Opinion: Then the kids came along

I hear it all the time. “I used to have a bike and I’d love to have a bike again, but you know, the kids came along…”

Most riders who become parents find themselves selling their motorcycles soon after the first child arrives. It’s not possible to carry a baby safely on a bike, so that’s that. If you’re a full-time parent and you want to go for a ride on your motorcycle, that means leaving somebody at home to look after your child, usually your spouse, and that doesn’t always go down too well. So the bike stays parked and, after a while, the cost of insurance for something you have less opportunity to enjoy becomes prohibitive, and that’s the beginning of the end.

My wife and I used to enjoy taking motorcycle trips together, either two-up or each on our own bikes, but that stopped when our first child was born. The only person she trusted to look after our infant son was her mother, so my mother-in-law effectively had veto power over letting her daughter go for a motorcycle ride. You can imagine how that went. Not well.

Fortunately for me, I used my motorcycle, a Suzuki GS550 back then, for commuting back and forth to work. We were living in the U.K. for a couple of years and I could ride the bike in all four seasons, lane-filtering happily through London’s congested traffic, so I got to keep the bike. Even so, all I did was commute. There was no opportunity to just take off and explore without being selfish and leaving my wife to deal with the mealtimes and diapers.

We moved back to Toronto and our second son was born, and I realized that I wouldn’t be able to justify owning and riding a motorcycle without constantly shirking my responsibilities as a father. However, in a marvellous twist of fate, I landed a part-time gig with the Toronto Star as the motorcycle columnist for the automotive section – suddenly, motorcycles were part of my job. I was required to ride them, and I took full advantage of this.

The point is, that’s the time when most people hang up their helmets for 20 years or so, until the kids eventually move out. Others get back in the saddle more quickly, once their children are old enough to ride with them on the pillion. The law in every Canadian province states that a child cannot ride on the back of a motorcycle until his or her feet can reach the foot pegs, which is eminently sensible since you need those foot pegs for support.

Even so, some parents are so impatient for their children to ride with them that they’ll stretch this. I once met a guy with a Honda Gold Wing and a four-year-old child named Dylan, who was kitted out with little biker shades and a biker leather jacket. Dylan was relatively supported by the Wing’s backrest and passenger armrests, but even so, his dad would strap him to himself with bungee cords to prevent him falling. I was horrified: if the dad was thrown from the bike, the child would have no chance, lashed to his father like a knapsack.

The irony is, the faster and less appropriate the bike, the higher the passenger footrests and the shorter the reach. Dylan could probably have reached the pegs on the back of a Yamaha R6, but he had many years to go before he’d be ready for the Gold Wing. My own kids were around nine or 10 years old before they were tall enough to reach the pegs, and that’s when I started taking them on slow and steady rides in the countryside. Once I could do that, I could finally combine being a proper dad with being a motorcyclist.

Marks younger son Tristan, standing with his dads Harley while out for a ride in the country.

Is this the year that you’ll take your child on your motorcycle for the first time? Or is this the year that you’ll finally get back to riding a motorcycle after too much time stuck in a car with the family? If it’s either of these, there are some things to consider first.

If you plan to take a child for a ride, remember that they’re trusting you to take care of them. That means riding gently and considerately, and it means ensuring they’re properly dressed.

If you’re planning to resume riding after years of being away from bikes, remember that you’ve forgotten a lot. You’re not rusty or out of practice – you’re back to being an inexperienced novice, with creaky joints on an unfamiliar bike. It may be convenient that you already have a licence, but you still need to take at least a refresher course to achieve a basic level of safety on the road.

After all, riding a bike is not “just like riding a bike.” You’ll never forget the balance, but that’s only the start of it. If you want to be ready for the season, book your refresher course now. And if there’s no refresher course available, book your motorcycle licence course now, and be happy if you don’t need to actually take the test at the end of it.

Spring’s only a couple of months away, you know. You need to start preparing for it now.

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