When you’re a kid, your bike will take you places you’ve never been before. It’s your first real taste of independence and, ultimately, freedom.
It starts with that first pushback against mom—who tells you not to go around the entire block. Then you do. She tells you not to cross the big street into the other neighborhood. Then you do. She tells you not to sneak out at night, steal secret government documents, use those documents to fire up a top-secret killer robot, and use that robot to destroy a creature that’s awakened in the woods and is feeding on neighborhood children. Then you do.
For most of us, mom hasn’t said that last part. But I know kids on bikes would go that far to save the day. How do I know? I’ve seen it again and again in movies and on TV.
In fact, kids on bikes saving the day has become a phenomenon. Two of the biggest shows of the summer feature kids saving the day thanks to two-wheeled transport: Stranger Things and Paper Girls.
If you’re like me, you love that nostalgic feeling—you can almost close your eyes and feel the wind in your thinning hair, every bump on your arthritic knees, your friend standing on the pegs behind you hacking on the back of your neck after smoking for 30 years.
This is why we reminisce via film and television. Because trying to relive those moments just doesn’t have the same impact. Here are the top ten kids on bikes saving the day movies that let you reminisce safely from your couch.
10) Monster Squad (1987 – Stream Now)
Always be riding. Why? Because you never know if there’s an ancient evil triggered once a century in your small town—and tonight is that night. Monster Squad has risen to cult status over the years—probably through a sheen of nostalgia that makes it seem better than it is. Monster Squad is about a group of kids who worship horror movies and are confronted by classic movie monsters. They embark on a bike-around-town quest to save the day.
I understand the nostalgia. What adult horror fan doesn’t wish they grew up with a crew of like-minded horror aficionados living in their neighborhood? But Monster Squad feels a little low-rent at times. The story is clunky. The characters are two-dimensional. There’s never a feeling of impending doom or anything remotely scary.
But if you’re looking for sidewalk-cruising nostalgia, Monster Squad takes you on a trip back. It’s the prototypical kids 80’s movie—unpolished and predictable but glowing with a Day-Glo spray of charm.
9) Summer of 84 (2018 – Stream Now)
As a kid it’s not uncommon to ride your bike to your friend’s house, ditch it on the front lawn, bust into your friend’s poster-covered room, and witness a murder next door. Oh, the memories of childhoo—wait—murder? Next door? Thank God I know where my bike is: Laid out on the Tru-Green-sprayed front lawn. I know its placement adjacent to the landscaping. I know the angle it is from the ground. I know the velocity I need to reach while running alongside on 1/4″ Kentucky bluegrass at a slight downward slope to get it up to max speed. My bike is basically an extension of my body, ready to transport me anywhere—including far from this horrible situation.
Summer of 84 takes you back because of the bikes. Not because of the curated veneer of nostalgia being presented to you. The story is basically teenage Rear Window with 80’s music, posters, t-shirts, and current events played on the six-o’clock news in the background. You could replace those components with any era’s music and iconography and the movie would shift to that era.
What works, though, is that the kids really lean into this world from the seats of their bikes. You get the feeling their bikes are extensions of their characters—enabling them to remain grounded while facing the horrors of the world.
8) The Goonies (1985 – Stream Now)
On foot, the horizon is unthinkable. On a bike, anything is possible—including the discovery of a centuries-old treasure that’s stashed in a cave off the Oregon coast. In The Goonies, bikes are key to the story. They take the kids far from town to an area forgotten by the modern world—a place they otherwise could not have reached.
The kids don’t spend a lot of the movie on their bikes but the ride from town is iconic in this sub-genre. After the gang escapes from Mikey’s older brother Brand, we see them roll through town and along the highway—cheering and breathing in the freedom that only a bike could provide. Later, Brand escapes, steals a bike with training wheels, and runs into some high school chums who bully him—forcing several characters to make decisions about who they are and helping define the movie’s theme of underdog defiance.
The kids ditch their bikes at the gangster’s hideout and the story kicks into high gear. We don’t see bikes again, but they’ve made their mark, transporting these kids from their mundane reality into a fantastic world of adventure, wonder, and danger—and helping them save the day.
7) Turbo Kid (2015 – Stream Now)
Turbo Kid takes the kids with bikes save the day concept and rolls with it. The filmmakers clearly want to “B-button” us over the head with 80’s vibes. You see tropes lifted directly from Solarbabies, Cyborg, Mad Max, and other post-apocalyptic 80’s classics. And the concept is bonkers: A BMX-riding kid puts together a ragtag team of misfits to taken down an evil warlord in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. It feels like a Cannon film where the poster is created before the script is even written. But it works.
Turbo Kid is also a tribute to 80’s video games—where transportation is a critical element of gameplay. The main character is essentially Blaster Master, using his bike to traverse dangerous lands, and hopping off to take care of business on foot.
I’m putting several dirt bikes in my bomb shelter because unlike other modes of transport, dirt bikes are post-apocalyptic proof. They don’t need gas. They don’t need many tune-ups. If you’ve got legs, they’re ready to roll.
