As a father, I have a natural, overpowering desire to protect my 7-year-old son, Jordan. Still, cracked bones, knocked-out teeth and broken hearts are all rites of passage to adulthood, so life becomes a series of calculated risks and opportunities for little lessons.
Recently, my kid experienced the thrill of motorcycling for the first time, and encouraging my child to balance a two-wheeled death machine might have caused other, more protective parents to question my ability to be a sensible dad.
Honda Canada’s Junior Red Riders program has taught the fundamentals of safe and enjoyable riding to thousands of kids over the last dozen years. There are locations available across Canada, and we selected an afternoon session at Honda’s corporate headquarters in Markham, northeast of Toronto.
Upon arriving, a small team of young adults bounced between an event tent and a large cargo-hauling box trailer filled with benches and motocross riding gear. After filling out the requisite paperwork, assuring Honda that as a parent, I am indeed aware of the inherent dangers of motorcycling and that yes, I do still wish to let my son do this, Jordan was whisked away inside the trailer to get outfitted. He emerged moments later looking like the world’s tiniest red-and-white storm trooper.
Parents and kids alike were given a lesson on each of the pieces of equipment the kids were wearing, as well as the significant importance of wearing all the right gear every time we ride.
The kids, ranging in age and size from pint-sized 6-year-olds to significantly larger tweens, were divided into two groups based on experience and bike size.
Jordan was sent away with the younger group to find a spot to sit on the grass near a couple of instructors and a lineup of CRF50Fs, where they were taught the basics about the bikes and how they operate.
Meanwhile the larger kids moved through the theoretical lesson quicker and hopped on their bikes – Honda CRF110Fs – eager to get motoring. The first rider of the day, a young girl, promptly forgot what she had just been taught and rode straight into the mesh fence surrounding the grassy riding area, falling to the ground beside the toppled Honda. Startled but unhurt, she bounced up and had the bike righted only seconds later, heading off in the proper direction.
“Thank God Jordan’s mother didn’t see that!” I thought – but starting kids on bikes at this age has some benefits. First off, they’re far more fearless than adults, making them enthusiastic students, even in potentially dangerous situations.
Plus, being so small (and well-padded), when they do fall off a little bike onto the grass, they barely flinch before getting back up and riding again.
When it was finally Jordan’s turn to get on his bike, he moved along more steadily than I’d expected, motivated by the thrill of all 49 cc’s worth of thrust. He traveled maybe six metres and was instructed to brake; he came to an abrupt stop and stomped his heavy boot down like a pro.
I’ve heard of proud fathers fantasizing about an NHL draft pick, overcome with pride watching their offspring take to the ice for the first time, decked out in all their hockey gear. I never had that delusion, but seeing my boy dressed head-to-toe in Fox Moto-X gear, actually riding a motorcycle, required every ounce of self-restraint to keep me from jumping up and down and loudly boasting, “That’s my boy! He’s gonna be a champ!”
Of course, it wasn’t long before reality set in and there was reinforcement that the little toothless-wonder lapping on the CRF 50 was indeed my offspring. As Jordan continued to ride around the circuit oh-so-cautiously, other, more aggressive children caught up, forming a small queue behind him. Jordan carefully approached each corner and every curve was assessed with calculated caution, while the growing number of impatient riders collected behind him. Blissfully unaware of the frustration his modest pace was causing behind him, Jordan motored on, around and around.
Then he forgot where the brake was, causing an instructor to run after him and prevent a small catastrophe.
So maybe he’s no threat to Honda Canada’s team pros just yet, but give him time.
When I was six, my best friend, Chad, lived on a farm and he had a minibike. The first time I swung a leg over that tiny Honda, it sparked a passion I’d never experienced before and started me on my life-long love of machines. Although anything but fast, that minibike could still move me faster than any device powered by my own stubby legs. And it made noise: real engine noise, not just a hockey card stuck in the spokes of my bicycle.
Oh man, how I wanted one!
Growing up with parents vehemently opposed to motorized, two-wheeled death machines, I didn’t get to ride again until I was an adult.
We always want better for our kids than we had, and I want my son to be exhilarated by twisting that right grip and letting the revs rise and fall, inspiring dreams of riding toward the horizon just to see what’s there.
Back on the bike
Following a brief snack and hydration break, the kids were back on the bikes, increasing their confidence and riding skills. The smallest of them, like Jordan, were taught to motor along standing up, crossing small wooden bridges. The speeds started to pick up, too, and the little riders continued to push steeper lean angles as the afternoon progressed.
And then disaster struck: failing to carry enough speed over one of the little bridges, Jordan lost his balance and dumped the Honda, tossing my tiny storm trooper onto the lawn.
Holding my breath, I waited for the tears to start, ending Jordan’s riding career the same day it started, but no! He popped right up, unfazed, and in a blink was back on the bike playing catch-up with his peers.
“That’s my boy!”
Only a motorcycle can let a seven-year-old harness the power of combustion with the twist of a throttle, and simply motor off.
The cost of a half-day session is $150 and includes use of all the necessary gear and an appropriately-sized Honda CRF. It seemed like a pretty good deal to me until the car ride home, when Jordan started into all manner of bargaining from the back seat, searching for any way to get himself a minibike of his own. I can’t blame him for his enthusiasm; I was excited at the prospect of it, too.
Now, in addition to the investment in the course, I see no way around purchasing a bike, plus gear for my son. I’ll also need my own new trail-riding machine, of course, and then there’s the matter of purchasing a property where we can carve our own trails into the woodlot acreage. Suddenly hockey and skiing seem affordable.
Nevertheless, even if Jordan doesn’t become a national riding champion, having an activity that my son and I might enjoy together for the next few decades is a dream come true.
Honda has a winner of a program here, and should be commended for not only getting new enthusiasts started in our beloved sport at such a young age, but for also ingraining in them the importance of learning proper techniques and always wearing the right gear.
The Junior Red Rider program will return for 2018 with pre-season deals available at most of the motorcycle shows across the country. http://motorcycle.honda.ca/ridingevents/juniorredriders
Great news. Join a club and get access to all manner of private properties around the city.
I signed my 10yr old son up for a free 30min course with the junior reds at last years Toronto Indy. His first time ever on a motorcycle. He almost dumped it when he caught up to a slightly slower rider and was told not to pass. At that young age they seem to grasp the concept far faster than an adult learning to ride for the first time. I think Honda has a knock out course as well!