Reflections on beginning to ride a motorcycle
August 30, 2009 at 8:21 pm #3368
Each of us comes to riding motorcycles through different paths and for different reasons. For myself, I started thinking about it when I had a character for a new story floating through my head. This character was a bad boy type who rode motorcycles, but at the time the only thing that I knew about bikes was that they had two wheels. When I started looking into riding, I became interested in riding for its own sake, and my character languishes in notes in a forgotten folder on my hard drive.
I come now to a point, where I must examine why I want to ride and why I want to continue to ride. Do I think that I have to proper temperament for it? Am I going to cause my family needless worry and consternation? Am I going to get out of it what I think I want? Am I simply going to drop as another hobby that sounded good at the time, but just didn’t do it for me?
First, I guess I should answer the more obvious question: why am I asking these questions now? Last Tuesday, I purchased my first motorcycle, and since then, I have dropped it twice. “Dropped” really isn’t the right word. You drop a motorcycle when you forget to put the kickstand down, or when the weight gets overbalanced while you are moving it. When the motorcycle and you both end up on the ground, rolling in the dirt, cussing and hoping there weren’t any witnesses, it is a crash. Both times, the errors that put me in that position were what could most politely be called “beginner” mistakes. However, the fact that some people go years (if not their entire riding career) without ever “dropping” their bike, and I have now done so twice makes me question if there is something inherently wrong with my choice to ride.
I don’t think that there is anything inherently wrong with riding. For myself, it is a hobby that I can practice on my own, but also share obliquely with my husband, who doesn’t ride (and probably never will), but nevertheless, can B.S. gear, safety, mechanics, etc with the best of them. My husband supports my choice wholeheartedly, and my parents do also, though with a little more reserve. I don’t have any dependents to worry about, other than my cat. While my employer depends on me, I am expendable at work too. So, from the moral responsibility standpoint, I am comfortable with my decision.
Riding itself is fun, though since I got my bike, I haven’t felt the addictive rush of adrenaline that I felt on the last day of the BRC while we were doing countersteering exercises. This, I think is due to the fact that I am more worried about the gravel that is scattered across the roads I’m practicing on than getting up to speed enough to feel that rush. I think that once I get some practice, and out onto roads that are cleaner, it will be more invigorating. So, I don’t think that giving up riding because I am unhappy with my excitement about it is appropriate. I love that while practicing, I have seen parts of my neighborhood that I never saw before. The more I ride, the more I will see of the local area. That is as fulfilling to me as being able to find a perfect line through a curve is to other folks. So, I’ll give it a couple thousand miles before I give up riding as a hobby from a personal fulfillment point of view.
Now, I come to the question of whether I have the right temperament for it. Both of my crashes were due to what I would classify as beginner mistakes. But that means in essence, that I am riding beyond my skill level. Yes, I might have been going less than 5mph when I dropped the bike each time, so I wasn’t exactly tearing up the roads, but if I had been riding within my skill limits, I would not have made the mistakes that led to me dropping the bike. This boils down to pushing myself too far, too fast. What worries me is not this. I can (and will) choose to dial back how hard I push myself now. What worries me is that once I have moved beyond the beginner mistakes, I will continue to push beyond the bounds of my skill level and crash at a higher speed.
But in reality, does the crash at a higher speed bother me? Not as much as some people might think. Without getting deeply philosophical about it, I have never feared death. Frankly, I fear losing a leg or hand in such a crash more than I fear dying. For me, the ugliness in death is what is left behind for the living to deal with, not whatever may happen on the ethereal planes of afterlife. While I love my family and would not choose for them to have to deal with my death, I would rather die doing something I enjoy than sitting at my desk working. This is something that I believe that they can understand and accept.
Finally, I have to wonder if by riding beyond my skill limits, am I a squid? I have spent a lot of time pondering this question, and the answer I have come up with is “maybe”. If you define squid as someone who rides in a rude manner, or likes to show off, then no, I’m not. If you define squid as someone who, intentionally or not, pushes his riding to the edge of their skills and beyond, then yes, I am. If you define squid as someone who intentionally puts himself and others in danger, I don’t think that is me.
Where does all of this leave me? This afternoon, I will pull out my bucket and wash the mud from my bike, and pull the weeds out of the spokes, leftovers from my latest unplanned adventure. If the skies aren’t weeping, I’ll don my helmet, armored coat, and gloves and go take a quiet turn through the neighborhood on my Thumper. And tomorrow, I’ll do the same. And each afternoon, until the snow flies, I plan to do the same.
