You have asked and I shall answer, to the best of my ability.
This one goes out to all the men out there who are lucky enough to have a lady in their lives who is either riding her own motorcycle, is learning to ride her own, or is thinking about learning to ride. Maybe she’s your wife, your girlfriend, a family member, or just a woman who is in your social circle and for some reason or another has “adopted” you to be her mentor for her two-wheeled adventures.
These are the “rules of engagement” as I have come to understand them in my journey as a biker chick to become the best skilled rider I can possibly be. Look at these “rules” as a general guideline, as an inside peek at how us girls roll.
- More likely, a woman will ask for advice when she wants it and ask it of whom she trusts. Do not offer uninvited advice, unless you see her doing something repeatedly that could endanger her and others. In this case, be tactful, respectful and don’t get personal. And please don’t dress her down in front of the entire crowd. Think of how you would want this to be handled. This is not the time to trash talk, poke fun or be condescending. The message will only be heard if it is delivered appropriately. Any other time, keep it to yourself. Men are protectors, they want to fix things that they deem to be broken in some form or another. You’re wired that way, but please rise above your biology and resist the urge to “fix it” or “save her from herself”. Uninvited critique on technique or style will come across as patronizing, sexist, sometimes belittling, and even disrespectful. Again, a girl will ask if she wants to know.
- When you overhear a woman, usually in quite an animated fashion, critiquing her own screw-ups, please don’t take this to be an open invitation for a riding lesson. We’re not exasperated or unsure of ourselves. It isn’t a sign of being helpless. When a girl goes on about how she totally blew a corner, or how she was a complete idiot for doing this, or not doing something else, she is processing. She knew she’s messed up; and that should be the key to understanding that she isn’t asking for help or trying to elicit your advice on the sly, but rather is engaging in an “after-action review”, to relive an event so she can do better next time. She is aware of her boundaries and where her skill development needs further attention. She’s got it under control and is handling her affairs.
Biker Babes in Training
If the woman is a beginning rider or is thinking about learning to ride a motorcycle, here is a list of things to keep in mind to understand how our learning experiences differ from that of the men, and how best to deal with gender-specific issues that may not even cross your mind as it is a non-issue for most guys.
- If she has asked you to teach her how to ride and you have agreed, you should sit down first and talk about the expectations you have of each other. Make your own ground rules to ensure a pleasant and fun experience, for both student and teacher.
- Implore her to take a basic riding course either before or after you begin teaching her. I cannot overemphasize the importance of formal practical training. She can learn the fundamentals of motorcycle operation in a safe and controlled environment with a relaxed and non-threatening atmosphere. A foundation which I personally found to be of huge benefit to my further education and skill training. Two of the most common courses are the Basic RiderCourse offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, and the Rider’s Edge Course offered by a lot of Harley Davidson dealers. Taking a riding course will also help those women who are unsure, to figure out if riding a motorcycle is something they would enjoy, before they take the plunge and buy a motorcycle, which is a sort-of big deal for a lot of us financially.
- If at all possible, hook her up with an experienced female rider who rides the same type of motorcycle that she does. Women riders understand the obstacles a girl faces when first starting out and are for the most part very supportive of each other and a lot of women will feel more comfortable asking certain questions of another female rider.
- Be patient and let her take each lesson at her own pace. A woman’s learning curve differs from that of a man’s. Generally speaking, a woman will learn at a slower pace, but will peak their skill set above that of the average man. I’m not saying this to be sexist, it has to do with how most of us girls approach new experiences and how we work through problems and our anxieties. We place more emphasis on education and prevention to keep us out of potential trouble. Men are more apt to wing it and learn as they go. “One down, five up? Ok, see ya.” That’s how my husband learned to ride; that was the question-statement he posed to the dude he bought his first bike from, gave him the cash and rode off into the sunset.
- Do not pressure her about her speed. If you constantly nag her about “being slow” you may inadvertently destroy the confidence she is building in herself and her bike’s capabilities and turn it into frustration. In other words, don’t push her too far too fast. Girls don’t have the need to keep up with their buddies for worry of embarrassing themselves or being called slow; for the most part. Her speed will pick up on its own as her skills mature and her confidence increases.
