It’s the first day of school in many towns on my daily commute through central Massachusetts. The first thing I noticed was that traffic was much worse. But the second thing I noticed was all those wide eyes, smiles, and waves from kids waiting by the side of the road for the big orange traffic plug on wheels to pick them up. Why were they so happy to see me? Because I was riding a motorcycle.
Ever since I started riding, I’ve noticed just how much kids seem to love bikes. There could be many reasons why. Maybe it’s the chrome and the noise of a Harley with straight pipes. Maybe it’s because it’s a bigger, faster version of the bicycles most kids ride until they’re old enough for something powered by an engine. Or maybe there’s something they can sense about the feeling of freedom you get when you’re riding a motorcycle.
One of my earliest childhood memories is from when my dad had a Honda 450 of some kind in bright 1970s orange. That bike was cool. I remember the time my mom and I had to drive across town in her VW Super Beetle to go rescue him when he ran out of gas. But more than anything, I remember the time he sat me in front of him on the bike and took me for a couple of very slow laps around the house. There’s a lot I don’t remember from my childhood, but I remember that very clearly. That experience, plus watching way too many episodes of CHiPs at a young, impressionable age, convinced me for life that motorcycles are cool.
I’ve never really been one for kids, myself. I don’t hate them, but I’ve never been comfortable around them, either, and certainly never had any desire to have my own. I’m kind of like Star Trek‘s Captain Picard that way, only not as good looking. But as I’ve gotten older, more and more friends, then girlfriends, then finally the woman I married, have had kids of their own, so I’ve had to learn to deal with it. Which is perfectly fine, just as long as I can give them back to their parents afterward.
There were many kids at the apartment complex I used to live in. When I came home from a ride, they’d all flock over and start talking to me. Sometimes they’d ride their bicycles alongside me, trying to be as cool as me. On one occasion I even “raced” one of them across the parking lot. In reality I just gunned my engine a lot but calibrated my speed precisely so that the kid would beat me by a nose. He got a thrill out of that. The neighbors didn’t even complain.
My wife’s kids are no different. I’ve taken each of them for rides on the back of my bike a few times. This past summer, she bought them a Baja Warrior, a little 200cc minibike to go putt-putting around the yard on. I cleared enough brush next to the propane tank for them to do complete laps around the house. It wasn’t until I was writing this that it occurred to me the parallel between that and my dad taking me for a couple of laps around the house all those years ago.
Truth be told, I like the minibike too. Those wide knobby tires dig into the dirt without tearing up the lawn, except where it’s already so sandy that no grass will ever grow there anyway. If I’m lucky I can get a little bit of a slide going in those places with my monstrous 6hp engine. It’s all too easy for me to take that bike up to its maximum governed speed. I know I need to leave it alone for the kids, but sometimes I want to remove the governor and see what it can really do. Maybe the extra speed would let me catch some air off that bump between the back yard and the driveway. OK, so I become a bit of a kid on this thing, too. Full circle, just like those loops around the house.