Whatever! – Stop Worrying, the Kids are Going to be Fine

What’s wrong with kids today? Nothing

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What’s wrong with kids today? All they wanna do is sit around and play video games. They don’t care about motorcycles.

Possibly true. But if the people who say this all the time could remember back to when they were kids, they’d remember we motorcycle nuts were a pretty small minority then also. I was more a car guy by the time I got to high school, but my friend James had a CB350 chopper (with flames), and if there were two other motorcycles parked outside my school in the late ’70s, that was a lot of bike traffic.

When you’re drinking, you think everybody else is drunk too. Mostly it’s just you and one or two associates looking back through an On Any Sunday prism. As for the video games, if we’d had them, you know our generation – famed for its lack of restraint – would’ve played them into the ground. I was at Shakey’s Pizza when they put in the Pong machine. What hath God wrought? Give me another quarter Dad! A quarter then was like 50 bucks now. I would’ve bankrupted the whole family for one more fix if he hadn’t restrained me. Instead of video games, we spent hours hanging out at the pool hall. Do they still have those?

There did seem to be a lot of teens with motorcycles in the ’70s when I was one, but maybe that’s because everybody lucky enough to have a bike was so blatantly out on the streets on it, trailing a cloud of blue smoke, and down in the big woods at the edge of our suburb. Who knows how many pale wheezy kids were hunkered in the basement playing the ’80s equivalent of “Call of Duty”? I think we called it “reading” and “listening to music.” Or what did we do anyway? Simple things, like gathering photos of naked women, were far riskier and time-consuming then.

Come to think of it, almost none of the popular high school kids had motorcycles, and none of the ladies. Neither did I: Respectable parents didn’t have tattoos, piercings or Mohawks, and they didn’t allow motorcycles. I was forced to appear on a Huffy 10-speed. For the most part, it seems like we were the kids with poor social skills or undiagnosed ADD. All those loud and obnoxious two-strokes were just what we needed to reach our stimulation threshold. The kids with the more subdued Honda 50s were viewed as upper class. Well, lah-de-dah.

The list of things I would not have done to get my hands on a super-exotic Honda 125 Elsinore in 1974 is short indeed.

The list of things I would not have done to get my hands on a super-exotic Honda 125 Elsinore in 1974 is short indeed.

Anyway, my point is I think we motorcycle people have always been a small minority, a fringe group, and I think it’s a mistake to think that the whole motorcycle community has collapsed just because you don’t see the high school marching band and English department faculty riding past on motorcycles every day. It never did work that way except in the Honda ads. The kids with the gene are still out there and always have been. The difference is now, every kid with a dirtbike loads it into the pickup to take it to the motocross park, since there are no open places left to trespass and tear up. Now we meet in secret, far from population centers.

If the kids are a little thinner on the ground than before, we really only have our overindulgent, greedy Baby-Boomer selves to blame. One oversized house stuffed with Benzes and granite countertops wasn’t enough, oh no. It seems like there were a lot more motorcycles there for a while because there were: You can chart motorcycle sales in lockstep with the inflating housing bubble, as the home equity credit lines flowed like the beer tap at a little sister’s fraternity mixer. Choppers were the perfect accessory for the third garage space, and dirt bikes! And then it all collapsed, just like it had to, and the fun-loving banks that made all those ridiculous loans (freed to do so by us deregulation-loving Boomers!) dragged the economy down the drain right behind them.

Chart courtesy of webbikeworld.com

Chart courtesy of webbikeworld.com

Still, if you look at the chart, and ignore our children’s inheritance passing through the snake, you’ll see that motorcycle sales are really right back where they belong. Which is amazing, really, given the post-Recession economy. We’ve thrown up every possible barricade to keep kids from buying things, including making college nearly mandatory and letting student loans become a financial-industry profit center. Premium fuel is $4.50 in the Golden State lately. The youth unemployment rate for people 16 to 24 is reportedly around 20%, and 50% of the employed work at Starbucks or a Subway.

We Boomers aren’t vacating our jobs; we’ve got to keep working now that we killed off the pension plan. (Research tells us the average age of a Cycle World editor, for instance, is 89.3 years.) Given all that and given the choice, I think I’d move back in with mom and/or dad and hunker down with my electronic devices too. How ironic now that the ’rents have tats and piercings and have seen the light about motorcycles, the kids are too impecunious to afford one.

I may be a terrible parent but I did get my kid into the Yamaha School of Champions once upon a time.

