In The Paddock Column

Michael Scott | February 18, 2021

Cycle News In The Paddock

COLUMN

Kids on Race Bikes? Don’t Ask The Memsahib

It was with mixed feelings that I read the recent announcement of the latest Dorna-FIM recruitment drive, and I don’t think this is unusual.

The initiative, due to commence in July (pandemic permitting), comprises sundry proposed national championships, targeting children aged 10 to 14. They will act as a sub-feeder series to the existing feeder series: Red Bull Rookies/Asia Talent/Northern Talent Cups and the Spanish CEV “Junior World Championship.”

Ohvale GP-0 160 minibike
Ohvale GP-0 160 minibike

A pre-teen kindergarten on kart tracks, with full-time committed riders on identical minibikes. Permanent entry lists, control tires, and so on. Just like the grown-ups.

Uncomfortably so? The Ohvale GP-0 160 minibikes prescribed are neat little racers—upside-down forks and linkage rear suspension, and a four-stroke 160cc engine whose quoted power output of 15 bhp seems on the modest side. But if you think back to the early days of the World Championship, a 125 GP rider would be surprised and delighted to have that much power at his disposal, and a 250 single wouldn’t have had much more. Ridden not by 10-year-olds, but fully fledged grand prix adults.

The range of responses to this news runs the gamut, from “wow, what an opportunity” to “hands off our kids;” and depends a lot on parental predisposition. And gender.

Take the fatherly perspective first. My own runs as follows: I wish, when I’d been 10, my father had bought me a MiniGP bike and sponsored a racing career. But I’m relieved I didn’t do that for my own son.

Not everyone would agree. “Motocross Dad” is a stinging trope for dads taking out their own frustrations forcing an unwilling son to the starting gate. But how about the willing sons? What greater support could you ask?

Motocross Mom on the other hand? Not unknown. But not so much.

Want to buy the kid a grand prix bike? Better run it past the memsahib first.

Here are some of the arguments that might swing the decision.

Mainly that if your kid wants to do dangerous things badly enough, he’ll find a way, so it’s better that it’s done under supervision, with a medical team standing by.

Then there’s the obvious fact that if you aren’t already at a high level of competition by the time you’re 10, you’re unlikely to make the big time.

By that age, the likes of Marquez and Rossi (and Rainey and Lawson etc. before them) were already seasoned veterans. The Jesuits were wont to say: “Give me a child till he is seven years old, and I will show you the man.” But starting three years later might still be soon enough to produce a fully-fledged bike-racing graduate by the time he turns 16—old enough for GP racing.

The counterarguments are obvious. Well, there’s just the one, really. It’s damned dangerous. And mother’s job has always been to keep her little prince nice and safe. Whether he likes it or not.

A key element of sporting success, along with practice, is determination, so a future champion will work hard at persuading reluctant parents and turning the tide in his favor. Thankfully for racing, the 2021 elite have already proved successful at this task.

A disproportionate number of current champions and race winners have come through the feeder series mentioned above. These include current MotoGP champ Mir, and race winners Binder and Oliveira, to name just three who cut their teeth in the Red Bull Rookies series. Vinales, Rins and Quartararo meanwhile are among those who came up via the Spanish CEV route; Jack Miller another who raced his future MotoGP rivals there on the way up.

The likes of Rossi and Dovizioso predated the growing plethora of formal training and selection series, but in recent years Cal Crutchlow is the only race winner to have made it into MotoGP by a different route. Oh yes, and Danilo Petrucci.

And the hapless parents, who may or may not have needed plenty of persuading back when they were all starting out?

It’s hard for any other parent not to share in the apprehension of Marc’s and Alex’s dad Julia Marquez, faithfully present in the pits for not just one scary ride at every GP, but one for each of his sons. And unforgettable for any parent who saw the forlorn images of Paolo Simoncelli waiting as medical staff fought in vain to save the life of his son Marco, in Malaysia in 2011.

The danger has been ameliorated in all sorts of ways but will never go away as long as bike-to-body collisions can occur. But the desire, even the need, to race won’t go away either. That is, in itself, a life-affirming force, confirmed by Simoncelli Senior’s team ownership in Moto3.

And starting young is, in the end, the most affirming of all. CN

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Michael Scott | MotoGP Editor Scott has been covering MotoGP since long before it was MotoGP. Remember two-strokes? Scott does. He’s also a best-selling author of biographies on the lives of legendary racers such as Wayne Rainey and Barry Sheene.