Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Cruising through life (on a motorcycle that is)

Photo credit – Jim Degerstrom
My road to riding
I had never forgot the thrill I had as a kid when I ‘borrowed’ a few wooden clothes pegs from my Mom and clipped baseball cards to the spokes of my bicycle and magically turned it into a motorcycle. I rode as fast as my little legs could pedal while I listened to the rhythmic clicketty-clack of cardboard on metal racing through my neighbourhood with no particular place to go. It was that sense of feeling free and oh what a rush as I glided down a large hill. So I guess in a way since the day I put those baseball cards on my bicycle I was destined to eventually ride the real thing. 

Unfortunately real life got in the way for quite a long time and it would take nearly half a century before I would be able to experience what I had so longed to do. Sure, over the years I had the opportunity a couple of times to be a passenger on a motorcycle but it wasn’t the same, something was missing... I wasn’t in the drivers saddle! As time passed (too quickly the older I got) before I knew it I was headed towards middle age, I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t do something soon I would eventually become an old and bitter woman for at least not trying to accomplish the one thing I so desired to do. 

After I turned 44 (consider me a late bloomer) I decided it was about time I learn to ride. I still had never actually driven a motorbike, hell I still couldn’t even drive a standard car. But that wasn’t going to stop me. I was determined, not only to achieve this dream of mine, but to actually do something just for me for a change.

So in early April of 2009 I bought a motorcycle handbook and a week later I took the written test. A half hour later and $20 dollars lighter I walked out with my learners permit in hand. But wait! As I hopped into my car it occurred to me I was missing one very important thing, I didn’t even have a motorcycle! Then another thought hit me, more importantly I had yet to even drive one. Reading a handbook and passing a written test is one thing, but now I needed to get on one and ride it.

At this point I decided that it would probably be in my best interest to take a Motorcycle Course before I inherited any bad habits. I found that Georgian College offered a three day course and that it was starting in mid May. It was ideal for me that they were providing the motorcycles and all I had to worry about was buying my gear to ride.

Love at first sight
Even though the course was several weeks away I wasted no time shopping for a motorcycle.  The moment I stepped through the doors of the Yamaha dealer a small, slender beauty caught my eye. Dark red with a hint of sparkle captured that perfect mix of dainty and dangerous. As soon as I sat on the little V-star 250 it was love. We were a perfect fit and I just had to have her. Call it destiny, excitement, impulse... all I knew was she was the one.

Finally the day arrived to start the Motorcycle Course and it was the best thing I had ever did and was well worth the $489. Even when it poured rain the entire weekend, that didn’t dampen my spirit to ride. Dripping wet, glasses fogged and hair plastered to my head, I had a smile from ear to ear the day I passed. (However now I prefer to keep the riding in the rain to a minimum if at all possible :)

Hard knocks makes a better rider
We drove through the summer until that fateful day while taking a sharp curve my back tire hit some sand and I hit the guard rail. At least I was not going very fast, however it was fast enough that both my bike and myself got a little broken from that encounter. After a trip to the hospital to get a cast on my broken thumb, I sent my bike to the mechanic to get her patched up with a new gear box and blinker light. We were both left with a permanent reminder of our ordeal. For my bike it was a dent in the gas tank. Mine was not so noticeable, now whenever it rains my thumb aches. I was told it was my initiation into the bikers world, conveyed by the words “A biker has to kiss the pavement at least once” I hope to never have to “kiss” anymore pavement again. As soon as both my bike and I had healed I was determined to get right back on and ride again. I learned a valuable lesson though, be aware of my surroundings and the change in road conditions, most of all, always practice safe driving.

Practice makes you perfect, well makes you at least better...
That winter I packed up my bike and brought it to Florida where I spent most of my time practicing with my BF. He was especially patient with me, and I have to admit that I was still shaken from my confrontation with the guard rail. Florida was good for practice as it is very flat, doesn’t have as many curves and no hills to speak of, however it does tend to get boring. At least I got used to being in lots, and I mean lots of traffic. 

