As a woman, my motivations for getting my motorcycle license were probably different from the typical guy’s. A need for speed and thrills was far from my mind. I also didn’t imagine myself picking up guys on it. No, I was much more excited about the prospects of great gas mileage, riding in the open air, and being able to take my turn driving on bike trips with Patrick.
Anticipation and Nerves
Patrick signed me up and paid for my motorcycle safety course as a birthday present. I was very excited as I had wanted to learn to ride for years and now I would have my chance. I was also nervous. The sum of my relevant experience was a few times riding my brother’s minibike as a kid and riding pillion with the various riders in my life. I do know how to drive a stick shift and used a bicycle for transport as often as possible. While those are not strictly related to riding a motorcycle I figured they would ease the learning curve. With that limited bit of experience, I figured I would be the one putting along while the boys zoomed by me.
My first day of the course dawned hot and sunny. As I donned my gear, I was relieved at the sight of the non-intimidating Honda Groms we would be riding. The instructor started us out super slow by having us get on and just practice leaning the bike and rolling it back and forth. The Grom’s light weight was a welcome contrast to Patrick’s almost 500 pound VFR.
Once familiar with the weight and controls, the instructor had us start our bikes. We practice starting, stopping, and switching from 1st gear to neutral. My stalls greatly outnumbered my smooth starts but my previous experience with car clutches actually did help me. The only classmate who did better had been riding awhile and was just now getting around to getting his license.
The Pride Before The Fall
The second day we learned to shift, practiced hard stops, signaling, weaving to avoid obstacles, and going over obstacles. As the day went on, my nerves left me and my confidence grew. My starts became smooth with very few stalls. Shifting came so naturally, that I started challenging myself to the speedy shifting I could do in a car. When the rear of the bike slide out on me while practicing a hard stop, I quickly recovered using the same methods I had used when that happened on my bicycle. By the end of the day, I was feeling pretty cocky and envisioning myself as the next big motocross racer.
How High We Go and How Far We Fall
Day three was another gorgeous summer day and I was excited to get back on my bike. The day promised to be fun as we we would be shifting up to 3rd gear (woohoo!) around an oval course, practicing both shifting and cornering. I got on and got moving, speed shifting and leaning like a pro. As I zipped around the course, the line between woman and machine blurred and I was one with the bike, every move intuitive. I glorified in the wind whistling through my helmet, the feel of the throttle, and the stickiness of the hot pavement. I was a natural.
Then it happened, as it will almost always happen to the overconfident. A minor miscalculation and because of my lack of experience I panicked. As I sped into a corner, leaned over, my sight firmly fixed on my path ahead, my foot peg dragged on the pavement. The dragging of the peg would probably warrant only a tiny correction in an experienced rider but caused me to completely freak out. I threw myself out of my lean and instead of getting the bike upright, went completely past center, and slid out on the opposite side. Thankfully the damage to the bike was minimal, and because of my gear, an armored jacket, helmet, and gloves, I walked away with only a large bruise on my thigh.
The next day, properly chastened by my fall, the nerves were back. However, my confidence was now more in line with my skills. As I rode, I became thankful of my fall the day before. If I was going to fall, the safety of the MC course was the place to do it. With no traffic mixed in, and an instructor to help me evaluate where I went wrong, it was the ideal place to learn from my mistakes. By the end of the day the nerves had worn off, and I was riding as well as the day before but with a healthy dose of caution and awareness. When it came time to take my test, I moved through each part of the course precisely and didn’t push my limits. To my surprise, I ended up with the only perfect score in the class.
These days I ride knowing that things can go wrong. I spend time thinking about how I can prevent a fall in various scenarios. Now I ride well within my skill level and know not to push my limits. I still challenge myself to improve but only in safe situations. Also, I only ride with full protective gear and on a bike with a crash cage because you really can’t anticipate everything. Most of all though, I ride appreciating what an amazingly fun mode of transportation a bike is and wondering why more people, especially women, don’t ride.