During a recent impulsive splurge, I subscribed to Iron & Air Magazine. It’s a pretty cool magazine that is obviously meant to be held onto instead of read and discarded with great photos, smart articles, and an actual spine (for binding). Included in one of the issues I got was a pretty large poster from Bell Helmets that on one side documented a road trip the company took through California and, on the other side, a massive picture from their adventure.
My daughter (10) loved it and hinted strongly that she wanted it (but nuts to that – it’s going to go up in the garage!) and asked what we would do on OUR road trip.
Growing up, I never particularly enjoyed road trips with the family and have been thinking about why for a while now and every reason I didn’t enjoy road trips as a kid boiled down to one thing:
My dad, a Navy man, lived all over the world and would take vacations and usually fly us to California (because it was easiest to get there on the cheap), where we would rent a car and drive to Indiana.
That’s a long drive.
My family consisted of my mom and dad, my brother, and me. For days, we would be on the road and some truths became evident in our travels:
Truth #1: You will be bored regardless of the amount of stuff you bring.
Truth #2: You have a lower expectation of being polite with the people around you because they’re family.
Truth #3: You know EXACTLY how to get under their skin because of your histories.
Truth #4: In an effort to stave off boredom, you begin to irritate each other.
My dad never planned on stopping for the night. He would always drive until he reached the junction of “I’m too exhausted to drive anymore,” and “I’m pretty sure I’ll murder at least one person if I have to stay in this car with these people much longer.” Then he would find a place to stay for the night, park in the back, go in and get a room “just for him,” and then sneak us in so he didn’t have to pay as much.
With all this in mind, I started to think about what would make a road trip better. The first thing I thought was my own vehicle. Being able to control my own speed and go at my pace – actually driving the vehicle instead of being a passenger at the mercy of someone else’s driving – would be great.
Somehow being able to simultaneously be near someone and away from them if they annoy me would also be pretty swell.
But being able to enjoy the process would probably be the biggest draw.
And then it hit me: motorcycles.
Motorcycles tick all of the boxes and gets rid of all the annoying stuff. You control your own vehicle. You go at your own pace. You can pull off anywhere and take pictures, enjoy the scenery, or just take a break. If your other travelers are annoying you, speed up or slow down a bit and meet them at the next agreed-upon rendezvous point. If they’re too chatty, turn off comm.
As I thought about this more and more, even more benefits started to creep in. Riding bikes is FUN, pure and simple. If you’re in control of your own bike – simultaneously together but separate from the people you’re riding with – you have a higher likelihood of enjoying the trip. And if you enjoy the trip, you’ll want to do it more.
I had already decided that my kids will learn how to ride motorcycles because there’s a special breed of terrified that is suddenly there when you’re not surrounded by a cage and this level of fright means you pay more attention to the drivers around you. Pretend that every driver is actively trying to kill you and you’ll probably be a better driver. This is only helped when you take yourself out of the living-room-on-wheels mentality of today’s cars, SUVs, and trucks.￼
The plan was to enroll the kids in BRC at 15.5 years (the minimum for the course), do a lot of parking lot work with them, and begin taking short trips on progressively difficult roads before all the training culminates in something like an 8-10 day road trip with just me and that child. They would pick where we’re going to go and we would map out how we’re going to get there (all back and secondary roads – zero highway stuff). We would stop when they want to take a break or take pictures, and we would have an adventure.
And, if they like it, we can do it more. We can, as a family, take weekend trips somewhere. Overnighters, day trips, hell – even just riding to breakfast across town! Every ride would have them near me, monitoring their progress as a rider and both of us would be getting more comfortable with the idea of them on motorcycles.
These road trips wouldn’t have to stop when they leave the house, either. Personally, I don’t want to ride in the backseat of a car on another road trip. Ever. But I would totally be down for riding bikes with relatives somewhere. Maybe my kids will share the sentiment and when they come home on break from college, on vacation, or just to get away for a bit, we can go on road trips somewhere.
I think this would strengthen the bond in the family and mitigate the sometimes-harsh separation that happens when kids leave the house. My rationale here is that as you (the parent) mentor your young rider, they become something of a peer rider-wise and you begin to shift roles on the road from “parent” to “riding buddy.” On the road, at least. This might be a bitter pill to swallow, but both of us are going to need that transition at some point and having something that we can do together that embodies a level of independence like motorcycling does… That’s a perfect vessel to switch roles from authority to mentor because you should want your kid to WANT to come to you for advice instead of trying to force your rules and outlook on them.
I mean, there’s definitely a time for that in a kid’s life. You have to teach them how to be a good person. But eventually you have to let them be the person they’re going to be and there’s a point where trying to force yourself is only going to result in them feeling frustrated and wanting to lash out or run away.
So all the reasons that motorcycles make great roadtrip vehicles is the same reason they will make great transitional metaphors for being an adult.
What are my daughter and I going to do on our first road trip? Hopefully make some great memories and start a (fingers-crossed) slow, smooth transition into adulthood.
That’s what we’re going to do!