How To Talk To Your Friends and Family About Motorcycling

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How to talk to parents about motorcycling

Parents, partners and friends can be worrisome creatures, especially when it comes to chastising you about motorcycling. While it may be annoying, their concern comes from a good place so it is a good idea to try and ease their mind rather than rolling your eyes. Here is how to talk to friends and family about motorcycling to calm their fears.

1. Don’t hide it: The worst thing you can do is try to hide your riding shenanigans. When you are secretive, deceptive or simply walled-off, your loved ones will not only feel disconnected from you, but their imaginations will also run wild. They’ll imagine you thundering down the highway at 100 mph while splitting lanes and cutting people off on steep mountain roads as you go bombing down to the canyons. They will always imagine the worst. Don’t give them the chance to make-up stories about how you ride; take the initiative and lead with the truth.

2. Talk to them about your choices: Making safe, sound and smart decisions is what RideApart is all about, but sharing those choices with the people you love adds an extra layer of accountability to the process. It forces you to reevaluate the decisions you’ve already made, think twice about the ones you will make daily and in the future.

Tell them about your rider training, tell them about your personal riding philosophy, explain to them how safety gear works and why it keeps you protected.  Tell them when and where it is appropriate to ride, what is appropriate to wear, how you exercise caution, mitigate risk and consciously avoid danger. Sharing with others and opening up your analytical process to critique can also help counter your own thoughts that may have been developed over time by personal overconfidence, or just plain ignorance.  You never will reach a place where you know everything about motorcycling and there is always, always room for growth and improvement.

Teach them about your bike.
Teach them about your bike.

3. Listen and acknowledge: Listen to their concerns, frustrations and critiques. Yes, I said listen. Let them tell you those horrible stories they’ve heard about their friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s little brother. Basically, let them care, show their concern and vent however uninformed or misplaced it may be. Look for the kernel of truth in their words and repeat it back to them to let them know you are hearing them.

Teach them about your gear.
Teach them about your gear.

4. Teach: If you can teach people, especially your parents and your friends, about motorcycles with authority and poise, they’ll be more likely to respect your choices and more likely to defer to your judgment. However, when you walk people through the various components on your bike, or the very unique skills that riding requires, or the specific qualities of motorcycle safety gear; speak with knowledge and humility. Nothing turns people off more than being talked-down-to or dealing with a know-it-all.  Better yet, if you don’t know the answer to something, say you don’t know and will do some research. Then come back to them with what you learned and have an open and meaningful discussion.

You’ll be surprised how quickly the four steps above can break down barriers and build a bridge of acceptance.

What tips do you have for getting friends and family on board with motorcycling?

Related Links:

Additional Arguments: Why Motorcycles Make Sense For College Students
Do The Opposite of What I Advise: An Open Letter To Every Person I Meet Who Finds Out I Ride a Motorcycle

  • Schuyler

    Good points. I actually did not talk with my family about making a decision to get a motorcycle, because they had talked me out of it years ago and that is one of the few truly regretful decisions I ever made was listening to them because riding is one of the best things I’ve done in my life.

    I went about it in the following manner. 1. Took the BRC, 2. Bought gear. 3. Bought a motorcycle. 4. Dealing with the dreaded question “Aren’t those things dangerous?” with my typical response of “so is walking out your door in the morning, so is driving a car, so is walking down the street, so is eating fast food. Like all things you take steps to mitigate the risk, so I took a riding course, I wear gear, I ride proactively aggressive, and if you really want to worry about me then just tell me to ride safe.” At which point they tell me to “ride safe” or “be safe” or “be careful” and I respond with “always”. Then if they still want to talk more I tell them about my adventures, about how freeing of an experience it is, about how my POS car sat for 5 months and I sold it, about how it makes me feel more alive and I look forward to riding every day. I find it best to keep the conversation positive on my terms. I do not want someone else’s fear or insecurity in my head when I’m out there on the road where it counts.

