The Kawa Went Down to Florida: 1,200 Miles Round Trip on My First Multi-State Venture

Recently, my childhood best friend moved down to the sunshine state. Amid quarantine restlessness, missing my bestie, and the desire to grow as a motorcyclist, I took it upon myself to ride my Kawasaki z650 through 4 states. I would like to lead with saying:

1) Yes, I realize there is a pandemic, but I went to visit my friend, not to frolic recklessly and spread plague germs.

2) Yes, people told me not to ride that distance on a sport bike. I clearly didn’t listen, and I earned the butt rubs to prove it.

Friday night, I decided that I was going to do it. Saturday, I packed and bought snacks. Sunday morning, I was setting out. Mind you, I wasn’t just nervous, but I was scared to make the journey on my motorcycle. I was worried about running into worst case scenarios hundreds of miles away from familiar faces and helping hands. I was worried about bad weather, rider fatigue, technological difficulties, and the loss of my nerve. I was worried I would ride beyond my limits fueled by my stubbornness. Quite frankly, all of those things happened. But I digress.

The night before, my boyfriend helped secure his saddlebags onto the back of my bike. The bags stuck out bulkily against the slim, sleek, naked frame. I packed up the bags and a backpack as lightly as possible, but the bags were full. I worried about the weight difference; usually I ride with a fanny pack, max. I tossed and turned all night. I was questioning whether I should ride, whether I should just drive, or whether I should even go at all. But what I kept coming back to was that I can’t keep not doing things cause they’re hard or scary. Those things had never stopped me before, so why were they clouding my conscious now? I got mad because I’m tempted to blame all the people who dissuade me, discourage me, or belittle me in regards to my motorcycle abilities. People like to tell me that my bike is too big for me to handle, they can’t believe I’ve put as many miles on it as I have, or they like to completely ignore me all together. Lately, I’d been feeling lots of frustration at motorcycle stores, other female riders, or stereotypical male riders. I was tired of feeling like the odds were against me and that people were surprised when I accomplished feats on the bike. But ultimately, I was mad that I let their measly opinions bend my steely determination. My pigheaded, dog-eared determination had gotten me in and out of plenty of trouble over the years, so I was fairly confident that I would reach my destination one way or another. So, perhaps I felt like I had something to prove to all these people who probably don’t care about my riding as much as I think they do, or I was projecting my self-consciousness and self-doubts onto them. Either way, all the reasons I came up with not to ride to Florida really just weren’t good enough. I conceded to myself that it had to be done.

Early Sunday, I’m still questioning my actions. My boyfriend, bless him, encouraged and reassured me. My man sent me off with a full belly and fully-charged batteries. I started off out of the apartment complex, and the bike handled easily with the extra weight. I mentally erased the worry from my list. Within minutes, the nervous knot eased from my chest, and I settled into the reality of the day.

A gas station in Georgia

The first hundred miles passed by fairly quickly; I break for a snack, and carry on my way. I thought I was making good time, but without my noticing, my breaks became longer and my journey legs became shorter. But at this point, I didn’t realize how much that would affect me in 5 hours. Somewhere between Georgia and Alabama, I pulled into a Starbucks. The weather was angry, the clouds were thick and black, and the wind loosened my braids. But then I hear “I like your bike!” and I got to talk to another female biker, a Grom rider. It was an uplifting reminder that I’m not the only one. Her parting words were “Be careful, it’s supposed to rain!” I prayed that it wouldn’t.

But alas, the sky let loose. I took shelter under a bridge but only after getting soaking wet, the raindrops like needles into the crevices between my gear pieces. I was worried for my laptop getting wet, and I was also bummed that my untreated leather jacket had touched water. This bridge trolling went on twice more, and my phone took on water in the micro USB preventing me from charging its dying battery. At the next rest stop, I physically wrote down the directions, just in case.

Now, on the trip down, I made several mistakes:

  1. I waited hours before I had my morning coffee.
  2. I didn’t stop and eat a proper meal. I just snacked.
  3. I didn’t hold myself to a pace.
  4. I didn’t track the length of my breaks.

