It was a very hot Sunday in summer, so hot that even the air didn’t have the energy to move. Kids were running around screaming and shouting, how do they do that when everyone else is just melting? I and other “adults” sat in the shade of a barn, supping on a cold beer or four after eating far too much, in short a typical family gathering.
The crackling of a small two stroke breaks through the buzz of bees and the chirruping of crickets and into the dusty yard comes a very young lad on his new 50cc supermotard look alike. This is France and so the boy is 14 years old. He has already been riding off road for some years on a 125 and so has the bike craft, as shown by the way he slides to a halt, raising clouds of dust and admiring stares from cousins and friends. He is in his element, cool, controlled and he knows it.
It’s the first time I have seen him in about a year and his having a bike on the road is a new development for me, and one I didn’t expect, I am English and over there you have to be 16 to get on the road. I sip some more beer and in between talking crap with the other dads fend off demands from my 13 year old daughter that I buy her and her 11 year old brother bikes, because her cousin has one.
It is not that I don’t want my kids to have bikes, far from it, they ride with me whenever they want to. They have been around bikes since they were born, but they have never ridden a bike, yet. When they do start to ride, off or on the road, I want them to be able to be aware of the dangers, because, let's face it, ours is a very dangerous way of life. I want to be able to teach them at a pace that I feel they are comfortable with. I want to ride with them and see that they are aware of the other road users that are all out to get them and I want them to not be one of those road users that I swear about.
In all honesty my daughter is ready, she can drive a car…on farm tracks, she can wield a spanner and has a bit of mechanical know how and she is just paranoid enough to be safe but not petrified. My son on the other hand really wants to ride and drive but has problems with a bicycle still so I can’t imagine him trying to coordinate gear changes and throttle control while still actually being upright.
The party continued and of course I found myself having a chat with my cousin’s son. We talked bikes, we talked about my recent holiday off with my mates and we chatted about how cool it is that he is now on the road. I also made sure that I made a point of telling him to be careful out there, I told him about gravel rash and exhaust burns because of wearing the wrong gear and of course I told him that he should continue riding because there is nothing better in the world…nearly. Basically I told him the truth, I didn’t try to frighten and I didn’t try to impress, I just wanted him to realize that when he is on the road everyone is a bloody idiot and his new bike is not a video game.
Soon afternoon turned to night, the air cooled a bit, the whisky came out and my young relation on his 50cc dream went home. I like to imagine some of what I said sunk in and I also like to imagine he was thinking “what a stupid old fart”…it is what I would have done at his age!