I was in my sophomore year of high school and was about to cross the street to the school’s main courtyard when I heard a loud low vroom. I looked over and there it was – a blue Yamaha R6. It was as if everything went into slow motion and what I noticed, just as pronounced as the bike, was its rider. She was slender, in shape and had the helmet to match the bike with a bright hot pink Mohawk on it. It was at that moment I knew one day I wanted to learn how to ride.
Fast forward eight years to 2014 when I made a New Year’s resolution that this would be the year I learned how to ride a motorcycle. After making a few phone calls to get more information on how to sign up for the Basic Rider’s Course, which is taught for free on base to active-duty personnel, I was given Brian Seabury’s information. At first I thought I was going into this journey alone, but after speaking with Brian he made me feel better about taking the course and even offered to help me through the process of purchasing a motorcycle.
While in the past the course provided motorcycles for students to ride, today it no longer does. I was fortunate enough to have purchased my bike by the time the course began. One of the hardest decisions I had to make besides purchasing my car was deciding on what type of bike to buy. I asked both the opinions of my friends and the instructors on base. Some argued buying a 600cc motorcycle was the way to go since they said I will outgrow a 250cc bike in no time and will regret my initial purchase. Others argued starting on a 600cc bike wasn’t safe and that if I wanted to upgrade later I could. Because I had no prior experience riding, I opted to go with a 250cc motorcycle. The next decision I had to make was whether I should buy new, used, from a dealer or private seller. I ended up going with a private seller. I landed a deal on a practically brand new Kawasaki Ninja 250 with less than 1,000 miles on it for under $3,000. If I had bought it at a dealer, I would’ve paid at least, or close to, $4,000.
Prior to riding my bike, I had some preconceived notions of how it would be, how it would feel and, of course, how cool I’d look with my jacket, helmet and gear on, especially, being that I’m a girl. And just like the ideas I had about driving a car for the first time, wow was I wrong.
Unlike a car with an automatic transmission where all you have to do after starting it is put it in drive and press the gas pedal, a bike is much more complex. It was difficult for me to deal with not only pulling on the throttle or gas but also comprehending the fact that there’s a clutch, shifter, front hand brake and rear foot brake, in addition to the variety of techniques one has to use depending on different situations you may encounter while on a bike. Other than the hour-long lesson my friend Mike provided me, I had zero motorcycle experience.
The first day of class started with introductions. One after another, the students named their motorcycle’s make, model and engine size, all of which were 600cc or more. There I was the only female rider in a group of riders who had either a few months or years’ worth of riding experience, and I thought this was a “beginner’s” course. Once introductions were done, we opened up our course booklets and went through each section, page by page, followed by a video for each as well.
Being a new rider I actually learned a lot more than just about the different parts of a motorcycle and its functions. I learned there are a lot of ways collisions with other vehicles can be prevented, what area of the lane one should ride in as well as where to place oneself at an intersection depending on what direction you’re going. We were also given a variety of scenarios and asked what the rider should have done to prevent the accident. After the course booklet was reviewed, we did a final review before taking the multiple choice test. Everyone in my class passed with flying colors and then we were off to the “range” to learn the very basics of riding.
The instructors emphasized the importance of safety, so we were required to wear a helmet, long-sleeved shirt or jacket and gloves at all times when riding. At the range we learned how to find the friction zone, take off in first gear, proper braking techniques, and also how to shift into second gear and then back into first gear.
The second day was similar to the first, but we covered more complex scenarios and obstacles such as how to properly make a U-turn, changing lanes, turning techniques and how to do an emergency stop or swerve in order to avoid hazards and more.
One of the most challenging things for me as a new rider was trusting my bike. It just didn’t feel natural to me to have the bike lean as I took a turn, and I was deathly afraid of dropping it. For me, learning to ride a motorcycle forced me to reprogram my brain on how to drive again. Riding a motorcycle is very different from driving a car. On a motorcycle, to turn you have to ensure you slow down or brake before you enter the turn, then turn your head and look where you want to go while pulling on the throttle to ensure the bike doesn’t fall down. The easiest way to remember this is to think, “Slow, look, press and roll.” Let’s just say – it was a lot for me to take in. Another phenomenon I wasn’t aware of prior to riding a bike was the concept of pressing the handlebars to turn at speeds, higher than 15 mph or so. For example, let’s say I’m cruising on the highway and want to change lanes to the right, to do this, I would simply need to press on the right handlebar and the bike will begin moving to the right.
Crazy, huh? I’m not sure exactly why motorcycles do this but this technique is called “counter steering.”
Every new rider has a story. He may say, “I was born to be on a motorcycle and took off the first day I got on it!” Or, like me, say, “It’s a little scary and intimidating, but I’m getting better day by day.”
For me, I still get chills going down the street on my bike, and the first day I was legally able to ride alone with my endorsement, I didn’t ride at all. I practiced every day in my neighborhood to make sure I had it down pat before I took it on the street.
For more information on how to sign up of if you’re active-duty military and want to learn to ride, contact your unit’s motorcycle safety representative.