6) The Iron Giant (1999 – Stream Now)
It’s hard to keep up with a 50-foot-tall giant robot with these stubby, little appendages we humans call legs. Much easier if you strap them across the top tube of a little red cruiser like nine-year-old Hogarth in The Iron Giant.
The robot still leaves him behind early in the film, but Hogarth makes up ground fast. He’s able to navigate woods dense enough to hide a giant robot only because of his bike. Imagine the movie with him on foot. There isn’t one. If Hogarth can’t keep up, these two don’t connect, the robot turns into an uncaring killing machine again, and Russia wins the Cold War.
5) It (2017 – Stream Now)
Your bike reflects who you are. Sporty. Fast. Safe. Off-road. Tricked out. Pegs for a friend. With a basket. Baseball card in the spokes. Dirty. Clean. Used New. Expensive. Fancy.
The crew working on It (2017) wanted each character’s bike to represent their defining traits, helping us understand who the character is without dumping a dozen character bios on its viewers. For instance, Beverly Marsh does not come from money, but she is sturdy, resilient, and charming despite the weight of her world. Her bike reflects that.
Props buyer Daniel Smallegange told Bicycling.com that he searched across North America to find unique bikes to match each kid. And each bike had to be correct for the era. When you have a fantastical movie featuring a semi-imagined evil clown that terrorizes only children, you need to make sure your reality is grounded, otherwise it all becomes unbelievable.
Props to props buyer Daniel Smallegange for nailing each kid’s aesthetic. Now—can you talk to 10-year-old me about making my aesthetic a little cooler?
4) Lady in White (1988 – Stream Now)
Sometimes one kid on one bike is enough. The bike can take the kid to a place they wouldn’t otherwise go—or do things they wouldn’t otherwise do—like find a serial killer with the help of a mournful ghost.
Lady in White is not well-known, but it has a cult following for obvious reasons. It’s about a boy who cruises around town on his bike doing kid things, when he stumbles upon a ghastly mystery. But he can’t go to adults. He has to solve this himself—armed only with his curiosity and fast-pedaling legs.
The story is fantastic. The setting is flawless: A small 1950’s New England town, decked out in Halloween decor. You can almost smell the turning leaves and carved pumpkins through your screen. Lady in White takes you back, even though most of us were never alive when the story takes place. That’s because of the universality of nostalgia. It may not be what you experienced, but you feel his young freedom on that bike, in those situations. You’re taken to a place, into a person, and on a pedaled journey that feels so familiar, you become scared when he’s in danger and relieved when he escapes.
One kid. One bike. One helluva ride.
3) Super 8 (2011 – Stream Now)
Bikes are discrete. When you’re trying to quickly ride through a neighborhood where the military is firing shells at a truck-sized creature, as is the case in Super 8, you generally want to stay out of the open.
If you’re like me, you remember that fastest route to get home—no matter where you are in your city. You know the backyards without fences, the streets that go downhill, and the curbs or mounds that give you the most air. I could do an unprepared 30-minute Ted Talk on the subject right now.
The kids in Super 8 have access to a car, but when shit really hits the fan, they turn to their bikes to get around town.
Bikes are compact. Fast. Quiet. And no fuel necessary—other than the sugar you get from a wad of Big League Chew.
2) Attack the Block (2011 – Stream Now)
Riding your bike is an act of defiance when you live in a dense city. Public transportation can take you across town much faster. Your bike is a target for tougher kids. And your feet are more useful if you want to escape an armed, uniformed or fanged pursuer into a building.
But you still ride because, as a kid, you feel more mature and more capable when on a bike. When aliens start falling from the sky, you and your crew are more confident that you will protect your home from those horrific invaders.
Attack the Block defies your expectations. The on-screen threat feels real. The young actors’ performances draw you in to the action. You lean in at the edge of the couch, trying to mentally force their feet or bikes to move faster. You started the film not caring about these hooligans because of their civil defiance. Now you’re cheering them on as they defy these aliens—your own act of defiance sparked by a gang of kids on bikes.
1) E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982 – Stream Now)
ET is the OG kids on bikes save the day movie. You can shut your eyes and picture the scene, hear the music, as Elliot and company soar into the sky, taking ET to safety with the help of a little alien flair.
Their bikes allow these kids to save the day. Imagine them trying to run away with ET.
Nope. Caught. ET gets dissected. Movie over.
Instead, their bikes give them the advantage. These kids have ridden down every street, through every yard, across every playground, and into every construction site. This is their turf.
More importantly, the bikes have granted these kids a sense of freedom that empowers them to defy the authorities who would take away their friend. This is their home and they’re going to make a last stand. They don’t have guns like a war movie. They don’t have horses like a western. They have their bikes. And when you’re a kid, your bike will take you places you’ve never been before—physically and emotionally.
The Riders Up
The list of kids on bikes save the day movies doesn’t stop here. Check out these others you can stream today:
BMX Bandits (1983)
The Quest aka Frog Dreaming (1986)
Teen Witch (1989)
Rim of the World (2019)
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