Precious Children Revisited

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Posted on May 17 2016 - 12:26pm by Dave
Towards the end of April a mum from Texas found herself at the centre of a veritable Twitter-storm after this photograph appeared online showing her boyfriend carrying her seven year old daughter on the back of his BMW S1000RR.

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Although it is perfectly legal in Texas to carry a child over the age of five providing they are wearing a helmet, and in spite of the fact that she had armour under her hoodie, gloves on her hands and trainers that covered her ankles, the girl’s mum received an absolute torrent of abuse from people accusing her of being a bad mother.

The mum – Mallory Torres – defended herself in a Facebook post and on local TV and the story featured across the world including British tabloids. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the subject has caused massive debate, which seems to be dividing along the usual lines. On one side are all the people who believe that motorbikes are so incredibly dangerous that nobody should be allowed to ride them, let alone precious, defenceless children; while on the other are the libertarians who think that matters like this should be entirely a question of personal choice and that – with the guidance of their parents – that option should be available to children too.

As you would imagine the majority of the ‘much too dangerous for kids’ side are non bikers themselves but it’s interesting to note that there are many motorcyclists who agree with them; which in common with the proponents of ATGATT (All The Gear All The Time – a closely related thorny subject that is equally divisive and one that I fully intend to explore further at a later date) leaves me wondering why they ride a bike themselves if they really consider them to be so dangerous that they can only be ‘enjoyed’ by consenting adults securely wrapped from head to toe in hi-tech protective kit?

Armour

The pictures below suggest that there must be many significant sociological, cultural and no doubt financial factors that need to be taken into consideration when it comes to the question of whether or not it’s morally justifiable to carry children on motorised two-wheelers. How else do you account for the fact that the good citizens of the cyber world are so appalled by the actions of the parents of this particular Texan kid, when they are more than happy to ‘Like’ and share photos showing entire families – without helmets and dressed entirely unsuitably – being exposed to Third World traffic conditions? Surely it can’t be anything as simple and fundamental as racism – the unexpressed assumption that an American child is somehow inherently worth considerably more than any child in a less developed country?

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The title of this piece is a nod to the fact that it’s ground that I already covered many years ago and at some length within the pages of The Rider’s Digest. The first time I attempted to explore the question was in issue 40, way back in November 2000 in an article entitled “Precious Children”; but as I recall it didn’t generate much by way of correspondence at the time (which is hardly surprising when you consider that at the turn of the century our audience was almost entirely made up of London motorcycle couriers, a very particular group of individuals, professional riders who were a lot more likely to get involved in a dialogue about the closure of a public toilet, the biggest twat who’d nearly killed them that day/week, or – and this was a perennial page filler – the latest shitty rate cut, than any debate about what would or wouldn’t make riding on two wheels quantifiably safer – discussions that for many of them seemed like the equivalent of wrangles about angels dancing on pinheads, given the context of the sort of thing they were doing in the Capital’s traffic for upwards of fifty hours a week).

However, about eight years later the article reappeared as the fifth chapter of The Carin’ Sharin’ Chronicles and since then I’ve found that aside from the people who just want to talk about the funny bits (in particular it seems the part about me lying in the road, battered, bruised and thoroughly gravel-rashed – but still smiling up at a pretty redhead), most of the conversations I’ve had with readers who are parents, have been about my position vis-à-vis the carrying of kids and as I’ve stated above they tend to be either vociferously for or against, with very little willingness or ability to consider the alternative point of view.

Kids

And what is my point of view? You’ll need to treat yourself to a copy of my book (which according to the reviews on Amazon would appear to be well worth the six quid + p&p it’ll cost you) if you’d like to read the chapter and verse but suffice to say that as these few paragraphs below indicate, I’m right with Mallory when she concludes her FB post saying  “THERE IS NO POINT IN BEING ALIVE IF YOU AREN’T LIVING!!! #isupportmychildonabike”

“I thought I’d better go back over the ground with a couple of other biking parents. With nine kids between us, Paul (3), Dave (2) and me (4 [it’s 5 now]) would seem to constitute a pretty reasonable cross section. We all have at least one child of each sex and each of them (with the exception of my youngest [who was four at that time – he’s twenty now!]) has, aside from riding pillion, ridden trials/motocross bikes themselves.”

