Duke's Den – Father's Day

Kevin Duke
by Kevin Duke

My kid's first ride on a motorcycle

I feel pangs of guilt from time to time, like I haven’t been upholding my part of an unwritten bargain. You see, I have a daughter who just turned nine, and, as much as I love motorcycling, I haven’t yet passed on that love to her. Despite a regular stream of new bikes and moto apparel around the house, she has thus far avoided the lure of the funnest form of practical transportation on wheels.

I rationalize it’s because I don’t want to be the kind of dad who forces his offspring to imitate his life, so I don’t encourage activities she shows little interest in. And I’d be gutted if I were to drag her unwillingly into an activity that could inflict pain on my baby. After all, one of the primary roles of a parent is to protect their child from harm, and it always cuts to the quick when I see my little girl in pain. I certainly don’t want to see her get hurt on a motorcycle like I have.

Of course, getting hurt never crossed my mind when I got hooked on riding minibikes. I wonder how I would’ve reacted back in my tweens if someone had told me riding motorcycles for the next 35 years would involve a few broken ribs and collarbones, as well as a mostly fused ankle from a stupid motocross incident and an extremely flukey partial finger amputation. As always, your mileage may vary…

I’m proud to have at least taught my kid to ride a bicycle, which is more than I can say for some overprotective parents these days. She’s pretty good at it for someone who doesn’t ride often or particularly fast. Her friends don’t ride much, so she rides almost exclusively with me. None of her friends ride minibikes. As a protective parent, the fact that she’s less exposed to danger has been okay with me.

My dad wasn’t a fan of motorcycles, but I’m very grateful he was cool enough to chip in for half the cost of my first dirtbike and take me out riding on weekends. It wasn’t until he was 72 years old that I took him on his first motorcycle ride. I wish he was able to have stuck around for a few more.

The closest my kid came to powered two-wheelers was the occasional spin down our street when I’ve had a scooter for testing, as she could be stuffed ahead of me in the seat and held onto by my left hand. But she’s now tall enough to comfortably reach the passenger footpegs of most motorbikes, so the option for riding on the back has opened up.

My kid’s school is several miles away from our home, necessitating a car ride to get there. My wife recently got a job that prevents her from picking up our kid right after school some days, and there are the occasional instances my kid can’t stay with friends after school. On those days, living in a one-car household means I’d need to swoop into action on a motorcycle.

By sheer coincidence, little Miss Duke’s first motorcycle ride home from school would be on a KTM Super Duke. I had test-fitted her on it the day prior and had found an extra-small jacket, helmet and gloves she could use. We also employed a Grip-n-Ride belt, reviewed here, so she’d have a good hand hold on me.

Evans Brasfield’s Precious Cargo primer on taking children for motorcycle rides

She was excited when I met her at school, and a few of her classmates were envious of her novel form of transportation. I helped her gear up and reminded her not to squirm around and to keep her hands on the Grip-n-Ride handles. As I engaged first gear, it’s possible I was more nervous and excited than she was.

The slow speeds on residential streets were ideal for getting her acclimatized to the riding experience of the bike leaning in corners and the weight transfer of acceleration and braking, and she told me she was totally comfortable so far. Later, we had to venture onto multi-lane roads with speed limits as high as 50 mph, and I wasn’t sure if she’d be afraid of the higher speeds or of being so exposed to other vehicles.

I needn’t have worried. It turns out she loved it! Nearing the end of our ride home while stopped at the front row of a traffic light, I asked if she wanted to accelerate quickly, to which she quickly nodded and agreed. I brought the Super Duke slowly off the line and then grabbed her leg with my left hand and and goosed the throttle for a few seconds. We accelerated rather briskly, as Super Dukes do, and when backed off the throttle all I could hear was a cackling, “Ahahahahahahahahaha!”

This photo was shot shortly after the blast of acceleration from the Super Duke. As if there was ever any doubt, these smiles confirm that motorcycles are indeed fun!
Now that she’s keen on riding, it’s time to properly gear her up. HJC is one of just a handful of helmet companies manufacturing youth-size helmets, and the CL-Y pictured here is notably smaller and lighter than an adult-sized HJC with a similar interior size.

My mornings are blessed by wake-up snuggles from my girl, and the next day she ambushed me by asking to pinkie promise that I’ll pick her up from school on a motorcycle again. Then, while being driven to school, she said to her mom, “Cars are boring. I want to ride a motorcycle.”

We didn’t ride again until a week later when I had a rare day off work. This time I picked her up from school on a Honda CB500F. While stopped at a traffic light, she asked if we could accelerate fast again. She was unimpressed with our first run up the gears, so I applied full throttle the second time, but the amiable CB simply couldn’t measure up to the massive grunt of a Super Duke. That night when I tucked her in bed, she said she liked the KTM better. When I asked why, her answer was simple: “It was faster.”

So, as Father’s Day approaches, I reflect back on how my dad supported my budding love for motorcycling when I was a nervy and impetuous boy, this despite his personal distaste for it. Now I’ve trundled into the role of dad myself, and I see with startling focus the excitement on my own kid’s face for riding motorcycles.

When I was asked the previous eight Father’s Days what I’d like to do to celebrate the occasion, I didn’t much care – maybe just a nice lunch out with my little family. This year I can’t think of a better treat than taking my girl out for a ride.

Kevin Duke
Kevin Duke

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4 of 19 comments
  • Christian Christian on Jun 03, 2016

    Well, my oldest daughter was 9 when I took her on her first ride. I had similar qualms; we went around the block, to start, and just to see. A few check-ins and nods later (I mean, really: how many times can you check the little pillion rider is ok while you go around the block? You'd be surprised), we went around the neighborhood. Still ok. And then we went through the Quebec hills, nice and winding; stopped at the pub for an apple juice (make that 2), and then more winding roads. 3 hours later, as we're getting close to the house she asks (i.e. yells through the helmet) "where are we going". Me: "...home". Her: "Why?".

    • Kevin Duke Kevin Duke on Jun 03, 2016

      Wow, her question sweetly distills the joy of motorcycling!

  • Lance Oliver Lance Oliver on Jun 03, 2016

    You're a good father, Kevin, for many reasons, but not the least of which is not wanting to push your child into the same things you love, as some parents do. Happy Fathers Day a little early.

    • Kevin Duke Kevin Duke on Jun 03, 2016

      Thanks for the kind words, Lance. Nice of you to say so. :)