Watson On: To Ride Or Not?



Watson On: To Ride Or Not

In a few years time I have a decision to make. Should I encourage my son to take up motorcycle riding or should I leave him well alone and let him figure it out for himself?

It’s not going to happen any time soon. At the moment he’s more concerned with stuffing anything he can find into his mouth, making weird noises, eating and then passing out. But the questions are already starting to be asked amongst friends and family if, like his old man, is he going to ride bikes?

My wife is an understanding soul. She rides herself but has decided for the moment, and until the boy can fend for himself, she’s not getting back on a bike any time soon. When the time is right she’s told me and if he wants to ride she says she’ll support him. Until then my wife has to put up with a house littered with motorcycle parts, gear and paraphernalia that seems to follow me around getting larger every day.

When the subject of whether the boy should ride motorcycles comes up amongst friends, I can instantly see the disapproval written across their faces. The very fact that I would even consider allowing him a motorcycle is a very dangerous and rash decision to them. I can see them thinking just because I like motorcycles and ride doesn’t mean I should force this activity upon my son.

Maybe he’ll be like me and make his own mind up. At the age of 12 I pestered my folks for a bike until one day they finally couldn’t stand the arguments any more and gave in. They told me if I went out and earned the money I could buy my first motorcycle. I did a host of menial tasks and chores for what seemed like years but was probably no more than a few months until I had enough cash to buy my first bike. I rode the crap out of it. I also fell off it a lot, hurt myself a lot, scared myself rigid sometimes but loved every minute of it.

Today, though, the world has changed. Unless kids are wrapped in cotton wool and every whim and desire is instantly catered for, you’re considered by some to be doing something very wrong as a parent. To my mind, kids should play outside, eat dirt and fall out of trees. They should also ride bicycles, build weird karts that may break an arm when the wheels fall off and just be, well kids.

On one hand I’d like the boy to ride. I’d like him to experience and understand what it is that makes a motorcycle special. On the other hand I don’t want to be the father that has matching gear and motorcycle and spends every weekend forcing a nervous and clearly unhappy child to ride a dirt bike just because his dad wants him to.

If the boy chooses by himself that he wants to ride motorcycle, I’ll help him of course. But I know without a doubt that some people aren’t going to approve. They may not say anything directly to me but I’ve already seen the incredulous looks when I’m asked if I am going to allow the boy when he’s older to ride a bike.

I have told these people of course I want to encourage him and if he likes motorcycles and wants to do it then that’s absolutely fine by me (and my wife). However, by the judgmental looks I get I might as well be saying that as soon as the boy’s ready I’ll be buying him a crack pipe and hooking him up with the local dealer, as that would be not nearly as dangerous and bad as riding motorcycles.

To be frank I don’t really care what people think. If I’m a bad parent for allowing my son to ride motorcycles then so be it.

Luckily, I haven’t got to rush into a decision any time soon. But I sincerely hope the boy like me has a passion for bikes and maybe I’ll nudge him towards riding to see if it’s what he wants to do. But ultimately it’s going to be his decision.

What do you think? Should kids be encouraged to ride bikes or allowed to find out for themselves?

  • Josh Bolton

    Encouraged. As well as encouraged to wear ATGATT!

    • Mr.Paynter


      I hate seeing school-kids on CBR 125s and even faster/pricier Aprilia RS 125s or bigger, less legal bikes (anything up to 125cc until you’re 18 here, and I’ve definitely seen kids riding illegally on CBR 250s and Duke 390s with the stickers removed) in just helmets and no other gear… Who are these parents!?

      • Theodore P Smart

        Duke 390′s!?! Lucky dogs. KTM keeps hosing N. America with their street machines.

      • Campisi

        I like to think those kids are hiding their bikes in other people’s sheds.

      • Piglet2010

        If I was a kid with a displacement limit, I would put a TW200 engine in a TW125.

      • Dennis Hightower

        Where are you located MP?

        • Mr.Paynter

          Sorry, just saw this! South Africa!

    • James Jamerson

      Agreed. My son is going to have to buy whatever he wants to ride, but I’ll buy him all the gear.

    • Campisi

      “Sure, daughter/son/hideous inhuman offspring, I’ll buy you a motorcycle. I’ll only spend as much on the bike as you spend on gearing up first.”