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“I took this photo in Aug ‘97 on Tommy’s farm in Wales. It shows Paul and Dave with just about the entire fruit of our loins, mounted on bikes like lambs prepared for the slaughter. Are we all such bad parents? A week or so ago, when we had what is nowadays a rare night where we were all together, I decided I’d check their views before I wrote this. I thought it might be useful to sound out their reasoning, as we’d all arrived at our own conclusions separately and without any consultation. But I got the kind of responses I should have known to expect after twenty odd years. Paul made some quip about kids having as much right to die having fun as we have, while Dave shrugged, tipped his head to one side and inquired why I was asking him stupid questions that it would take us hours to disappear up our arses about, when all three of us already knew the answer. However both in their own sweet way, without resorting to any protracted ethical or moral arguments, reminded me that I had thought it through and, given my views on life – and death – had arrived at the only possible conclusion.”

“I wouldn’t dare to tell anybody else what to with their babies because I can only truly be responsible for mine. But if I’d had any nagging doubts they’d have evaporated on Nick’s eighth birthday, a couple of Aprils ago. My SRX had been off the road for six months and as I’d finished it just the day before, I’d agreed that we’d go to school on it as a birthday treat. As we pulled up by the gate with a roar, half his schoolmates looked up from the playground below and when he removed his helmet and waved to them, even his ears were glowing. I watched him walk proudly down the stairs carrying his lid into a small crowd and as I rode off, I could still hear his voice buzzing with excitement and pride as he spoke to his bredren, “Yeah, it’s my dad’s. He’s just rebuilt it. I used to go on it all the time. I’ve even ridden an 80cc motocrosser myself when I was only six…””

So what do you think? Do you, have you, or would you ever carry a child on the back of your motorbike? And if not why not?

Obviously as I said above, only you can decide what’s alright for you and yours so there can never be a right or wrong answer. However, there is the potential for a very interesting discussion so I would love to hear from anyone who has an opinion on the subject that they would like to share – whichever side of the debate they’re coming from (simply add your views to the ‘Leave a response’ box just below).

Dave Gurman

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15 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. ED May 17, 2016 at 2:53 pm - Reply

    I’m actually on the fence.
    Been riding 18 years myself and did take my 8yr old son for a very short ride once. He liked it but didn’t LOVE it.
    I wouldn’t really feel comfortable taking a child on a long ride though.

    I think the minimum age should be 8 or even 10 to ride pillion on the road and full protective gear mandatory.

    Its a tough one because it should be a right to freedom of choice but the dangers are higher and there are riders/parents who ride less responsibly than they should.

    I guess statistics should be the guide…

    • Dave May 17, 2016 at 9:28 pm - Reply

      Thanks for your swift response Ed.

      If your lad was less than blown away by the experience and you’re on the fence anyway, it would just be plain silly to try to convince him to ride pillion because there can be no question that bikes have the potential to be very dangerous.

      It’s interesting that you say that you wouldn’t take a child on a long journey because that’s a comment that I often hear but it’s particularly significant in your case as you finish by saying “I guess statistics should be the guide” and statistically you are actually far more likely to have an accident close to home.

      This Telegraph article says that one in three accidents happen within one mile of home:

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/news/6018081/One-in-three-road-accidents-happen-a-mile-from-home-survey-says.html

      While this American site concludes that 69% of accidents happen less than ten miles from home – and that only 1% occur more than 50 miles from home:

      http://www.skepticality.com/assets/where-accidents-happen.htm

  2. Andy Tribble May 17, 2016 at 3:45 pm - Reply

    When Henry T was 13 we went on a 1600 mile tour in the USA on a hired Harley. We spent hours on the freeway at 80mph ish wearing T shirts. We went down the Tail of the Dragon, still in shirts, and grounded the footrests more times than I could count. We played pool in biker bars. We let off fireworks in a motel car park. We spent a day on a gun range. Neither of us lost any skin. ‘You could have done’ people say. You can also fall off a railway platform. That’s a pathetic excuse for never doing anything interesting.

    • Dave May 17, 2016 at 9:34 pm - Reply

      I’m right with you on that one Andy, as far as I am concerned bikes are plenty dangerous enough with or without ATGATT, so personally as I prefer to do whatever it takes to get the most from any occasion, I choose comfort over last resort safety and pay very close attention.

  3. Blez May 17, 2016 at 4:58 pm - Reply

    I support the woman and her boyfriend who take the 7 year old on his BMW. So long as the kids have reasonable protection, can hang on tight and can reach the footrests and riders know what they’re doing, then why not? Also reminded me of the Gwynneth Paltrow story from 3 years ago when she & her kid were very nearly squashed by a bus while riding a Vespa with zero protection in LA. They can both thank their lucky stars that the bus driver was really on the ball. She was a silly bill, both for pulling out without looking, and for riding with no protection whatsoever. One suspects she may not have experienced gravel rash….yet. It was described by the Mail in best shock/horror tabolid style: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2416098/The-terrifying-moment-Gwyneth-Paltrow-gets-hit-school-bus-riding-scooter-daughter-Apple.html

    • Dave May 17, 2016 at 9:55 pm - Reply

      I think that the most significant thing you said there Paul was the bit about the rider knowing what they’re doing. Gwyneth might be shit hot with Sliding Doors but clearly she ain’t so clever on a scoot so she really shouldn’t have been carrying her child in traffic.