- Don’t try and talk her into something or out of something. Ride your own ride, let her do the same.
- Let her buy her own ride. Period. She is the one who has to ride it, not you. Give her pointers, if she asks for your opinion, but give them objectively and without putting a spin on things. Also implore her to do her own research. The more she knows about motorcycle basics, the better the position she’ll be in to make an informed decision.
- Don’t let her wimp out. This is a toughie, though. When we have a bad experience and we aren’t reliant on our motorcycle for daily transportation, we have the option to take the Chicken Exit rather than working through it and conquering our fear. This can manifest itself in several ways, and not necessarily where you would think. That is what makes this one so difficult to pinpoint, even to ourselves. Be supportive, listen, and gently encourage her to keep on trying. How do you do this? That is something I cannot answer. It’s probably easier for another female rider to accomplish, because girls are more apt to say “if she can do it, so can I” when she can’t find the motivation on her own. Left to her own devices, a woman usually will either work through her discomfort and keep pushing herself in an effort to overcome the obstacle in her path or she will eventually quit. It all depends on how much importance she places on conquering the perceived setback. Not all women will become avid motorcyclists, some will find that it’s not for them after all and some will turn it into a lifestyle and sell their cars. Some will be content with riding pillion and others won’t stop until they have their racing license and have proven to themselves that they can do it. Again, whatever she decides, it is not a failure on her part or yours as her mentor.
- Realize that women riders face a slightly different set of difficulties when learning to ride a motorcycle. Things most men find a non-issue and have never really given it much thought. Things such as: seat height, rider position, weight of the motorcycle, upper body strength, physical endurance, inseam, body shape, etc. These all have an impact to one degree or another of how we approach riding and the kind of bikes we find “agreeable” to us when we first start out. Even finding properly fitting motorcycle gear can be a real chore for girls.
- And last, but not least, don’t ever append “…for a girl” at the end of a statement; unless you want to carry your balls home in a jar.
Dear awesome regular readers and accidental acquaintances,
I am in the process of starting my new series of educational articles aimed at the beginning street motorcycle rider and those who are thinking about it, but aren’t sure if they should. I will be covering issues related to skill development, smart riding techniques, safety gear, and basic motorcycle maintenance.
This series will be different from what I’ve done so far. It will feature diverse media, such as videos, podcasts, and standard written articles with plenty of photos, as is appropriate for the subject being covered. I will publish weekly, every Friday morning, so you have the weekend to play on two wheels and put the new info to work, if you choose to do so.
I need your help, though. If you’ve been riding for a while and can think of something that you wish somebody had told you when you first started learning but didn’t because you never knew to ask the question in the first place, please let me know.
If you are a beginning rider, please email me your nagging question and I will work hard to answer it and also publish it in this series so others may benefit.
This is going to be fun! So, please help a chica out and email your questions, suggestions and ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please also share this with your friends who ride or are thinking about learning to ride. The more people I can get involved helping me with ideas and asking questions the better this is going to be. 🙂
I want to thank all my readers for their help and want to let you know that I appreciate all the encouragement I have already gotten on this project.
Ride hard. Ride safe.
Em Alicia aka “Miss Busa”
P.S. You can also leave your ideas and questions in the comment section of this blog post, if you wish. 🙂
Several people have approached me and asked me if I would teach them how to ride. All but two were men. They have asked me about bike choices for beginners and had questions of how I overcame my fears. And it wasn’t the women who have asked the fear question. I would have never imagined a dude strolling up to me and telling me that he’s been wanting to learn how to ride for years and the only thing keeping him back is his fear. Wow! Aren’t men taught to not show fear and always appear strong, dry eyed, fearless, and in charge? I would have expected that to come from the girls. Maybe it is because amongst women it is understood that we have to swallow a certain amount of interest in self-preservation and just grow a set and do it. Without pressure and at our own pace.
I have so far declined respectfully, but impressed upon them that they are better off taking a training course such as the MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) Basic Rider Course or Harley Davidson’s Rider’s Edge Course. Until now…
I am seriously considering teaching someone how to ride. I have told them that they don’t want me to teach them, because I’m a hardass. I won’t tolerate any bullshit and if I feel they are not taking riding or the lessons seriously, I’d send them packing. That didn’t scare him off. I then asked him a bunch of questions designed to feel out his interest, his maturity level, why he would want me to teach him, etc… He answered all those more or less to my satisfaction. I felt like I was giving the man a damn job interview, no an interrogation is more like it.
