Mike Bouchard of the Slow Adults, who joined Norman and Steven Yeun for a ride in California on Ride With Norman Reedus, talks about minibike culture, restoring vintage bikes, and offers tips for first time riders.
Q: Can you tell me a bit of history about the Slow Adults?
A: Basically among the group, someone has always had minibikes. One guy had a bunch at one point and he was moving and needed to sell them, and another guy had a collection. But it really wasn’t until the bigger circle all started hanging out together and going, “Well that guy has a bike, and you have one,” and then everybody that didn’t have one got to ride one. It’s kind of infectious. As soon as you ride one once, you’re like, “Okay, I gotta get on one of these things.” That’s kinda how I got dragged into it.
On all the ones we had in the episode, they’ve all had a motor swap. Typically the bikes have anywhere between a 50 and a 70cc motor, and we’ve swapped all of ours for 125cc motors, which is a pretty significant increase. Now you can do 50, 60 miles an hour, so now we’re on the street with these things, you can do wheelies. You can really get out of control, and it’s a lot of fun.
Q: For a non-rider, can you explain the difference between handling a vintage minibike and a “regular” bike?
A: Your shift pattern would be probably the biggest difference. A lot of the original minibikes didn’t even have a clutch, so you’d rev the motor and it would just kind of go into gear, so it was really easy for kids to get on there and learn how to do it. But when you do the motor swap, typically you add a clutch, so the shift pattern is a little different. Another thing is those bikes aren’t meant for those speeds. All day long on a [regular] bike you’ll do 50 miles an hour and not even bat an eye, but on those things, you’re humming. There’s a lot of control things, where you’ve got a grown person on a little bike, when you bring it up to high speeds, it can get a little sketchy. [Laughs] Obviously with a bigger person, your center of gravity changes. I’ve seen every single one of us go down at one point — and it’s absolutely hilarious. So you’re a bit more stable on a big bike, but that’s not as much fun. The sketch factor really adds to the experience.
Q: Even in the episode, Steven says he might like the minis more than his real bike.
A: They’re completely un-intimidating, so you just get on and think, “Oh yeah, I can do that. I can get on this thing and go flying through these trees over there.” You get really, really comfortable, which leads to more of the spills and stuff like that.
Q: Would you say certain bikes attract a certain kind of personality, or are all bets off when it comes to bikes?
A: No, I think they definitely attract a certain personality. Just thinking of everyone in the group, it attracts people who don’t take themselves too seriously. How can you? You get on there and your knees are at your elbows. They call them monkey bikes. That was kind of the slang for them, because you get on there and look like a monkey. So if you’re a grown man who can get on one in public, you’re obviously someone who can laugh at yourself. … It’s silly and nobody is trying to be a tough guy. You can’t help but smile the whole time you’re riding one, so how big of a badass are you going to be with a big goofy grin on your face?
Q: I saw the new Honda mini model is even called a Monkey now.
A: Yeah and that’s a throwback to the start of the ’50s. The subcultures in Japan go over the top in everything – there’s this whole subculture in Japan that is not only into the minibikes and the mini resurgence, but there’s also these guys doing radical builds on these things. This was definitely a market pull situation, where they were seeing all these photos and all these groups, and there’s guys like us who just want to put them together and put a big motor on them and go rip. Then, you’ve got these guys who are purists and want to build them perfectly and back to the showroom floor. Then you’ve got these guys who want to make choppers out of them and extreme builds, and all that stuff. I think they knew the interest was there, so I think it was a smart move, doing a repop of the old mini bikes.
Q: Biker culture can get a bad rep in the public eye. Do you think groups like the Slow Adults help ease negative perception about biker groups?
