Will we encourage fear or wonder?

We, as motorcyclists, hear the same refrain all the time: the sport is aging out. There aren’t enough younger people interested in motorcycles. Millennials are killing the sport. We need to encourage more young people to ride.

How is each of us contributing to, or battling this problem? I know I always take a moment when I see a kid who’s interested in my motorcycle. I let them sit on it, I answer questions, I encourage them to look into it, I tell them how much fun it is to ride. Kids in tourist towns, kids in grocery store parking lots, kids at parties. You bet you can sit on my bike. But then, one of these kids is family or the child of a beloved friend, and we pause: motorcycling is a dangerous sport.

So many of us have been through some tough recoveries from crashes and too many of us have lost friends to the sport. How much can or should we encourage the kids we love?

I tend to lead by example. Any time the roads are dry and the temperatures are reasonable, I don my heated gear and show up at parties and get-togethers on two wheels. I’ve taken friends’ and family’s kids for rides on my bikes. I talk to them about motorcycling for hours. I teach them to work on bikes with me. And then they say, Auntie Kate, will you teach me to ride a motorcycle?

Nope. Nope, I sure won’t. I’m not an MSF instructor and I know my limitations. I know the statistics and I’ve met too many self-taught riders who are frankly terrible at it. I also know that even with the best training, we’re all more likely to be injured or killed than we would be driving in a car.

But would a car have gotten us to the top of that mountain dirt road with the gorgeous scenic vista we found last summer? Would we have bothered driving a car on all of the camping trips we took with our riding buddies? Would it have been the same if we’d driven a car to the Cabot Trail, or the Blue Ridge Parkway, or along the Californian coast? That answer is: definitely not.

So here I am answering my own question: encourage the kids in your life to ride, even the ones you love the most. I’ll say it: especially the ones you love the most. Don’t come at it from a fearful stance but one that encompasses the wonder that riding can bring to us every day. Let them in on the magic of sitting next to their own motorcycle on a foggy summer morning to check the tires before getting back on the road during a week-long solo tour. Give them the opportunity to break down on a cheap, used bike, and the tools and knowledge to fix it on the side of the road and return home triumphant. Let them learn about adventure and self-reliance. Encourage them to be present in the moment even when the wind bites more than it caresses. That is, after all, what motorcycling is all about: being out in the world on beautiful days and uncomfortable days alike, but being grateful for them all the same.

We all have boundaries, though. I won’t buy a kid, even a kid I love very much, a street motorcycle. I want this activity to be important enough that they save up their own cabbage and buy their own bike. They and their parents know that, when the time comes and they’re ready to shop, I will be absolutely available to help find the right bike at the right price. Will I help them afford the best riding gear and inform them that they have to wear it on every ride? Yes, no question. Will I encourage them to sign up for an MSF course? That’s step zero. Will I tell them all about how dangerous the sport is? They’re going to hear that from every single other person in their lives, so that’s a no. I am dedicated to being their solid source of advice and enthusiasm.

How have you encouraged the kids in your life to ride? How have you gotten past the fear for their safety? How have non-motorcyclist relatives reacted to your support?