  • Nemosufu Namecheck

    When my friends ask me if they should buy and ride a motorcycle I tell them it is a family decision. I say the exact same thing to my friends who want to learn how to fly. When it comes time for my son to make the decision he will have my support but it will be his call – and after he is an adult.

    • TP

      I think there’s some real benefit to learning how to ride when you are young. By the time I started riding street bikes, I had already been on bikes 10 years, so the only new variable was learning to cope with traffic. Having to learn how to ride on the street is like getting thrown to the wolves.

      • Nemosufu Namecheck

        Yeah I think about that sometimes. I started riding young too and loved it. I just love my son more.

      • dead_elvis

        “Go play in traffic!” versus playing in the dirt.

  • Dan Long

    Wait a second, you are saying that you are going to allow your kid to find out what they have a passion for and then, gasp, encourage and support them? For shame Tim, for shame…

    • Nemosufu Namecheck

      No I think this is awful advice. Not everybody should ride a motorcycle, fly a plane etc. It takes the right personality in order to do it safely. If your kid is an uncoordinated mess help them change there dream to something more their speed.

      This is especially true here in the states where guys turn 16 and are shamed out of buying a bike smaller than 600cc. Kids don’t always know what’s best for them.

      • Dan Long

        I completely disagree. The notion that someone cannot safely operate a motorcycle is absurd. Can everyone race? No. But everyone can arrive at the point of safely navigating a motorcycle at 45 mph on country roads. I know those that you speak of, uncoordinated, easily distracted, etc. and they don’t stick to a bike because they never become comfortable. A friend of mine for instance road a small dirt bike as a early 20 something and lost interest. Later as a 55 year old man he had the itch to get back into it. He is basically a klutz and never felt comfortable on a bike and decided it wasn’t for him. Telling your kid: “you’re pretty much too much of a spaz to ride, why don’t you try fishing” is pretty much a guarantee that they will do it behind your back, without proper gear or training, and get seriously hurt. Take the time to teach them, not “change their dream”.

    • atomicalex

      Bah, lots of people frown on riding. It’s so cliché to think motorcycling is dangerous. I tend to think it’s a life skill.

  • Justin Penney

    I don’t think pushing kids into anything is good. But making options available and supporting them in what they choose is good.

    • Faysal Itani

      Exactly. Why encourage it, or any other hobby in specific based on the fact that I as a parent enjoy it?? The risk element makes it that much worse. I’d just tell him/her to wait until they’re an adult then do whatever they want and don’t wisely. I would NOT trust a teenager with a motorcycle. I was one once.

  • Mr.Paynter

    If my kids/nieces and nephews asked about learning, I would teach them, with all the gear and in the safest environment I could provide.

    Kids will find a way, rather teach them safely than let them go find that way elsewhere.

  • http://batman-news.com Aaron

    I will encourage my kid(s) to do many things, but I will force nothing on them but the will to try. I may want my son/daughter to ride skateboards listen to punk and ride motorcycles, but if they only want ballet and classical music than that is what they shall have. I had dirt bike wallpaper in my room growing up, and I used markers to make them red/blue/yelllow/green (more red than anything). I drooled over FMF fatty’s, AXO boots, UFO graphics and knack knacks.

  • http://www.eastwestbrothersgarage.com/ East-West Brothers Garage

    They should be exposed to it and be allowed to decide for themselves. If they have the passion for it, then great! Encourage and educate – help them be smart and learn to ride properly. If they are not interested, then no pressure should be applied to try to force them to take up something that they are not going to commit to whole-heartedly.

  • Generic42

    I picked up a Y-Bike for my 20 month old to hopefully get her excited about riding. If she enjoys that and express an interest when she is 3-4 then I’ll pickup a used mini bike from my friend who got it for his daughters. If she isn’t into it then I’ll support her other hobbies just the same.

  • Rob M

    If your kid has an interest in riding, you can guide him and help him be a responsible rider. Your knowledge can pass down to him while he’s still impressionable. You can teach him to ride responsibly and with the right gear, versus forbidding him and him doing it anyway, without the guidance, gear, and support.

    And when is Rideapart going to hire an editor or at least have someone proofread? The punctuation and grammar mistakes are just amateurish.