All that accumulated to me puttering into an unfamiliar Florida town at 9:15 PM in the dark, running on caloric fumes, and questioning my life choices. My helmet Bluetooth had died 30 minutes prior, and I was going 10 MPH under the speed limit. The last 45 minutes of my journey were the hardest of the entire trip, and I knew I was not operating at a safe level of coherency. I was exhausted. I took a wrong turn in my friend’s neighborhood, my ETA increased by 4 minutes, and I almost cried. When I finally got to her driveway and saw the steep incline and narrow gate, I nearly cried again. But I made it up, pulled up to the garage, and turned off my bike. I was shaking and my limbs felt hollow. I felt like I had been through the ringer, but I felt so accomplished. The trip might have taken over 11 hours, but I was damn proud of myself. I ate multiple meals, and then proceeded to sleep for 12 hours.

After a week with my bestie, the time came for me to take the journey home. I was anxious to set out early to avoid arriving home in the dark, but it was hard leaving someone I didn’t know when I’d see again. But this half of the trip, I was more prepared and more planned:

  1. I drank some coffee before I left.
  2. I ate a bigger breakfast.
  3. I had a plan for miles to break ratio.
  4. I stuck to the mile/break ratio plan.

The return trip was significantly smoother. My overall pace was much faster and consistent. I was committed to my 120-mile legs, and I conserved my phone battery life. I had purchased a rain jacket at the local Cycle Gear (who had a pitiful women’s selection, but what else is new.) just in case. I felt much more confident. I was also taking a shorter route home which took some edge off, but the route took me right through Atlanta where 8 lanes of traffic marched through the city interchanges. I kept telling myself I would feel better after Atlanta, and it was true. Going through there was tense, but I made it out the other side. My Bluetooth died about 45 minutes from home, but it lasted hours past the advertised battery life, so I wasn’t too upset. Once my exhaustion started creeping in, I allotted myself more breaks. I did not want to coast in worried about staying upright. Once I got into town, I was thankful for the red lights because I got to stand up and stretch my legs. I got home safely, and my man was a sight for sore eyes. Despite my revised efforts, I was still wore out. My body was floating and my head ached. I was the point of tired where sleep was difficult to find, but I eventually passed out for another 12 hours.

A pit stop somewhere in South Carolina

In conclusion, this trip was one of the most trying, taxing, and tiring things I’ve put myself through in a while. There were moments when I really wished I hadn’t taken my bike where I doubted my capabilities. I felt defeated, deflated, and dumb for the mistakes I made. But I also felt elation, confidence, and pride for the achievements I earned. I alone got me from point A to point B and back again. I definitely understand why cruisers are better designed for that kind of haul, but the trip made me realize how many of my fears are unfounded, how much of my preventative energy is wasted on the sheer inability to prepare for every possible situation, and how sometimes the only thing that is stopping me is me. Now, I know that I can take shorter trips successfully since I’ve already done 1,200 miles. I know the number of miles I can ride comfortably in one day. The doubt I felt before departing shook me. I realized how necessary it is to feed myself encouragement and to push myself through challenging things to remind myself that I can do them regardless if others agree. My butt hurt for three days, but I am bursting with pride for myself. I came back a stronger rider, and I hope to keep growing my skills through future trips. But next time, I’ll take more pictures of my bike.

Where do you want to ride?  

I’d Rather be a Crab than a Squid: My Experience with Riding Gear

You see it all the time; a pack of sport bikes whining down the highway, and the riders might be wearing a helmet depending on your state laws. You might have even seen my now-deleted Instagram post of me sporting shorts and a tank top on my motorcycle. But I’ve been able to learn life lessons through logic rather than experience (i.e., not having my skin shredded off of my body). But a lot about protection comes down to prevention. Additionally, something is in the air during this COVID-19 pandemic making people increasingly reckless. While there is a drop in collisions across the country and traffic on the road, drivers and bikers alike are increasing their speeds thus raising the odds of injury. While I can’t control whether drivers text, do makeup, and push me into different lanes of traffic, I can make choices within my control to keep me as safe as possible while on my bike.

Now, when I said I learned without experience in the matter of needing gear, that statement might not have been completely accurate. From my first riding experience onward, I have been consistently wearing gear. Frankly, I feel like an actual biker when I’m in full gear, and when I’m not, I’m anxious, hesitant, and I feel like a poser. I had no terrible scares until about two weeks ago. I was riding with a new biker buddy for the first time and we were cruising through a small town after spending about 30-45 minutes on the interstate. Several external factors at play included my hands and feet asleep from holding the same position on the interstate, I was getting hungry, and I was nervous riding with a group for the first time. To spare you the details, I was following my friend who, following the road, took a right-hand turn that was much sharper than I anticipated, and by the time I realized the direction of the road, I didn’t have enough time to react. I stomped my brakes (but also accelerated?) and my bike hit the ground with a sickening crunch. I was fine aside of my knee feeling tossed around, and I wasn’t shaky until later in the ride when my adrenaline wore out. I was wearing my usual gear; Dainese York Air shoes, Oxford leggings with full armor, Sedici gloves, Milwaukee leather jacket, and Shoei helmet. While it was a slow speed fall involving only my bike, I can’t help but reflect on how many injuries I could have sustained if not for my gear.

