I am, admittedly, the wimpiest motorcyclist on the road. My motorcycle career started fairly recently, about four years ago, although my love of motorcycle’s started very young, back in the early 70s when I rode on the back of my dad’s mini-bike, without a helmet and barely able to hold on with my little skinny child arms. It was awesome. From that point on I knew I wanted to ride motorcycles. In my early 20s, while considering the qualities I would like to have in a spouse, “rides a motorcycle” was at the top of the list, closely followed by “plays guitar.” Older, wiser, and in my late 20s, I married my husband who neither had a motorcycle nor played the guitar. He not only did not own a motorcycle, but was adamant against owning one, referring to them as “donor cycles,” as in “organ donor.” So I put my dreams of flying down the highway on the back of my husband’s Harley on indefinite hold.
Imagine my surprise when several years later, during what I later referred to as my husband’s midlife crisis, he said that he wanted to buy a motorcycle. What? I was shocked. Then I considered and told him, “OK, but I want one too.” So began my solo motorcycle riding career. I started researching motorcycles for women. While my husband found a bright orange, huge and brand new motorcycle, I found a used, good condition, small and low to the ground white Suzuki. It was the original owner’s “beginner bike” that she parted with only because she upgraded to a bigger Harley. I knew she still loved the Suzuki, and she watched us wistfully as we purchased it and drove away (my husband on the Suzuki while I drove the car).
Now I was the official owner of my own motorcycle. Woo-hoo! I just needed to learn how to ride the thing. I had a friend at work that agreed to teach me. I made her and her husband swear to secrecy as I showed up for my first lesson. She was already chain smoking when I arrived. I put the helmet on, sat on the bike, listened to her instructions given with shaky hands lighting another cigarette, and then I peeled out. If I had known how hard it was going to be to learn to ride I would have asked for one of her cigarettes, and I’ve never smoked. Her husband joined in on the lesson. They decided it would be best if I sat on the front and he sat behind and showed me what to do. I put my hands on his hands, like a little kid, and learned how to clutch, shift, accelerate, and brake. It was terrifying and exhilarating. Then I did it by myself and rode circle after circle around their big backyard, until I stalled the bike and fell over sideways while unsuccessfully trying to keep my balance. The bike wouldn’t start up again. Lesson over. But it was still one of the most exciting days of my life.
My husband and I decided to sign up for a motorcycle safety course. It promised to teach me not only how to ride, but if I passed, I would have my motorcycle license at the end of the class. I decided it would be a good idea to put in a little practice time before the class started. My husband drove my bike to a nearby parking lot and I continued my lessons. I convinced him to sit on the back while I sat on the front, like in my previous lesson, so I could get the feel for using the clutch. We tried this method for a little while then saw a police car approach. The officer rolled down his window and said our teaching method was illegal. I told him I was learning how to shift. He was nice but basically said “lesson over.” We went home and now I was feeling even cooler. I got pulled over by a policeman on my motorcycle! Woo-hoo! I was BAD.
Next lesson: Back at the empty lot. I told my husband I wanted to get in some more practice time before our class. I was planning on discretely riding around the lot to gain experience with shifting and turning corners. My son found out. He told his friends. A little gang of teenage boys showed up to watch my lesson; so much for discreet. Every time I rode down the lot they cheered, laughed, poked each other and smiled. “Glad I can be their source of entertainment” I thought as I glared at my husband who was clearly enjoying the situation. Then I fell trying to go around a corner. I was driving so slowly that the fall was no real safety threat, but the whole gang of boys descended on me, righted my bike, and then righted me. “OK, maybe they aren’t so bad,” I thought.
A few months later Dave and I completed our motorcycle safety class. I now had my license! I took the instructors advice and bought the brightest motorcycle jacket I could find so that I would stand out to other motorists, visibility was important. My jacket was a dazzling pink. I went for my first solo ride. I drove slowly, my top speed reaching about 35-45 mph. I stalled at two different intersections, holding up lines of traffic. I started to rethink my jacket color. I was not incognito. In my small hometown people would begin to recognize the girl on the little white motorcycle, plodding along, periodically stalling, and wearing the bright pink jacket. These thoughts did not deter me. I knew I was the wimpiest motorcycle rider on the road, and yet, I loved it. It was awesome!