Newsletter: Starting them young

The motorcycle industry is worried for its future. It’s working hard to attract new young riders into an affordable passion, but young people just aren’t as bothered as they used to be. After all, fewer young people drive cars these days, and those who do will be even less likely to actually own their own vehicle. A car is a very expensive item, and there are plenty of smart sharing alternatives to ownership that don’t need you to provide parking and pay for insurance.

In theory, a bike is a much more practical way of getting around a city than a car, since it takes so little space, but in practice in Canada, there’s no advantage at all. Lane-filtering is illegal, and in Ontario, the foolish provincial government doesn’t allow motorcycles in the HOV lanes without passengers – probably the only such short-sighted legislation to exist anywhere in the world.

If we’re going to be forced to sit in traffic and take up the same space as a car, then most of us figure we might as well be in our cars, drinking coffee and listening to the radio. It’s likely to be cold outside, or hot, or wet, and if there’s no time-saving advantage to riding a bike, we might as well be comfortable. Almost all of us already own a car anyway, thanks to winter, so the bike stays tucked away, waiting for the weekend.

None of this is an encouragement to the next generation of riders, further deterred by high insurance costs. However, if they can just get out there and experience life on two powered wheels, then maybe they’ll find a way to follow our passion.

Those of us who are parents probably want our kids to share this enthusiasm, though we’re not always responsible in the way we introduce them. I once met a guy at a riders’ coffee stop who had his four-year-old son on the back of his Gold Wing; the boy was dressed to the nines in a little leather jacket and helmet and jeans and boots, and his dad tied him on behind with a couple of bungee cords, like a teddy bear. Talk about an idiot. The law, almost everywhere in Canada, says passengers must be able to reach the footpegs, and it exists for a reason.

I could barely wait for my own two boys to be able to reach the pegs, and once they were old enough, they rode around with me on my bike and we took some longer road trips, too: New York City, Washington, DC, that sort of thing. My eldest wasn’t concerned, but my youngest dreamed of getting his own dirt bike, and when we moved to a suitable area, we found him a Honda 100 that he could ride around the nearby trails. But after a couple of years, he traded in the bike for a laptop. He still wants to get his licence, but he’s got some other priorities first.

I thought of all this as I read Willy’s story at Canada Moto Guide this week. Willy has a foster son who has the run of his garage and his property, which includes a whole bunch of bikes. Pretty good place for a kid. It’s probably how many of us got started with our love for motorcycles and, as Willy writes, it’s as rewarding for parents as it is for children.

Here’s hoping the next generation keeps it real.

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