Me in my usual get-up. Plus mint green fanny pack.

However, the next day was Sunday, and my man and I had a quick errand to run. We both hop on my bike for a 5-minute errand which then turned into a 2-hour ride in the country. It wasn’t even a particularly hot day. I realized that day that my willingness to not wear gear was only when my man was controlling the bike because I had trusted his motorcyclist abilities over my own. He has yet to drop a bike, and I’ve dropped three on various occasions.

Obviously, I love, trust, and respect my man and his motorcyclist experience, but it is hugely important to me that I develop my own skills so that I can trust my own ability and feel comfortable, confident, and secure when I ride alone. Not comfortable in order to go squid, but comfortable so I know that I’m doing everything I can to prevent danger or injury to myself or others. Some riders say that if they see someone in full gear, then they automatically assume that person is a bad rider. Or if there are frame sliders on the bike, they would pass the same judgement. But if ATGATT riders are supposed to not judge squids, then squids should extend the same courtesy. I wear protective gear when I spar in karate and sunscreen when I go to the beach, so I see no reason to not protect myself when performing a dangerous sport. Plus, finding well-fitting women’s gear is an accomplishment, so I want to show it off. I want to walk into a store or restaurant and I want people to know that not only am I a biker, but I’m a responsible one. Sure, every biker decides for themselves, but I would rather have the highest chances of keeping my skin instead of leaving it up to fate.

Do you have any horror stories that made you agree with ATGATT or do you prefer barring skin?

Stay safe, everyone! These are crazy times.

What I Do When Things Go Wrong: A Recurring Theme

I have a motto that goes like “if something bad can happen, it will probably happen to me.” Which sounds very negative and depressing, but I make this statement geared more toward, usually comical, inconveniences than my general quality of living. If there’s a curb, I will trip, if there’s a thing I can’t no matter what forget, (what thing?) I will forget it, or if someone in class exclusively calls me my sister’s name, I will be paired with them for a partner project. It’s inevitable. Try as I may to avoid these scenarios, they have a way of coming about in one way or another.   

Accepting these occurrences have been a difficult pill for me to swallow considering they are reflective of the more awkward aspects of my personality. I often wonder if I were calmer, meeker, or more subdued if I would have these situations. But, in the same vein of topics I touched on in my last post, I can’t get bogged down in the self-doubts these feelings permeate. Looking on the positive, some of my most awkward interactions have resulted in some of the most genuine friendships. Every time I get frustrated about my nature and the embarrassing predicaments I find myself in, I have to forcibly remind myself that me being myself is what opens myself up to honest connections with people similar to me. Vulnerability has a bad rep, but I have found that the most fulfilling people and opportunities come from openness. Whenever I hold back as a means to protect myself from judgement or embarrassment, the restriction gnaws at my conscience and inhibits my actions. Perhaps this shows my impossibly high self-imposed standards or my revolving desire to be taken seriously as I fear that my quirky personality lends itself to underestimation.

“I don’t want the fear of failure to stop me from doing what I really care about.”

Emma Watson

As a newer rider, sometimes I catch myself wondering if other riders can see how green I am. Especially as a woman rider, I feel a pressure to know as much as possible and to not make mistakes; otherwise, I risk being chalked up to an inaccurate stereotype. I fully realize that stereotypes and incorrect assumptions are beyond my control, but often times I feel like I have to practice prevention. For instance, I was riding with my boyfriend over the weekend, and we approached and began passing through a series of traffic lights. We were catching them right as they were turning yellow until we got to the final one in the series which burned red with a line of stopped traffic between us and the intersection. My boyfriend initiated and executed the stopping process smoothly, but I reacted slower and quickly began running out of space. I downshifted and hit the brakes, locking my back brake, and fishtailing all the way to a screeching stop, almost tittering over in second gear, the car in front of me within an arm’s length. I wasn’t panicked or scared. I did feel a twinge of pride as I had counteracted the fishtailing and kept my bike up. My boyfriend coasts up beside me to an easy stop. Even though he wears a full-faced tinted helmet, I can see the “wtf???” clearly on his face. I ask what happened, and he tells me I locked out the brake. I didn’t feel fear until we stopped at the next red light, and he told me how much I had scared him. That incident could have been a wreck or an injury. I felt some anxiety begin to creep up on me making my arms feel like jelly, but we finished an errand and got back on the bikes. I wasn’t scared, but I’m glad I got right back on and avoided any lingering hesitations.