    • Jeromy

      My response to the “it is dangerous blah blah…” is similar, but I add that there are some things worth risking my life for, and riding is one of them. Better to live a good short life then a long boarding life. To me dieing (God forbid) from my bike is better than never riding at all. It’s a risk that is worth it to me. This doesn’t really help other non-riders understand, but it does let them know where my priorities stand, and effectively ends the debate.

    • Reid

      I’m in total agreement. Motorcycle ownership and riding as part of my normal life instead of a just for fun arrangement is truly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and I’m really disappointed that I allowed other folks, especially my helicopter parents, to make all sorts of passive-aggressive arguments over the years as to why I shouldn’t ride on the street. Everybody who knows me knows I’m so far removed from the alpha male showboat type that does things beyond one’s ability or to impress others, so now I look back on those years when I could have been riding but didn’t just to “keep the folks happy” and realize what a fool I was. Now both mom and dad are perfectly cool with it, and dad wants to get a bike of his own after many years of not riding; my younger sister even wants to get a bike soon!

      • runnermatt

        Every time someone mentions my bike to my Mom all she says is, “I wish he would sell that damn thing.”

        I think it is funny.

        • Khali

          I made my Mom happy and sold my bike.

          Then I bought another one.

      • DrRideOrDie

        I get very similar responses as well once my family sees that I’m safe and sane on the bike. Also as I’m always geared up around them they start to feel more and more comfortable.

    • runnermatt

      I did about the same thing when I started riding. I didn’t tell my friends and family that I was going to do it. I already had a helmet for track days and autocrossing my car. I bought my bike, had my dad trailer it home and only rode it into my basement through the grass and didn’t ride it again until I had a jacket and gloves, then I bought a new helmet because my track helmet didn’t have a DOT sticker (Track helmet is rated Snell SA2005).

      In the past 6 months I’ve come pretty close to selling my car a couple of times for financial reasons. My car isn’t a POS, but the car payments are $360.25 every month and with 107k miles on it needs new tires, alignment, new shocks, and its timing chain service at 110k miles.

  • James Battaglia

    In the end they just have to realize that it’s not their life to live. Some people refuse to trade the thrills of living for the security of existence. Others prefer to play it safe by avoiding thrills. I’ll never have anyone convince me to join the latter.

    • runnermatt

      Some version of this should be on a t-shirt.

    • Khali

      My mother says that the problem is that if I get injured, the ones that have to take care of me are my family. That can be a huge load for them and we should think about it.

      • James Battaglia

        I’m recovering from a broken collar bone from a motorcycle accident right now and while I don’t mind some assistance here and there I’ve been fine on my own, sans family. They’re just playing the guilt card.

  • ThinkingInImages

    I didn’t have much trouble getting my first motorcycle since my cousin raced motorcycles. There was also the motorcycle magazines, catalogs, and books all over the house. (I was young and still living at home).

    After an accident (years later) it was harder. Family, friends and those that had to help me during recovery really had a hard time with me getting back on a motorcycle – and rightfully so. It wasn’t much of an accident, but the recovery took a long time. It’s hard to convince people you’re ready for another motorcycle when you’re limping, and didn’t have full use of your right hand.

    I’m back in the saddle and it’s a non-topic now – except that they notice that I seem to change motorcycles every two years or so.

  • KeithB

    This is all very nice, and correct, but don’t think for minute any kind of discussion will stop the “if you live under MY roof, you will NEVER have a motorcycle” attitude.
    Time to move out :)

    • Jonathan Berndt

      thats what my dad told me, when i was 18 i bought one and kept it at a friend’s house!
      they eventually became resigned to the fact i was not going to give up. both of my folks have passed away, but they never did feel comfortable with it ever, mostly tolerated it. my sister still doesnt get it and we are in our 50s now! i did convert my bro who has one…

  • Rameses the 2nd

    If everything fails, get a new family.

  • kaze919

    I have a lot of indian friends. That is so their dad wardrobe right there.

    • http://www.motopraxis.com/ Aakash

      Haha, you got that just from the pants and the Asics sneakers?

