Everyone who rides knows the freedom you enjoy on a bike. Travelling the countryside you experience sights, sounds and smells that you would otherwise miss. So, in all respect to Zen author Robert Pirsig, as riders we didn’t need to know the difference between watching the world through the frame of a car versus riding a motorcycle. He just beautifully articulated those experiences for non-riders to remind them what it is like to be free on two wheels. Bottom line is as riders, we get it.
This year I spent a lot of time really enjoying that experience. For fifty days and 10,150 miles, I travelled around America exploring fifty independent motels. And while I love the recurring theme around the number fifty, earlier this year that same number emerged in another more ominous way. That is as it relates to the age of motorcycle riders. And that is a cause for concern.
The Motorcycle Industry Council reported in February that the median age of a motorcycle rider in the United States is now 50 years old. Riders are getting older. In 2014 the median age was 47 and in 2012 it was 45. That means there are as many motorcycle riders older than me as there are younger. And while the industry struggles with how to deal with this, many are asking why aren’t young people in North America buying and riding motorcycles? Perhaps we don’t have to look any further than ourselves for the answer.
On my trip, I reflected on this. While riding on lonesome stretches of the highway around the country, I would be in total bliss. Playing in my helmet was the soundtrack of my youth. Songs from the Eagles, Bruce Springsteen and Boston would come on and invariably, wonderful memories of my childhood would stream into my conscience. As early as I could remember being able to ride a bicycle, I was free to explore. I spent my summers going to the local parks and cruising other neighbourhoods. When I got a little older and moved to a foreign country (Santiago, Chile), I would take off on my BMX bike with my friends and go until well after dark. I was 13, had no money, barely spoke Spanish and there were no cell phones then. But we would cruise the city streets and sometimes ride ten to twenty miles away from home just to see what was there. I wasn’t unique, my friends would all do the same. That is the way it was back then. When I returned to Canada, and as soon as I was old enough, I traded my bicycle for my first motorcycle and my Dad encouraged me by loaning me the money to do so. So I reflect on the differences of how I grew up and how I raised my own sons. My sons don’t ride yet, though both are well old enough to do so. But at least both are expressing a passive interest in starting. Fingers crossed.
Thinking back I have no one to blame but myself. I coddled my sons. I think as a society we went to the polar opposite on the continuum of the way our parents raised us. We issued our children cellphones and forced them to check in. We placed restrictions on distances and set a perimeter for them to stay within. And if they wanted to visit friends or needed to be outside that perimeter we would taxi them in our cars. As parents, we were protective because we loved them. Not that our parents didn’t love us. But we became more aware that the world can be a scary place, and we didn’t want any harm to come to our children. And I think that is part of the problem; the differences in the raising of generations is a contributing factor.
Because I feel I may have unwittingly contributed to this problem, I am writing Sleeping Around in America. Having completed this journey and writing about it, one of my motivations was to inspire both my children and ideally encourage others to follow their curiosities and explore what interests them in the world. And maybe even doing it on two wheels!
And so I know for the half of you over fifty reading this that have older children there isn’t much we can do. I suspect many of you did a better job than me and your children comprise the younger half of riders under fifty. But I write this for the half of riders under fifty that either have young children or one day will have children. Please don’t repeat my generation’s mistakes. Try to release the reigns a little and encourage your non-riding friends with young families to do so too. Then perhaps we can reverse the trend. And as all riders know, no matter how old they are, there is nothing like the freedom to wander, travel and explore the world on two wheels!