Young people like motorcycles, you just have to show them where to ride them

France and Britain share a problem of young people riding motorcycles. But the governments of neither country know how to fix it.

Kay de Wolf, 2022 MXGP of Flanders (Belgium). - Husqvarna Media

Road racing can be brutal, but it is also beautiful. There is no denying, it is perhaps the most polarising sport in the heads of the people who love it.

Events such as the North West 200, Isle of Man TT, Manx Grand Prix - to name just a small few - are landmark races on the motorcycling calendar and rightly so. They are fantastic events run by passionate and professional people, who know what they’re doing. 

This is less so the case in France, at least for some people. Over the Channel they race so-called ‘rodeos’, late at night, with no organisation. Essentially, they are motorcycle ‘street races’ like those in the first three or four Fast and Furious movies. 

France24 reports that these are especially popular in low-income areas of the country, and that the French government intends to crack down on the ‘rodeos’.

The call for government intervention comes after two children - and 11-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy - were injured after they were hit by a bike while playing outside their house.

Additionally, France24 reports that the injuries to the two children came after a 19-year-old man was killed when he was hit by a bike.

France24 says that the ‘rodeos’ are defended as a “gritty urban subculture that provides an outlet for disaffected youths.” Additionally, there is an upcoming film called “Rodeo” that apparently glorifies this “subculture.”

In the UK, there is a comparison to be made. Over the last week, people on social media have written about their dissatisfaction with young people riding dirt bikes and quad bikes in numbers on the streets. 

Like in France, where the ‘rodeos’ are defended, the people riding dirt bikes on the streets in the UK are defended by left-wing journalists/activists, as shown in the tweet thread below. Their argument is that the young people aren’t doing anything especially dangerous.

The argument of the people who live in the areas where this happens - in Darlington or County Durham, for example, as reported by the Northern Echo - is that the people riding dirt bikes are intimidating, and cause fear for both young children and old people. This seems fair, but the unfortunate part is the reaction, which has been to increase police powers to seize the vehicles. 

Theoretically, this would dissuade people from riding dirt bikes on the road in the first place, and those who do would not be able to for much longer as the bikes would no longer be in their possession. 

The argument for increasing police powers, and the argument to leave the situation alone, are both wrong. If people are feeling intimidated or scared because of the actions of a number of other people, the negative freedom society in which we live dictates that the dirt bike riders are in this case over-exploiting their own freedom to impinge on the freedom of others, and therefore must face some kind of punishment (i.e. the confiscation of their motorcycles) for the aforementioned over-exploitation of their own freedom. 

Therefore, there must be some kind of action so that the people who feel intimidated do not continue to feel intimidated. While confiscating motorcycles is a very obvious solution, it is a negative and ultimately unsuccessful one. If people have their motorcycles confiscated, they will simply find another way to seek the enjoyment they derived from riding the motorcycles. Perhaps that ‘other way’ will be worse than the original problem. 

In the UK, we have many motocross tracks. Motocross tracks use dirt, and dirt bikes - funnily enough - are designed to ride on dirt. Perhaps the promotion of these motocross tracks - or even the sport of motocross (or other dirt-based motorcycle disciplines like enduro) - would be beneficial. If young people who like to ride their dirt bikes on the road realised that there were places where they could ride them that are actually much more enjoyable and rewarding, they might prefer to go there. 

How to promote motocross becomes another matter. Perhaps if there was a British Motocross Grand Prix, or a British Motocross Championship, or a UK MX Nationals, that could work.

Indeed, they all exist. There is (at least there has been since 2018) a British Motocross Grand Prix; there is a British Motocross Championship; and there is a UK MX Nationals. But no one knows about them. National media never reports on them, either in print or on TV. Unless you know about motocross, you are almost never going to find out about motocross in the UK. 

This October, there is the first round of the brand new Supercross World Championship (they try to sell it as a continuation of the FIM/AMA collaborative championships, but the reality is the series is new) taking place in Cardiff. The British Grand Prix. That is the second British GP for dirt bike riders this year, and this one is even more accessible than the MXGP of Great Britain at Matterley Basin. 

The reality of supercross is that the races happen in stadiums, and the place to find a stadium is in a city. That means access is straightforward. Get a train to Cardiff, go watch the race, stay overnight in a hotel, travel back on Sunday. As Max Anstie said when Visordown recently spoke to him about the World Supercross Championship, “You’re actually in a stadium, it’s a cool atmosphere, it’s a cool event to take your family to and on a Saturday night in a city like this I think it’s going to be really cool.”

But, still, it remains locked away inside racing and motorcycle media. National media is not interested, and will probably continue to be uninterested. National journalists, political activists, commentators, politicians, government ministers- none of them have heard of Little Silver, or Hawkstone Park, or Fat Cat, or even Matterley. The solution is arguably there, but no one knows about it.

And what a wasted opportunity that seems to be. If you have a problem with people having dirt bikes but seemingly nowhere to ride them, promoting the sport that uses the facilities that are made for these dirt bikes is surely the obvious thing. But, no. The choices have already been decided: do nothing; or involve the police. It’s actually a bit tragic.

Image of French officials looking at bikes seized in a 'rodeo' courtesy of Philippe Desmazes/AFP/France24.

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