The Making of a Next-Gen Gearhead


Bradley’s first crash wasn’t his biggest one, but it was a wake-up call. When you go down on a motorcycle, even on a little one and in the dirt, you go down hard.

We talk a lot about how to get kids involved in our world of cars and motorcycles (and by extension, boats and planes). I have long maintained that the only way to infuse some gasoline into the blood of the next generation is to give them first-hand experiences with the thrills and pains of being around things with engines.

This isn’t my first rodeo with young kids and motorcycles. Sixteen years ago, when Alex was 7, I bought her an XR50.

Bradley turned seven last May, and it was time for his rite of passage to begin. The Honda XR50 is my entry-level motorcycle of choice: It’s light, and it has a 3-speed semi-automatic transmission (no clutch) and an easily accessible throttle-stop screw — a critical element.

I took Bradley with me while we looked at several used examples in the $700-$900 price range. XR50s come in two conditions. The first is absolutely perfect, still on original tires, and with few scrapes, indicating light use and that the previous kid-owner has simply outgrown it.

The second condition is completely thrashed, with broken and missing pieces, indicating that people much too big have been using and abusing it as a toy.

Since brand-new CRF50s retail for $1,400, you can’t buy one that has needs and come out ahead, even if you do all the work yourself.

The first two bikes we looked at were junk, despite the “just like new” descriptions and flattering pictures on Craigslist. The third bike was a winner, built in 2002 and in nearly new condition. It had no title, but that’s not an issue for me. The owner had used the bike to teach his two young daughters to ride in his backyard in suburban Portland. It became mine for $700.

Then it was off to Cycle Gear for the equipment. When I taught Alex to ride, just having a helmet and gloves was considered enough. But my view of the world and the fragility of our bodies has changed. Cycle Gear sales manager and good friend Matt Alfonso was an able curator for us. Three-hundred dollars later, Bradley had full armor, O’Neal boots, a good helmet and more. He said he felt like a Star Wars storm trooper.

Over the years I’ve also learned that each rider needs a good gear bag that everything, including boots and helmet, can go into. It’s a simple way to keep things organized and to make sure you have everything you need.

On to Tillamook Forest

I’m fortunate to have a good friend, Michael Cottam, who has a son, Benjamin, who is the same age as Bradley. Cottam is an SEO expert and founder of Visual Itineraries, a program that helps travel agents put together high-end tours. (He also owns a 996 Carrera 2 cabriolet and a 1969 Chevelle with an upgraded 454-ci engine.) Ben and Bradley have been on many Rover and Alfa trips together.

Cottam recently purchased a CRF50 for Ben and all the armor as well.

We loaded the SCM Suburban, got our OHV stickers for the rig and the bikes, and soon enough were at Brown’s Camp in Tillamook State Forest.

Cottam had found a large circular area that was clearly for training. Bradley and Ben suited up, and the fun began.

It took me a couple of tries to get the throttle limiter adjusted as low as it needed to be. I put the bike in 2nd and let Bradley get used to the sensation of twisting the throttle and feeling the push. Soon enough we were moving at slow speed around the circle, with my right hand on his back and my left ready to grab the handlebars.

As he began to get a sense of controlling the engine, you could see a sparkle in his eyes. He said, “Dad, this is my motorcycle and I can ride it anywhere I want!”

Well, yes, sort of, as long as that “anywhere” was within the big circle. He took to the bike like a duck to water; within ten minutes he was out on his own, making big circles at an increasing rate of speed. Which led, inevitably, to the first in a string of crashes.

This was a key moment. He learned to hit the kill switch first, and then tell me what hurt. After I commiserated with him, I encouraged him to get up and finish his lap. Then, we would stop and reflect.

He had about five ten-minute sessions, which was plenty for the first time out. We’ll work on the concepts of braking, shifting and starting the next time. The key in this introductory session was to give him a win, a clear sense that he had succeeded at mastering this thing with a motor at this very basic level.

The Path Ahead

Ben did equally well, and soon enough both kids were sitting chattering about their experiences as if they had just completed the Baja 1000.

On the way home, I thought about being 7 years old and what it meant to experience twisting the throttle on a motorcycle and feeling it move forward. The pulse of an engine can be a narcotic, as all of us know too well.

I have no preordained thoughts about Bradley’s future and his relationship with motorized things. He could end up as a nuclear scientist, a teacher, a stock broker or even a ballet dancer, and that would be fine with me.

But as someone whose life has been enriched by the motoring community, I owe it to him to give him the opportunity to have a little taste of “the gearhead way,” so that he can decide for himself how much or little of it he wants to incorporate into his life.

After a couple of more sessions, Bradley will be ready to go out on simple trails with me; I’ll be on my CRF 230. The only way to create such father-son (or father-daughter) experiences is to make them out of whole cloth, and custom-design them for you and your boy.

His first ride is over. We’ll find out together what the future has in store.



Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

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