I didn’t hear from him for about a week. Then he resurfaced and was asking me about lessons again. I was surprised and asked him if he actually still wanted me to teach him. He answered with a yes, but to please take it easy on him, since he has kids and if I got him killed he’d be really mad. I told him that not getting him (or myself) killed is the reason why I’m taking riding skill development and education so seriously.
I wonder if I could actually be a good teacher. Yes, I have a fear of public speaking. Had, I should say. I lost that in the military when they just picked me out of the crowd in AIT and made me class leader because I pumped out the most push-ups in two minutes out of the group. They had to pick one of us somehow and I suppose, highest overall PT score is one way of doing that. They kept threatening to replace me, but I actually lasted the entire cycle, with a short hiatus; maybe the calling out the Barney Song in cadence had something to do with that one. Hail to the Cobra God! Huah!
I shall teach or be taught. I’m just not sure if I am ready for that sort of responsibility. It’s almost as if I held someone’s life in my hands. That he lives or dies by the information I give him and the skills that I will ask him to practice. Yes, there will be homework!
A Taste Of The Inevitable: First Blood
The only experience I’ve had on two wheels was in 1989, when I practiced figure-eights in first gear on my boyfriend’s Kawasaki 900R, the very first generation Ninja. In retrospect, I cannot believe he actually let me ride it at all, let alone practice going around in tight little circles. His bike had this awesome midnight-blue metallic custom paint job with an airbrushed tank graphic. It was a warrior’s muscular forearm holding some sort of weapon. Also, I am surprised I didn’t lay it down. He apparently taught me clutch and throttle control and counterbalancing first. Don’t know. I rode bitch with him a lot; and boy, let me tell you, he was a giant squid with a capital S (not that I knew what a ‘squid’ was back in the day.) He rode pretty much like he drove his Mazda 929: Like a freakin’ maniac. I had nightmares about his driving. He was bad, but on the bike, I kind of enjoyed the rush (most of the time) of his obvious aggression. My dad didn’t like me riding on his bike at all, but when he found out about me trying to get my motorcycle license while I was still in driving school for the car, he told me in no uncertain terms he’d rather kill me himself than see me getting hurt on a motorcycle. That was the end of it. I wanted to learn how to ride, but I didn’t have the money to continue pursuing this particular venue. Licensing in Germany is rigorous and hugely expensive. The motorcycle license is also graduated, so I wouldn’t have been able to ride my boyfriend’s 900 anyway. I don’t know why I thought I could keep this a secret from the parental unit. Doh! I was mad at him for a while. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t let me do this, since he owned and ridden motorcycles when he was younger.
Fast-forward 20 years…
A Lifelong Dream Fulfilled: Owning An American Legend
Today is my first riding anniversary. One year as a biker chica. Today a year ago I bought my first bike: a 2008 Harley Davidson Sportster 1200 Low. Hubby and I were running around town and I told him that I wanted to go back to the Harley dealership to sit on the bikes again. I didn’t dream I would be the proud owner of a motorcycle a short four hours later. Hubby rode it home for me after we sealed the deal, because I had no clue whatsoever about how to ride one of these things. There was only one thing I was certain of: having the feet stretched out before my body made me cringe. It was explained that I prefer ‘mid-controls’ and a ‘standard riding position’. Our sales person was awesome. He listened to me talk and carry on about this and that while I parked my bum on pretty much most everything they had sitting on the floor and helped me figure out what bike would be right for me. They had just gotten the 1200L Sporty in, and when I sat on it, I knew this was the one. It felt right to this clueless newbie’s body.
