A scary incident in Washington State 30 years ago solidified Ken LaLonde’s belief that he belonged on the back of a motorcycle.
The mishap didn’t strike any fear of riding in him. Quite the contrary, LaLonde said, he felt relatively calm seconds after it happened.
LaLonde’s parents were avid riders, and as a result, he was raised around motorcycles. He started dirt-bike riding at 11.
At 17, the youngest of three brothers accompanied his folks on a motorcycle trip to Arkansas.
He and his siblings were invited to join their mom and dad on the journey, all expenses paid, so long as they bought their own bikes.
A motivated LaLonde sold his car and used the money to buy his very first street motorcycle.
“That was the start of my motorcycling, on the street,” LaLonde said.
The sun was sinking under the mountains on the first day of the journey when LaLonde’s tires hit a patch of oil. He figured he was travelling about 80 mph.
“I was riding a few hundred yards in front of my parents… and the back end of my motorcycle started slapping back-and-forth,” he recalled.
Instinctively, LaLonde threw his feet down on the asphalt, knowing not to hit his brakes too hard.
He slid off the road and into the gravel shoulder.
“My mother was in tears,” LaLonde said. “She thought for sure she was going to watch her son die. But it didn’t even get my heart going. Instantly, I felt perfectly calm. Instead of, ‘Whoa, I’ll never ride a bike again!’ I thought, ‘You know what? I’ve got this.’”
It didn’t take long before LaLonde’s affinity for pushing his bike to its limit got him into hot water. At 19, he lost his license after being issued one too many speeding tickets.
That’s how he got into track racing.
“I had that need for speed, and I wasn’t going to get it on the street,” LaLonde said. “I was needing an outlet for it.”
He raced for the first time in 1984 at the former Westwood Motorsport Park in Coquitlam, an eight-turn, 1.8-mile circuit that doubled as a street course for cars and motorcycles.
The now-48-year-old Maple Ridge resident recalled that he was “instantly fast.”
“My third race that I was in, I ended up winning,” he said.
He continued to race through the ’80s, winning Canadian national titles before taking a 15-year hiatus in 1989.
His wife Gail motivated LaLonde to get back into racing when he was 38 years old.
“I told my wife it was a slippery slope,” LaLonde said, laughing heartily.
He owned a motorcycle when he met Gail in 1997, the same year he competed in a Canadian national competition.
He sold the bike a year later.
Four years passed, and Gail convinced her husband to buy another motorcycle.
“She loved being on the back of a bike when we rode on the street,” LaLonde said.
The couple later discovered that racing existed through the Westwood Motorcycle Racing Club (WMRC) at the River’s Edge Race Course at Mission Raceway Park.
LaLonde hasn’t looked back.
Since 2004, he’s been a regular competitor on the 1.6-mile, nine-turn road course.
“It’s a great place to bring the kids and watch racing,” LaLonde said, regarding the race course.
Lalonde is one of the few remaining original members of the WMRC.
He and 32-year-old teammate Bez Cajee, also a Maple Ridge resident, are the only two fully sponsored riders in Western Canada who don’t actually work in the motorcycle business.
Two years shy of his 50th birthday, LaLonde continues to be a dominant force on the River’s Edge course.
Aboard a Ducati 1198SP with a small caricature of his British Bulldog Buddy decorating its tail section for inspiration, LaLonde took the checkered flag in 10 of 12 races he was involved in at the Mission track.
His other two other wins were part of the Western Canadian Championship, one weekend in Mission, the other at Edmonton’s Stratotech Park Raceway. He finished first in Open Supersport and second in Superbike after his clutch blew up in one of the races in Edmonton.
LaLonde is the No. 1 plate holder for B.C. for the Superbike Class (SBK). He’s the first rider in Canada to win the SBK on a twin-cylinder motorcycle in more than 30 years.
“It’s like 38 turns out be the new 22,” LaLonde joked. “It took me a number of years from finishing in fifth and sixth to winning.”
Motorcycle racing knows no age boundaries, LaLonde said.
His team sponsor, Maple Ridge’s Patrick Vissor, is 64 years old and continues to race.
“We have racers from 16 up to 70, I think is one of our oldest,” LaLonde said.
However, the biggest difference between a racer who is 21 and one in his 30s or 40s is recovery time from crashes, LaLonde said.
“I’ve had a lot of crashes, and you don’t heal like you used to,” he said.
LaLonde is currently on pain pills for a broken humerus bone, and is recovering from a third degree shoulder separation with scarring in the socket.
He suffered the injury after crashing in Seattle during his last race of the year, crashing in turn three after his rear tire failed to heat up properly.
Away from the track, LaLonde is the vice president of the WMRC, and Gail is in charge of licensing and registration for every racer in the province.
“The reason she became a part of this, is she’s not just at the race track for me, she’s at the race track for everybody,” LaLonde said. “The way she looks at it is, whether you’re finishing in first or in 15th, everybody has a story, and they like to tell their stories.”
Along with his long-term goal of becoming a top racer, LaLonde has made it his mission to promote safe motor sports in B.C.
The lead instructor for the Westcoast Superbike School, LaLonde will speak about safe riding at the Vancouver Motorcycle Show being held at the Tradex in Abbotsford, Jan. 17-20.
“I’m going to promote safe riding,” LaLonde said. “We teach people how to get their race license and ART – advanced rider training. That is for street riders to understand the mechanics of riding a motorcycle safer. That’s for everyday riding on the streets.”
For Vancouver Motorcycle Show times, schedules, features, tickets and information, visit its website at www.vancouvermotorcycleshow.com.