    • the antagonist

      There’s got to be a “Sari, Mom” joke in here somewhere.

      • http://www.motopraxis.com/ Aakash

        Brilliant! Can’t believe I haven’t thought of that myself. I pride myself in my punmanship.

      • eddi

        Her expression and body language are my Mom seeing my first non-scooter bike exactly. She got over it thankfully. After a while, she started hinting about sidecars. In the end I get 100% family support.

  • Jonathan Crowe

    Commuters can mention the financial and environmental angles, too. The venn diagram of Penny Pinchers, Bleeding Hearts, and Nervous Nellies probably has much overlap…

    • Mark D

      Yup, they’re called Aerostich customers.

  • Scheffy

    One of the quickest ways to defuse the whole “My cousin’s friend’s wife’s llama’s breeder’s kid got in a wreck and was decapitated while flying through the air by two ninjas fighting in the road” argument is just to ask, “How fast was he going and what was he doing?” 9 times out of 10 it’s because he was going way too fast for his abilities or doing something stupid. Without getting defensive, emphasize you’re doing this for other reasons and not just to do wheelies past the local college chicks with your hair on fire.
    If it was a legit accident (hitting a deer, getting rear-ended), it’s a perfect segue into the discussion about proper gear, preparation, being mindful of potential dangers cage drivers rarely think about, and ways out of those situations by exploiting all the advantages that bikes have over cars. An MSF endorsement or other training helps drive the point home that you’re serious enough to seek out training in-person from professionals instead of trusting a couple knuckleheads on teh interwebz (no offense here, but that’s how they’ll see any bike forum) and/or just wrecking by yourself to see where your limits are.
    The point is to show that you’ve already thought of the same things they’re voicing their concerns about and have done as much as you can to eliminate or minimize those risks. Most of their concern comes from thinking you might be uninformed about how risky this riding business is. Once you show that you’ve done your research and know what you’re getting into, it lets them know that you’re taking your safety seriously and that you’re serious enough about riding that it will be near-impossible to dissuade you from doing it.

    Gotta go – classes just let out and I have some fancy clutchwork to show off.

    • Bruce Steever

      I used a similar, albeit unpopular, opinion to deflect a lot of flak over the years.

    • ThinkingInImages

      Great points. The only thing you can say is “I’ll be careful”. If you’re a reckless fool and then buy a motorcycle, then the gloom and doom chorus can get pretty loud.

      • Lee Scuppers

        If they’ve learned to expect you to listen to the doom chorus, whose fault is that?

    • Slacker

      It’s also an excellent way to raise awareness so you don’t get killed by some cage driver… “Know how to make it safer for me? Watch out on the road for riders. You might save my life. Better yet, you might save some other parents kids life.”

  • Lee Scuppers

    Their objections are emotional crap. They don’t own you, but if you try to justify your decisions to others, you’re telling them maybe they do own a voting share in your life. You’re implicitly asking permission.

    Just go right on ahead. Treat it all with tolerant indifference. Brush it off with a joke. Never let them think you take their concerns seriously, never engage with it, and for god’s sake don’t get drawn into any emotional drama. If you reward drama with engagement, you will get more if it, not less.

    Worse, if you act like their irrational fears are reasonable, they will believe that to be true. YOU are the (relative) expert; they’re just panicking about a mystery. Model an attitude of calm confidence about riding, and they will learn it from you. Take charge. Don’t let a panicky ignorant person set the agenda.

    Just went through all this with the girlfriend.

    • http://www.motopraxis.com/ Aakash

      I think we have very different ways of being in relationships with people.

      • JimMac

        I was thinking something similar. My wife of 17 years is terrified that I’ll die and leave her to care for our two boys alone. She said something like “you can get motorcycle when the boys are out of the house.” That (seems) like a long time from now!

        • Lee Scuppers

          Or else what? She’s bluffing. Do it, be safe (safer than me anyhow), and she’ll accept it. They *like* having a man they need to worry about a bit. Keeps ‘em from getting bored.

