Way Back Machine: Early days of motorcycling

OK, let’s tackle a couple of Red’s questions from the comments the other day.

Sorry there aren’t many photos in this entry — my pics from the late 90s are on a different hard drive and I thought I knew where they were, but it required too much movement to dig it out.  Yes, I’m totally playing the 8-months-pregnant bedrest card. Bwa ha ha.

How you first got into motorcycling
Well, first of all, I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, home to a small motorcycle company you may have heard of.

Much of my extended family had bikes, and my neighbor/best friend’s older sister worked for Harley.  When I was young, I had Harley catalogs with some pages ripped out and hung over my desk.  I had never actually been on a bike (my mom kept me off of them at family reunions even when my cousins got rides…ha ha, mom, that didn’t work in the long run, did it?) but I was aesthetically drawn to them.

At this point it hadn’t occurred to me that there were other motorcycles in the world besides Harleys.  In Milwaukee, there weren’t.

I didn’t think much about motorcycles after that until I came out to California in the summer of 1998 and started dating a boy.  The boy had a motorcycle: a 1982 Yamaha XS400 Special.  It wasn’t a very flashy or exciting motorcycle, but I liked the boy and I liked riding on the back of the bike.

By the time I moved to California full-time after graduating from college in May 1999, the boy had a different motorcycle: a 1984 Honda VF700F.

I wanted to take the bike everywhere.  Dinner, movies, day rides….everywhere we went, I wanted to ride on the bike.  Eventually, the boy — who enjoyed riding but was not obsessive about it like some people we might know — said, “damn, woman, why don’t you just take the MSF class and get your own license?”  Oh!  Well, OK then!

Your first memories of motorcycling
I had never ridden/driven anything with a manual transmission — much less a motorcycle — when I took the MSF class in August 1999.  Kim and I took the class together and I remember that we both had mixed reactions to it.   The clutches were very tight and we both wound up with cramped hands and wrist pain, which made it hard to relax and get into the exercises.  We went out to lunch at a diner at some point and commiserated….the first of many times I wound up complaining in some diner somewhere about how motorcycling is fundamentally a pain in the ass. 😉

I was the only one in our MSF class to drop a bike; go me!  Because I had no idea how manual transmissions worked, I came to a full stop at one point without pulling in the clutch.  The engine stalled, I lost my balance, and tipped over.  So embarrassing!   So not the last time I would tip over!

In January 2000, I bought a 1986 Honda Nighthawk 450 from a guy at Apple.

I was absolutely petrified of riding it.   From one of my very first blog entries:

See, I really need to get over this fear of driving my bike on an actual street. Anytime I want to move the bike from one location to another, I have Peter drive it. This has both the desired effect of relocating the bike with no fear of death on my part, and the undesired effect of making me feel like a big wuss. I dunno. I’m just really scared of dropping the bike in the middle of traffic (and consequentially getting hit from behind by a non-observant driver). I guess I just have this mental image of myself riding down the street, la la la, and suddenly, I do something Horribly Wrong to the clutch and the whole bike just stops and falls over. 

To be fair to 12-years-ago me, getting run over from behind by a non-observant driver is probably a legitimate fear. 😉  Though, for all the myriad reasons that the whole bike just fell over during the last 150,000+ miles of riding, I don’t think that any of them were because I did something wrong with the clutch (er….aside from during the MSF class, cough).  So, don’t worry, 12-years-ago me, the clutch is the least of your concerns!

I finally started riding around Peter’s neighborhood, as opposed to just in the Apple parking lot, in late May 2000.  Yep, it took me nearly six months between buying the bike and riding on a street.

So, I get on my bike, and Peter gets on his bike, and we pull up to the stop sign right in front of his house, and we discuss our plan of attack. I went in front, so that he could prevent cars from tailgating me, and in case I fell or something, he’d notice right away and could help. It was really scary at first, but Peter was really wonderful, and he’d block intersections for me so that I could take my time going through them.

We drove all over his neighborhood, for about an hour or so. I don’t think we ever went above 20 mph, but I practiced stopping at stop signs a lot, and shifting up into second, and turning corners after stopping at stop signs, and all sorts of things. I even got some U-turn practice in a couple of times when we accidentally wandered onto dead-end streets.

At that point, I started Actually Riding.  Sure, it was just around the neighborhood, but then it was to the store, and then to work.  Once I started commuting, I was OK doing short rides for fun on the weekends.  And those became longer rides for fun.  And those became overnight trips and the next thing you know, I’m riding to Alaska and Key West and finding myself bush camping on Australia’s Cape York peninsula.

June 4, 2000:

It’s interesting how my frustrations are changing. I used to be content riding as a passenger on Peter’s bike — it was exciting and thrilling and all that good stuff. I used to get frustrated if Peter was tired, or we were going somewhere far away, or we had a lot of stuff to bring somewhere — something that would require us to take a car instead of his bike. Now it frustrates me even to ride on his bike. If we go anywhere nearby together on his bike, I get frustrated because I’m not on my bike. If we go somewhere further away, I get frustrated because I’m not at the point yet where I can ride alongside him. It’s really intense; kind of scary at the same time that it’s really exciting.

And you know?  It’s still kind of scary and really exciting. 😉

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