Riding a bicycle before the age of nine is the most frequently broken rule, and everyone looks the other way so there are no consequences.
The bicycle, and other items handed out at the ceremonies like special jackets and jobs, are symbols. The bicycle is one of the strongest symbols. It is a symbol of independence. It means that a person is starting to be trusted to move out on his or her own.
In Jonas’s community, there are many rules. It is not like in our world, where any child can get a bicycle. In Jonas’s world, bicycles are a rite of passage given out at a special ceremony. Technically, it is against the rules to ride a bicycle before you are nine years old and get your bicycle. However, most children are taught to ride one by friends or older siblings so that when they get their bike they already know how. It is considered a very minor rule to break, because the convenience of knowing how to ride a bike when you get it, and because of the special nature of getting a bike, no one cares about the rule being broken. Technically, you could be “chastised” for riding someone else’s bicycle.
So why don’t they change the rule that is “almost always broken” (Ch. 2)? To change this rule, or any rule, would require a special process that would take years. A committee of the community’s leaders, called elders, would have to agree to it. It is very hard to get anything done under such circumstances. It is easier for everyone to quietly ignore the rule and pretend to follow it.
Rules were very hard to change. Sometimes, if it was a very important rule—unlike the one governing the age for bicycles—it would have to go, eventually, to The Receiver for a decision. (Ch. 2)
The fact that most people ignore the rule, and the rule is hard to change, does not mean the rule is ignored. As we learn from Lily’s dream, being caught doing something you shouldn’t can have serious consequences.
Lily, as usual, recounted a lengthy dream, this one a frightening one in which she had, against the rules, been riding her mother's bicycle and been caught by the Security Guards. (Ch. 5)
However, it is doubtful that there would be much punishment. Undoubtedly, though, if security guards are interested in such things it could count against your record. Too many infractions can be serious in the community. If you steal a bicycle, as Jonas does, you could be severely punished. If you commit two other serious infractions, you would be released. Lily’s dream foreshadows the later, much more serious trouble that Jonas gets into when he is riding a bicycle that isn’t his. He steals his father’s bicycle to rescue Gabe and flee the community.