Freedom is likely the most oft-used word to describe the feeling of riding a motorcycle. For most, the first real taste of that sense of freedom was experienced while riding a bicycle, which, almost universally, was as a child. I loved the feeling of taking off on my bicycle to see and experience new things as I explored the exciting sensations of freedom on two wheels.

I worry about the future of motorcycling. The decision to purchase and ride a streetbike is a big hurdle to make, especially if a person has never honed riding skills on an off-road bike. Just as dirt riding builds skills for street riding, bicycles give kids the fundamental understanding of two-wheel vehicle dynamics that transfer over to minibikes and dirtbikes. At least we can all rely on children riding bicycles, easing the transition to powered two-wheelers. Or can we?

Today’s world isn’t what it was when I was a kid. The number of kids younger than 11 who bicycled fell by 21% over the decade spanning 2001 to 2011, this according to the Bicycle Retailer Industry Directory, 2013 Statistical Review. Another study, by Elsevier Ltd., found the share of all bike trips made by persons younger than 16 fell from 56% in 2001 to 39% in 2009.

Duke on a bicycle

A hand-me-down bike from my sister surely cost me style points, but I was thrilled at having my own set of wheels and soon set off exploring my neighborhood for new adventures.

So, with fewer kids riding bicycles, surely there’s a detrimental effect on youngsters who might want to step up to a powered two-wheeler. And, if contemporary children aren’t riding minibikes and dirtbikes as much as they did in generations past, this is essentially thinning the feeder system to the streetbike market.

It seems as if the kids of today find adventures in a virtual world rather than immersing themselves in the real one. The breadth of social-media options, video games and YouTube videos keep many children from venturing outside, keeping them safely away from UV rays, let alone potential vehicular hazards. These distractions also have an effect on adolescents rejecting  drivers licenses and car ownership. If kids can safely interact with peers online, there’s less a need to ever leave the comfy confines of their houses.

The baby boomers have girded the moto market for decades, but their collective influence is dying off, quite literally. For the motorcycle industry to maintain its current volume, especially here in North America, we need an influx from younger generations.

Encouraging youngsters in your family to ride bicycles is the least you can do. If kids can’t ride pedal bikes, there will be little chance of getting them on a Yamaha YZF-R3 or a KTM 390 Duke.

  • krishan adhikari

    I hope kids start riding big time. I have observed that teenagers don’t cycle anymore. My wife’s cousins were gifted bicycles on their birthdays as presents and guess what they didn’t ride them much. They bicycles had to be be donated. Lets hope so that the next generation is more enthusiastic about two wheeler’s.

  • Alexander Pityuk

    Even in my youth, which wasn’t really long ago, about 15 years back, bikes were the BEST THING one kid could have. And the amount of them in the cities was ridiculous. Every kid wanted a bike. And many did actually have one. And now i don’t really see them on the streets. It seems that now they are possessed mostly by teenagers or even grown-ups. Or maybe i just don’t see well out of my steel cage or helmet, both of which rarely come off big highways…

    • Kevin Duke

      Yep, male Boomers are the growth demographic in bicycles, while kids are rejecting them.

  • Darryl Kewin

    What concerns me most is the likely increase in ignorance amongst our future leaders and legislators which will undoubtedly impact the freedoms we have while motorcycling. Growing up in a suburb (admittedly only 7 years ago), I clearly remember riding my bicycle whenever I wanted to play with a friend, even if most of the time it was just to play video games. Not only was it a sense of freedom as a means of transportation, it gave a sense of independence and trust on the part of my parents. Having been transferred to Europe for work, I am reminded every morning as I ride to work the simple pleasure of taking a bike ride.

    • Kevin Duke

      Great points well said – thanks!

  • Campisi

    “It seems as if the kids of today find adventures in a virtual world
    rather than immersing themselves in the real one. The breadth of
    social-media options, video games and YouTube videos keep many children
    from venturing outside, keeping them safely away from UV rays, let alone
    potential vehicular hazards.”

    This argument makes sense to those of parenting age because it’s parents of that age essentially limiting the youths under their auspices to these same activities. Kids can’t ride bicycles because they won’t have supervision, and the street is “dangerous,” but riding on the sidewalk is illegal and their sterile tract-housing suburb doesn’t have them anyway. Children haven’t changed. Parenting has.

    • Kevin Duke

      I agree that the evolution of parenting is having a big effect. Some parents like to shelter their offspring from all danger.

  • Gary J Boulanger

    Our household always rides bicycles for transportation when possible, and my kids rode to and from school through their high school graduation. Our garage houses several motorcycles and bicycles; my wife and I always modeled our expectations for our kids, now adults on their own. Our 20-year-old son bypassed taking his driver’s test until last summer for a motorcycle safety course when he was 18, and now owns two motorcycles and a scooter. He recently thanked me for blazing a ‘motorcycle and tattoo’ trail with his mom. It was his road and mountain biking experience that prepped him for throttle twisting, and now his friends are asking how they can join him.

  • Gary J Boulanger

    MotoGP race Jorge Lorenzo sums it up best in a recent interview:

    Q: How will you arrive in the best possible shape for the Qatar opening round?
    A: Since Valencia last year, I stopped training only one week, at Christmas. I have followed a strict daily program. I train from six to nine hours a day. I do mountain bikes, gym, and then I ride all kind of bikes: motocross, trial, dirt track, pocket bikes, etc. I think variety is the secret.

