Yes, yes…for those of you following King Moon Racer #1 (my CR250), an update is coming quickly. Work, life and weather got in the way a bit.
Fortunately, I have a subject that will hopefully be of interest and use to a few of you while you wait.
My last three posts involved a look at answering the “big what” question…what bike should I get for my kid? Yes, all dads focus on the gear…
There is a bigger question that needs to be answered FIRST for a great many parents. How.
How do I get this started? I have no easy place to ride that is kid-friendly. I don’t know if I’m skilled enough to teach riding at a level that won’t scare my child. I don’t have access to bikes in his/her size without committing thousands of dollars in cash or debt. I haven’t fitted (or paid for) protective gear for my kid. I don’t want to drop that kind of cash until I know the activity will be loved by them.
How do I get them started without a risky outlay of time and money, while still getting them started “right?”
It is easy to forget how daunting the barriers are for people who are not already dirt bike addicts like myself. Even with my background, these questions really hit me. I now live in Central Texas, away from the plentiful trail systems and riding areas of Michigan that I learned on. Here it is all about private land or motocross tracks. I’ve never spent any time on the track, and I don’t have connections with owners…yet. I’ve never coached, and kids always seem to learn better when the coaching crew doesn’t include mom and dad.
Fortunately, my wife and I found Little Speedsters in Austin, Texas.
Christophe Hardenne is the founder and lead coach for Little Speedsters. He rode from a young age in Belgium, racing at higher levels in Europe before he came to the states. Little Speedsters was started at the time when he wished to teach his 2.5-year-old son, Sebastien, how to ride.
Little Speedsters provides a fleet of training bikes. The lineup consists exclusively of Yamaha trail models; PW50’s, TTR50’s, TTR110’s and one TTR125 for big beginners. Training wheels and throttle limiters are ready to go when needed. Everything is kept clean and well maintained, and the students are expected to be trained on the school’s verified-good equipment. In fact, I had to have the JR50 I built for my son go through Christophe’s tech inspection before he allowed it to be used for follow-up lessons. Once riders have a history with the school, they can train on their own equipment…but it must be in good condition.
Before getting on the bikes, Christophe and crew fit out the new riders with riding gear from FOX. They take care of helmets, goggles and gloves. You just need to have your little one show up in a long-sleeve shirt, sturdy long pants and footwear with ankle protection/support.
Training areas start with a flat, open section for teaching start/stop/slalom drills. The youngest students use the training-wheel-equipped bikes with tether leashes for one-on-one coaching. From there, students graduate to the flat oval for a bit more experience with bike speed, brake control and proper corner positioning.
The main track for the school is a generally flat peewee track layout with a few built up “hills” and easy turns. Tires and ribbon/tape is used to mark off corners and such. All turns are flat (no berms or rut training at this level). Everything is wide enough to allow easy, safe passing of the slower kids on training wheels. Anything remotely intimidating, or that would be too difficult for training wheels, has bypass routes available.
All of the trainers know what they are doing. The school’s coaches are certified by the USMCA, United States Motorcycle Coaching Association. They work not only with the riders, but also the parents. I giggled when a couple of parents were “instructed” to let the coaches handle the kids during inevitable tip-overs. Christophe and crew have a specific approach for everything, including recovering from a crash and getting back to action.
For less than the price of an adult bike rental at local riding spots, a child can get a 90-minute session with a bike, gear and instructors…free from intimidating obstacles, goon riders, and race-level aggression. Given the age and attention span of most youngsters, that is effectively a full day.
For those needing special focus, or looking to get a bit more advanced, private lessons with one-on-one coaching are available outside of the normal class schedule.
I couldn’t be happier with the experience my kids enjoyed. In fact, it impressed me enough to buy lessons for nephews and kids of friends as gifts.
Once a few waves of students and parents cleared the basics in a few classes, another need…and opportunity…arose. Parents were sharing contact info to arrange “ride dates,” and kids were outgrowing the basic courses. Christophe was forward-thinking enough to create the Little Speedsters Riding Club as an extension to the school.
A monthly fee secures club membership (with or without use of a school bike, which alters the rate). This membership gets your little rider access to club rides three Wednesdays and three Saturdays a month. All Wednesdays are at the school, as well as two Saturdays. The third Saturday meet-up is regularly scheduled at various local motocross parks with peewee/kid tracks.
Weather can be an issue anywhere, even here in Texas. Fortunately, the club shifts dates if kid-friendly riding is impossible, so six dates are always available in any given month. Times shift with the seasons…later in the morning during the winter and earlier during the summer to avoid the triple-digit afternoons that come with this location.
The club provides not only riding skill advancement, but also mechanical skills. Member kids are asked to bring their basic toolboxes to events, and coaches work with kids & parents on basics like chain maintenance, tire checks, oil changes, filter cleaning, etc.
Little Speedsters Club is currently exploring expansion to include race-day trips, with guidance for first-time race entrants. How much better would exposure to racing be, for how many families, if they had a network like this in place before they even got to the track?
Member riders get a club shirt on their second month, and private social media groups have been set up to help member families in hand-me-down gear exchange, bike purchases/sales, travel coordination, etc.
This is exactly what parents new to this community need when those first classes are done, their kids are hooked, and dad is standing there saying, “what do I do now?” Little Speedsters is not just training riders, but is facilitating the family-riding scene like nothing else I’ve seen in years.
Little Speedsters is the kind of program that the industry…and the community…should get behind in full force. If Christophe is not getting sponsor-level recognition from Yamaha, Fox and other equipment providers, those companies are dropping the ball and other OEM’s should jump in. I’ve heard of at least one local dealer including a Little Speedsters lesson with purchase of a TTR50…not sure if this was a seasonal thing or a standing offer, but it is definitely the kind of opportunity dealers should be leveraging.
Frankly, if I had the means and bandwidth, I would love to help Christophe franchise the school, formalize OEM/apparel sponsorships, and take Little Speedsters to the regional…then national…scale. I see endeavors like Little Speedsters as a needed lifeline for off-road motorcycling in the United States.
Christophe, and the school, can be reached at littlespeedsters.com