on Bikes’ stories give these locations/communities a life of their own and turn them into the entire world for our heroes, creating the illusion of a ‘world’ far larger than it actually is. Outside influences are rarely affected or considered by our kids. When external forces step into the story (e.g. FBI agents looking into strange goings-on), the outsiders do not bring their world with them. They are (usually) forced to climatise into the world in which they are trespassing.

Example of an antagonist and 'Big Bad' in Stephen King's IT (2017)
Antagonist Henry Bowers (L) and ‘Big Bad’ Pennywise (R) from IT (2017)

4. A Common Enemy

‘Villains’  fall into two camps in Kids on Bikes: The ‘Antagonist’ and the ‘Big Bad.’ The antagonist usually takes the form of a character who actively prevents our protagonists from solving their problems. Examples include a bully or a particularly strict parent. The ‘Big Bad’ is the villain at the heart of the kids’ problems. ‘Big Bads’ are usually much larger than life, or certainly seem that way through the eyes of our kids. Aliens, monsters, megalomaniacs, psychopaths are all common ‘Big Bads’ in Kids on Bikes stories.

No Children Allowed sign

5. Limitations

No matter how otherworldly or over the top a story might be, the heroes in Kids on Bikes adventures will usually face the problem of reality at some point or another. The practicalities of not being able to drive or go to places frequented by adults creates additional problems for our heroes to overcome. Limitations are not always external. Overcoming fears and dealing with loss are themes common to Kids on Bikes adventures.

Stranger Things - Season 2 image
‘Stranger Things’ piles on the nostalgia value giving us a hyper-real version of 80s society

6. Nostalgia

Kids on Bikes adventures continue to excite and fascinate us. They’ve never really gone away. But with the advent of shows like “Stranger Things”, demand is higher than ever, and it’s not just young people who are enjoying these shows. Nostalgia is now an additional factor to the genre with many new stories being set in the latter half of the 20th century. Allowing us big kids to reminisce and reflect on our own childhood adventures.

Kids on Bikes the RPG
Kids on Bikes RPG published by Renegade Games

Kids on Bikes – Pedalling forward

Such is our enthusiasm for Kids on Bikes that we find ourselves wanting to immerse ourselves in the world. Jon Gilmour and Doug Levandowski’s Tabletop RPG is just one of several systems (and the best in our totally biased opinion) dedicated to this type of story. Genre, Subgenre or Trope one thing for sure is that Kids on Bikes stories show no sign of disappearing

Brits on Bikes Logo
Our humble little Podcast

So what do you think? Are Kids on Bikes adventures a genre or just a trope within a much bigger story? Let us know your thoughts and experiences with these stories or come and join Dee, Sally and Neil in the continuing adventures of BRITS ON BIKES

Keep on Biking!

Jimmy xx