One of the many interesting points raised in comments about my recent ‘Dark Side’ post was one I had never considered in detail: why is it that we want to encourage more, and especially young, people to take up motorcycling? Anyone with the sense of an outhouse rat will acknowledge that riding a motorcycle is dangerous. We do it nevertheless, and we are entitled to continue to do it, but why do we feel it’s right to encourage others?

Instead of fences at clifftops, the Norwegians just put up a sign. Risk? Your call.

The most obvious reason is that almost every additional motorcyclist brings with her or him an entire family that is suddenly aware of the existence of bikes, and therefore more cautious and even perhaps forgiving on the road. Riding becomes safer for everyone; perhaps only a little, but as that well-know Irishman Phil O’Sophy is wont to say, every bit helps.

Likewise, every new motorcyclist supports the motorcycle industry and that’s good not only for the bike business but once again for all of us. It encourages them to design and manufacture new bikes, and to build those in greater numbers which brings the price down. Or damn well ought to.

That’s fine so far, but if you think about it you might notice that both of those reasons, solid as they are, are also selfish ones. The road becomes safer and bikes become both more interesting and cheaper – for us. While those things also apply to new riders, they are hardly good reasons for them to become involved in our hobby/sport/whatever.

What can riding a motorcycle offer young people that is likely to be attractive or even good for them, not for us?

Older motorcyclists tend to be safer because they are more sensible. Some of them, anyway.

Perhaps the best way of addressing that is to ask why we ride. What do we get out of it?

Affordable and convenient transport is an obvious candidate for a reason. My father had a 125cc NSU which he rode to work, even in the northern German winters. He would stuff newspapers down the front of his jacket and pants and wear every pair of gloves we could find so he would be, if not warm, then at least alive when he got to work. An advantage closer to the present is the easy and often free availability of parking. One of the achievements I am most proud of is writing the City Of Sydney’s motorcycle and scooter plan, which multiplied available parking many times over.

But of course there’s always public transport. Depending on where you live, this can be even more affordable and even convenient than a 125cc NSU or any other powered two-wheeled (PTW) vehicle.

Many riders would nominate the opportunity of working on your bike and thus learning all sorts of things about mechanical contraptions, first aid for squashed fingers, and environmentally sound disposal of old engine oil. To my mind this is an excellent reason, providing young folk with skills and information that will stand them in good stead in later life. You never know when the ability to de-coke a cylinder will be just what you need to take the next step up the corporate ladder.

Owning and riding a bike should also add to self-reliance. Failed to oil the chain? Tough, you’re now stuck at dusk in bear country. Failed to keep an eye on fuel level? Too bad that you’re now stuck on Route 50 somewhere in Nevada with a rainstorm coming. And so on. Misery is one of the most convincing way to drive a lesson home. They’ll learn that looking after their bike is equivalent to looking  after themselves.

Appreciate nature? Is that why you’re on that loud, stinking thing?

Let’s not forget the opportunity to get out into the beautiful green (unless you live in California or Australia, in which case it’s black) countryside and pollute it with noise and exhaust fumes. No, no. To gain and maintain an understanding and love of the environment. This is another activity that could stand them in good stead in their career. After all, how are they to know where to build the next twelve-lane superslab if not through that peacefully sleeping valley where they used to ride their Pee Wee 50s and annoy the locals?

All right, I may be getting a bit cynical here but it’s only because I don’t think this is a good argument. There are far less invasive ways to enjoy nature than on a motorcycle. Having said that, I admit that bikes have taken me to wonderful places I would never have reached any other way. So let that argument stand, if perhaps in a qualified form.

Let’s see: will I have fun up there, or will I run out of fuel?

A much better argument, in my opinion, is perhaps also the simplest one. Motorcycling, no matter what kind it is and what age you are, is fun. I don’t think I even have to elaborate on that.

But I’ve left the best argument till last.  Tasmanian educator Samantha Carrigg, in this somewhat redacted website comment, puts it very well.

“Life is full of risk. By providing… opportunities to participate in risky and challenging [activities], we provide opportunity for the development of important life skill learnings such as making choices, problem solving, measured risk taking, and navigating their way socially and emotionally… These skills will be important right through life – particularly in vulnerable stages such as their teenage years, so let’s send them out prepared.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself. What do you think?

(Photos The Bear)

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