“Jodi, what are you doing right now?”
“I’m trying to find neutral so I can start the bike!”
Of course the training motorcycle I was assigned had a hard time shifting to neutral. I couldn’t start the bike until it was in neutral. My foot was flailing as I tried to bump the shifter up a half step. The whole class behind me was waiting.
I’m an adult. I’ve driven cars for many years, including stick shifts. Why is riding a motorcycle so complicated?
I had ridden behind my husband on our Harley for years. This was the year I was going to learn how to ride my own. I registered for the riding class at our local Harley dealership. Three days to make me a rider.
The book work wasn’t that hard. I have a Masters Degree in Teaching so I know how to study. Our first session was reviewing some of the information in the guide which included the controls, how to start and stop the bike.
There was one other woman in my class. One other adult over fifty. The remaining five students were young men with dirt bike miles. I didn’t let my inexperience freak me out as I knew all the answers in the classroom.
The next day was the range.
We met at 6:30 am at the fairgrounds parking lot. A line of small black Harleys waited in a line. Our instructors had cones placed in a mysterious pattern. For each activity, we watched one of the instructors ride it while the other explained what we had to do. Looked easy enough.
Until I tried to start the bike. Neutral eluded me many times that day, adding to my stress and frustration. During the course of five hours, I had to push all fear of failure and negative self talk out of my brain, as I only had room to focus on making my bike move.
When our instructor finally gave us the signal to park the bikes, I was soaking wet and trembling. It was time for lunch and back to the classroom.
My whole body ached when my head hit the pillow that night. The other woman in my class had already quit after the practice range. One of the young guys didn’t come back either. I didn’t have to prove myself to anyone.
I didn’t have to ride a motorcycle.
I groaned when my alarm went off the next morning. The day of our riding and written tests. Should I get up and get dressed?
When I showed up holding my helmet, my instructor raised his eyebrows but didn’t say anything. My mind was set. I was going to do this.
I got on my bike and fired it up. All I could think about was following directions, following the other riders, following my dream.
After some warmups, we completed a series of motorcycle skills for the riding test: swerves, slow turns, quick stops, street turns. The instructors scribbled on clipboards as we sped by. Then we got the signal and parked the training bikes for the last time.
My hands shook as I unbuckled and took off my helmet. My hair was plastered to my face and my makeup had disappeared hours ago.
“We need to retest one student. The rest of you passed. Go get lunch and meet back at the classroom for the written test.”
The name they called was not mine. I passed the riding test.
On my way back, I stopped at Starbucks for a cold drink and a cake pop. My mind buzzed like I’d just come out of my first Lord of the Rings movie. I knew I could pass the written test, but the riding course was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life.
Later that afternoon, the instructors passed out awards to our class. All of us who showed up the second day had passed both tests and were ready to apply for motorcycle licenses at the DMV. We’d still have to take another written test there, but after what we’d been through the past three days, it sounded simple.
The awards were light-hearted, including one for Speed Demon, Shortstop, and Curve Master. My award was not surprising.