Instead of succumbing to the anxious thoughts, I focused on the small nugget of competency I felt. I was the one who fixed the situation, with my own intuition and abilities, instead of someone else. I’m also the one who caused it but whatever, don’t kill my vibe. I have found that being willing to put myself in situations where I might not succeed has been the key to improving my riding. That’s not to say I intentionally put myself in danger, but vulnerability opens me to learning. I have to remind myself that good things come out of failed attempts, awkward or embarrassing moments, and frustration. So yes, if something bad will happen, it will probably happen to me, but if I let go of my self-consciousness, I can handle the result no matter the perception or reaction. I’m done looking down and inward from past hurt and shame; I’m ready to participate with hopefulness even if I fail.

Also, it was somehow satisfying to go back on that road and see my skid marks adorn the pavement.

What Motorcycling Brings out in Me:

Reflecting on past anecdotes and looking to future endeavors.

I’ve never been the cool kid. Ever. Just so there’s no confusion: I was the fat homeschooled kid who wore loud t-shirts with bootcut jeans and chunky, grandpa-style tennis shoes. Way too many bracelets. I made jewelry and rode horses as hobbies. Definite “horse girl energy.” I did theatre but only ever got chorus roles. As I grew up, I had the self-awareness, and outward informants, that I was different. Offbeat. Quirky. Spunky. Those are all positive ways of putting it, because I began to see myself as a freak. Weird. Unrelatable. Sunday school teachers would jeer at me, saying things like “well I know you don’t understand, you’re homeschooled.” Or the post-party chorus of “we forgot to invite you!” after many a high school sleepover that I was passed over for. Secluding myself more and more, my extraverted personality became wilted and confused when the alienation of divergence sent me into a self-imposed exile. Those people don’t want to talk to me, I’m not normal enough for them. Cool enough. Whatever enough. My personality became an unpredictable energy in my body; will I be awkward or normal today, in this conversation, or with this person? Ruddy-faced and sweaty. I knew I wasn’t happy, but my self-identity seemed so out of reach. Don’t you dare try to categorize me in the blob of socially awkward homeschoolers. I love people. I love making friends. But I was so tired of “doing it wrong” and not making the impression that reflected who I was. Self-doubt and frustration ruled my thoughts as the person I saw myself as and the person I was were landslides apart.

Now, I would like to point out that I’m realizing more and more that normal is not to be aspired to. Self-acceptance is a journey that I’ve since traveled a few miles. I guess everyone has their coming-of-age chapters, but mine seemed to stretch out gruelingly. I do not look back at this timeframe of my life fondly. Restaurant work paired with a Christian college planted more seeds in my garden of confusion; often I found myself being what I considered a contradiction. I toned down my clothing choices, going from vibrant everything to all black, and learned what opinions to voice publicly. I normalized myself through strangulation and filtration.

Fast-forward a few years, and I still had an odd collection of hobbies (martial arts and aerial silks, namely) but I lost a substantial amount of weight and felt like I was closing the gap between “mental me” and “reality me.” Now, I’m ranked in two martial arts, I’m actively training aerial (lyra), and I’m an avid gym goer. I also underwent a drastic hair change which does something to a woman, let me tell you.

