Four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul, as the saying goes. Whether it’s the rush of the wind in your face, or the romantic image of a lone rider on an iron “horse” that conjures the spirit of the Old West, the fun and excitement of riding a motorcycle transcends its practical and utilitarian use. For many riders, it’s a lifelong pursuit that began in childhood. Let’s take a closer look at how you can help your own child start his or her journey on two wheels.
The best place to introduce children to riding motorcycles is in the dirt, because as every parent knows, kids love to get dirty! There are also practical reasons to start off road. Wide-open spaces free from traffic and other road obstacles present a safer and less daunting environment to learn on than public roads, not to mention that the ground is usually a softer place to land in the event of a crash or tip over than asphalt. More practically, most states require riders to be at least 16 years old before they can legally ride a motorcycle on public roads (some states allow riders as young as 14 or 15 to ride small-displacement mopeds, usually restricted to a maximum speed of around 30 mph), so riding off road is generally the best option for young kids.
Like learning to ride a bicycle, the first task most young riders need to master is finding balance. There are several approaches to tackling this challenge. One method is to add a set of outrigger training wheels to hold the motorcycle upright without the rider needing to balance it. This allows the child to learn to operate the controls, including using the clutch, brakes and shifting, before learning balance. While training wheels only postpone the need to find balance, they do help to ease the learning process by separating the task of motorcycle operation from balance. Another option, and one that has become a popular way to teach kids barely larger than toddlers to ride bicycles, is to use a pedal-less balance bike. A balance bike has a low seat height and center of gravity that lets little kids paddle walk while keeping their feet on the ground, allowing them to work up to first sitting on the seat before lifting their feet up as they find balance. Balance bikes are available in both non-powered and electric versions from several companies in a wide range of sizes.
Whatever method you choose, your young rider must master both operation and balance to be successful. A good foundation of these basic skills is critical to future success, so give your child the time he or she needs to develop confidence on two wheels before moving on to more advanced riding skills.
Successfully learning to ride a motorcycle is easier when the rider feels safe and comfortable on the machine. Nothing limits the confidence and progress of a new rider more than fear of getting hurt. With proper gear, you and your young rider can easily brush off a few early spills without fear of serious injury. Minimum essential riding gear includes a well-fitting helmet, full-fingered gloves, a long-sleeve shirt and pants and sturdy boots that cover the ankle. Elbow and knee pads are also a good idea for new riders or anyone riding off road. Quality gear can be purchased online or at a local motorcycle shop, but excellent condition used gear is also easy to find as younger riders often quickly outgrow it long before it wears out.
While many older riders learned to ride a motorcycle through trial and error in the school of hard knocks, today there are better options for professional training. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s one-day DirtBike School is a great place to start. Open to anyone over the age of 6 and with locations all around the country, it’s an easy and affordable way to learn the basics of motorcycle operation and handling in a fun, safe environment that builds a solid foundation for continued skills development.
For kids of all ages and sizes, or those who are simply young at heart, riding motorcycles off road creates incredible opportunities to experience and explore nature, often far off the beaten path. Starting young is a wonderful way to introduce your child to a lifetime of fun in the great outdoors.