Turning Sixteen

Story by Clinton Smout//
July 1 2008

Ah… a warm spring night and I just came in from a great ride. My route was on roads that brought back memories of when I turned sixteen and started street riding.

Typically, riders just getting out for the first ride in the spring, euphoria sometimes makes us want to open up the throttle a little too much. On part of my ride I was thinking of speeding tickets. I had more tickets in my first season (1975) of street riding than I have had since. It’s ironic now that I’m a safety instructor who sometimes helps train police officers.

I was a competent off-road rider before getting my license the day I turned sixteen. I thought riding and driving was my right and that going as fast as I could was within my abilities. My attitude was terrible. I remember each time the cars with the flashing lights pulled me over; twice I was caught speeding in town and once on the highway and there were also a couple of times when understanding officers didn’t ticket me when I deserved it. Once I raced a car driver who pulled up beside me at the lights and revved up his engine. I won but almost lost a lot of points when the unmarked police car I had just raced pulled me over. A fourth ticket was right in front of my high school. As soon as I turned sixteen I realized that the bike was a better way to get to school than the bus. I had my leather jacket from Sears (it’s still in a closet somewhere) and the boots I wore had two-inch heels. I didn’t need the height but they were cool. I used to practice riding slowly up to stop signs and seeing if I could stop without putting my feet down. I got pretty good at it but lost an argument with a police officer who was convinced that if I hadn’t put my foot down then I must have rolled through the stop sign. Ouch! That was another three-demerit point ticket.

It was a letter from the MTO followed by a meeting, that straightened me out. Losing a riding buddy to a motorcycle accident also woke me up. I finally realized that riding and driving was a privilege to be earned and respected.

Next month our eldest son turns sixteen. Like me, Ian has enjoyed a youth spent on dirtbikes. I’m not worried about his technical riding abilities. His instructors at various off-road training programmes tell me he is a better rider than I am. I haven’t been able to catch him on a motocross track for years. What I am concerned about is the street-riding environment of today, compared with 1975. The roads of our little town used to service 20,000 people when I got my license. It’s far more congested now with the population signs showing 125,000. We all seem to be in more of a hurry now. The race from A to B, congestion, life pressures and road rage are more of a factor that my son will have to now deal with. Our little town even has a rush hour with traffic jams.

I grew up in the country and like many Canadians from my era, I drove all kinds of vehicles at a pre-sixteen age. Most of the kids on my public school bus could have driven it quite well. We all drove tractors, combines, old farm trucks (with the starter button on the floor) and many of us had little dirt or street bikes. All of my siblings and I learned how to drive on my dad’s knee. The instruction continued when we could reach the pedals. I still smile when shifting a standard and I remember my dad yelling at me about getting my foot off the clutch so I wouldn’t fry it. At age twelve I would drive the family Dodge Polara over to my Nanny’s every Sunday and pick her up for supper. The seldom-used gravel roads I drove on in the seventies were perfect for practicing. I am not saying it was smart and my son, Ian, hasn’t driven much except on long driveways at the off-road course.

Here is the plan for our new rider/driver. I am going to buy the latest driver’s and rider’s handbooks from the ministry. Those will help Ian prepare for the written tests of the graduated licensing system in Ontario. Armed with the G1 and the M1, the next step is training. I think someone else other than me should provide the training for both the car and the bike license preparation. There are great programmes at high school now where the instructor picks up the student in the instructor’s car. For the bike, I have enrolled Ian in Humber College’s Canada Safety Council two-day course. I used to teach there and trust the curriculum. The exposure to professional instruction will be beneficial in more ways than simply the insurance cost saving that training provides. As parents, we are thinking that Ian should drive a four-wheel vehicle first. Having some car driving experience and learning how to interact with traffic should help a new rider.

I can’t wait to go street riding with my son. I am grateful that he has much more sense and is smarter than I was at his age. With some proper training, lots of encouragement and a few words of wisdom from the old man, I know that he will love street riding.

I wonder if I should warn him about cars that might pull up beside him at lights and rev their engines. MMM

Clinton Smout, Chief Instructor

Canadian Motorcycle Training Services,



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