What does all this have to do with motorcycles you ask? My past freakiness and making decisions without support built in me determination to accomplish the things that I wanted without others or their approval. I learned to embrace my strengths even when I was the only one who saw them as strengths. So when I finally decided to take the plunge into motorcycling, years of ignoring naysayers had prepared me for this incentive. Literally not a single person thought I should pursue this hobby except for my roommate. People tried to dissuade me despite my history of stubbornness. Once again, I found myself in a male-dominated field which brings its own set of challenges, but old feelings of inadequacy creeped in the back of my mind as I went through the preliminary steps of signing up for the Harley-Davidson Riding Academy, picking out my helmet and gloves, and YouTubing “best beginner bikes” videos. So far, this hobby has presented me with some big challenges, but overcoming them results in massive feelings of accomplishment. Like hell yeah, I accelerated smoothly on a right-hand turn incline with cars behind me, what now?? And yeah maybe shifting through gears 1-3 were rough but I smashed 4th gear like nobody’s business. Rode to a neighboring town alone, interstate included? Boom and boom, get on my level. Celebrating the small victories brings accomplishment through the steep learning curve. Motorcycling highlights my strengths, but it also forces me to confront my weaknesses. I’m all about moving beyond the boundaries and pushing myself, but there’s some things that just don’t work no matter how hard you try. No, I will not be able to back my 400-pound bike up the incline and over the lip of the storage unit; I still need a few heaves from my boyfriend. My time-speed depth perception is terrible and proving to be a real challenge; currently trying to improve that without dying. New traffic situations fill me with dread; my anxiety and my temper reveal themselves in weird circumstances such as left-hand turns and red lights. Sometimes I have to remind myself that the reward is always greater than the obstacle.

Riding my motorcycle proves to be empowering yet humbling, and I continue to face myself every time I put on my helmet. I’m accepting myself more and more through riding; I even ordered some grey and pink Dainese riding sneakers to go with my black everything else. I’m learning that my extreme contradictions can coexist simultaneously and not be dishonest to the bottom line of me as a person. I don’t always have to be Wonder Woman. Sometimes I’m Harley Quinn (Bird of Prey Harley, obviously), and I’m messy, loud, and chaotic. It’s liberating. While I still must squelch the ghosts of my past, I feel much more at home with myself than ever before. Even if it’s not motorcycling, I encourage you to make decisions that challenge you as a person even if you don’t feel ready or you’re scared of making the wrong decision. Sometimes you have to just go for it, as loath as the researcher in me feels for that statement. Don’t wait for someone to let you; strive for your full potential no matter your focus. Push yourself despite your perceived “shortcomings.” Your capabilities may surprise you.

Ride Number 4: Stop Thinking, Ride Blind

This post is written in reflection of my ride on 2/9/20.

Again, we lucked out on a sunny Sunday despite bad weather leading up until; tornado, flooding, and snow all graced our region the latter half of last week. Feeling discouraged from last Sunday’s solo endeavor, I felt tinges of hesitation awaken in the base of my stomach. But in the words of my man, “a nervous Nellie is no good.” We started off fine and as usual, my man zipping along on his Katana, and me following behind at a slower speed. I don’t worry though, either I’ll catch up or he’ll find a place to wait for me. I practice rolling on and off the throttle as we glide down familiar roads, mentally reciting the wrist directions that make me speed up and the one that makes me slow down. Previously, I kept confusing which direction did what and the high whir of the RPMs sent panicky anxiety through my arms when trying to stop. Establishing muscle memory is the main way to resolve my control issues, and me talking to myself in my helmet works wonders.

We pull easily into a roomy gas station, fill up, and ease back into the light traffic; I feel much more calm with merging onto the live roadway. I finally realized why I was struggling with stopping – a helpful discovery. I was trying to use the clutch, the front brake, and the back brake until coming to a full stop, and then frantically trying to balance at a halt and get my feet on the pavement. But If I slow using all three and then switch to just the clutch and front brake, I can stick my legs out while I coast and find the ground much more smoothly. This may be obvious to others, but whatever, here we are.

So apparently each ride is going to have a scary moment for me to “woman up” through. After leaving the gas station, we’re stopping and going through traffic lights, and the face protector that I fashion as a barrier between my helmet and my earrings slips down and covers my eyes. Naturally, this is terrible. We’re stopped behind cars as the light is turning green, cars are behind us, I can’t open my helmet visor to move the cloth from my eyes with my right hand as my left holds the clutch, and both me and my man have ear plugs in preventing him from hearing my problem. He sees I’m in distress, and I can see just enough out of my left eye under the edge of the cloth to follow him onto a side street. I continue pass him to flat ground, stop in neutral to rip off my helmet, and clear my vision. I’m shaky even though I don’t see how I could have done anything differently. This instance served as a reminder that I can think, research, and reflect all I want, but there will always be factors outside of my control.