Lessons Learned: To Teach A Wife
When we got home I parked the car, put on my helmet and insisted on a ride. Joe rode to a mostly empty grocery store parking lot, found a quiet, well-lit section and parked the bike. He had me sit behind the bars and explained the controls to me. Then he made me promise that I would follow his instructions to the letter, pay attention to every detail and not get mad at him, no matter what. I have a bit of a reputation of getting impatient, getting sidetracked, and taking admonitions personally. A few years ago he tried to teach me how to back in a semi-truck with a 53-foot trailer. Let’s just say, that ended in me refusing to drive backwards, stating that ‘this girl and reverse don’t get along’. I blocked four lanes of traffic for 45 minutes in downtown Chicago once all in the name of backing up.
But I digress, after I promised various behaviors to his satisfaction, he walked me through starting the bike. I did as I was told. My first lesson was focused on ‘finding neutral’. He had me pull in the clutch, push the shifter with my left foot and then lift it to put it back in neutral. No go. Couldn’t do it. I finally told hubby that I thought I was wearing the wrong kind of boots, that the chunky three-inch heels aren’t making this any easier. Defeated, I went back home. It was getting late anyway.
The next morning I couldn’t wait to go out and play. He pulled the bike alongside the curb in front of our house and parked it for me. Equipped with better footwear the lesson continued where we had left off the previous evening. By the time I could find neutral about 50% of the time my clutch hand was cramping from holding the lever so tight. I told Joe as much and we took a quick break.
The next lesson had to do with the ‘friction zone’. He instructed me to squeeze the front brake lever, put it in gear and then had me slowly release the clutch lever up to the point where I felt the engine engaging, emphasizing that I was not to let go of the brake lever under any circumstances. After playing around with the clutch for a few minutes, he said it was now time to actually start moving forward. Another round of instructions from hubby followed. Now I was getting a little nervous. I slowly released the clutch and gave it a little gas and started inching forward. OMG! I pulled the clutch back in and applied the front brake to stop, then started again. I did that a few times. Hubby told me to put my feet on the pegs. I didn’t want to. I refused, the feet refused. I tried. I couldn’t. I was scared. It took me a few minutes, but I finally took off and willed my feet up onto the pegs.
Woohoo! I’m riding! Awesome. Look Mom, no feet! My husband was walking next to me until I shifted into second gear and twisted the throttle a little more. By the time I reached the end of our street, I did 25mph. w00t! I slowly stopped the bike, turned it off and waited for a breathless hubby to catch up. Now what? He turned it around for me. I did that a few more times and then we had to take a break, because I had killed the battery with turning the bike on and off after each run down the street and he needed to jump it and let it charge. Doh!
Lesson Three: U-turns. More practice using the friction zone and trying not to give it too much throttle. Overall, my turns really stank, but at least I kept the bike rubberized side down. After a few turns that were assisted by power-walking the bike around, I finally managed to do them without putting my feet down, but there was a whole lot of wobbling going on.
Hubby decided we needed a longer road to practice on, so we went to John Deere Parkway on the edge of town, which is pretty deserted. He made me ride up and down it, practicing shifting and u-turns. By round number two I was going 55 in a 45, surely a sign of things to come; not that I knew it yet. My turns still sucked, but I was getting a little better. The only time I got nervous is when there was a car sharing the road with me, but I handled my business well enough.
The next lesson consisted on attempting a u-turn through the traffic light at the end of the street. Hubby explained that it’s nothing different from what we’ve been doing, but he wants me to get used to traffic. I flat-out refused, initially. But then my competitive side won over the argument and I told hubby that I was ready to do it. I didn’t want fear holding me back, but scared I was. I pulled up to the stop line and waited anxiously for the light to change to green. When it finally did, I already had an audience lined up on both sides of the red light. I eased out onto the road and executed my u-turn using the entire width of the intersecting road. After returning from my stint down the parkway, hubby had me do it again. This time I didn’t turn at all, for whatever reason. It’s an offset intersection, I just ended up going straight and ran off the road, cut across the dirt and grass and finally came to a nervous stop on the other side, back on the asphalt. Then I just sat there, not really understanding what just happened. Hubby came running up behind me, wondering what the hell just happened and that I was to never ever drag my feet along the ground like I did halfway through the intersection and that I am to stay on the pavement. I had had enough. We went home. Hubby later decided that I must have been fatigued and that tired hands and lack of concentration contributed to my first adventure on two wheels.
