Wheels: Motorcycle Makers Try Minting New Riders With Youth Programs

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Mr. Prater, one of the architects of the idea, had been inspired by his own experience, both as someone who had ridden as a boy, and became a motocross competitor, and as a father who was introducing his two sons to the sport. After the presentation, one of the board members asked to look at the ride program.

The idea got unexpected traction, but there were two problems. First, the time to sell parents on motorcycling isn’t necessarily right after watching racers jump motorcycles 30 feet in the air. The other was that Supercross fans already liked motorcycles. But, one board member suggested, what about using other shows Feld puts on?

The result was a three-year outreach program to run at a touring monster truck event, the Monster Jam — the kind of place you could find motor sports fans who are not necessarily motorcyclists, but could be.

The Ride Initiative has now completed its first year, using a 10,000-square-foot area with two riding ranges, where children ages 6 to 16 are outfitted in full safety gear, given basic instructions and then put aboard a minibike or all-terrain vehicle with restricted horsepower. Younger riders could put on the protective gear and take a straddle bike through an obstacle course, and those not up to riding could wear 3-D goggles to take a simulated ride, or just dress up for a photo.

“Ask any rider about their first ride, they know the bike they were on, the year, and who gave them the ride,” said Tim Buche, president of the industry council. “Let’s give kids that experience.”

Matthew S. Levatich, president of Harley-Davidson, pointed to his company’s roughly 250 Riding Academies in the United States as an easy way to get into riding — not only can they receive instruction on a Harley, he said, they will be introduced to people who will keep them engaged in motorcycling.

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