We pull back to the red light, turning right. I find myself trying to “prepare” myself; I note the busy intersection, limited view, on an incline, and concerns start firing in my head. You’re going to fall over, you’re going to stall out, you’re not going to shift up fast enough. Record scratch. Why am I thinking this? I ask myself. I can fix literally every one of these situations. And if I can’t, I know my boyfriend will help me. When I pulled over, a driver stopped and asked if I needed help. It’s not sink or swim; I have life jackets, buoys, and a support system of bobbers who want me to skim over the waves. No fear. Nofearnofearnofearnofear. I stop on the incline, and then ease out smoothly through the friction zone after babe, AND I FEEL VERY ACCOMPLISHED because I’m squashing my hesitation a little more with each success, no matter how small.

After about 20 miles on the interstate, we end up back at a river we seem to frequent. I enjoyed this interstate leg much more than I did two weeks ago, and I keep up better this week, even overtaking babe at one point. The speed and the other cars aren’t what bothers me, but the wind resistance is the real challenge. You got to plant yourself on that bike, like a tree frog to a branch or a baby koala holding on to mama’s back.

I’m feeling much more confident on my motorcycle. It’s frustrating to only be able to ride once a week, and I know my progress will speed up when I can ride every day. But right now with the circumstances, it’s the best I can do. I’m excited every time I ride and see small improvements, such as stopping and setting my feet down, speeding up smoothly through right turns on an incline, and having consistent higher speeds on the interstate. Finding transitions between actions is making riding a lot more predictable and fun.

For my next session, my focuses are:

  1. Lean more through turns.
  2. Continue to work on consistent high speeds.
  3. Stop overthinking.

Tiny Tidbits:

  • I’m finding how important it is to check your ego and be coachable. My determination can quickly turn to pigheadedness which helps no one, least of all me.
  • Don’t be scared; don’t be stupid either, but don’t let fear of mistakes or new situations stop you from getting out there. You grow beyond your comfort zone.
  • You control your thoughts, and your thoughts control your actions. Think about the situation but don’t agonize over it.

Go get ’em, ladies! #nofear

Ride Number Three: Solo Expedition

This post is written in reflection of my solo ride on 02/2/20.

This past Sunday, I took the Kawasaki out for a spin on my own. The babe had to work, but it was too pretty of a day to waste. After running a few necessary errands, I finally got the bike out but much later than I originally planned. Feeling very independent, I started my bike up and cruised out of the parking lot, successfully stopping at a stoplight. Boom, self-sufficiency. Since I don’t have a phone mount yet, I’m following the GPS blindly through my headphones, which is going great until I miss my round-about exit and end up on the road I was actively avoiding due to the sequential traffic lights and interstate merge lanes. But I maneuvered through the intersections and continued toward the small downtown, shifting up and down noticeably smoother than previously, Lady Gaga intermittently interrupted by my Australian GPS voice. I got to my destination without trouble, passed another couple of bikers, but I found myself feeling anxious and unsure. My bike felt extra wobbly in low speed maneuvers, and I was having trouble rolling off the throttle when using the brakes. With a row of cars behind me and oncoming vehicles coming towards me, I struggled to make a left turn through an intersection. I didn’t have an idea of where to go, and I felt like I was struggling. I meandered aimlessly around a little and ended up going home since the day had about 40 minutes of daylight left. Quite frankly, riding with someone is just better. Especially now while I’m still establishing myself as a rider, company is a vast improvement over solitude. Perhaps if I had gotten out earlier I would have felt better, but I ended the ride feeling annoyed and unaccomplished. Why had I felt nervous and unsteady? I’m glad I went out on my own. I’m always glad to ride. But my mind wasn’t in the right space. Once my man got done working, we took my bike for a spin in the chilly evening, and my frustration subsided. Maintaining the skills is still progress even amid annoyance at myself for not taking the bull by the horns. Caution is not cowardice, though others might find me timid. I’m not here to impress anyone. I’m here to learn, to grow, and to improve in ways that work for me.

 

Ride Number 2: These Boots were Made for Protecting

This post is in reflection of my second ride on 01/26/20

Now as a motorcyclist, I find so much more emotion in checking the weather. Geared and bundled up, my man and I take the bikes out on a sunny, chilly Sunday afternoon. Now armed with my motorcycle boots, I feel much more official warming up my bike. Contrasted with my nerves of the first ride, I was thrumming with excitement. I hop on and bebop up to the top of the parking lot, surprised by how much easier the friction zone and balance was. Having previously established gear and speed boundaries, I follow my boyfriend out onto the road with my goals in mind: reach 45 mph in third gear, practice matching RPMs while shifting up and down, and having more confidence in stopping (stopping is important ok). We turn onto a sideroad, and I’m surprised at how easily I reach and pass 45 mph, trusty third gear taking me the whole way. I’m giddy as I relish the fun of riding over the unsureness of learning. We realize quickly that we both need gas. My afternoon of riding commences with the first objective: filling up.

