Adventure and travel writing

Mini Bike Hero, by Steve Van Bakel

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  On a spring day in 1978 my father suggested we eat outside, a true sign that summer was just around the corner. When he excused himself part way through dinner and headed towards the back door of the house, we thought nothing of it. Even when he veered from the back door and disappeared around the side of the house, we thought nothing of it. When he returned a few minutes later, we thought nothing of it, at least until we realized he was pushing a small motorcycle.


I'm sure my eyes were bugging out of my head as I jumped from the picnic table and raced to look at the bright, new red mini bike. The shock was just starting to settle when a stranger came around the corner of the house pushing a second matching mini bike. I don't remember exactly what was said next, maybe because that was so long ago but probably because I was so overcome with shock no sensual stimuli was strong enough to over power my sense of sight and the beauty before me.


We eventually learned that our parents had decided that the two mini bikes would be a powerful draw to get us kids to the cottage on our many weekends away. My friend Roger and I often talk about how much fun we had as kids creating our own ways to amuse ourselves at the cottage. This included building forts and firing the one arrow a day dad allowed me straight up into the air, and then running for cover once we lost site of it. The new mini bikes brought a whole new dimension of enjoyment and imagination to our long summer days at the cottage.


Of course, there was no way to expect kids to wait until we got the new 1978 Honda Mini Trail 50s up to the cottage to try them out. So, after dinner dad took me and my two sisters, Maria and Christina to the park with one of the bikes to try it out. We felt like celebrities as heads turned to watch us walking the bike to the park where neighbourhood kids came to see what the excitement was all about.


Dad was the first test pilot the bike after showing us how to start it and then work the gears on the clutchless dirt bike. He stepped it into gear and then did a couple small loops around the corner of the park where my sisters and I watched in awe. At thirteen Christina was the oldest and the next to learn how to operate a motor vehicle for the first time. While sitting on the bike dad walked her through the safety features of the bike including the brake and the kill switch that would shut the bike down in an emergency.  Little did he know how soon these two safety features would come into play.


Christina revved the gas and before dad could say a word of caution, she stepped the bike into gear. The front wheel pop off the ground and the bike lurch forward throwing Christina to the ground. But Dad was close by and grabbed the handlebars while the front wheel was still in the air. What followed would have won great prizes if it had been caught with a video camera. When Dad grabbed the handle bars he inadvertently grab the throttle in a wide open position and the bike continued to bound forward as Dad tried to hit the kill switch. This was harder than one would think because Dad feared letting go of the bike might hurt someone, so he was forced continued a comical dance with the bike as he fought to turn it off. By the time he hit the kill switch and both wheels were back on the ground, Dad turned to see his three kids on the ground laughing hysterically at the antics.


That was the first of many misadventures with those mini bikes and the start to many wonderful memories created behind those handle bars.


The small the bikes could reach a top speed of about 50 km/hr which was plenty fast enough when racing through the trails that we cut through the trees and hills around the cottage. If fact, a bigger, faster bike would have had a hard time maneuvering around in the tight areas. We started off with follow the leader, challenging the other rider to keep up while maintaining a challenging speed through the trees and tight corners, this soon turned to games such as cops and robbers or hide and seek. And sometimes we pushed a little to hard, went a little to fast, or followed too close. Accidents happened though luckily pretty minor, accept for the time when the cop chased the robber too close and collided sending both bikes and riders to the ground. Unfortunately, my sister Maria's bike landed with the hot exhaust on her leg which caused second degree burns and a trip to the hospital. She wasn't so eager to run from the motorcycle cop after that.


The one rule we had was that the mini bikes were to never leave the property or venture onto the road. Though the gravel country roads were seldom travelled, the mini bikes were not meant for the road or the occasional farmer driving too fast on the back roads. That changed one night when Dad invited me out for a ride. At first I thought we were just going to do a night ride around the property but when we reached the end of the lane way, Dad stopped and told me stay close behind him. "First sign of headlights and we get as far off the road as far as we can," he told me. That night I got my first taste of the excitement that a motorcycle on an open road can offer. We did a loop around the concession that took about half an hour and we returned with big smiles on my face. Those nighttime rides around the concession are some of my fondest memories on the mini bikes.


At twelve the mini bikes were the perfect size for us and all the lucky friends who got to join us for a weekend of riding. As I grew to six feet and beyond the mini bikes felt smaller and smaller but surprisingly they never stopped being fun. Those bikes lasted for close to twenty years and they continued to be well used by my friends and myself when we had our friends’ weekends at the cottage. Though we should have outgrown those bikes many years earlier we didn’t, and it was very sad when we arrived at the cottage one weekend only to find that the mini bikes had been stolen.


I'm not sure if at the time of purchasing those bikes our parents realized what a great influence they would have on their kids. Though my older sister Christina didn’t ride the mini bikes as much as Maria and I, she was the first to come home with a real motorcycle after taking a course where she met her future husband. For me, those bikes started a lifetime of dreams about motorcycle riding which eventually lead to a lifetime obsession with riding and motorcycle adventures.


Give a boy the means to seek adventure and the dreams come naturally. We didn't have the bikes for long when I started dreaming about where they could take me.  My cousin and I figured that as soon as we turned sixteen we were going to take the bikes on a cross-country trip. As unrealistic as it sounds now, that was the joys of childhood dreams.  And as I grew, so too did the dreams. I dreamt of bigger bikes and actually making that trip across our great country. Though it would take another fourteen years before I was successful in turning that dream into a reality.

On a side note, if the thought of driving two little mini bikes across country sounds ridiculous, you're right but the idea made someone a lot of money. In the movie Dumb and Dumber the two main characters end up climbing on a small mini bike for a major road trip. The antics that followed had me laughing so hard as I thought that could have been me at sixteen.


By this time you are probably wondering why I called this story Mini Bike Hero. My obsession with motorcycles started with those two mini bikes and shortly after getting them I ordered my first motorcycle book call, Mini Bike Hero. Almost forty years later I still have that booked tucked away in my memory chest. Though I haven't read it in as many years, it has survived all those purges and many moves. And each time I come across it, that boyhood smile returns as I remember back to the dreams and excitement those dirt bikes brought into my life.