OwlieAugust 31, 2009 at 2:54 pm #22081ranetteParticipant
First I have to say that was one of the most well written and well thought posts I’ve read on this or any other board.
I also came to owning a motorcycle via a unique path; after getting the urge to move up to something larger than my scooter we suffered a personal tragedy. At that point wanting to ride a motorcycle went from being an urge, to an obsession. My wife, the one who plans(rationally) while I react(sometimes irrationally), wanted me to wait, we just spent money on a scooter, you just learned to ride the scooter, why don’t you wait a year or two? My reaction was, there’s no reason to wait a few years, much as it might seem crazy-I’m a healthy man in the prime of my life-who knows if any of us have a few years? Carpe Diem. After weeks of constant pressure she finally relented, maybe feeling truly defeated for the first time in our marriage, as I had bullied her into this; every other major decision we had made in our 14 years of marriage had been made together. One of her fears, beyond the obvious ones, was that a motorcycle would separate us; I’d go off riding leaving her behind, at a point in our lives when we really needed to be together. However, I wasn’t listening to any rationale, I wanted what I wanted, and I wanted it bad. My purchase of a motorcycle was emotional rather than rational, probably not the best path to travel. As the day to pick up my bike grew closer the feeling of elation began to inch towards feelings of dread. A quick ride on my friend’s sport bike ended in embarrassment, though no damage; was I making the biggest mistake of my life?
Above and beyond this, my choice of bike was emotional. For a number of reasons(detailed in my first thread last year) I chose not to go with a traditional beginner bike. The first time I laid eyes on my Ducati GT1000, right after I had paid for it, it looked 10 feet tall. Did I just make the biggest mistake of my life? Got her home and started her up, sounded like a 747. Did I just make the biggest mistake of my life?
OK, this is where the good stuff begins. First of all Owlie, whether you continue with this or not-and I think and hope that you will-two low speed drops should in no way have you thinking that you’re acting squidly in any way shape or form. Simply beginner mistakes, squids put their lives and the lives of others in jeopardy by riding beyond their ability. Sounds like you put your shifter in jeopardy by responsibly learning to ride your new bike. There is no other way to learn but to do something you’ve never done before, something that is slightly more difficult than the skills you’ve already learned, that is the learning process not irresponsibility. As for me, I took the bike out pretty much every day weather permitted. Thankfully I had a good friend, the aforementioned sport bike owner, who made it his business to help me learn the little things and most importantly start to gain confidence. At first I couldn’t even ride out of our (unpaved)parking lot onto what passes for a busy road in Vermont. He’d ride the Duc I’d ride the scooter. We’d head to a paved parking lot where we’d switch mounts, after a bit of PLP we’d find a back road. Though I didn’t drop it, I came perilously close, more luck than anything else. I needed to think about every little thing I did, couldn’t make a turn from a stop, don’t even ask about starting on a hill; this was not fun. Did I make the biggest mistake of my life? But like I said at the beginning of this paragraph, this is where the good stuff begins. A little practice, a little confidence, a little more practice, a little more confidence. All I can say is it just starts to come together. Things I had to think about became things I did without having to think. I am certainly no motorcycle prodigy, given your mindset which is evident in your posts, there is no reason not to believe that with a little practice things which seem beyond you now will become second nature. Some toddlers hop up on two legs barely even thinking about it while others get up and fall down, get up and fall down until they eventually do it without thinking. Do the toddlers that need to work a little harder, concentrate a little more, become damn fine walkers? To quote one of the more famous citizens of your fine state, “You betcha.”
You question whether you have the right temperament for riding. Thoughtful, introspective, somewhat cautious? Though I might approach decisions head first, once it gets to the physical nature of a new task I am exactly the same way, as I bet most of the good safe recreational riders out there are. None of us-Megaspaz excluded-are looking to become the next Valentino Rossi. Introspection, a conservative approach, combined with lots of practice will get you there. Also, and this is important, have fun. Even if it’s a struggle, isn’t it fun? Doesn’t it beat just about anything else you could be doing? Think about that last day of MSF, trust me once you get a little bit more confidence that will seem boring in retrospect. You had that much fun in a parking lot? Just think of how much fun you WILL have in the twisties.