The next day we started on my private driving range again with the same exercises. Then he told me I should go and play in traffic, that I’ll have to get used to it eventually. I flat-out refused again. And it took a lot of coaxing for me to finally get the nerve up. I made him promise that he’d follow behind me in the Prius, so I didn’t have to worry about the cars to my rear. So it was agreed and I went and played in traffic. It wasn’t as bad as I had imagined, but it was stressful enough. The added security of someone protecting my six definitely helped a lot. I was free to concentrate on the traffic to the front and on my take-offs, which sucked about as bad as my u-turns did, but I never stalled it. I got the hang of left turns pretty quickly. Right turns gave me more of a problem and I had a tendency to run wide at tighter residential intersections.
My heart was in my throat every time I had to come to a stop. Going slow wasn’t my bag. At every light I prayed for it to stay green until I got there or to turn green before I got there, whichever, so I wouldn’t have to stop. Intersections were potential places of public embarrassment. Stalling, falling over, looking like an ass, rolling back, all those were things that were on my brain. Surprisingly, the fear of getting run over or rear-ended never really entered the equation.
(Recommended) Lessons Learned: The MSF Basic Rider Course
There were two conditions that I had to meet for hubby to give me the OK for purchasing a motorcycle in lieu of a second car:
- I had to buy the best protective gear we could afford and wear it at all times, and
- I had to enroll in a safety course.
As luck would have it, three cancellations happened and I got bumped up progressively from a December spot to a class in mid-October. The course was awesome. Our rider coaches were knowledgeable peeps who showed their love for the ride. They were friendly, engaging and made you feel at ease. They made us think for ourselves and take charge rather than drone on about this and that and risk putting the class to sleep. It was a great experience and I would recommend it to anybody who wants to learn how to ride. It’s invaluable and a great confidence builder.
I passed the course! I was their best student overall. I missed one question on the written exam and got docked one point on the practical test. I mention this, because I was so nervous during the hands-on, that I was shaking, was nauseous and light-headed. That stupid fear of public humiliation and embarrassment again. The bane of my existence: Stage fright with a healthy dose of performance anxiety. One of the rider coaches apparently noticed my ‘issue’ and kept me preoccupied by talking to me and joking around while I was waiting for my turn in the box. I aced the figure-eight (the first test and the most dreaded) on the verge of what felt like a panic attack. I have no problems with academics, no test anxiety whatsoever; but give me a man holding a clipboard looking over my shoulder while I’m expected to perform some manual skill, I’ll promptly turn into a quivering mass of Jell-O. My freakin’ hands go numb! Public speaking: same thing. Martial arts tournament: ditto. Dance competition: forget it. Final round in a table tennis tourney: sure to bomb.
Pushing Forward: Zen And The Art Of Working Through Fear
The first time I had to ride to work on my bike, must have been a terrifying experience. I apparently blocked it out, since I can’t even recall it. I do remember that I was scared every time I put my gear on. I was nauseated and felt like throwing up in my mouth. My nerves didn’t calm until I turned onto the main road from my street. Once I got through that, I was pretty much OK.
I remember planning my routes to avoid left turns across traffic without lights at all costs. I remember running the planned route mentally once while putting on my gear. I remember avoiding the scariest street in all of Augusta: Washington Road. I eventually braved that street due to necessity.
I remember being terrified of rain. I checked the weather report every night before I had to go to work and I got lucky for quite some time and stayed dry. When it looked like I would finally get caught out in the rain, I went online to research rain riding skills. That eased my mind but also ramped up the anxiety, if that makes sense. The first time I had the misfortune of having to ride in rain happened to be at night. I couldn’t see anything. I was scared shitless and prayed to whatever higher power chose to listen in. At one point, I think I started singing some stupid sing-along kiddie song to keep myself from freaking the hell out. Those were the scariest seven miles I ever had the displeasure of riding. Period.
There were other things that really got my heart rate up, some of which I didn’t even attempt until I was absolutely forced to. Making tight right turns from a stop, starting on a hill, riding on gravel or in sand, or backing into a parking space, just to name a few. I had a tendency to avoid situations that forced me into maneuvers I wasn’t confident of.
