Motorcycling Helped Me Better Understand My Father

James, left, with his son, getting ready to ride.
James, left, with his son, getting ready to ride.

Writer Brandon Friederich has always been best friends with his father, so of course the two would take the MSF Basic RiderCourse together. When they began riding together, not only did their bond grow, they also discovered things they didn’t know about themselves.

By Brandon Friederich
Senior Editor at

Nearly three years into my motorcycling journey, and I’m still in the honeymoon phase. My love for the most exciting transportation mode hasn’t faded for two simple reasons: I still feel perfectly safe as a relatively new rider, and more importantly, I get to share the ride with my dad. 

Some, especially the motorcycling-curious, may be interested to know that I haven’t yet crashed. I’m not experienced by any stretch — nearly all of my 5,500 miles are on my Indian Scout Bobber Sixty, which is my first and only bike. (If I weren’t a commute-less remote worker, the odometer reading might be two or three times greater.) 

But within my first month of riding, I’d heard a widespread motorcycling maxim: “It’s not if you put your bike down, it’s when.” Ostensibly, this helps new riders understand that their eventual crashing is an inevitability. A good friend with over a decade’s worth of motorcycling experience made a similarly discouraging prediction; “You’ll put your bike down within the first year. Happens to everyone.”

Brandon Friederich with his dad, James, and their dog, Dallas the Chihuahua.
Brandon Friederich with his dad, James, and their dog, Dallas the Chihuahua.

Some accidents really aren’t avoidable, but many are. And if there’s a single reason I’ve been able to avoid fulfilling the macabre prophecies above, it’s because I paid attention in the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) Basic RiderCourse. All new riders should take it. 

Skeptics may read that as a shameless plug — you are reading this on the MSF’s website. But I’m serious. 

In this Autoweek article, I detailed an accident that very nearly occurred at highway speeds in my first month of riding. It’s a heart-pumping scenario that will ring familiar with many, if not all riders — a driver turned into my lane, completely oblivious to the 65-mph motorcyclist they’d egregiously just put in danger by failing to yield.

My Basic RiderCourse instructor had instilled the concept of “pretending to be invisible” while riding. Assume that none of the drivers on the road know you exist, and you’ll naturally begin to see and anticipate potential hazards. I’d spotted the Ford Taurus seconds before it pulled out in front of me. 

I’d also been taught how to quickly slow down properly by applying both brakes simultaneously. This is a skill I’d practiced in the Basic RiderCourse during quick-stop drills. It proved invaluable in preventing a collision with the aforementioned Taurus. 

Swerving is a crucial third ability I acquired in class. While it didn’t come into play during the incident above, this is the skill I’ve utilized most to avoid debris, critters, and other drivers who make unexpected lane changes, of which there are many. 

For those who first saddle up on bikes in their teens, safety may not be the primary concern (though it should be). But because I started riding as a marginally wiser 27-year-old, safety was an immediate priority. For my 60-year-old father, James, safety was paramount. 

He and I started motorcycling together. We took the Basic RiderCourse together, through which we established a rock-solid riding foundation. We each own the same model — an Indian Scout Bobber Sixty. And through motorcycling, we’ve not only strengthened our relationship, but uncovered undiscovered parts of ourselves. Stick with me.  

The two of us have always been extremely close. In my adulthood, we’re as much best friends as father-son. But our proclivities are different — he’s more cautious, I’m more daring. Our solo riding styles follow suit, and the difference in tread wear on our rear tires tells the tale. 

It’s logical to assume our rides together would be disjunct; that his penchant is to cruise and mine is to fly like a bat out of hell. But the reality of riding with my dad is much more nuanced and dare I say, beautiful. I’ve seen him scrape his pegs through corners before pulling away on straights, milking every modicum of torque from his one-liter V-twin. I still smile every time with pleasant surprise. 

Brandon and his father each bought the same motorcycle, an Indian Scout Bobber Sixty, after taking the MSF Basic RiderCourse together and earning their licenses.
Brandon and his father each bought the same motorcycle, an Indian Scout Bobber Sixty, after taking the MSF Basic RiderCourse together and earning their licenses.

While he’s busy leading the way, I’m following close behind. Whether we’re spending an afternoon cruising highways between small towns in our native Iowa or taking a quick jaunt to a local cafe, I pick this position every time. It’s our default formation. Despite my tendency to ride harder and faster on solo trips, I’m most content to take a more relaxing proverbial back seat when I’m riding with my dad. You could chalk this up to a deep-seated “obey your father” instinct, but he’d be the first to tell you that he’s seldom seen such an instinct in his son. 

If you’ll indulge me in a bit of self-indulgent philosophical reflection, motorcycling seems to bring out parts of us that are typically dormant. He gets to go a little wild, and I take a break from the type of wild lifestyle you’d expect to be led by a single man in his early 30s. Best of all, we get to exercise these dormant parts of ourselves together. 

The other joys of riding with my dad are less novel but no less cherished. We both agree that a motorcycle is the absolute coolest machine money can buy. (It’s worth noting here that he also owns a Lotus Elise.)

Aside from watching TV and traveling, motorcycling is just about the only hobby that we both care about. We talk about what upgrades we’d like to make to our current bikes and which bikes we’d like to buy next. He gets to hear me spill the beans on whichever new Indian Motorcycle model is about to hit the news cycle before the media embargo lifts (shh). 

By my age, many people have begun looking back fondly on memories they’ve created with their fathers. Motorcycling has given my dad and me the opportunity to continue making more.

Video montage of Brandon and his father riding around Ledges State Park in Central Iowa.