I may be a terrible parent, but I did get my kid into the Yamaha School of Champions once upon a time.

Not only did the Housing Bubble trash the economy, it also destroyed a lot of families. My kid’s best riding buddy, who made us insanely jealous when he appeared with the first CRF150F four-stroke Honda, saw his parents lose it all, including their lovely big house and, as often happens, their marriage right after that. That kid is 20 now, and shares a room with his older sister in the modest ranch their commercial real-estate-investing father inherited from his Depression-era parents. The kid just went to work for Trader Joe’s. I know he loves his video games, because I’ve seen him play for hours with my son in a dark room. But the first thing he bought with his Trader Joe’s income was a second-hand KX250. He came by my house to “borrow” tie-downs and my Leatt brace about three months ago. Haven’t seen him since.

Meanwhile, my own offspring’s been mostly on motorcycle sabbatical for the last few years while he discovered girls and other things, and rolled around town in short bursts in an overheating $1500 Acura with sunburnt, peeling paint. But in the last six months or so, at age 20, he’s decided he badly needs a streetbike – something like a Sportster or Bonneville. And why wouldn’t my only child think I’d happily buy him one, since I bought him a PW50, KTM 50, KX65, YZ85 and RM85 before? It’s been a rude awakening for Joe College, to nicely balance out the great blossoming of possibility that higher education brings; $9K streetbikes don’t appear as magically as $3K dirt ones once did.

I made some great investments myself pre-crash, including a 31-foot Uniflite sportfisher. Meanwhile, the kid’s grandfather – who feared and despised motorcycles – quietly signed over 200 shares of nice, conservative railroad stock to him at birth, which is what’s putting him through college. Say, transportation’s a legitimate college expense, isn’t it? (Come to think of it, I used a chunk of student loan to buy my first new bike – a 500 Interceptor Honda: $2749.)

No greater humor than this …

No greater humor than this …

Like a weed growing up through a crack in the asphalt or a rust bubble popping up on the wheel well of your freshly painted Camaro, the motorcycle gene will out. Some part of that deeply reassures me, another part worries that I’ve spawned another motorcycle ne’er-do-well after my own image, thanks to the residual guilt from my own disapproving parents. It’s good to see the stigma shifting over to where it belongs, to activities like golf and hanging out at country clubs – things that lead kids to investment banking and real estate sales. Shudder to think …

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  • Ser Samsquamsh

    What a wonderful piece of writing!

    I also spend my student loan on a Honda Interceptor and was likewise shocked to find one day that not everyone loved motorbikes. “Noisy, stinking, death machines” my aunt called them.

    Video Games are a lot cheaper than bikes and I can’t recall breaking any bones or developing road rash while playing them.

  • DavidyArica Freire

    Bikes are awesome and everyone should try them!!!

  • Oslo Norway

    The Elsinore was the moto-equivalent of Barbi Benton back then…And I would have taken the bike over Barbi…

    • john burns

      Barbi who? Was she married to Mac Davis?

      • Oslo Norway

        Dude, she was Hugh Hefner’s live in girlfriend for awhile…

  • Bruce Steever

    A completely logical and calmly formatted piece from Burnsy? What is the world coming to!

  • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

    I had a semi-discretionary $3,500 squirreled-away after paying that year’s tuition (’89) and asked the parents if I could withdraw it to buy a PC. Two days later I spent it all on a used ’86 GSX-R 750 retired-racebike. I think I traded a Super-SNARK sailboat for the PC.

    • Oslo Norway

      BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…Classic…Bike money isn’t real money, it’s like, uhhhh, bike money, it doesn’t count.

  • michaelfalke

    After years of coaxing I have finally got another motorcyclist in the family. My 7 year old granddaughter Taylor, my youngest yesterday got on her brother’s KDX50 which he has shown little interest, and mastered it in 3 hours. She went from not knowing a thing about a motorcycle to riding it around 2.5 acres on her dad’s yard without training wheels in 3 hours, laughing and singing the whole time. I have never seen such tenaciousness in a child before. She is a natural and I hope she never stops enjoying the thrill of motorcycling. I will die a happy man now.

  • http://www.BrocksPerformance.com/ Brock Davidson

    Great article. Love the data, it’s easy to let perception cloud our thoughts and memories… facts help bring reality back. Besides, 05 peak helps displays a time when ‘the money wasn’t real’. $99 down and $99 per month (for 36 months) finally caught up to the industry (and everyone else) “live now – pay later” doesn’t last forever.