firstrides

On Riding Bitch... For Lack Of A Better Term

Over the years, the female riding community has grown. It’s grown so much and so much of it, I think, has to do with the support that other females have given each other. It's simple, women empowering other women. But let’s back up a moment. Who taught this new wave of women how to ride? Was it another woman - a friend, a girlfriend, a mother, a sister? Was it a daughter? Through the vastly growing online community of female motorcycle riders, so many have shared their stories surrounding who taught them how to ride. And surprisingly enough, many (though definitely not all) involved a man.

While the idea of learning how to ride from another woman makes my heart smile, I myself learned from a man. Unlike so many women who have who have been riding for years, I didn't learn from my father. I learned from my boyfriend. When we met, I already had my permit. I was going to buy a bike whether he was supportive or not. But to he and his friends’ credit, the support that they gave me throughout the learning and bike buying process was not only present it was tremendous.

But before I met my boyfriend, I had not been met with the same kind of support that a woman in 2012 might hope to expect. Though my family was supportive, the other men in my life before DCar were not. In fact, my previous boyfriend rode. When I told him I wanted a motorcycle too, he told me that he didn’t want me riding unless he was there to pick out the bike. Throughout the conversation, I realized that he was slowly going to take control of the process and he wasn't going to let me make any decisions on my own. Considering that he was halfway across the world, his words didn’t hold much weight and our relationship didn’t last. But, his conviction in deciding what I could not do was a pivotal moment in my relationship with motorcycles. I wasn't going to settle for being his old lady and I wasn’t just going to ride bitch.

So, I got my permit. I had no idea what I was going to do after that, though. I had a few guy friends who rode, but I never really felt they understood why I wanted a bike or that I really wanted one because I was such a novice. In contrast, most of them had been riding or oggling bikes for years. In their eyes, I was just an overly eager passenger.

DCar seemed to arrive at that perfect moment where I was at a crossroads with what to buy bike-wise. He and our friend Justin scoured Craigslist with me until they understood what I wanted, and didn't want, as my ride. Then, they helped me look for it. But, never once did they tell me what I couldn't ride.  Instead, they shared their experiences and let me make up my own mind. They empowered me.

In the meantime, while I looked for a bike, I rode with Dan. He picked me up from work, we went on dates- we went on double dates. I felt like a koala bear peering over his shoulder, happily watching the road. Never once did I feel like I was riding bitch.

Fast-forward a few years and we now live together in an apartment with a garage that's attached to our bedroom. I have three bikes and he currently has two. I've moved beyond my little ‘74 CB200 to a Sportster and recently even tried my hand at riding off-road (see the post below*). But, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t still occasionally ride bitch. Because sometimes riding with the person who taught you (who truly empowered you) - be it a parent, lover or friend - is so much more than just riding bitch.

Kudos to all of the men out there who support and empower women- be it riding, or otherwise.

Things I Learned In The Dirt

When I started riding motorcycles, I didn’t know much about riding offroad. I still don't! Read: city girl, born and raised. But, a few weekends ago I took my little '94 Yamaha XT225 Serow offroad for the first time and it was probably one of the most challenging, exhausting, and exhilarating things I have ever done.

For my first forray into the dirt world, I trucked my bike out to Freeland PA and met up with a co-worker who grew up around the coal mine there. It's not exactly an area designated for motorcyclists, but people ride there anyway. We rode through what I assume are normal dirt trails but we also hit mud, some silty sand-like terrain and a few sketchy trails that were full of rocks. Here are a few things I told myself while trying not to eat it.

Don't use your front brake. I’ve never purposely ridden downhill into a crater-like pit before because it looked fun. In fact, watching people skate deep bowls makes my stomach a little knotty. But, this looked kind of sandy. So I figured what the hell, the worst that can happen is I fall into some sand. And, that’s exactly what I did. Before my second try, my co-worker stopped me and gave me some sage advice. Don’t use your front brake. Doing so while riding downhill can literally flip you over the handlebars. It makes complete sense now, but it was nice to have someone there to actually say it.

Don’t look down. We started off in that weird black sandy bowl but eventually made our way to some semi-narrow, woodsy trails. At first, I kept looking down in disbelief that I was finally riding offroad in the woods. I was also looking down to brace myself for every rock I passed because I didn't really know what I was doing. After eating it in the first tight turn, I kept my head up and set my sights on what was in front of me instead of panicking about what was below. What I realized was that by looking down, I was missing the best part of the ride. Looking ahead, I watched and felt the trees pass by and couldn't help but smile. This is the view I had been waiting for.

Trust the bike. This reminds me of when I got my second bike, an 883 Sportster. I didn’t love the cantankerous added weight of a Harley and riding fast made me nervous because I didn’t feel as in control as I was on my first bike, an old little ‘74 Honda CB200. But over time I realized that the Sportster was actually easier to handle at speed. I just needed to trust it! With the XT, it was the same lesson all over again. Those rocks I kept seeing? I realized I couldn't always go around them. I needed to trust the bike to take me over them. After all, there’s a reason the bike's front end feels that way.

Next time, bring more water. Three- plus hours and one bottle of water? Rookie move.

Get a GoPro. This was my first ride offroad, and being the sentimentalist that I am, I wanted to document it. But I didn't have a way to carry my phone with me, so I had to make Dan stop whenever I wanted to take a photo. In the gnarlier trails, it just wasn't worth it. Truth be told, I was too busy picking my bike up.