A: I definitely think so. In California, you can split lanes, and that’s a big rub between vehicle drivers and motorcycle drivers. Everyone in L.A. is stuck in traffic and pissed off, and they’re so bitter at motorcycles for being able to split lanes, and they hate it. They try and block out bikes and then bikes get mad and break mirrors and fights break out. But when you come up splitting lanes on a mini, and the top of your head is at their shoulder height and you look in the window, it’s almost like comic relief. We can’t go anywhere with these things without people stopping and wanting to talk about it. I also ride Choppers, other guys ride dirt bikes and whatever else; we’re just all different segments of the motorcycle community. So when you look and talk to us, you know you’re talking to a “biker,” but it’s on a mini, it’s about a mini, and you can think, “Wow, these are definitely approachable people.” So, short answer, yes absolutely, I think it’s kind of bridging relations between bikers and non-bikers. It is funny though, sometimes, when you go places with these bikes, some guys are just bent. They’re pissed that you rolled up, because they think you’re almost mocking them when you pull up in these things. But most bikers are gonna look at it and go, “I had one of these,” or they can appreciate the build at least.
Q: A lot of the Slow Adults’ bikes in the episode are original vintage models. What kind of work goes into restoring them?
A: The first move is the motor swap. … and then you’re gonna want to add a clutch and controls. The seat is almost guaranteed to be trashed, but the cool thing about the seat is that they’re pretty easy to get and there’s a ton of companies in Japan that are remaking everything. Whereas a lot of other builds, sometimes you have to remake parts, or you have to salvage. … Not the case with these. It’s typically cheaper to order the repop parts. I think at the end of the build you end up with the body, the wheels, headlight, handlebars and the gas tank – the basic components – but pretty much because everything is so readily available, you just swap it out and now you have a new bike.
Q: Have you been on any rides with your mini that you couldn’t do with a normal sized bike?
A: Almost all of them. We’ll go on rides, it’ll start off on paved road and it’s like “Whee!” and we have fun, and then typically Will [Wilson] will go, “Hey what’s that over there?” He’ll spot a mouth to a trail, and then all of a sudden you’re off on some kind of crazy adventure. I remember once we were in Joshua Tree and we took off into what we thought was a dry river bed, and as soon as we get into it, we realize it’s silt, and it’s basically quicksand. We’re like miles from home, and it’s one of those situations where you just keep on the gas and hope you get through it. [Laughs] We did another trek where we just got into rocks and stuff that were too crazy, but the bikes were small so you can just pick them up. So we kept going, but sometimes you just get yourself deeper into a mess. … You get into cooler, more interesting places you wouldn’t be able to otherwise, but sometimes it’s not for the better. But that’s part of the adventure.
Q: How did Norman and Steven take to the minis?
A: They loved them, obviously. I was on comm with them and hearing them giggle like little kids. Obviously both of those guys know how to ride, so to get on a minibike is not that much of an adaptation, but I thought for sure Norman was going to ride off with one.
Q: What was the ride actually like?
A: It was a blast. I got to watch the clip this morning, and I was just smiling the entire time because it reminded me just how fun it was. Now I can understand why Will and Josh [McLeod] are always trying to put people on their bikes, because it’s really fun to watch people experience mini bikes for the first time as an adult. It was really fun just to watch the ride. I wish we could have ridden all day. Those guys are also super funny. You’re just cruising along laughing your ass off. I guess it’s par for the course, but those guys are pretty quick with the one-liners.
Q: The show makes Sonoma look incredible. Is that one of your favorite places to ride?
A: I don’t think cameras can really capture how insane it is up there. That’s why it was so devastating when it burned, because it’s so breathtakingly beautiful and it’s heartbreaking when everything burned the way it did. We went up there pretty soon after and it was heartbreaking to see these really cool farm homes just completely gone. But I guess that’s part of the game in California. You live in an amazing part of the world, but fires and earthquakes and stuff like that remind you how lucky you are to have everything that you do.
Q: Is there anything else you want people to know about the Slow Adults or mini bikes?
A: I would just strongly recommend giving it a try. [Laughs] But this would be the one thing I want people to know: If you’ve never ridden a bike before, try it on the grass, or in an open space. You know those videos on America’s Funniest Home Videos where the person gets on a bike and goes straight into the fence on the first try? That happens like 80 percent of the time. Expect that to happen the first time and give yourself space to not kill yourself.
Ride With Norman Reedus airs Sundays at midnight/11c.
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