Speed Racers

Every kid wants an ultra-fast sport bike -- until the day he dies

Another reason amateurs hop on sport bikes is often the dealers themselves. Glenn Hansen of Suzuki points out that the company gives a $50 discount to any rider who takes the safety course, adding, "You don't ever want to sell somebody a bike that's too much that they can't handle it, because then it's not an enjoyable experience for them." But not all dealerships behave that way. James Mejia went shopping for a Yamaha R6 recently, having done his research, and decided that he had enough experience to start out slow and learn the bike. The 23-year-old airline pilot also had taken the safety course and knew the difference between a 600-class and a 1000-class sport bike. That's why he was surprised when the salesman tried to push the R1 on him. "There's not much difference overall," he was told. "I was kind of surprised," Mejia says.

An even bigger problem can be parents, who are yet more unaware when it comes to bikes. Yeater and other riders think parents see motorcycles as only a little more dangerous than cars. They don't understand the level of skill involved. "A parent going out and buying their son, their 16-year-old son, an R1 is no different than handing them the keys to a Ferrari," Yeater says. "And most parents would never, ever even consider doing something like that. But they don't know any better. They have no idea how fast these machines are and how powerful."

Gus Hunter's son Princeton died when he took out 
Hunter's racing bike for a joyride.
Daniel Kramer
Gus Hunter's son Princeton died when he took out Hunter's racing bike for a joyride.
The Suzuki GSXR 1000's high center of gravity gives it 
superior cornering capability.
Daniel Kramer
The Suzuki GSXR 1000's high center of gravity gives it superior cornering capability.

Gus Hunter knew just how powerful a bike his son Princeton had taken out the day he died. He used to check his bikes to see if they'd been ridden while he was out. "Not that I didn't trust my son, but he's a kid," Hunter says. Now he says parents need to lock up sport bikes.

He does some work for his business, Hunter Motorsports, in his garage, handling parts, tune-ups and repairs. Princeton used to hang out in the garage watching his father work on the bikes and eventually started helping out, moving parts and wheeling around bikes to help his dad. "I'd tell him he had to learn that in order to ride on the track," Hunter says. On the back bench, alongside the Bible and near his bowling ball, there are dozens of printouts showing off colors and patterns for bike designs. "Princeton did those," Hunter says. He'd been planning how he wanted to design his own bike. Princeton was into two things, says his father: "bikes and girls." Bragging a little bit, Gus Hunter says, "He really wasn't into the girls, the girls were just attracted to him."

Princeton would have started high school this fall. Instead, he had what Hunter says was the biggest funeral he'd ever been to. Down the driveway, there's a burned-rubber image in the center of the road. After the funeral, Hunter took out one of his bikes and paid tribute by peeling out to etch a cursive P on the asphalt. Since the accident, Hunter hasn't spent much time working on bikes.

On a recent Saturday he made his way down to Houston Raceway Park for a shootout competition. If Princeton had been alive, he would have been competing for the first time. "My son had it in him. He had that same adrenaline," says Hunter. "I knew once I got him out here and he gelled with the bike, I knew he was going to be something serious."

It's hard for Hunter to be out here. He knows almost everyone, and people keep coming up to him to give him hugs. But he seems nervous and a little jumpy. When Princeton used to come up to the shootouts, Hunter's friends would pull the teen aside and put him to work getting their bikes in shape. "Somebody'd just grab him," he says.

Hunter got rid of the GSXR 1000 that Princeton crashed -- he couldn't stand being near it. He says he's going to get a 2006 model. He won't say what he's going to do with it, but you get the feeling the bike will really belong to Princeton. Like the rubber initial in front of his house, a tribute to his son.

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