Road Trips, Kids, and Motorcycles

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.

fullsizeoutput_58c5Growing 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:

The car.

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.

Good times.

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!

eCall SOS System

I haven’t been riding for very long, but I’ve noticed that motorcyclists generally fall into one of two categories: the ones that don’t want anything that could be considered a luxury, superfluous, or unneeded on their motorcycle, and the geeks.

I don’t mean that in a derogatory way – I’m a pretty big geek when it comes to certain things (the definition of “geek” being someone who is very passionate about something as opposed to a “nerd” who is very smart about something) and motorcycling is one of them.  So when ABS started to creep more and more into the motorcycling world there were the staunch resistors who clamored “just learn to brake correctly!” and the ones that thought it was cool.

Maybe not needed, but still cool.

ABS isn’t enough, though.  Not for a guy like me.  I like the idea of the ABS on Honda’s Africa Twin where you can flip a switch or push a button and disengage ABS at the rear wheel only.  That’s cool!

The latest is the European Union’s mandatory inclusion of the eCall system in all new cars (not motorcycles as of right now), which automatically detects a crash and calls emergency services.  They say there’s a decreased response time of 40-50% which is a pretty big difference and one that you would certainly appreciate.

Unless, that is, you fall into the first category of biker.

Reasons range from paranoia that the government is tracking your every move to the practical – namely how this will effect the cost of motorcycles.

While ABS isn’t a requirement right now, it’s being added to more and more bikes, but at a premium.  You pay for the option of having ABS, just like you pay for other options like cruise control or luggage cases.  Some bikes come standard with ABS but (oddly enough) have a $500 jump from last year’s non-ABS model.  Weird.

But I think that, when it comes to safety features like ABS or eCall, manufacturers should eat the cost.

I know, I know.  Basic economics would say that a manufacturer shouldn’t eat the cost when there’s suddenly a higher production cost, but hear me out: With motorcycle sales falling and more people saying the reason they don’t want to ride is because it’s not safe, it makes sense to offer safety features for free.  If you don’t, you give people more ammunition to hearken back to the “glory days” when you were free to crash and slowly bleed out in the middle of nowhere without having to pay an extra $300 just to help guarantee your life will be saved.

Instead, if manufacturers ate the cost, they could pitch their bikes as safer and still affordable.  They’re still practical modes of transportation – something a lot of people are concerned with when it comes to motorcycles.  They’re still less expensive than a lot of cars – another draw for the masses.  And now they’re safer.

By doing this (and honestly, it probably wouldn’t have much an impact on the bigger companies), they can help boost their sales and any short-term losses they have from eating the cost will be made up with greater sales.

Not to mention the added benefit of a higher likelihood of a return customer.

I have a friend named Marc who bought a Kia Sportage.  He drove it from the lot and within a day was involved in an accident that totaled the car but both he and his small child were perfectly fine.  A little shaken-up, perhaps, but neither had injuries.  He went back to the same Kia dealership the same day and got another Sportage.  His rationale was that Kia had proven themselves in the crash and he’s been an advocate of the brand ever since.

And I know that we as motorcyclists don’t have the same luxury of crash zones and air bags surrounding us but imagine the pitch: A rider is out on a picturesque road – maybe on a snaky coastal road with the waves crashing nearby and the sun sitting just so on the horizon.  It looks like any normal car commercial, just with a motorcycle.  But oh no!  The biker hits something on the ground, starts to swerve, loses control, and high-sides.  He comes to in an ambulance as paramedics reassure him that he’s going to be okay.  The bike called for them and they got there just in time.  Thank goodness for that feature that was standard (and free).

Why was it free?  Because Kawasaki (or whomever) thought that you, the biker, was worth giving every life-saving advantage to at no cost to the biker.  They value you and want to make sure you stay as alive as you can.

How great would that pitch be?

Well, it would be a lot better if it came from one company before it was mandatory because once anther company expresses this kind of concern for its riders, all the others will look like they’re just trying to copy them.  Similarly, if it becomes mandatory, the companies will look like they’re more concerned with meeting mandates than caring about the riders.

It sounds like a dream, but it’s a dream that would get more people at least interested in the prospect of motorcycling, which is more than what’s happening now.


I recently got back from a trip to Europe on business, visiting parts of Germany, Belgium, and France.  It was a pretty amazing little adventure as I had never been to Europe as an adult.  The streets were cramped and full of the most beautiful architecture I’ve ever seen.  You couldn’t throw a rock without hitting something historic.  There even seemed to be a good bit of humor mixed in.  In Brussels, for instance, the Manneken Pis is a world-renowned statue of a little boy, well, pissing.  It was put in place in 1618 or 1619.  The city dresses the boy up in different clothes for different holidays and you can buy reproductions of him EVERYWHERE.


But if that isn’t enough, Brussels also has Jeanneke Pis which (I don’t know how good your French is) is a girl pissing just to show everyone that girls pee too.

When was this statue put in place?  1987.

That is hilarious when you think about it.  The city was aware of its culture, respected it, but was not so entrenched in blind love of it that they were unable to jab it in the ribs a bit and put something up as a counter.

The food was amazing, as well.  A lady at a Parisian bakery balked at the idea of selling me one miniature chocolate croissant, but I just wanted to taste it – not buy a bag for a family at home.  It was pretty delicious, though.  As I walked away eating it, I gave serious thought to going back and buying at least one more.

Another thing I saw was an absolute wealth of motorcycles of various shapes, sizes, and powers.  Yes, the scooter was represented well, but all sorts of other motorcycles were there, too.  Not doing any sort of counting, I would say that out of all the vehicles I saw, about a third were of the two-wheeled variety.

Paris, beautiful as it is, was monochromatic when I was there.  The sky was grey, the buildings were grey, and a lot of the people were dressed in winter clothes that were usually dark as well (you have to wonder why darker colors are popular in a season where it’s darker than normal).  In some ways this wasn’t a pleasant thing, but it did make the colors that were there – the gold on the bridges, for instance – really pop.

My favorite color instance, though, was when a Vespa that was surely a standard “rosso passione” (bright red), but in all the overcast funk of the day, it stood out like it was lit up with neon.  She pulled the Vespa up onto the sidewalk with me, presumably to make room for the cars behind her to get out of the one-lane road, but it turned out she was waiting for her traveling parter who turned up on what looked like a Yamaha FZ-07.

She had beaten him to the intersection.  They killed their engines, talked, and made gestures, obviously debating the direction that they would go to get to their destination.  Then the Vespa rider started her engine, waved the universal “come on!” arm sweep, and took off into the busy Paris road.  The guy followed and they were both quickly out of view among all the commuters.

The whole scene lasted only a couple of minutes while I waited for a friend to figure out the directions to the river where we would be able to navigate ourselves to the Eiffel Tower.  I still thought it was cool to see two bikes of wildly different segments together on a trip, the Vespa leading the way, and it driven by a woman.

While this would be uncommon in America, it does give me hope for America’s motorcycling future.  If it can be done anywhere, it can be done here as well.  It will just take some tweaks to our system and culture to make it happen and we will have to decide if that juice is worth the squeeze.

I think it is.