  • Reid

    Overly cautious helicopter parents are to blame.

  • Old MOron

    I don’t doubt the study findings. But I’m happy to say that I still see youngsters riding their bikes in my neighborhood. They even take their state-mandated helmets off when they get far enough away from home. May they all grow up to ride supermotos!

  • Holy crap, Dukey–I never really thought about this bicycle-moto connection, but it’s incredibly obvious. I acquired a Ducati-branded Strider bike for my son, but he wants nothing to do with it. I can only blame myself, since he never sees me riding a bike.

    • Kevin Duke

      Find a bicycle and ride it around your boy, Gabe! BTW, I wholly endorse the Strider bike – it worked like magic for my girl.

  • Old MOron

    BTW: juxtaposing those two photos is pretty awesome.
    And I love me some Lee Parks Deer Sports, too.

    • Kevin Duke

      You got some keen eyes, OldMO! Glad you enjoyed seeing them together.

  • Craig Hoffman

    I let my kid ride her bicycle to elementary school and actually got a call from a “concerned mom” who saw my 5th grade kid riding her bike alone to school. People really are out of their minds.

    The connection between bicycles and motorcycles is a good and obvious one, but also even driving a car is less of a jump if one grows up in motion on a bicycle. I live in a place in Colorado with tons of bicycle paths that lead to some pretty interesting places. I never see kids riding bikes on them, only adults. If I had those paths as a kid, I would have explored every mile of them.

    Oh well. I am having my share of fun. Pity the kids seem to prefer looking at a screen instead of interacting with the real world.

  • Andrew Capone

    I’m sure there is data that support this, and I do think there is a sharp drop in passion- driven motorcycling by this generation, but it’s hard to paint with too broad a brush. Our kids rode their bikes to elementary school, the beach, friends houses, town etc ( they are both driving age now.) There are swarms of kids on bikes, scooters and skateboards still around. They find their thrills as skaters, snowboarders, surfers, BMX’ers, and yes, gamers. There are just so many more options for thrills now. As for transportation, they may be spoiled by a youth spent with heated rear- seats and video monitors in ‘business class’ SUV’s!

    Might there be generational two- wheeled resurgence in the future based on a new era of e-bikes, technology, the realities of scant resources and crowded cities? I do believe there’s a chance for that. But the rapid and direct bicycle to Yamaha Mini Enduro to Kawasaki 125 to Yamaha DT-1 to H1 and so on progression that I ( and countless other boomers) went through is likely over.

  • Shawn Burke

    I’m only 27, and have seen a major shift as well. Growing up my friends, and well everyone in the neighborhood had bikes. My girlfriend always points out how no children are ever outside. In my area you cannot ride on the sidewalks anymore, and I admit I wouldn’t want my child in the street at a young age if I had one. I remember being outside as long as my parents would allow and then some. Obviously the virtual world. And parenting are to blame for this home body generation. The virtual world isn’t all bad, none of my friends where I live have motorcycles so I taught myself with the help of reading many articles and watching YouTube videos. My first bike was dropped off at my house as I had no idea how to even ride it, that same day on a lunch break I was cruising around my development and have been hooked since!

  • Joe LaPadula

    I’m 23 and grew up as a Millennial. Let’s be honest – we’ve been raised to fear microwaving plastic. When I got my first bike in college I had just enough money for a beautiful red 1974 Kz400 and could never imagine life without a motorcylce or two. I took the safety course, but my parents still tell me I have a death wish. I try to convince them I wear all the protection and don’t ride like n idiot – but their fear is unwavering.

    We’re sold stories of adventure and danger – of successes and failures – but like Duke wrote – we’re expected to live vicariously through the stories of others.The thing I love so much about motorcycles -and the whole culture associated- is that it defies that exact sentiment. Motorcycles are intrinsically stories of adventure and danger and every time the engine comes to life, you lean over the tank and have that connection with your machine – it’s crystal clear that you can’t read or watch what you feel in that moment.

    I’m glad to watch the whole industry shift to welcome new riders and change with the new times so other can experience those moments of clarity too.

    • Craig Hoffman

      Good for you Joe!

      Motorcycles are not understood by the general population – they perceived as too noisy, dangerous, challenging and uncomfortable, which is the general population’s loss. The general population is comprised largely of people who have forgotten, or perhaps never knew, how to really live. We motorcyclists are indeed separated from the rest of the sheep.

      Bikes of all kinds, from dirt bikes to touring boats, are all special, and associating with them makes me feel alive, which seems to be a small miracle once one’s age ticks past 50. Thank God for my motorcycles, the experiences they provide and the people they have brought into my life. Without the bikes, no amount of Paxil, Zoloft, booze or even healthy living would compensate for cumulative psychological damage caused by the everyday grind that is life.

      It occurs to me, since I am not rich and therefore do not have money to buy my happiness, that I would be pretty burned out and unhappy at this mid life stage without my bikes. I honestly do not understand how the general population makes it without bikes. I read a lot of medical records for a living, and there are a ton of depressed people out there. Zoloft is a big seller. I submit that a motorcycle induced clarity and occasional adrenaline hit are free and they are better.

      As Morgan Freeman said in Shawshank Redemption, “get busy livin’ or get busy dying”. The old cliche is true. Ride to live, live to ride.

      • john phyyt

        Amen Craig;

    • Kevin Duke

      It’s people like you and sentiments like this that give me hope for the future of motorcycling! Glad to have you in the club, Joe!