Never underestimate your street smarts, even in the woods. We found ourselves by a coal mine that was so vast and deep, there was no going through it. I was nervous even getting close to the edge of it. The only thing to do was to go around it or go back the way that we came. But at that point, we had been riding for a few hours and we kind of just wanted to go home. I was also starving and home was a lot farther for me. Of course, that’s where my co-worker Dan’s bike got stuck. His 400-plus pound BMW F800GS didn’t make it a foot through the mud before the rear tire started spinning and the front tire started sinking. After trying to get it out for a few minutes, we took a step back and just watched as it stood there unmoving. As I looked down into the coal mine, I could feel my mind wanting to go into panic mode. There was no easy way out.

But, I knew that panicking would only make things worse so I pushed all of that out of my mind. Instead, I tried to help push the bike again. It didn’t budge. At 5'2" and 100 pounds, I felt like a bird hitting a window. After a few more tries, I took another step back and remembered another moment where I had seen someone on wheels get stuck in mud. Three words: My Cousin Vinny. I had recently seen the movie for the first time with my boyfriend's family. In the movie, Joe Pesci's car gets stuck in the mud on a hunting trip and he needs to make it back to the city for a court hearing. To stop his tires from spinning, he grabs the floormats from the car and throws them under the wheels. So, I found a plank-like piece of wood on the side of the road and stuck it under Dan’s front tire as he pushed and throttled it out of the mud. It worked. I immediately thanked whoever made that movie in my mind and was beside myself that I came up with an idea that actually worked. Meanwhile, as I stood there practically jumping for joy, his rear tire completely roosted me with mud.

photo by Dan M.

I drove home watching the sun set on my little mud covered thumper through the truck mirror. She was all banged up and dirty - exactly how she should be.

If there is something you want to go for that you're just not sure about, try it.

It might not work out. But if it does, it could be just as fun as you thought it would be... 

Brooklyn 2012

It's Philly's coldest winter in years and I feel like I haven't felt the sun against my face in months. In an effort not to go stir-crazy, I've been moseying through some old photos and reminiscing on some old stories.

Here's a little flashback to 2012-- the year I started riding, the year I met the love of my life and the year I discovered a different type of Harley.

Brooklyn Invitational 2012 - Part 1

Disclaimer- kids do stupid things. Hence the phrase: “young and dumb.”

On a sunny, brisk morning in September of 2012, we wake up early to make our way northbound. As we creep quietly out of my shoebox of an apartment, I add a final layer, buttoning it up as we make our way down the steps. We lock the deadbolt to the door outside and face the sun.

The bike is to the right of our stoop. Dan makes his way over to the tank and smoothes down the painters tape to make sure our directions don’t fly away during our journey on the highway. Then, he turns to me and says “federal donuts?”

After donuts, we walk outside and I put on my helmet nervously. Maybe it’s all the sugar and extremely strong cold-drip coffee. Or maybe, it’s the fact that this will be my first trip across state lines on the back of a rigid motorcycle. I’m not 100% sure. I didn’t even know what a rigid motorcycle was until we met.

So, I back up a little and asses the situation. His bike looks beautiful in the morning sunlight. As I think this, I search my memory for the moment when this type of bike became beautiful to me. The bike’s got a black frame, a grey tank with black rally stripes and a white solo seat and p-pad. It has t-bars and white grips with a short, pointed, unchromed sissy bar. The passenger pegs are mounted to the frame, just below my sliver of a seat. My legs flank Dan’s waist whenever we ride.

I look at the pegs and smile because they finally exist. Riding without pegs was fun when we met, but I guess you have to grow up some time.

Dan hops on and backs the bike up and off of the sidewalk for me to get on. I arrange myself, making sure my purse is securely wedged between my back and the sissy bar. Then I wrap my arms around him and make sure I’m ‘holding on.’ He turns his head to the side and asks ‘you ready?’

I’m ready.

The ride between Philly and our pit-stop in Jersey is nice. The wind is cooling and the sky is a beautiful pale blue. No one is driving like an ass and I’m happy to hold on with my knees in the breeze.

As soon as we stop, I realize how hot it is. It’s actually really hot for a Fall day. I’m happy to get back on the bike and cruise again.

We get into New York and it’s a shit show. The freeway is completely packed and there’s dead-stop traffic. It’s hotter than ever and all of a sudden it starts to smell like something is burning. I tap Dan and ask him if he smells it too. He looks down at his pant leg and murmurs something about his jeans and the exhaust. I try to understand how he is so calm as his jeans melt into the pipe. The pace picks up a little bit.

We finally get on the BQE and it’s miserable. By miserable I mean fucking terrifying because I feel like I’m going to fly away. We hit bump after bump after dodging bigger bumps. I’m doing my best to lift myself off the seat and drive my weight into my feet on the pegs. This is kind of hard to do when the position of the pegs have me in a squatting position. My thighs are burning, so I try to hold on a little tighter. I finally give up on shifting my weight for one second, and as I do so we hit a bump that sends both of my feet flying up off of the pegs. My lower half is airborn for just a moment.

I land with my arms still firmly around him and somehow everything is fine. The bikes just keeps moving. He reaches back to squeeze my thigh, letting me know that he understands what I’m feeling because he’s feeling it too.

We finally get off of the BQE and make our way towards the show. We find ourselves behind three eccentric white beards on dressers and they look at us and smile. I smile back, recognizing that twinkle in their eyes that says they were once young too. My muscles relax and the anxiety that I felt disappears and is replaced with giddy excitement for these new people and motorcycles that I never understood before.