      There’s another photo I came across today that was taken on Tommy’s farm at the same time as the one with all the kids on motocross bikes and it features my son Nick – who was six at the time – riding in front of Simon Pavey who took him for a ride over the hills and far away because frankly I was nowhere near competent enough off-road to risk riding with one of my precious progeny as a passenger.

  4. Rich (The Yank) May 18, 2016 at 1:13 pm - Reply

    Darwinism. I don’t get on my bike without body armor, riding shoes, helmet, etc. Took the rear pegs off when I got my bike. So, no passengers. Problem solved. Besides, I have a hard enough time holding on myself! ~ 😮

    • Dave May 19, 2016 at 11:37 pm - Reply

      Does that mean that you have never taken any of your children on any of your bikes Rich?

  5. Thomas Day May 18, 2016 at 5:10 pm - Reply

    The snarky “precious children” bit is pretty typically short-sighted biker crap. If your kids are not “precious,” you’re a shit parent. It’s not unusual for young parents to transfer their deluded feeling of invulnerability to their kids. One way or another, we’ve all done it. Kids do seem like they are made from “magic and rubber” right up until they get sick or break.

    There is, of course, no way a sentient person could imagine that tiny kid clinging to slick nylon, unable to get near the passenger pegs, unable to see anything but the back of a jacket, only slightly protected by an oversized, poorly-fitting helmet and the usual cool weather kid’s clothing could be anything but at risk. Anyone pretending that motorcycling isn’t “incredibly dangerous” has the kind of math skills that would encourage one to “invest” in the lottery.

    I’m all for stupid people taking themselves out of the gene pool, but they should be restricted to offing themselves. Simply having stupid parents is not evidence that a kid will also be stupid. The kid should be given a half-decent chance to pick a path without being maimed by some bimbo’s brainless boyfriend.

    Yeah, this shit pisses me off, but I’ve had the experience of sitting outside of an emergency room waiting to hear if my daughter would survive the result of her driving habits. She was 19, but she was still my kid. I teach MSF classes, but I never encourage anyone to become a motorcyclist. It’s dangerous. It is not a casual activity. You’re either all in or jumping off of a cliff without a parachute. It’s not a half-way activity–like scuba diving, hang-gliding, rock climbing, and other high-risk, high skill activities–and you have to be prepared to accept the risk. Kids are not prepared or aware of risk until they are damaged.

    • Dave May 19, 2016 at 9:47 pm - Reply

      How do you define short-sighted Thomas? I’m just asking because at the age of sixty-one with over forty years of motorcycling behind me and all four of my own children having passed the age of majority – ‘in spite’ of my parenting – I’d have thought that I was in a pretty good position to take a long view. Clearly my opinion doesn’t coincide with yours but then I’m not the one who’s name calling on the basis of that difference.

      I was consciously using the fourth definition (in my big Collins dictionary) of ‘precious’, “very fastidious or affected, as in speech, manners, etc” but of course counter to the example set by both your government and mine, I firmly believe that all human life is precious and the closer those human lives are to me the more precious (definition 1. beloved; dear; cherished) they are. Consequently my wife and my children (five now including my nine year old step-son – who loves it on the back of my scoot every bit as much as my older kids enjoyed my earlier bikes) are far and away the most precious things in my life.

      I don’t want to get ahead of the article I’m planning write about ATGATT but suffice to say that I know enough about human vulnerability (in every sense of the word) to have absolutely no illusions about how limited the protection offered by full motorcycling armour is. As I say in ‘Accidents happen’ (the chapter following ‘Precious Children’ in TCSC) “…you only have to imagine a full stop head-on at speed; the crushing wheels of an artic; or a catastrophic collision with a sharp piece of street furniture – any of them with or without the benefit of body armour – to be able to count your blessings.”

      Obviously none of that is relevant if what you are suggesting is that no parent should ever carry anyone under the age of… what 18? on a motorcycle; but if that isn’t your position, how would you justify the massive risks that the ‘child’ is facing the moment that they climb onto your pillion and you head out onto a public road – irrespective of what they are wearing?

