Back in the Saddle Yet Again

Reawakening my motorcycling skills.

This week, I jumped back into a hobby that had once been an integral part of my life: motorcycling.

A Little History

Years ago, when I was in my 20s, I came up with a personal list of skills I wanted to acquire during my lifetime. Although they didn’t have any particular order, the one I went after first was learning to ride a motorcycle.

I was 29 when I bought my first motorcycle. It was a 1978 400cc Honda Hawk — what we might call a “standard” bike with an upright seating position. It was black with red trim, and despite being 11 years old, it only had 941 miles on it. Its previous owner, also a woman, had died of cancer 9 years before and her husband had been unable to part with it. A motorcycle dealer, he’d kept it in mint condition and I was the lucky person to buy it. I don’t remember what it cost, but I do remember that it was a good deal. Wish I could find a photo of it.

Because I understood the importance of safety and I didn’t know anyone who rode, I signed up for a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course (highly recommended). Mike, who was not yet my husband, also signed up. His idea was that after taking the course, we’d both go riding on my motorcycle. I made it quite clear that my motorcycle was mine and if he wanted to ride, he needed to get his own. So he bought a very functional but tired looking BMW Boxer.

We met other motorcyclists at the safety course and it wasn’t long before we were riding weekly with a group. They were, as you might expect, mostly male and all right around our age or a bit younger. Women, when they came along, were usually passengers. The bikes were mostly sport bikes — crotch rockets, as some people call them — and the group rode fast on twisty roads, mostly in Harriman State Park north of our New Jersey home. It was challenging to build the skills to keep up with them.

1992 Yamaha Seca IIWe went to Americade with the group one year and that’s where I got a chance to test ride what would be my next motorcycle: a 600 cc Yamaha Seca II. The Honda was a nice bike and it had helped me build and refine basic skills, but I was ready for something more sporty. Almost a year passed before I took the plunge in 1992. Right next door to the Yamaha dealer in Paramus, NJ was a BMW car dealer that just happened to have the previous year’s model BMW K65S (I think), still new, in an electric blue color. Mike bought it. A few days later, we rolled up to an upstate New York campground on a pair of brand new bikes, shocking the hell out of the members of our riding club that were also on the trip.

We did a lot of riding in those days. One of my favorite vacations was the trip we took from the New York metro area down through Washington DC and onto Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge parkway. It was a motorcycle camping trip and folks in the campgrounds we stayed at couldn’t believe how much gear we were able to pack on those bikes. We came all the way down the Blue Ridge Parkway to Tennessee, with a great ride through Deal’s Gap, then headed over to the coast and came up the barrier islands, following the wake of a hurricane that had battered Hatteras. Mike didn’t tell his mom that we were doing the trip on motorcycles — she thought we were driving. During one call to her while on the trip, I heard him assure her that I was doing just as much of the driving as he was.

Time went on. We did another camping trip with the club, this time up to New York’s Finger Lakes area. Riding through farmland at speeds I don’t want to admit, I found the top end of the Yamaha’s power curve. I instantly fell out of love with the bike.

1996 Ducati 900 SS/CRIt wasn’t long before I bought my next bike, a 1996 Ducati 900 SS/CR. Now here was a bike with testosterone. I recall trying to find the top end one day on a piece of long, straight desert road. I got to 130 mph when I decided that I didn’t really need to find the top end. Needless to say, I had no trouble keeping up with the group.

Things change. We moved to Arizona where the riding wasn’t quite as good. We got horses, which were more interesting to ride. Later, I learned to fly helicopters — another one of the skills I had on my list. I bought my first helicopter. Which do you think is more fun to take out for a spin? The motorcycles gathered dust in my hangar.

Fast Forward to Today

I’m up in Washington State for the fourth summer in a row, working a series of cherry drying contracts. With me are my helicopter, Mike’s pickup, and my very large fifth wheel trailer, the “mobile mansion.” The pickup is my only means of ground transportation.

Last year, I almost bought a Honda scooter. This year, I looked at them again and realized that a 30 MPH top speed would not be much use for serious transportation. I even looked at motorcycles with the thought of getting a dual purpose bike I could take off-road a bit. But when a reality check reminded me that I’d be turning 50 this year, I decided against such a purchase.

I wished I had one of the motorcycles I already owned, which were languishing in my hangar 1,200 miles away.

I called Dave, who runs a motorcycle shop in Wickenburg. I asked him if he knew of a company that could ship one of my bikes up to me. He not only knew a company that could do it, but they could do it for about half of what I thought it would cost. I told him to fetch the Yamaha from my hangar, do what he needed to to get it running, and ship it out to me.

The Yamaha ArrivesIt arrived on Thursday, on a specially designed dolly in a 18-wheeler filled with motorcycles. I took possession about half a mile down the road from my temporary home, at a closed-down weigh station. I’d asked Mike to put on the Givi hard luggage I’d bought for it; the helmet and my old denim riding jacket were stowed inside. Once I remembered how to start it — I knew there was a primer switch somewhere but couldn’t remember where at first — I was good to go.

That first half mile ride was the first time I’d been on a motorcycle in over two years.

Motor Skills Return

Yesterday, after a long, hot day of doing helicopter rides at a local winery, I climbed on, put on my helmet, and rode the 5-1/2 miles into Quincy for dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant. I admit I was nervous at first — what if I screwed up and killed myself? The speed limit on the road between my RV and town has a 60 mph speed limit. It didn’t take me long to get it up to speed, though.

But what really surprised me is the way my hands and feet seemed to go into auto-pilot mode. My right hand and foot automatically moved to the brake lever and pedal to apply just the right amount of pressure for braking. My left hand and foot automatically moved to the clutch lever and gearshift to change gears smoothly. Balance comes naturally, even in the gravel parking lot at the RV park.

I’d been hoping that the skills would return. I’m thrilled that they have, but admit I’m very surprised that they have returned so quickly. I guess that’s what experience is all about.

Back in the Saddle

Today I’m planning my first big ride — a 70-mile trek from Quincy to Chelan, WA. I’m toying with the idea of mounting my GoPro for the ride — I’ll be riding along the beautiful Columbia River most of the way — but don’t need even more video footage I can’t really use. So I’ll likely just take it easy and enjoy the ride.

It’ll sure be nice making the trip in something other than a 3/4 ton pickup.

4 thoughts on “Back in the Saddle Yet Again

  1. Congratulations on getting back on the bike… I have massive sympathy with the “The motorcycles gathered dust in my hangar.” comment.

    Mine is currently sat in my brothers workshop (not broken, but this is safest place to store it), where it has been for 2 months and hasn’t moved. It’s my first bike, a 2010 Suzuki GSX-R600 (or a Crotch Rocket as you call them!), but your post has just reminded me that I must get it out when I get back next weekend… you watch it rain now!

    Ride safe, and enjoy!

    • Craig: Riding a motorcycle is like flying. You need to do it regularly to stay proficient and safe. Get back on that bike and enjoy it!

  2. I have wanted to get a bike (crotch rocket) but I’m just too scared to get one. I’ve had a few friends who have crashed (one paralyzed and one died) on a bike. I’m still uneasy about getting one, maybe if you keep at it, it will give me the courage to get me on a bike.

    • Jeff: The trouble is, too many people get hot bikes and then ride them without proper training. You can easily kill yourself on a motorcycle. Best to start with something a little tamer to get the feel for riding. Then move up to something slicker or faster if you decide you need to.

      I thoroughly enjoyed yesterday’s ride, but I was so rusty that I didn’t mind riding my “slower” bike at all. In fact, I had trouble remembering why I’d bought my Ducati. Must be getting old. :-(

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