Last month, Editor-in-Chief Kevin Duke opined on his fear for the future of motorcycling because kids weren’t growing up on two wheels the way previous generations have. The crux of his argument was “the kids of today find adventures in a virtual world rather than immersing themselves in the real one.” This past Friday night, as I waited between performances at my daughter’s ballet school fundraising gala, I was struck with an idea (and surprisingly, all that thinking didn’t set off any smoke alarms). Kids need motorcycles as much – if not more – than the motorcycle industry needs kids. I’ve told friends for years that my misspent youth might have been less misspent had I been bitten by the motorcycle bug before I was 26. However, now the draw for teenagers is much more complex than the sex and drugs and rock and roll of the past.
While the risk of teens baking their brain cells and damaging their hearing while simultaneously copulating is probably the same as it ever was, we’re currently seeing a generation of still-eyed, quick-fingered, sedentary kids who are setting themselves up for a lifetime of battling obesity and the associated health consequences. In short, kids – and especially teenagers – need a thing that gives focus to their lives, preferably an activity that hooks them into their physicality during the time of their lives when their bodies and brains are undergoing their biggest changes since infancy. If we want them to live vibrant lives (meaning dynamic, healthy, and happy), we need for them to be actively participating in their existence – not watching it go by on a screen.
My belief is that motorcycling is just as valid a choice as any of the traditional activities parents and educators use to attract kids to a positive lifestyle. We’re accustomed to the use of team sports, like football, soccer, baseball, track, basketball, hockey and gymnastics, to turn young lives around. We’ve even got labels, such as soccer moms, for the parents that make it possible for those kids to take part in the activities. (I happily count myself among dance dads and AYSO coaches.)
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Motorcycling develops the same hand-eye coordination as any other sport. It also teaches decision making and that actions have consequences – sometimes painful ones. Riders learn balance and, depending on the kind of riding, get a pretty serious workout – just ask anyone who’s spent the day riding on a motocross track or at a track day on a road course. Most importantly, kids, as new riders, get to see immediately and first-hand how they can grow their skills through hard work and focus. Success is an intoxicating drug, as evidenced by the treasured plastic trophies won by club racers everywhere.
Parents of these kids also gain a powerful carrot and stick to guide their kids towards desired behavior. Reward for hard effort towards a school assignment is all that much more sweet when it involves riding or wrenching on motorcycles. The potential loss of a day’s – or a weekend’s – riding can be a powerful motivator for a stubborn kid. Organizations similar to Helping with Horsepower are teaming with shops, like Lloyds Motor Works, and helping at risk teens with good results.
What if we didn’t wait until kids were going down the wrong path? What if we started kids out, experiencing life in the real world rather than watching it on a screen? The dirt-biking community is pretty strong in this regard. In fact, a large portion of the motorcycle documentary Why We Ride was devoted to the extended family of riding. As moms, dads, aunts, uncles, cousins, and just family friends, we as motorcyclists owe it to kids – and to the sport – to help them discover the joys of motorcycling.
If, after all our efforts, our offspring don’t choose motorcycling but some other activity, support them with the same fervor you would if they were on two wheels. My oldest enjoys riding on the back of my bike, but I don’t know if the passion is deep enough to transfer over to riding motorcycles on her own. And that’s okay. I’ve exposed her to motorcycles, and she understands my love of them. We have a place of understanding and shared experience.
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In recent weeks I’ve had the opportunity to witness the benefits of her passion. After months of hard work, she’s just tested into the American Ballet Theater student level which allows her to begin dancing on pointe. The joy evidenced in my house as she and her closest friends talk nonstop and send each other links to YouTube videos about exercises and the best way to sew on the ribbons to their shoes has been a sight to behold, reminding me of when I discovered motorcycling and a circle of like-minded friends.
A child who has found her passion is almost unstoppable. In a world full of distractions and temptations, a parent couldn’t ask for more.