Monday, January 26, 2015

Bike Safety 101: Bicycle Safety Camp

In my Bike Safety 101 series, I've scrutinized a lot of dumb vintage safety films, but Bicycle Safety Camp from 1989 just might be one of the dumbest. Whereas a lot of the 50s and 60s vintage educational films have a kind of goofy charm that reflects the simplicity (and maybe a bit of naiveté) of their era, Bicycle Safety Camp tries hard (desperately hard) to be cool, but the film is almost more effective as an unintentional parody of the late 80s. Most of the film is done as a musical, with a cheesy synthesizer track and the most white-bread rap imaginable.

As this ridiculous film opens, we are introduced one by one to the kids who will be participating in the Bicycle Safety Camp -- apparently against their will, as if it were some kind of court-ordered (or in this case, parent-ordered) driving school for people with multiple moving violations.

One by one, meet the campers:

First comes Boomer, strutting off the bus with a backwards ball cap and an oversized boom-box on his shoulder. "Check out Boomer, he's a rockin' jock. Scores on the field -- speeds down the block."
Then there's Julie, the rich girl, being helped out of a limo by her chauffeur. "Julie ran a stop sign on her way to the mall. Her dad took her charge cards, and that's not all."
Rita arrives, skipping to the park with a pair of skates slung over her shoulder. "Now Rita can do every trick on skates, but bike tricks are more than her family can take."
The littlest one at the camp is Arthur, the stereotypical glasses-wearing, book-loving dweeb. "Arthur loves his books and he's smart in school too, but when it comes to bikes he's really got no clue."
Last comes Rebop, the supposed "bad boy" with a mullet who wears a neon-splashed sleeveless shirt, shredded jeans, and fingerless gloves. "Rebop's tough - a really funky dude, but on a bike he needs a change in aaattituuude!"
And then there's this guy - Sam Sprocket, the camp counselor. Sam apparently likes to Rap, but really shouldn't. "So you silly silly campers, you think bike safety's a bore, Well you're gonna love it, love it, you're gonna beg for more. You're gonna say Sam Sprocket, I just can't get enough. When this camp is done you're gonna love this safety stuff. 'Cuz when you ride like a dope, you end up in the dirt. You sink, squirm, or crawl, all embarrassed and hurt. But when you practice bike safety, you can cruise, you can fly. You can get where you are goin' just like a jet up in the sky. You can ride down the road, with the greatest of ease. And you won't risk your life and you won't skin your knees. Although you think you're above it, you're gonna ride safe and love it. Ha ha."
One of the first lessons is, of course, to wear a helmet. And Rebop the bad boy refuses to wear one. "Bike helmets are for babies," he says. So, to prepare the kids for a future of shaming anyone who dares go without a helmet, Sam and the rest of the campers dance around him in a circle and berate him with an insipid rap about how all kinds of professional athletes wear helmets, and how "a smack on the head can ruin all your days." "Wear a helmet every single time you ride. Strap it on, Rebop. Wear your helmet with pride."

Next, some good advice for little Arthur, who grabs one of the biggest bikes on the rack. "My mom says I should have a bike I can grow into," he says. "Well, Sam Sprocket says you should have a bike that fits you now." Good advice for Arthur's parents, too. Sam then gives a quick lesson on bike fit . . .
. . . Then breaks into an awful (and obviously lip-synched) song about inspecting your bike before you ride.  "Check out your bicycle before you ride. Don't neglect it, inspect it, to be sure and secure as you ride. Check the foot brakes. Check the hand brakes. Check the pressure. Kids decide to check out your bicycle before you ride." 
In the next sequence, Sam Sprocket manages to be in 3 places at once (through the "magic" of video) to accompany the two oldest campers, Rita and Rebop, on the road, while Julie and Boomer are on a quiet residential street, and little Arthur is on the sidewalk -- yes, the sidewalk. And through another annoying synthesized musical number, we get a range of riding safety tips . . .
♫ "Stop. STOP. Look all about. Make sure nobody's coming, THEN move out." ♫
 "We keep to the right and ride WITH the traffic. If you ride against the traffic, cars get UPTIGHT. Ride WITH the traffic, and keep to the right." ♫
 "What's that say? Stop. STOP! So, what do we do? Stop. STOP. STOP! With your foot-brakes. STOP! With your hand-brakes. STOP! I didn't hear you. STOP!"  
Yes, please. Stop. Please.   
 "When it's time to turn, here's what you've got to learn. Look around and back this way to make SURE it's OK. Then give 'em a sign, and you'll be fine." 
"An intersection is a dangerous place. Get off and walk it. Get off and walk it."
"Concentrate. Concentrate. Use your head. Concentrate. Concentrate on what's ahead."
My favorite scene, and one that I hope resonates strongly for any kids still watching -- A lady getting out of her car throws her door open in front of the kids, who manage to stop safely anyhow (so no harm done, but still. . .) . Rebop is about to tell her off with some of his bad-boy attitude: "Yo, Lady, you shoulda' . . ." then re-thinks his approach, and tries a polite "Would you mind being more careful next time, ma'am?" The lady's reaction? Looks at the riders with a "so what" glance, then turns and WALKS AWAY while the kid is talking. No response -- not even a sheepish "Sorry" or insincere "My bad." It's probably the most realistic thing in the whole video!

After all the musical safety tips are done, the kids take a "riding test" and review all of Sam's safety lessons on a "magical" blackboard that shows video clips.

After passing their test, the whole team raps about bike safety, and how much they love it. And perhaps not surprisingly, the MOST IMPORTANT safety rule of all is to Always Wear a Helmet. Sam then tells the campers they get to keep the bikes they used at the camp (admission fees must have been pretty expensive!).

"So you all learned the rules, and camp is done. See, it wasn't boring. Bike safety is FUN! We rode down the road with the greatest of ease, without risking our lives, without skinning our knees!"
In the end, all the kids wave to Sam and ride off on their new bikes, hopefully to be good little bicycling citizens who follow the rules -- and ALWAYS wear a helmet.
Now I think I understand why Sam wears a helmet at all times.
You can watch Bicycle Safety Camp right here, but I need to warn you that it's around 20 minutes long, which is about twice as long as most vintage safety films, and easily twice as long as it needs to be. Also, The Retrogrouch is not responsible for any ill effects the music may have on viewers.



  1. If I had to watch this as a kid I would have probably stopped riding bicycles!!!

  2. Michael--I agree.

    Brooks--Late'80's white-boy rap is to music as "Reefer Madness" is to cinema. Actually. almost any of the safety videos you've exhibited so far can be compared to RM,

    You've got to make a compilation of these films--or do a showing of them.

    1. Some kind of public showing of these films would be interesting -- but I wonder how many people would be able to sit through a whole series of them? I'd get sued for some kind of mental anguish!

  3. I remember this movie, I worked at a daycare center in the early 90's and this was a favorite of the kids. I thought it was horrible, but they ALWAYS wanted to watch this! I still remember the "Check our your bicycle before you ride" song. LOL!!!