    • Michael Howard

      Proofreading would ruin the “edgy amateur blog” feel. ;)

    • StompyJones

      As said above, moderation here is getting silly too. I made an account specifically to comment a week ago and because it was slightly critical of the article (while making a good point) it didn’t get past moderation.

      Well done, rideapart killing its own readership. Ta ta

    • Piglet2010

      At least run the text through a spelling and grammar checker to catch the worst errors.

  • Clint Keener

    I rode dirtbikes with my dad as a kid. I got him back into streetbikes as an adult.

  • Fava d’Aronne

    I assume that, like me, you live in the US. If you were to live in Italy or Spain, the issue of whether or not having your kid ride a bike wouldn’t even be brought up, because riding a bike is as common as playing soccer or going to the park. But I imagine that the same US parents that look at you reproachfully because of the motorcycle, would be enthusiastic if you let your boy get a couple of concussions playing football.

    It is all a matter of cultural upbringing. I have a 3yo son too, and I am not even asking myself this question. I am not going to force him to ride, but he is going to come on the back of my bike as soon as it is legal and safe enough, like I did on the bike of my dad growing up in Tuscany.

    When I was 14, my dad bought me my first bike, he gave it to me and told me he would break it in pieces if he ever caught me without a helmet. To this day, I can’t even phantom the idea of riding without a helmet.

    Don’t worry about what others think. Everybody is a perfect parent when kids aren’t theirs.

  • Branden

    My dad (51) just got into riding a couple years ago when a friend gave him an old cb250 for free. He really got into it and got a street triple a year later. He really encouraged me (20) to get into riding as well. He signed me up for the MSF and got me some solid gear and everything else just fell into place. Now we both commute on bikes and go riding together on the weekends quite often. Riding motorcycles has been one of the best ways that we’ve bonded. My mother hates it and was super upset when he encouraged me to get my license but she does take some solace since we’re both ATGATT. We have family friends who think that it is asinine that a father would encourage his child to ride a motorcycle but none of them ride so they’ll never understand how awesome it is.

  • mrniceguy715

    I got my 6 year old an electric, a little razor dirtbike. He is a dare devil on it but I have been teaching him good techniques and we will soon move to a gas powered bike like a Yamaha yw80 (he is too tall for the 50). It doesn’t require him to shift and I can limit the throttle.

  • Jack Meoph

    My post was moderated into oblivion!! I have 2 brothers, and we all had the same opportunities to ride motorcycles. I’m the only one that is still riding. My older brother was never that interested, and my younger brother was off and on (mostly off) until he just stopped when he was pretty young. I never stopped, unless I couldn’t afford to have a motorcycle (which thankfully was only for small periods of time). You either want to do something or you don’t. And there are a lot of reasons why people DON’T ride motorcycles, and that’s a good thing.

    • HoldenL

      Jack, I think maybe they don’t want us to participate in the forums. I’m coming here less and less often. I don’t like having my comment spiked when I didn’t violate any rules.

      • Jack Meoph

        Yeah, nothing that I’ve posted has been of a nature that would violate any TOS, anywhere. And yet I’ve had posts just disappear lately. Not sure what the dealio is with that.

        • Jack Meoph

          But there is a new Hardley thread, may have to bash that a bit………

      • Piglet2010

        I guess then they also do not want the advertising revenue of us visiting the site?

    • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

      Its 3rd party commenting software with its own set of moderation rules. The only things ive seen that lead to moderation are strong cuss words, some religious words, and maybe some political words. Just remember its a computer, not a person doing the moderating. And maybesome things that would be confused for spam. You can say damn all day. Damn damn damn. I would imagin

  • Dennis Bratland

    “Unless kids are wrapped in cotton wool and every whim and desire is instantly catered for…”!

    [Citation needed]

    You know that old guys have been saying for something like 2,500 years that kids “today” are too coddled, and back in *my day* we were tough? Do you really think think you were so tough? Or maybe your nostalgia is giving you rosy memories?

    I know we have seat belt laws today and helmet laws, but if you seriously believe that today’s kids are coddled wimps compared to the old days, then I’d like you to show me actual factual data that proves that the Millennials fighting in Afghanistan are not as tough as the troops in Vietnam, or any earlier generation. If anything, the more recent wars have put them into more firefights more often, because we can find the enemy faster. Yet nobody has suggested that our troops are failing us. Or if you can’t go there, then show me any evidence, from anywhere, that younger kids today are any less courageous or dedicated.