          • AHA

            I told my wife that riding a motorcycle was a cheaper mid-life crisis than getting a Ferrari or a mistress. I thought that was a good gag but er…it kinda worked.

      • Lee Scuppers

        Thank you, I think that’s the most tactful way anybody ever avoided calling me a maniac :)

  • EchoZero

    I told my folks about my riding at Thanksgiving last year, after I’d been riding for a year. They’d just gotten back from visiting family overseas and were telling me about how I had a cousin that was killed in a motorcycle accident and I said “So… this is probably not a good time to tell you I ride a motorcycle.”

    Not my finest moment.

    They were pretty accepting though, once I told them I’d taken a safety class and wore safety gear.

  • mikki sixx

    Then the subsequent fall out, usually during the holidays, of

    ‘How’s the Harley?’

    ‘Its not a Harley’
    ‘Chopper?’
    ‘UUUuuggghhh, leave me alone!’
    ‘Quit being like Paul Jr’…

    • David Magallon

      Gixxer? … :P

  • Ben

    It’s crazy that telling your family and/or friends you ride a motorcycle is almost like admitting you are a regular user of illicit drugs…….

    • John

      Prolly because drugs are safer…….

  • Blixa

    I told my family about a year after I started. My parents were not happy (lil’ sis thought it was pretty cool). I got screamed at one night terribly by my mom, but she’s pretty much over it. I still get occasional lectures, and my dad isn’t convinced that the MSF class and protective gear mean anythi, but they told me to buy a lock for my bike after some local robberies, so acceptance has been gradual. I just didn’t feel like lying to my family about what I do. I just don’t talk about it much around them or ride my bike home. It helps that I’m older and not dependent on them. Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission – definitely helps if you’re not under the same roof.

  • John

    I just tell my family that the government makes me wear a helmet, so I’m totally safe.

    • tbowdre

      pure awesome

  • Sam Bendall

    Great article.

  • HoldenL

    Useful question to ask: “Hey, would you like to help me this weekend? I’m doing emergency-braking and low-speed handling practice in a parking lot and I would enjoy your company.” With luck, they’ll see what you and your bike can do, and they’ll know you take safety seriously enough to practice.

  • Paolo

    In the first pic, good luck explaining to them that even though they look like carbs they’re really injectors. (Assuming it’s one of those new T-100′s)

    • http://www.motopraxis.com/ Aakash

      Nope. It’s a 2001 Bonneville, so it’s carb’d. The color scheme and tank shape (injected Triumph classics have bulbous tanks) is the easiest way to tell.

      • Paolo

        You’re awesome dude. Cool.

      • Piglet2010

        Bigger tank to hold the fuel injection pump?

  • http://twwhlspls.com/ Anders

    My advice: Don’t excuse yourself.

  • E Brown

    I lucked out – an uncle rode all his life (he assed away at 70) and was never hurt, and when I expressed an interest they simply insisted he teach me before I got my first bike, and he taught my brother and two cousins as well. That was 35 years ago, with no accidents or injuries to me or my cousins, though my brother took a spill that injured his knee enough for 6 months of rehab. Overall, though, the family view of riding is positive.
    Which actually makes is more annoying when some knucklehead I barely know tries to lecture me. :)

  • Slartibartfast

    This reminds me of the time I told my dad that I sold my first bike. I had never seen him happier, and he said things like “I knew it was just a phase.” Then I followed that up with “but I got a new one.” Oh the sadness that ensued.

  • Lee Scuppers

    Don’t mention the Aerostich Banana Guard. You don’t want to be trying to explain your way out of that one too.

    • Piglet2010

      Or start talking about Mr. Happy.

    • gregory

      I had to explain my Aerostich silk scarf.

  • Dubknot

    Great post! I had to clear things with my wife when I started riding. She would say, “If you rode a motorcycle when I met you, I would have never taken you serious enough to get married.”. I had to show her how serious I was about riding, and constantly learning to be safer and a better rider. She still doesn’t love that I ride, but she has relaxed a lot and she knows my bike is sexy dammit!

