One of the trends common within the motorcycle industry is that it tends to be a lifestyle bred through legacy; people tend to be born into a life on two wheels. However, for many of us, it is an obsession we find later in life, often during a time of crisis, a time when, without a drastic change, we may find ourselves in the chaos of darkness. I can honestly say that discovering motorcycles, and my capacity to love riding unconditionally, saved my life. I will be frank and admit that breaking into the scene as an adult and attempting to learn it all “on-the-fly” is both intimidating and challenging, but the rewards of the journey itself far outweigh the obstacles.
It is that fear of undertaking the unknown that has inspired me to share anecdotes of my experiences of joining the scene late in the game. With my stories of triumphs and follies (many follies), I hope to encourage those just starting to ride, inspire those who are only considering it, and maybe provide a few laughs or moments of camaraderie to those of you who can relate to my stories all too well.
By the age of 24 I had created the life that is the catch-all definition of success: a steady job, homeownership, marriage and the prospect of building a family on the horizon. What was unseen by the eyes that so doted on those life choices, was the creeping feeling of dissatisfaction that I had to constantly suppress. The answer to this need was a total life adjustment: divorce, independent living, and a much-needed period of self-reflection.
Light-heartedly, I refer to this time of my life as my “Quarter-Life Crisis”. Among the drastic choices I made were a nose piercing, multiple tattoo sessions and moving into a house with my first male roommate.
I’ve never really figured out if my roommate understood the fire he ignited when he first opened his garage door to allow me to move in my furniture that first Monday of January, but he truly was the catalyst for the itch that never subsided, the moto-lust that infects me to this day.
Desperately seeking some kind of fulfillment, I would watch him wetsand his gas tanks, or disassemble a top end of one of his various beloved metrics. Little by little he would share with me the smaller tasks and include me in the excitement of finishing a new build, or the rush of finding a new project on Craigslist.
“Just take the class,” he said one day, half in jest, I’m sure. That was all I needed to hear. I took the plunge and gathered the required gear, some freshly unwrapped and some borrowed from my roommate, and began studying the Basic Rider material.
I consider myself a fairly-intelligent, daring and confident person, and with all that said, the first day of the Basic Rider Course (BRC) was probably one of the most intimidating experiences of my life. I was the only woman in a class of about twenty students, and even more unnerving was the fact that I was the only one who had never attempted to ride a motorcycle before setting foot in that classroom.
The most common trope in the BRC is the young male who has been riding/learning with his father (brother, uncle, grandfather, etc.) and is just now getting around to taking the course so that he may ride legally. These boys are often known for showing off their knowledge in the most peculiar ways, their bravado a flashy badge of honor that can be blinding to the newer riders.
A particular moment stands burned into the fabric of my memory: dropping the bike in the BRC. IT is the ultimate fear of anyone taking the class...and yup, I was that guy (girl). All we were learning was how to walk the bike forward by slowly releasing the clutch. Well, the finesse required for a gradual release of a clutch was not a strong suit of mine. So, what did I do? Naturally, I dumped the clutch, lurched forward, looked down and we all know what happened after that.
I was mortified. I had done the very thing that I had vowed to avoid. I had accepted that I would not be perfect, even that I may struggle in some areas, but going down on a bike? I was not prepared for that. Regardless, with a little coaxing, I continued to ride, though not with ease, for the rest of the morning.
Upon returning to the range in the afternoon, the exhaustion of the day was getting the best of me. I felt myself waning fast, and it wouldn’t take much to send me over the edge. We started our bikes and rounded the course to do some maneuver, the specifics of which have now escaped me. It was finally my turn to go, and I hear some sighs and snickers coming from the back of the group, one of those “lifetime riders,” no doubt. I lost it. I finished the maneuver, and parked the bike. The instructors released us to lunch, and I lagged behind, attempting to hide the tears that I could no longer stifle. I was beyond grateful for the protection that my fullface helmet was offering me at this moment. I could not stand being underestimated, and what was worse, I was beginning to doubt my own abilities.
Noticing that I was taking entirely too long to get out of the blazing sun in all of my gear, the MSF coach walked over to me, quickly at first, and then he stopped dead in his tracks. Our eyes met, and my look of shame must’ve given away that those rivulets of liquid spilling off of my chin were not just sweat.
The man, who was a six-foot-tall biker in his mid-60s, stomps right over to me, grabs me by the helmet and says, “Are you crying in there?!”
All I could do is nod and sigh deeply.
“Listen, girl,” he barked, “Don’t pay attention to those assholes. If they can do it, you can do it. You’re just starting out; that’s what this class is for. I will make sure that, no matter what, you leave here with your endorsement.”
I was floored. This man didn’t know me from Adam, other than the fact that I was the only non-Adam in a sea of Adams in this round of his course. Yet, that moment of encouragement was the fuel I needed to make it through the next day and a half.
I completed the written portion of the assessment with flying colors, not missing a single question-something the instructor announced proudly aloud to boost my confidence.
Although the nerves of the riding portion were almost unbearable, I sucked in a breath of air before each segment of the test and did my best. Turns out, this time, my best was enough. I had passed.
I was never able to tell the instructor how much his 30 second peptalk impacted my life, nor share with him the joys of becoming the fierce rider that I am today, but every once in awhile I reflect on how far I’ve come from that emotional breakdown on the range.