‘Since I got my bike, I’ve stopped playing ‘Fortnite’’
LYNN — There are about two dozen kids in this pack, and they’re ripping down a side street on their candy-colored bikes, most of them riding wheelies, and Xavier Finnerty is pumping the pedals of his bike to keep up.
“Hey, Jacob,” he yells at an older kid who isn’t going out of his way to pay attention to him.
“Hey, Jacob. Hey, Jacob! How did you get used to using your back brakes when you wheelie?”
Xavier is 11. He can’t ride a wheelie yet, which in this group means he’s a “worm,” and nobody wants to be a worm.
The pack pulls into the parking lot of Manning Field, and Xavier keeps pestering kids for advice as they swerve around him practicing tricks, all of them tweens and young teens, all of them riding cruisers, an oversized style of BMX bike that had its heyday in the 1980s but has become a sudden mania on the streets of this city.
How it started in Lynn is difficult to pinpoint; what it has become is rather easy to identify: It is their vehicle, their tool for youthful freedom, the glittery thing that for whatever reason kids have latched onto. If they don’t have one, they pine for it, falling asleep at night dreaming of the glorious day they, too, will be able to go cruising.
For Xavier and his 13-year-old brother, Nathan, that day came just a couple of weeks ago, after hustling for more than a year to get the bikes. They saved the money they got for birthdays and communions. They spent four days painting a porch. Nathan got straight A’s on his report card. And then in early June, with their birthdays approaching — they’re just a day apart — it finally fell into place.
“I could see my mum and dad talking about it, and that’s usually a yes,” Xavier says.
It was, and they were finally able to go to the bike store and pick out the bikes they’d been salivating over: a “Big Flyer” with a white frame, red pads, and huge, 29-inch red tires for Nathan. Little bro went with the smaller “SoCal Flyer,” all black except for the pink 24-inch tires.
“The first day I got my bike, I rode it for eight hours,” Nathan says. “Now I ride it for a minimum three to five hours a day.”
“Since I got my bike, I’ve stopped playing ‘Fortnite,’ ” their 12-year-old buddy Caiden Teague chimes in. “This is so much better.”
BMX bikes have been around since the 1970s and were most popular in the ’80s, but cruisers — which were sized up from the standard BMX bike with 20-inch wheels — were always just a tiny niche, one that ebbed with interest in BMX in general.
But in recent years, thanks largely to a new line of retro-inspired bikes made by a company called SE Bikes, cruisers have come into vogue in places like Oakland, Calif., and Austin, Texas, and Philadelphia, where they have shunned their dirt-track origins and instead become modes of expression and progression on urban streets.
There’s been a small, strong scene in Boston for a few years, and then two years ago it exploded in Lynn. Mark Barras, who has owned North Shore Cycle for 30 years, said he’s never seen anything like it. A couple of kids got them, and when they brought them into his shop to get worked on, other kids saw them, and so he stocked a few, and then a few more, and then it took off. He says he can’t keep the bikes, which range from $489 to $599, on the floor, and his shop has become the epicenter of the culture, with kids streaming in and out all day long, checking out the wares, shopping for grips and pedals and spoke covers and tires because no one wants to ride stock.
His parking lot is typically filled with kids practicing tricks and trading parts, and the already-clogged streets of Lynn have become their canvas.
Certainly, some in Lynn are less than thrilled by this new scene. The word “menace” gets thrown around because the kids usually travel in large groups, riding wheelies in the street, swerving through cars. Those groups can grow into the hundreds on weekends when word goes out on Snapchat that there’s going to be a “ride-out” and everyone gathers in the parking lot of Lynn English High School and sets out together like a swarm of bees.
Barras is constantly telling the kids not to ride in the street. Few listen. Lynn Police point out that state law requires kids 16 and under to wear a helmet. Few listen. Helmets are for worms. But the flip side is that this fad from the ’80s has gotten kids off their screens and brought back, in some ways, an ’80s childhood.
“They’re doing something recreational, and these bikes have been a great motivator for a lot of kids,” he says. “They want them so bad they’re willing to work for them. I’ve seen a lot of kids coming in the door carrying good report cards.”
Like Nathan Finnerty, who is again riding, leading a pack of kids toward the Lynn Woods Reservation, with his little brother Xavier hustling to keep up.
They enter the parking lot to the massive municipal park, and Xavier takes the lead, yipping in that way little brothers do when they’re hanging with the big kids, trying to contain his excitement at what was in front of him.
“Guys, guys, guys,” he yelled. “Speed bumps. Speeeed bumps!”
And with that, he hit the jump with the joy of a kid, on a new bike, in the summer.