  • gregory

    With my parents, I’m guilty of “hiding”. It’s the great unmentionable. I’m 38-years-old and I _still_ don’t talk about motorcycling with my parents. And Dad used to ride an AJS/ Matchless, too.

    Around girlfriend and siblings, though, I always emphasise the safety aspects: the reflective vest, the helmets, the padded armour, the weather proofing, et cetera. I don’t tell them I make little, “Vroom, vroom,” noises to myself inside my helmet.

  • TheBoatDude

    OK, I’ll admit what drew me to this article was the main pic. Change the Indian mother to an Italian one, and that’s my life (down to the silver/green Bonneville). While my brother and some others know I ride, we’ve still kept this from mom – Italians simply cannot be reasoned with (ever watch Everybody Loves Raymond? That’s a documentary to me). I used to feel silly about that until my friend who is 20 years older than me relayed a story about how he dropped some good money on a new TV; when his brother came over to see it, he said “Don’t tell mom, about this, OK?” He was in his mid-50′s at the time.

  • Piglet2010

    I have the problem of the boss’s boss being a fair-weather rider (H-D of course), who thinks it is dangerous that I ride at night and in the rain when commuting.

  • Campisi

    The real fun begins when, after spending a couple years getting everyone used to your “chosen lifestyle”, you get in a wreck that breaks bones and totals the bike. Buying the next bike the second you’re fit to ride really brings out a sense of betrayal in some people.

  • Larry

    All very rational points…but sometimes hiding the truth is the best strategy, for a while at least. A few years back I bought my first road bike and promptly set out the very next day to ride it to my family home…700km away…in all the wrong gear (think insurance salesman squid)…into a huge snowstorm. 200km in I conceded I had to turn back…thank christ, I was in such rough shape at barely half the distance, I would have been in a complete state if I’d actually pushed on. Point being, keeping this anecdote from my very old and excitable parents spared them from my idiocy. And me from their undying (and in this case not unreasonable) disapproval. So I took the winter to research proper gear for distance riding and started my high-mileage training in the spring. That summer I headed out on a 4000km trip to the east coast of Canada. The trip included a stop home towards the end…my folks expecting me to pull up my car. When I arrived, they were upset…but more quietly speechless than the hysterics I’m confident would have greeted me if I had actually made it up there the previous Thanksgiving. Showing up at the tail end of a long trip, matter of fact, kitted out in all the gear, splattered in bugs and happier than I had been in years, reinforced that this wasn’t a phase. It was just a reality they had to deal with and accept. The fact of it. If you treat the people who care about you with respect, and demand the same from them, sometimes they surprise you. My parents still aren’t crazy about me riding, but they’ve come around, more so than I expected. And they don’t worry to be assholes about it, they just do. It would be weird if they didn’t.

    • Mykola

      The first time I visited my family after moving out, a third of my luggage was riding gear. I rented a relatively nonthreatening-looking motorcycle for the week I was home, and simply practiced respectable motorcycle-craft rather than preaching to them. There’s more to the story, but I went from having an entirely anti-motorcycle family to having an ATGATT scooter rider sister, a brother that just picked up his first bike and some gear, and parents that at least don’t heckle me about riding.

  • ticticticboom

    My tip is to ignore them. I’m 51 years old have ridden hundreds of thousands of miles on several continents and my mother STILL can’t get over it. Motorcycling is one of the best things in my life and has been for my entire life. I don’t care what anyone else thinks about it at all.

  • Maneesh Joshi

    It helps to have an older close relative who is also a rider to act as a bridge. I am called upon to do so many times these days – my nephews and nieces are of riding age and with the maniacal traffic of India, their parents are scared stiff to let the kids ride motorcycles. On my part, I have never had issues as my father used to tour a lot with a 60′s Royal Enfield 350 with Mom as pillion.

    The family will always be a bit tense knowing that their own flesh and blood is riding a motorcycle. A proactive approach as has been amply elucidated here should solve most if not all issues.

    One question. Any special reason for showing an Indian couple here? Just hope that there are no stereotypes being reinforced…