Riding a motorcycle has changed my life for the better. Something to look forward to every day the weather gods shine our way. A new skill to learn and keep learning long after I thought I was pretty much done learning anything. Even my wife has taken a liking to the Duc. Remember how one of her fears was that riding would drag us apart as I was off doing my own thing? Seems like her favorite spot this summer has been the pillion as we take off together every chance we get. Stick with it Owlie, the rewards are truly spectacular.
RandyAugust 31, 2009 at 11:03 pm #22106wbsprudelsParticipant
Well, Owlie, there is a lot here, but I just want to touch on a small point you made:
The more I ride, the more I will see of the local area. That is as fulfilling to me as being able to find a perfect line through a curve is to other folks. So, I’ll give it a couple thousand miles before I give up riding as a hobby from a personal fulfillment point of view.
For me, this has been an unexpected benefit that I have found exhilerating. I have found small towns within 15 miles of my home that I had never heard of before. Thanks for reminding me.September 1, 2009 at 1:25 pm #22125
Hey guys, sorry to take so long to come back around to this, but I needed to think about things before I replied, lest I make complete fool of myself. I’m going to go with the less said, the better route on this reply.
I appreciate all of your thoughts on this; it is fantastic to belong to such a supportive and understanding community. Elwood is dead on target in his post, and I plan to take his advice to heart.
To answer the question that is floating around, I don’t plan to give up riding right now. But in all honesty, if I keep dropping the bike, I don’t know how many times I can pick it up and ride again. To a large extent, I need to work on mindset as much as PLP; dropping it again isn’t inevitable, and if I put in the time to handle the bike correctly, I will greatly improve my chances of keeping the rubber to the road.
All the best,
OwlieSeptember 1, 2009 at 3:47 pm #22128eonParticipant
I am a bit late coming to this discussion and there is not a whole lot more I can add to what has been said (but I’ll try anyway!). You should only continue riding if you enjoy it, not through some bloody mindedness. But it sounds like you have set yourself a steeper challenge than most of us did. You have a heavy bike and you have gravel roads, that’s a tough combination for anyone to start learning on. It sounds like you are being too hard on yourself over a couple of low speed drops (and I mean drop, not crash). It is much harder to ride at 5mph than 50mph. Those of us who managed to avoid dropping our bikes in the early stages certainly came close. It mostly boils down to luck, not skill. By practicing you build your skill levels but you run the risk of dropping it. Double edged sword but you need to build your skills somehow. It took me close to 4 months of PLP before I could do the box easily and even now, if I do not practice, I get rusty.
You seem like a thoughtful person who has taken the time to learn what needs to be done. Now it just takes time for it all to come together. I wish you all the best in your endeavors but I honestly feel you are just down after some bad moments. Hang in there and I think it will all come together. Good luck!September 1, 2009 at 5:51 pm #22131ranetteParticipant
Elwood mentioned both getting back on a smaller bike and taking the BRC over again, certainly one way to go. However if getting hold of a 250 isn’t an option or isn’t your way of approaching things I’d recommend taking the ERC rather than retaking the BRC. In actuality the curriculum of the two courses isn’t all that different, they just assume you know the basics. The reason I recommend the ERC is that you take it on your own bike. For me the confidence that came from completing the exercises on my own bike was invaluable.September 1, 2009 at 7:05 pm #22135JackTradeParticipant
I took it this year, and found it just as useful as the BRC (well, maybe not as useful, as I’d never ridden before the BRC, but you get the point). Without constant upcoming test anxiety, no classroom parts, and familiarity with the material, you’re freed up to concentrate on your riding skills.
The box freaked me out in the BRC…I was afraid the bike would go down, going so slow and turning so tightly. It was the only portion of the test where I lost points; what made it worse was that I’d been doing it okay previously, before the test. I chalk it up to first exercise in the test jitters, but that’s probably just an excuse to make me feel better.
Anyway, after doing it in the ERC, I was amazed at how easy it became for me.
So if they offer the ERC where you are, consider giving it a try. There’s no pass or fail, just a chance to practice under the eye of an instructor…it really improved my confidence as well as my low-speed skills (which really are the foundation of everything else). Plus, there is some new material…riding the slalom with one hand was cool, as you learn it can be done, and it’s proof of how countersteer works.September 2, 2009 at 3:33 am #22156
I’m planning to do the ERC in Spring. They tend to wind the classes down up here in late July/early August when the enrollment drops off. I’d also thought about looking into private lessons; I know some people offer them up here, and they don’t sound bad cost wise.
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