I spent a few sleepless nights wondering why I had done such a stupid thing as getting a motorcycle. Why in the hell had I spent over $10K, getting myself in debt for the next five years, and not have a damn car to show for it? There were plenty of nights I doubted the sanity of my decision and admonished myself: “You’ve done it now, girlfriend. More than you can handle and past the point of no return.” I never told my husband how deeply these doubts really ran. I kept most of my fears to myself.
One day, it may have been three months after buying the bike, it finally clicked. It clicked so hard it was almost audible. That’s how I refer to it, anyway. Hubby, his best friend Larry and I were out for a ride. I was bringing up the rear, as I preferred hanging out in the back (I still do, as a matter of fact.) We were sitting at a traffic light and it finally occurred to me that I hadn’t really been praying to the ‘Green Light Gods’ lately and following on the heel of that thought was another realization: I hadn’t really been feeling all that scared lately either. When the light changed to green I took off more confident than ever and that was the first time I recall that I actually enjoyed, thoroughly enjoyed, being on two wheels. The first time I felt proud of myself for being out there riding my own. The first time I really didn’t care what other people thought, because I knew I wasn’t going to do anything dramatic.
This freed up massive amounts of concentration and attention and left me able to enjoy the ride rather than being preoccupied with what-ifs and how-tos. My skills improved at an accelerated rate from that point forward. Sixteen weeks later I had my husband talked into letting me buy that Suzuki Hayabusa, which I absolutely fell in love with at the IMS (International Motorcycle Show) in Greenville, SC and been dreaming about ever since. We rode up there so I could test ride a Yamaha FJR1300 sport-tourer, which was a no-show. While I was drooling over the FJR and secretly planning an affair with a certain white Hayabusa, my husband was busy courting a red Kawaski Concours 14. The rest — as they say — is history.
The Meaning Of Life: “I Created A Monster” –Joe, ‘Busa Widower
I cannot believe how far I’ve come in the past year and how my riding has evolved into something that I honestly didn’t see coming. 13828 miles ago I was a clueless, frightened but motivated girl who wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle. Now I am a confident, safety-minded (yet sometimes squiddy) biker chica who is focused on mastering the ride, evolving her skill set and refuses to ever become an ‘experienced’ rider. I’m a second-year n00b. I will never stop learning. I haven’t seen the inside of a car in quite some time. I get restless when I can’t ride for a day. I ride rain or shine, year around. I commute back and forth to work. My life is centered on motorcycles. I live it. I breathe it. I’m a gear whore. I want to go to racing school and start participating in regular track days and compare my lap times to those of the pros. I want to break the land-speed record and be the fastest woman on two wheels. I want to drag knee, do wheelies and learn how to drift. I probably annoy people, because that is all I ever talk about anymore. I have a reputation.
Joe has watched me in the twisty bits, almost dragging tail pipe. He asked me if I had no fear. He said I made this stuff look easy and that this scared him. I told him that I did, but I choose to work through it and use it to my advantage rather than let it keep me from something I want. He normally doesn’t want to hear about my ‘escapades’ on two wheels, he’s a little scared. But I know he’s proud of me, he brags to his friends behind my back.
Fear (in its various manifestations) has ruled my life for far too long. Through motorcycling I have conquered it. Motorcycling, much like Karate, has helped me learn about myself, who I am, what I’m capable of and made me a stronger, more confident individual who knows what she wants and goes for it. I haven’t been depressed in 365 days, not really. I am finally at peace with myself and the world around me. I have overcome adversity. I am a survivor. I don’t stress over stuff anymore. When I need to find my inner balance or clear my head, I go for a ride. I don’t keep stuff bottled up anymore. I deal. I cope. I ride. I handle my business. Not a small feat for me (as those of you, who are close to me can attest.) When I’m on my ‘Busa, I feel in control. I am in control. The Fat Lady and I are one. Woman and machine. I am the master of my circumstances: Good or bad, it is I who caused it, nobody but myself to blame. Total control. Total personal responsibility. For a perfectionistic moderately control-freaked geek with a slight tendency towards the obsessive-compulsive, this is heaven on earth. At that moment, nothing else matters.
There is nothing quite like it.
Yes. It’s that good.
Life is good.