My man, with the phone mount, finds us an out-of-the-way station, and we set out. My turns are slow and wobbly, and I lose my man a few times, but we successfully reach the small gas station complete with two pumps and parking lot made of more cracks than actual pavement. Filled ‘em up and moved ‘em out. We set a destination of a nearby lake and set out on the 19-mile ride. Going the wrong way. So, pop a u-y and head off for reals. We coast through an itty-bitty town and take the curves of backroads through the Carolina country. We come to a straight and my man opens up and shrinks, speeding further ahead of me. Immediately, I’m jealous, and my usual phrase “that will be me one day” starts in my head. But this time, my mantra is interrupted by a leather-clad biker woman shaking her head. No more I will be, I am this. I’m literally doing it. I don’t need to wait for a certain level of skill, a specific piece of gear, or anyone’s approval. I am doing what I’ve wanted to do for so long! I get to 5th gear as contentment blooms inside me.

Our lake turns out to be one we visited last summer, and we take in the views. We meet a guy on a Ducati, and discuss bike matters. I’m still determined to make more biker friends! (Especially for my girl biker gang, even though I have yet to meet another female rider). We part ways as the sun starts to dip toward golden hour. My boyfriend states that we’re taking the interstate back, and I’m nervous but up for the challenge. I start my bike and hobble to face the exit. But I’m on an incline and I can’t for the life of me shift out of neutral. I try to roll forward, but the incline and the weight of my bike works against me as I slide backwards. I try again and again to shift into first so that the friction zone can pull my bike, but the glowing N remains on my display. I stall out and gravity wins as I and my bike tumble to the ground, my new boots saving my right ankle as 300+ pounds try to find the ground through my bones. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the burning rage I felt in my chest at this point. I felt like a combination of the Hulk and Wolverine as I glared at the sky through my helmet visor, laying on my back, the small rocks hardly notable through the back of my leather jacket. Years of falling has brought me here. I drag my leg out from under my bike, and my man helps me stand the bike up (and obviously makes sure I’m ok). I’m fine and my bike is fine, not a scratch. To be perfectly honest, I felt much better after dropping my bike. Not because I wanted to, but an event I was so worried about came and went, and I survived. My anger subsided, and we took on the interstate. It’s fast, a little scary, and filled with wind-resistance. My interstate riding was much better than my city riding; we’re on the last leg of our ride, through merging lanes and traffic lights, and once again I’m struggling to shift into the appropriate gears. But we safely return our bikes to storage. Despite my struggles with shifting, I’m proud of the progress made on this ride.

So, for my next session, my focuses are:

  1. Once again, matching RPMs while shifting.
  2. My traffic awareness
  3. Confidence in riding solo since I will be going out by myself

Tiny Tidbits

  • High speeds are easier to handle than slow (i.e., through turns).
  • Use the friction zone on those inclines.
  • Be cautious but not afraid. #nofear

My First Ride: Three Thoughts and Takeaways

The following was written the day after my first ride on 01/19/20

Yesterday, I got to take my brand new (used) motorcycle out for the first time. Internal screaming of excitement. While I completed an MSF course and received my license in May 2019, I was unable to get my bike until this January (01/9/20). I was feeling the pressure considering how much time had passed since I had controlled a bike myself. My boyfriend fortunately has a bike that I get to ride behind him. It’s definitely not the same as riding myself, but the time I spend on the back of his established a comfort foundation. It takes away the responsibility of shifting and traffic awareness, but I consider the time spent as a passenger as a necessary step in my beginning stages. But I am determined to establish myself as a motorcyclist on my own two wheels (but riding behind your man is always great). Read on to see what three thoughts stood out on my first ride.