    If you ask me, the risks taken by the kids today on skateboards and dirt bikes and winguits, and all that stuff, make what Evel Knievel and his ilk did look like they weren’t even trying. The old putting down the young is a powerful form of prejudice and it happens because of insecurity, and idealized memories of your own magical childhood. It’s not real. It’s an illusion.

    • Michael Howard

      You trimmed that quote too short. It was referring to society’s expectations of parents. “Unless kids are wrapped in cotton wool and every whim and desire is
      instantly catered for, you’re considered by some to be doing something
      very wrong as a parent.”

      Years ago, a generation of us grew up riding our bicycles without helmets (and knee- and elbow-pads). We all rode in cars without seat belts. Many of us fell in love with motorcycles while being taken for rides on our parent’s motorcycle (with no protective gear whatsoever). Nowadays, allowing your child to engage in that kind of activity would practically get you lynched for being an irresponsible parent. THAT’s what the article was saying.

    • tobykeller

      It’s simply a fact that young people in the US and other western countries today aren’t allowed the same measure of freedom to roam as kids in the 70s and early 80s. There was a documented (if irrational) “stranger danger” panic which resulted in a widespread societal change in how often kids are left to their own devices. Here’s an example from England: http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2012/10/01/162079442/do-you-know-where-your-children-are-is-that-always-a-good-thing …but the trend is well documented here in the US too.

      It’s also a fact that new laws and the threat of litigation have eliminated many of the risky behaviors that used to be socially acceptable—the helmets, seat belts, rubber playground equipment, airbags and laws against bb-guns and even cap guns can attest to that.

      Now, what’s interesting is that you’re absolutely right: there are still many young people today who take plenty of risks, and there are still elite fighting men and firemen and smoke jumpers and on and on.

      So obviously it’s not black and white. I’m curious how much of a role class & geography play in this… for example, I would imagine that in rural areas and in poor ones, kids are given more freedom to roam with less oversight than, say, kids in a rich suburb in Orange County, CA. It would be interesting to see whether that’s correlated with risk taking / confidence / “toughness” later on…

      Or maybe there’s a “backlash” effect where “coddled” kids grow up without getting into scrapes and breaking bones and therefore don’t acquire the same hard-earned caution as those who did, and are therefore willing to take more/crazier risks because they haven’t learned to fear consequences. I’d bet this plays a role.

  • WhateverWorks

    …looks like your kid is already riding, so maybe you shouldn’t worry about it any more than you did when you plonked him down on the gas tank wearing his little red shorts and a t-shirt to match your own, and took off down the highway.

    • Piglet2010

      That is not Tim Watson and his son, but a still from a video that has been going around YouTube and similar.

    • Michael Howard

      That’s a capture from a video that went viral recently, not from the author of this article. But thanks for playing. ;)


    • Tim Watson

      Not me as the other guys have pointed out. I maybe nuts but not that nuts.

      • OldCheeseonDryToast

        In that case, try the “glass half-full” approach. When and if your kid wants to ride, you can just support him in the effort.

        No need to “force him”, “encourage him” or “allow him” and it’ll be hopeless to prevent him, especially if you ride yourself.

        But don’t make such a big deal out of it, he’s going to ride, when he’s ready, and you’re going to help him out.

        Though sure if I had a kid who was old enough and I wanted him to go on a ride with me, I’d definitely encourange him.
        Mildly. Just like with anything else I’d like to share with him. Or her ;)

  • William Connor

    My son is 7 and asks every time he comes to spend time with me to work on the motorcycles, when can he ride one, which one is his. My daughter is 11 and has decided she will have a motorcycle as well. So yeah, encourage, enjoy, but never force it.

  • Paul Willis

    Look, if you love it, share it with your child. That’s all. If the child decides they love it too, awesome. If not, also awesome, let them do their thing. But no need to “nudge” or encourage or evangelize. Just do your thing and let them see how it honestly lights you up. It will either light them up too, or not.

  • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

    Unless you have the time and money to “build” a marc marquez, why not wait until its his decision? You can start him out and get him into bmx or something very early, which will undoubtedly turn into motorcycle time down the road.