      My biggest problem with your rather aggressive position is that assuming that you get to be the person whose job it is to decide who’s a good parent and who’s a mindless bimbo, what happens when you finally shrug off your coil? What if whoever takes over decides that motorcycles are simply too dangerous for anyone of any age and bans them altogether?

      Of course motorcycling is dangerous and although my habit of dressing for comfort or for the occasion, rather than for the worst would appear to mark me down in your book as a mindless cretin, I am actually a reasonably intelligent and experienced man in his seventh decade who just happens to have arrived at a different set of conclusions to yours. In truth I am always acutely aware that motorcycling is potentially a deadly dangerous activity that demands to be taken seriously (not least because my lack of protection doesn’t give me any illusion of safety); but at the same time I am entirely cognisant of the fact that life is lethal and nobody gets out of here alive.

      I also know that death can be calamitously random, taking out children and young adults in the most mundanely murderous ways and I believe that it would be an unmitigated tragedy for anyone to check out before they’ve lived, which is why I always have and always will try to ensure that my kids enjoy every age appropriate activity that they express an interest in – very carefully.

  6. Lofty May 25, 2016 at 1:21 pm - Reply

    My children always had the choice. The eldest of the boys went pillion at the age of 8. He was wearing good gear, correctly fitting and I had the pillion pal belt around me for him to hold on to. Suffice to say I modifed my riding style to suit the circumstances. He then chose to ride bikes himself at the appropriate ages and made the conscious decision to take his bike test before his car test. He has now passed both. He also does a load of outdoor stuff including rock climbing. This nearly took his life when he fell from a crag in the peak district. He was old enough to make his own life decisions by then but people still said ‘don’t let him go climbing again’ to those I said it is his choice. Maybe some of the naysayers should also consider having a pop at those who take their children skiing. All my children subsequently went pillion on my bikes. My daughter arrived for her 1st day at comprehensive school on the back of my Harley Sportster. She now rides pillion on her partners bike. Both sons have their own bikes and my lovely wife is my regular pillion around the highways of central France where we now live.

  7. Chris May 25, 2016 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    I trust my own skill to protect myself and would trust it to protect a passenger of whatever age – they would need basic protection of helmet and gloves, of course.

  8. Rod Young May 25, 2016 at 3:04 pm - Reply

    I disagree with the definition of motorcycling being dangerous, as stated by many. It’s not dangerous. A dangerous activity is one that is inherently dangerous, i.e. an activity that will include an element of danger no matter what you do as a participant to mitigate that. An example might be walking around the edge of an active volcano. Or playing Russian Roulette.
    Motorcycling isn’t like that, never has been, never will be. People get hurt whilst motorcycling because they mkae mistakes, much in the same way that car drivers, pedestrians, cyclists etc. do. The level of damage is not particularly related to the mode of transport, it’s more related to the impact itself.
    It’s possible to ride a motorcycle with great care for a passenger, in a manner where nobody will ever come to any harm. The myth that someone else will get you no matter how well you ride is simply un true. That’s just an excuse for poor riding skill or reckless riding (which can be fun).
    Therefore, taking a child on a motorcycle is perfectly fine. If someone doesn’t like that, perhaps they can choose to quietly seethe in the comfort of their own home, rather than shove it down other people’s throats.

  9. Grant Buchanan May 25, 2016 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    Seems to be a bit of a ‘marmite’ scenario. I’m on the yes side, There are precious few youngsters taking up two wheels these days as it is, Why rob them of at least the one outing to see if they like it or not?
    Responsible riding and parenting take a big part, You ride like a loony, then don’t take ANY passengers, regardless of age.
    My father bought me an off-road bike at 10, but wouldn’t let me out of his sight until I had on decent gear and demonstrated I could ride ‘safely’, And I’d even been in a Moses basket in a sidecar as an infant, Is that irresponsible? My Dad only had a bike licence, so it was the family transport.
    Long as the kid can reach the pegs, It’s fine by me. There are plenty gadgets on the market to help them hang on too.

  10. Nick June 27, 2017 at 11:03 pm - Reply

    Around town in a sidecar outfit with a lid would be a Pass
    if the roads , and road users, were the same bunch that grew from a time when 90% (guesstimate) of road users were taken to’n’fro in a chair on the side of a thumper.
    Those people clearly understood the vulnerability of motorcyclists and their offspring and respected them .. .. ..
    In that circumstance, my four boys would have been on the back with me.
    The last time i took the wife on the back was 15yrs ago, These days i just couldn’t risk her sat up behind on the perch.

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