I always enjoyed the feeling of wind whipping at me on the back of my cousin’s Yamaha as he tore through country roads in Northern Maryland, but I never put any serious thought into getting my own motorcycle. That was until about two years ago. My boyfriend and some of his friends decided that they wanted to get motorcycles so travel and parking would be much easier in crowded Baltimore City.
Even though they had all ridden motorcycles and/or dirt bikes before, three guys decided to take the motorcycle class at the local community college; I tagged along. The class was convenient; you didn’t have to have a learner’s permit. You show up for the weekend and spend half of the time in the classroom and half of the time on motorcycles. At the end of the weekend, you take the MVA test and if you pass, you get a certificate to get your license. This sure beat getting a learner’s permit and finding someone with enough experience to ride around with until you were prepared to take the test.
Saturday morning, we got up early and drove to Cecil County excited that today would be the first day we got to ride the motorcycles. I was nervous, now would be the time that I would break my leg dropping my bike on it. I was sure I would make a fool of myself.
We got started walking the bikes up and down the parking lot before we even turned them on. One of the guys in the class dropped his bike, and I sighed in relief knowing that it was not me to be the first one to drop my bike. After a couple of exercises we got to ride the bikes around the parking lot. I was doing my turns extremely slow; I didn’t know that on bikes you had less control at slower speeds. I go into one of the right hand turns at about 7 miles per hour and the bike didn’t turn with me, it kept going straight (I wasn’t looking into my turn; I kept looking straight so I didn’t hit anything). I was going straight for the curb. I tried to stop the bike, but pulled in the clutch, not the break. I panicked and the bike tilted towards the right. I jumped like Spiderman and the bike landed on the ground with the rear tire still spinning. The instructor came over and quickly shut off the bike and taught me how to pick it up. I stood there embarrassed, my eyes filling with tears. Here I was embarrassing myself less than an hour into my session. The instructor talked to me and explained that I can not panic on a bike. I said okay and explained my runny nose off with allergies.
I went on to drop my bike twice more during the class, only once while I was riding. The other time I didn’t put the kickstand down all the way. The most important thing I learned: how a small woman can pick up a motorcycle more than twice her weight all by herself.
It was Sunday and time for the test. I passed my figure eight only putting my foot down once and made it through the other obstacles without dropping the bike. I was proud, but not confident that I had passed. They called me back to the private room first and I was sure it was to tell me that I had failed and they were telling everyone else that they had passed. The instructor brought me back to the room and told me that I definitely was not ready to go out on the roads yet. I thought “Stop sugar coating it and just say it,” but to my surprise he told me I passed. If I would have lost one more point, I would have failed. The instructor made me promise to spend some time in a local parking lot before moving to uncongested roads. I made sure to get my license the next day, just in case they realized they had made a mistake and I hadn’t really earned my license.
My first day riding was on a few of the streets near my boyfriend’s house. They were not well traveled so they would make a great place to start. I was still hesitant to bring the bike up to normal speeds. When I was riding down one of the streets riddled with potholes, a child on a bicycle passed me. I think he was shouting and laughing at me, but I couldn’t hear him over my concentration on those pot holes.
Eventually I got better. I managed my way through Baltimore City without hitting any main roads. One day while riding a man in an SUV didn’t see me and switched lanes almost right into me. I had to use my emergency stop so he didn’t run right over me. I pulled up behind him and revved my engine to let him know that he had pissed me off. Having a few rust holes in my exhaust left my bike extremely loud. I revved and revved until the light turned green; then I stalled my bike. Yeah, I showed him.
As my abilities grew I started to drive through the more populated areas of town. When ever I rode through the square in Canton there would invariably be a man who would put out his thumb as though he was hitchhiking. He would usually scream something lewd about women on bikes. At first, I merely ignored the men, then I thought it would be more fun to ride right up to them. Whenever I saw a guy with his thumb out I would slow up right in front of him like I was going to let him on the back, but as soon as he moved towards me I would take off laughing the whole way.
Although playing with people was fun, it was nothing compared to having a cheering section. We were riding down York Road, and I had the place of honor in the front. I came up to a yellow light and slowed down to stop. When I pulled up to the light there was a group of people waiting at the crosswalk.
They started cheering and screaming “a woman rider!” I revved the engine and they cheered louder.
Woman often find it easier to sit on the back as their husbands or boyfriends ride, but this takes much of the fun out of riding. Don’t get me wrong, it is still fun, but you have a big head taking up most of the view. You can really only see the scenery to the sides so you miss out on the best view. You don’t control how fast you go or when you pull over for a break. When you ride the bike yourself, you are in complete control and it is exhilarating. Sure, there will be times when you do something embarrassing, but you will have a sense of accomplishment as your skills improve. Plus, you will feel empowered when you hear the roar of your engine as you crack the throttle. There’s nothing like the bond between you, your bike, and the road.