  • Robert Horn

    Oh, the things I freely did rural New Mexico 20+ years ago that I dare not do now, here, in sophisticated Denver…

    • eddi

      It was a different age altogether, I think. Did she decide to ride herself?

      • Robert Horn

        Not yet – but she’s very enthused about the idea.

        One of the best experiences was taking her to school (1st grade!) on the back of the bike – and watching the reactions of the other parents and her classmates – it was both priceless and positive. In case anyone wonders, yes, she had a helmet on, which I took back home, lest it cause a small riot from carrying it in to school.

        • eddi

          I scored major cool points doing that for my younger sisters after I felt confident enough to take them for rides. Even a C70 made the kids stop dead and stare. One of my fondest riding memories. Neither chose to ride, at least motorcycles. Both are excellent horsewomen.

    • Ken Lindsay

      Some of my favorite memories as a child were of my dad’s motorcycles. Even though we were in an accident when a dog ran under the bike, it never made me want to stay away from them. First enduro was in the 3rd grade (old Suzuki 50cc).
      There’s little doubt that my boys will want something to do with motorcycles when they get older. I won’t steer them into it, but if it is what they want, I will do my best to give them good guidance so they can be as safe as possible.

  • http://www.bikething.co.uk/ Jonathan Ward

    I don’t have children, but as a person in my twenties I remember how my father supported me. From 5 onwards I had the opportunity to ride dirt bikes off-road. I say opportunity because I can’t ever remember being forced. Then, when I got to 17 (legal age to ride a 125cc in the UK) my father bought my first motorcycle for me. Of course, the option to have a car was touted (and preferred by my mother), however growing up around motorcycles and occasionally riding them myself had totally turned me off cars!

    My advice? Well, maybe consider offering to take him for an off-road experience. Not only is it a nice introduction to motorcycling, but it also helps when he (might!) get a road bike.

  • Sentinel

    I didn’t “push” my son into it, but i did encourage him to learn to ride and see how he liked it. When he said that he did want to and was ready I taught him the right way, and he’s been riding well and safe ever since.

  • notfishing

    The real question is are you, as a father, going to help your child gain the skills necessary to be safe at the sport they choose?

    If so you might both take up dirt bikes where some risks are controlled but be forewarned there will be a price to pay.

    My own experience came with my son’s choice (with my participation) of downhill mountain bikes on expert runs at Northstar ski area. It takes a long time for Dads to heal when you take a hard fall (and full face helmets along with leatt neck braces do not protect the ribs).

  • Von

    I grew up racing dirt bikes and I loved it. My dad didn’t even ride, but I was influenced by my peers who rode. I grew up in SoCal before everything was homes and you could ride almost anywhere. It was a great time to ride dirt bikes in the 90s before 2-strokes were shunned and all the land became tract homes. I have some great memories with my parents racing and camping out in the desert that I owe to riding motorcycles. I also have to thank it for two knee surgeries, torn ankle and a compressed vertebrae over the years. It’s all worth it though, I still want to get a bike again one day. A street bike this time and then maybe an enduro to do some desert rides once in a while. Riding a motorcycle gives a feeling of freedom and power that can’t be explained. Kids should always be encouraged to try things, but not forced. It couldn’t hurt to buy your son an old beater bike and see if he likes it. If not then sell it.

  • http://www.joelpm.com/ JoelPM

    My six year old son couldn’t care less about motorcycles. My three year old son spends more time sitting on my Road King than I do. I don’t know what your son will choose, but my guess is that it won’t be a mystery to you :)

  • subaruzi

    I got my son a 50cc dirt bike and he’s 5. We ride on the weekends and as far as I can tell he loves it. Kids have a strong sense of self preservation built into them.

    Great article about kids in the Atlantic called “the over protected kid” worth a read. I can’t paste for some reason

  • subaruzi
  • M. Dubé

    My kid will ride a scooter to school because it’s the best transport mode (and the cheapest one) to get from A to B whitout having me to do the taxi.

    But I’ll never sit him on my gaz tank to give him control of my running bike. No kid’s body can survive an accident when squizzed between “the stoping object” and his father body. Just thinking that I could survive a crash to see my dead kid gives me nightmares.

  • Eric Simelaro

    I ride and will let my kids decide if they want to ride. My wife likes to ride as well and her only stipulation is they have to be old enough before they start riding and wear a helmet. This is my youngest to young to ride yet.