Dedicated to the women who RIDE THEIR OWN motorcycles  

From Scared Silly to Biker Wave

by Michelle S.

First Bike Ride

I grew up with a dad who built hot-rods. Because of him, I had cars throughout high school and college that were much older than I. In fact, on my college car, a 65 Nash Rambler, I had to replace every part from the radiator to the firewall in my college car, which first and foremost, meant convincing the salesperson at NAPA that I really did know the difference between a slant six and a regular six. At 29, I married my husband, who loves anything with wheels. And then, because I wanted a little more motor oil in my bloodstream, I began autocross racing, which led to track racing about a year ago.

So when I decided to stop hanging on the back of my husband’s bike, and get my own, I thought I was a shoe-in for the role of “Best First Time Biker.” In fact, because motor sports were so common to me growing up, I was stunned when I felt the air get sucked out of the room when I showed up for my first night of the MSF class. I was even more stunned when I realized that I was the “chick” that the rest of the guys didn’t want to slow down their class.

Suffice it to say that after dropping the bike twice, I felt that I might have slowed the class slightly, but I did pass! After the class I was eager to buy my own bike but I knew that I wanted a sport bike, not a cruiser. It’s not that I have anything against cruisers, it’s just that I knew I would feel more comfortable in the more upright position of a sport bike. So as a new — and very short — rider I basically had two options; a Ninja 250 and a Ninja 500. After a month of looking, I decided on a used 2000 Ninja 500.

When my husband brought home the bike — I was too chicken to attempt the “busy” streets between the bike shop and our house — I wanted to take it for a ride around our neighborhood. I started out slow. Okay, I started out stalling the bike! And after about five tries, I finally got it rolling forward. One trip around the block and I knew I needed some more parking lot time. So we did drills in the elementary school lot. And then we did some more. And then I graduated — to a large office lot where we did more drills!

Finally, after a few days of drills, I proclaimed, “I’m ready for the street!” And my husband agreed. He suggested that after work we do a nice route that would include a little traffic, a nice mountain road that had a sharp right turn followed by a quick left, a little merging and some good sweepers. Inside the safety of my home, this sounded like a wonderful idea. But, the day of the planned ride, I got on the Internet and read about lots and lots of failed rides. Before you know it, I’m having anxiety attacks and I’m still sitting at my desk at work!

When the time came to ride, my heart was lodged so firmly in my throat it would have taken Lamaze-style breathing exercises to get it back where it belonged. But not wanting to show my fear (other animals, like husbands, can sense this anyway) I grit my teeth, smiled and said, “Let’s ride!” For the first twenty minutes of the ride, I did not believe that there was enough air in the atmosphere for me to breathe. I mean I was breathing in and out so hard, that I had to lift the face shield of my helmet just to see through the fog I was creating!

During the ride I loosened up. I gradually came to terms with the fact that although I felt invisible and naked: I did in fact, wear clothes (and some darn fine safety gear!) and I did not miraculously defy the laws of physics and become invisible. (With nods and respect to those who say to ride as if you’re invisible, for this ride, it was important to have a smidgen of faith that I had not become an episode of the X Files.) And you know what? The lessons of my MSF class paid off! I remembered to Slow, Look, Press and Roll; I found the turn signals; I actually managed to downshift into first before coming to a stop sign (okay there was that one time, when I didn’t make it, but… no one behind us so no harm, no foul…)

Best of all? I gained a level of confidence about myself that I don’t think would have been possible by any other means. And, I got to do the “biker wave” as a driver — not as a passenger! I felt the wind on my face and between the large blocks of time that could be classified as scared silly I felt strangely free and that is what I think biking is all about!

Here’s to your first ride, may it be safe and great!

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From Michelle: "I am a new rider — just got my first bike, a Kawasaki 500. I live in the foothills of the Rocky
Mountains and look forward to a summer of twisties."

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