Building a Rider

Story by Stu Seaton// Photos by Stu Seaton
September 1 2013

As in everything in life, there are proper ways of doing things and there are wrong ways. Starting young with proper training could turn into a lifelong passion.

In today’s world, becoming a safe rider has its challenges; these days, traffic volume alone offers far more potential risks than when I started riding back in the early 1970s. I consider myself exceptionally lucky, though, as I began riding in dirt with zero training and I’m still very much alive and generally unscathed. Everything I learned – including my bad habits – were self-taught. When I became licensed, I graduated to what would today be considered a near-empty road, and I was reasonably prepared, even if I did need to unlearn a few things. Luckily, time was on my side, and by taking every training course possible, I’ve eliminated many of those bad habits and even gained some new and good ones. Times have changed since the days when you were told, “Here’s a bike, go ride it.”

Fortunately, the motorcycle industry has recognized the need to train new riders and has become very proactive, with training programs tailored to the very young. I was fortunate enough to attend one such program with my six-year-old grandson, Jack. Honda’s Junior Red Rider training day (designed to instruct riders aged six to 12) was held at Trail Tours in the Ganaraska Forest, just north of Port Hope, Ontario. The day came about through my daughter’s chance encounter with the owner of Clarington Honda, while she was perusing helmets for Jack.

Red RiderYoung Jack has been riding with me since the day he could straddle a gas tank. We would putt through my “Hunnerd Acre Trail,” where he would whoop and holler all the way. Jack has grown to the point where he’s large enough to be a legal pillion rider (meaning he can get his feet flat on the passenger foot pegs). This is the first year Jack and I can experience the road together, and he is happily becoming a proficient riding partner. He is also beginning to eye various bikes on the dealership floor, and he asks about learning to ride. It is the ideal time for him to learn the right way to ride, so the Honda Junior Red Rider program couldn’t have come at a better time.

Various Honda dealers subsidized the event on this particular day, thus cutting the entry fee from $150 to $50, an outstanding bargain to say the least. A group of 15 riders and their parents walked onto the training field, where, in the distance, several 50 and 110 cc Honda CRF bikes stood awaiting riders. Andrew Deighan, the chief Honda trainer, introduced the program to all and started getting the kids dressed in brand-new Fox gear taken from sealed boxes. Each rider was equipped with shin pads, elbow guards, chest protector, motocross boots, helmet, goggles, gloves, riding pants and jersey. A more professional-looking group would be impossible to find. Once all the riders were geared up, the training began – a far cry from back when many of us learned to ride, probably in shorts and a T-shirt.

Red Rider

Riding is a complex task – balance, mechanics, movement, coordination, brakes, controls – the list is a long one, and the trainers need to make it come together safely and in a way that a six-year-old can understand. I imagine the combination would make most primary school teachers shudder, but Andrew’s crew made it all look easy. They began by pushing the young riders’ bikes gently, then pushing with the application of brakes, then starting the engines and more pushing; the youngsters were introduced to riding gradually, by taking small steps. Finally came the task of slowly engaging the throttle and letting the automatic transmission roll the bike forward a few metres before applying the rear brake. That move calmed the throttle hand, even if the instructors did get the odd little Honda front wheel crawling up their legs. You could see the kids’ sense of accomplishment beaming under their helmets. They may have rolled forward only a few metres, but they rode it all on their own.

After a short break and a little discussion, it was back to the bikes. The stop-and-go exercise became longer until a full circuit of the track was completed, and then it was practice, practice and more practice. A few parents wore lopsided grins as they watched the kids cruise the track. After the stop-and-go exercise became more predictable and smoother, it was time to add another task: standing up on the foot pegs.

Orange pylons were placed on the track, and the kids had to stand on the pegs between them. A few kids got right up on the pegs, while others reluctantly showed a touch of daylight under their butts. However, as with all the exercises, stance improved as the day progressed. The course culminated with the kids moving to a different track and riding over a small log. Remember, not quite three hours earlier, many of these same kids, who were by now deftly bouncing over a log, had never twisted a throttle on a running bike. I was enthralled just watching them.

Honda’s Junior Red Rider program appears to be exceptionally well thought out. I’m sure everyone will recognize that Honda’s overall goal is to boost sales of Honda motorcycles, and in my books, this is the ideal way to do it.

If a youngster in your family has a keen eye for two wheels, I would strongly recommend you consider a program like this. You’d want them to ride safely and learn proper riding habits they’ll carry with them as they grow, so why not arm them now with the knowledge needed to twist that throttle with authority and responsibility? The cost is more than reasonable, and the simple satisfaction of knowing that a young rider has been taught correctly will become the secure sense that this experience has inaugurated a lifetime of expert riding.

Now I need to figure out how to handle a determined six-year-old with a very thorough shopping list in hand.

The Honda Junior Red Rider, and Red Rider Evolution designed for riders aged 13 to 17, is taking place at locations across Canada. To learn more about the program, go to


Copyright ©2002-2024 Motorcycle Mojo | Privacy Policy | Built by Gooder Marketing