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Motorcycling: A Victory Over MS

by Sylvia L.

Iíve been a motorcycle passenger for over ten years, and had always wanted to learn how to actually ride one myself. I just never got around to itÖ.you know how that is. So, last year I got married, and my husband was in the same boat. We talked for months about taking the MSF Basic Rider Course. However, I was active duty Air Force when we got married, and we were living apart. Then he went active duty, and we were still living apart. I was diagnosed in Jan 05 with Multiple Sclerosis, was retired from the Air Force in June, and now weíre living together under the same roof. Yay! We finally were able to take the MSF together (free for military members on active dutyÖI did it three days before I retired) in San Angelo, TX.

The rider course was a TON of fun. I had never driven a motorcycle in my life, and it was certainly different than being a passenger! I learned on a Kawasaki Eliminator 125, and it was a great size to learn on. Why they call that little thing an Eliminator, Iíll never know. I was REALLY happy that I didnít drop the bike once. There were three other females in the class, and two of them were dropping the bike constantly. The only portion of the class I had any difficulty with was the back-to-back U-turns in that stupid box, but it sounds like most people do. After the course, my husband and I sent off to Florida for our motorcycle endorsements (weíre still residents of FL), and started the search for our own motorcycles.

Now, our original plan was to just get one motorcycle, and I would be the passenger. No way, honey! Not after taking that class and experiencing riding for myself! We searched high and low, and found two really great deals on almost identical motorcycles. We bought a 2004 Kawasaki Vulcan 500 LTD for him in Dallas, and a 2003 model of the same bike for me in Lubbock. THAT was an interesting experienceÖthe ďtest ride.Ē I was SO incredibly nervous because, here I was, getting ready to ride this bike that looked so much bigger than the 125, and it didnít belong to us! I was so scared that I would drop the bike in front of the owner. I managed to make it around the block with no incident, as did my husband. Let me assure you, I was shaking the whole time.

A couple of days after getting the bikes home, we took them to the mall parking lot adjacent to our apartment complex to practice maneuvers and such. We did that for about an hour, which was great for my confidence. In the parking lot of our complex on the way back, I braked too hard while the wheel was slightly turned, and I dropped it. Yep. Add me on to the list. Thank the good LORD there was no visible damage to the bikeÖafter all, it did happen in slow motion.

Lots more practice sessions in the mall parking lot, and my husband has been a great help in providing feedback on my stops, starts, turns, etc. Despite all this, even the simplest of errors can really ruin your day. I was in the process of starting up my bike in front of our apartment to warm it up before a ride. You remember that whole FINE-C thing? Letís just say I accidentally skipped the whole ďNĒ portion. NOT good. My bike was in first gear, and just like the BRC instructor said it would, my bike lurched forward about a foot, stalled, and promptly fell over into my car. Without me on it, of course. Nice, right? The right rearview mirror snapped off, and the front left indicator lamp got crushed. Very small, almost unnoticeable scratches to the logo on the gas tank. A golfball-sized dent and accompanying scratch on the lower panel of my car door. I cried like a little girl, I wonít kid you. But, after about an hour, I got back on the damn bike and went for what turned out to be a really great ride. I paid $158 for the replacement parts, which I identified and ordered using the bike's schematic, and replaced the mirror and turn signal all by myself. I was VERY proud of myself for being able to fix my own bikeÖand mistake.

Yes, I still get nervous before getting on the road. And yes, Iím progressing more slowly than my husband, who is anxious to go 70 mph on the highway. Iím just not there yet, but heís OK with that. Iíve gone for 20-mile round trip rides to the airport and back, getting up to 55 mph. I thought that would be really scary, but itís not so bad once youíre actually doing it. Iím anxious to get a windshield because I think that will help make the ride more comfortable. I still practice slow turns and right turns from a stop in the mall parking lot. I actually try to practice for at least 15 minutes before heading on a longer trip, and that helps my confidence a lot.

I absolutely LOVE my bike, and Iím getting very comfortable with how it feels, and how my body fits to it. I read as much as I can in books and online about safety strategies and how to learn from othersí experiences. I also love sharing the experience with my husband, and sharing a goofy 6 year oldís grin with him when we finish a ride and the helmets come off! One of the biggest victories for me over my MS is being able to ride at all. I have to be careful not to ride when itís too hot because my legs can become weak. In west Texas, that means before 8 am or after 8 pm! Iím trying to ride whenever I can because I need to enjoy this freedom as my body permits me to do so. So far, so good!

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From Sylvia: "I'm a newbie, so not much experience to write about! I have a 2003 Kawasaki Vulcan 500 LTD, which comes in midnight purple. My husband and I mostly ride together in San Angelo, TX."

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