With enough practice time under my belt I felt I was finally ready to get my permanent license. (Taking the first Motorcycle Course allowed me to reduce the 22 month wait period before getting the full M class to 18 months) I again returned to take the Motorcycle Course for my final. Which again, I highly recommend, however be prepared to spend another $419 for this, although it is easier than going through the DMV. 

My ‘little star’ (which I had began to refer to my motorcycle) didn’t let me down and the sun even shone the day of my final test. I was so proud to have nailed it my first try and finally I could officially call myself a motorcyclist! Over the next four years I proceeded to put on a lot of miles on her, (just over 6,000 km) most which were earned while spending the winters in Florida.

A new chapter 
I had thought I would always be content with my ‘little star’. But soon we were starting to go on longer rides, and my ‘little star’ with it’s 250 hp laboured on the long runs, not to mention it was also taking a toll on my old behind. One day in 2013 while out and about we rode into the Harley dealer in Fort Myers. The whole ‘The Legend, The dream, The lifestyle’ mystique of a Harley had drawn us in. (We both had been drooling over the Harley’s for the last few winters)

I had to laugh when a sales person approached us and referred to my ‘little star’ as a “Scooter on steroids”. Then he let me test ride a Sportster. As I straddled this new beast my excitement rose. I felt the rumble of the engine as I twisted the throttle, sending a shiver down my spine. Here was the power that I had been missing and it felt good, real good. It was bitter sweet saying good-bye to my ‘little star’, after all she was my first. I felt like such a ‘big girl’ now and really it was after all, time to move on.

Not quite the perfect fit
I have to admit, my Harley 883 Sportster was not immediately the perfect fit the day I bought him. The handle bars were too spread out, making me feel like I was on one of those torture racks back in the middle ages, the seat was so hard that I have sat on rocks softer, there was no windshield to protect me from getting blasted in the chest by the wind (and the bugs) and the foot pegs resembled something you would find on a telephone pole that a utility worker would climb to reach the top with. At least he was decked out in navy blue, a colour that I have always been partial to. Although I would of preferred black, but navy was a close second. (In case you are wondering, my Harley just feels more masculine to me than my dainty v-star was.)

Once I put the smallest mini ape handle bars I could find on, got the much needed windshield, added a comfy seat for my boney butt and switched out the foot pegs for something more solid under my feet I was ready to cruise in style. His ride was smooth and solid, I eased into a curve without having to slow to a crawl while the weight of him held tight to the pavement. It was night and day compared to riding on my 250. Even working the clutch was smoother. My ‘little star’ was great for learning on, and I honestly don’t think I would of been comfortable enough or confident for that matter with riding a larger bike at the beginning. 
(Note to Harley: Not all riders are big burley guys - think about us smaller gals once in awhile - we are not all passengers, we ride too!) - Hmm, maybe I should design a bike for Harley <smile>

Two years later
Well it has been two years since I got ‘sporty blue’. I am loving every chance I get to be out on the open road. We have went on countless day trips and little short rides. We still have many plans, like Key West is on the ‘must do’ list. And it would be nice to check out Daytona Bike week, at least once. In fact now I am wanting to go even farther, like Italy and Panama! (Of course I wouldn’t be riding my bike all the way there, but it would be great to check out those places on a motorcycle) The possibilities are endless...

Why I ride
Riding not only makes me feel young (at heart) again, it is my one proud accomplishment that I did just for myself. I just can’t get enough of that intoxicating high as I encounter the next curve, the  heightened awareness I get when I see, feel and even taste the world around me from that unique perspective which only can be achieved on two wheels. (It is just a bonus that I also feel sexy in leather)

Riding is pure joy as I discover my next adventure, travelling with no particular destination in mind, my soul is liberated. Whether I am speeding over the landscape (or as the speed limit allows :) or cruising down a sleepy country road in the sun, nothing can compare to capturing that exhilarating rush of adrenaline pumping through my veins while the wind whips through my hair. Why do I ride... it makes me feel ALIVE.

I am going to just enjoy the ride and keep cruising through life...


‘Straddling my Sportster I rev the throttle and an exhilarating rush pulses through my body. I am a force to be reckoned with as I conquer the open road. A calming wave washes over my soul as the wind rushes past. I am alive. New adventures await, as I discover the road less travelled on two wheels’