1. Riding MY bike was easier than any other I had ridden
I had several people tell me the bike I wanted, the Kawasaki z650, was too much bike for me. I just didn’t like the feel of the 400s, try as I may. I tried to convince myself that I needed to start on a smaller cc cruiser, but I couldn’t bring myself to go forward with a purchase (especially considering the nature of dealerships. I will discuss my buying process in a future post). I had concerns that the bike I really wanted was going to be too much for me to handle, especially considering how I dropped my boyfriend’s first motorcycle, a Ninja 650, on our second date (sorry babe). So, I became doubtful of what I could handle, and those doubts delayed my purchase significantly as I researched (overthought) my capabilities and options for months. When my man upgraded to a Katana, his purchase lit a fire under me to stop being afraid of making the wrong decision and just get a bike. Those initial concerns of handling were out of my mind as I started coasting through the parking lot. I wanted to practice finding the friction zone, shifting in and out of neutral, and begin feeling the balance of turning. But I blasted through those goals easily and progressed out of the parking lot (mainly because the security guard told me to leave but whatever). I poked along on the roads of the neighborhood, reaching second gear fairly confidently and touched third gear more timidly. The bike is perfect for me. I’m about 90% flat-footed, but I’m assuming proper boots will resolve that 10% of space. The point is, make sure you get the bike that YOU want because it has to be comfortable to you, the one riding it. Be informed and honest with yourself, and go after what you feel best on.

2. Take as long as you need to feel comfortable
Sometimes, seasoned riders forget the feelings of being a beginner and learning the skills for the first time. Traffic is a beast, individual cars and pedestrians act like they’ve never seen a motorcycle before, and speed to distance ratio is completely different. It’s a lot of newness, lots of room for mistakes, and you’re the only one who can tell when you’re ready to make the next progression. As stated above, I achieved more than I expected in one session, but I can tell ample progress lies ahead of me. I have to remind myself that small progress is still progress, and it’s not like I could do everything in my car right away. My frustration came from unestablished comfort levels, which can only be solved through time and doing. There’s truth in pushing yourself to improve but putting yourself into situations that you aren’t ready for could be scary in the least and disastrous at most. Having specific goals in mind was helpful at the beginning of the ride, but I became more nervous as the ride went on and I moved onto concepts I hadn’t originally planned to tackle. Making more progress than planned is great, so I felt frustrated when I started feeling overwhelmed.

3. External factors and awareness canNOT be overstated or underestimated
I knew that the cold feels colder on a bike, but I didn’t realize just how much. Plus, the wind gusts made me feel unstable and anxious to test my speed (which I guess isn’t a bad thing on Day 1). The weather being one of the biggest external factors affected my body, my concentration, my bike, and the road. Yesterday felt like a solid ride, despite cutting off one angry truck on accident. But I could tell that I was so concentrated on the smaller tasks that I was missing a lot around me. Which isn’t an option in real-road conditions. 

Conclusion

While the three above factors impacted my ride, my biggest take away is take your time. Take your time learning about the bike and riding, but also take your time in choosing your gear, evaluating your skill level to your routes, and researching everything you need. Not everyone is going to be patient with you, but establishing skills, good habits, and comfort levels is worth the time. You’re going to be the one in charge of your safety, so you must feel in control. Knowing the machine and knowing the art will set a base of more fun rides down the road. No one else can set your timeline. While it took me a long, long time to find what I wanted and start establishing my skills, I feel a lot of confidence in my decisions, and I feel ready for the next steps.

It feels great to ride, like really great. This is me doing something for myself (mostly) by myself. Other motorcyclists’ insights are making a huge difference, and I can’t state enough how much easier this process has been because of my boyfriend. Yes, I could do it alone, but his help, knowledge, and encouragement has been instrumental. Without him, this process would be taking much longer and would be way way harder. Yay for self-sufficiency, but more yay for my man. I got me a good one.

So, for my next session, my focuses are:

  1. Matching RPMs when shifting
  2. Half-clutching while looking through turns
  3. Accelerating faster through the friction zone and braking through the downshifts  

There’s an infinitely long list of things to learn, but baby steps.

Tiny Tidbits

  • My man described downshifting like quicksand; a concept that I really shouldn’t be super worried about.
  • Ease off the clutch but squeeze it in quickly.
  • Don’t let fear hold you back. #nofear

Introduction

I’m writing this blog to document my motorcycle experience. From learning to ride and making new friends to facing demons and silencing the discouraging voices, this blog serves as accountability for my biking. Seeing as women make up only 19% of bikers, I want other women to know that if motorcycling is something you want to do that it is possible, and I hope my experiences can encourage and help other women on their riding journey. I will highlight my preliminary research stages, learning to ride, and the obstacles I face along the way.

#nofear