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Common Tread

Father knows best: Teaching kids about life, one crash at a time

Aug 04, 2017

“Who taught you guys how to ride?!”

This was the question Brian Englund posed to his kids as his youngest son had managed to get his dirt bike struck in a tree shortly after his eldest daughter launched her bike up a ravine on the opposite side of the trail, getting it stuck on a rock.

Riding since he was 19, Brian didn’t get into adventure riding until shortly after his 36th birthday. After returning from a tour to Afghanistan in 2013 (compliments of the U.S. Army), Brian turned to a 2009 KTM 950 Super Enduro as a form of therapy. Realizing that off-road riding was something he wanted to share with his kids, he added a KTM 300 XC to his garage, along with a gaggle of miscellaneous dirt bikes for his brood.

One look at Brian’s Instagram page is all you’ll need in order to realize how devoted he is to his children. There is post after post of them riding together and working in the garage.

A post shared by Unibrawler (@brian_englund) on

At first, I thought this would just be a funny, lighthearted piece about a very involved father and his approach to parenting. But the more I looked, the more I realized there was another layer here. While Brian was having fun with his children, he was also preparing them — and himself — for his next absence.  

"Lex (Alexis) is my oldest, she turns 14 in two weeks. She's the conservative one, typically picking smarter lines and often finishing faster than the others because she doesn't crash as much. She's on the 2007 KTM 105SX. Nate, who will be turning 12 in September, is my middle son. He is definitely the fastest rider... between crashes. He's the daredevil and will try anything on his bike. He had to upgrade from his CR85RB Big Wheel this year. He's also the lead mechanic in the outfit. Where Lex prefers to read the manuals first, Nate dives in. You can imagine the results.

Alexis Englund, Nate Englund, and Carl Englund
When one sibling gets stuck, the other two aren't far behind to offer a helping hand. Photo by Brian Englund.

"Carl is 10 and rides a 2006 Honda CR85R. He is the hardest worker once we're on the trail and has the best clutch control of the bunch. His biggest challenge is getting started again after a fall. I did the math, and the weight ratios for him picking up his bike are the same as me picking up the 950 Super Enduro — and I know what a smoker that is! Toughest little dude ever, he finished the Desert 100 with walking pneumonia so bad he couldn't even talk."

Alexis Englund, Nate Englund, and Carl Englund
From left to right, Lex, Nate, and Carl on a recent ride with their dad. Photo by Brian Englund.

After posting a recent video on Instagram of his daughter crashing, Brian began to see some backlash in the comments. The internet has no shortage of people wanting to tell others how to live their lives and Brian began to hear all about how he should be raising his kids.

When I asked him if he still was still OK with me sharing his story, knowing it could lead to further criticism, this was his response:

“I'd love to get something out there. If it serves to motivate other people to put their kids on bikes and teach them that they're not made of glass and they can make their own decisions, that's awesome.”

He wasn’t just making videos of his kids crashing in an effort to catch a few laughs. He was using those crashes as teachable moments.

Alexis Englund, Nate Englund, and Carl Englund
With each crash comes a lesson in teamwork. Photo by Brian Englund.

In the first video of his two kids struggling, he directs Lex to shut off her petcock and set her bike down in order to help out Carl, who's stuck on a rock. He then encourages Nate to run back and help out his siblings. The moment became one big team-building exercise where his kids learned the importance of relying on each other to get through a rough situation.

Keep scrolling through his Instagram page and you’ll come to a picture of Lex getting a cast removed from her arm. The caption consists of words of encouragement from dad, urging her to get back on the bike because using the clutch will make for great physical therapy. There is a video of Nate with an ear-to-ear grin on his face when he kicks his dirt bike to life after rebuilding his own engine for the first time (with a little bit of guidance and wisdom from Pop). Further down is a picture of Carl completing a hare scramble, fist in the air as the checkered flag waves in front of him.

While Brian’s kids have only been riding since the fall of 2015, he’s “damn proud” of what they’ve accomplished.

“They've raced the Desert 100 twice, a dozen local NMA (Northwest Motorcycle Association in Washington) events, and a hundred trail rides, and they just keep getting faster, more technical, and wiser in their line selection. Soon, they'll be the ones laughing at me pinned under my bike, and rightly so,” Brian tells me during one of our conversations. It’s important for him that they learn to be self-sufficient.

Nate Englund and Carl Englund
It looks like the kids have gotten so good that Dad is farming out a carb rebuild off of his KTM. Photo by Brian Englund.

“They're budding mechanics, and each has rebuilt their own bike with varying degrees of assistance from Dad. They do their own maintenance and I have become hands-off, directing from across the garage. This is by design, as they have to be able to do it on their own when I'm gone.”

That's when I fully realized how Brian's time with his children was about something much larger than having fun on motorcycles. As you read this, Brian has already headed out for another year of overseas deployment away from his kids.

Hence the reason for all the social media posts lately. Brian has been trying to pack a lifetime of living into the past few weeks, spending as much time with his children as possible. Pictures of the four of them litter his feeds.

When I ask Brian what he’s going to do when he returns, he tells me he’s unsure. He’s memorized his retirement date from the Army, and rattles it off without hesitation, but past that he says he’s still trying to figure out what he wants to be when he grows up.

Brian Englund
Brian's only goal at the moment is to get his work done over the next year so he can return to having fun with his kids. Photo by Brian Englund.

There is passion when he talks about an organization called Veterans Back 40 Adventure. This is a group that helps to acclimate returning vets back to civilian life through the use of adventure and dual-sport rides. Brian tells me this is something he wishes had been around when he returned from Afghanistan.

“VB40A is almost exactly what I did totally on my own when I got home from Afghanistan, only I did it the hard way: alone. It would have been a lot cooler if I'd fallen in with a band of shake-and-bake friends to accelerate the learning and the fun!”

While he is passionate about the work that the folks at the VB40A are tackling, his only concern at the moment is getting through the next year and returning to his kids.

“This will be a tough year, but friends will help and I've given them the opportunity to prepare and the tools (mental and shop) to work. All I can do now is watch and attempt to assist from afar.”

If you ask Brian, he’ll describe himself as a “regular Joe” just doing what he needs to do to take care of his family. But his actions tell a bigger story, a story I felt was worth sharing.