Is "Learn to Ride a Motorcycle" on your Life List? Something you wanted to do before you were too old, or conservative, or boring? It was on mine and I definitely wanted to do it before too much more of my life passed me by or before I settled into a life lacking adventure.
Last summer, I had the great opportunity to visit Harley-Davidson headquarters. During that visit, I took an intro to motorcycle riding. The instructors called it a "Toe Dip" class. The Toe Dip was just that... a testing of the waters of Learning to Ride. Was this really something I wanted to do in reality? Or would I have to just imagine a romantic ideal of a life lived on the open road.
We were split into groups, rotating activities. Some of our group would be visiting the Harley-Davidson museum, others would be getting a massage. Our group was first up for the intro class.
The Toe Dip class was a great way to have all the nagging questions answered. Will I be able to balance the big machine beneath me? Will I be able to get the bike in gear? Will I freak out as I begin moving forward?
We began by getting familiar with the parts of the bike. This is the clutch. This is the break. This is the kickstand. Very simple and straight forward. We moved on to learning to mount the bike, kicking up the kickstand, putting it in neutral, lowering the kickstand again, and properly dismounting. We learned to walk it and turn it while it was in neutral, legs and tummy muscles straining to make the machine move. Riding was proving to be quite the workout!
The sticky Milwaukee air and record hot temperatures were the only down side of this class. We were laden down with all of our protective clothes and gear: jacket, jeans, gloves, headband, helmet, and boots. I could feel the sweat dripping down my my back, pooling at the base of my spine. It was hot and sticky and the bike was heavy. But even with all of that, I could not stop smiling! Our instructors told us this wasn't always how it was, but it was something you had to deal with when going on long rides in hot weather. I was confident that this discomfort wasn't enough to deter me from the riding lifestyle.
We eventually got into first gear. The butterflies of excitement in my stomach were having a party when we first learned to get the bike moving forward by letting the clutch out just a bit. It was so exciting to feel that momentum and I immediately pictured myself on a road filled with other bikers, smiling in the sun.
Unfortunately, that was it for the Toe Dip. There would not be a chance to ride around the parking lot. We would have to take a class back at home, if we decided that riding was for us.
When I got the email weeks later asking if I indeed wanted to take Rider's Edge, I couldn't type YESSSS fast enough. I was given three dates to choose from. I decided to take the next available class. I received a certificate in the mail and registered for my class.
Back when we were happy newlyweds, my husband and I thought about buying a motorcycle. For his 40th birthday, I surprised him by signing us up on a Poker Run that some of his airport friends were doing. I asked around about what kind of bike he might like, and I had my ideas about the kind of motorcycle I wanted to be on the back of. We ended up renting an aqua and white Softail.
Totally retro. Totally cool.
At one of the stops, I was talking to one of the wives, Susan. Susan was a bit of a bad ass. She flew her own airplane and rode her own Harley. I thought that was pretty cool and told her how much I'd always wanted to learn to ride. She encouraged me to learn and had me dreaming about maybe even having a motorcycle of my own. I also shared with her that hubs and I were talking about maybe having a baby. Susan didn't have any kids of her own so she didn't really see the appeal. Her response was short and to the point.
"A baby or a bike."
I sort of blinked incredulously at her statement.
"Excuse me, what?" *blink* *blink*
"You have to choose. If you're going to have a baby, you can't have a motorcycle."
I don't like being told I can't do something, so naturally, I got a little defensive, but deep down, I knew she was right. It wasn't practical for us to have a baby and a motorcycle. We could really only afford to go down one path at the time, and happily, we chose the path of diapers, SUVs, tuition, and all kinds of sweetness.
Ultimately, Susan was wrong. It's possible for me (or any woman) to have both.
Just maybe not all at once.
Fast forward almost 10 years since that ride, through the Jones's separation, near divorce, and reconciliation. My husband and I have been remembering all the things we said we wanted to do together. One of those things was for me to learn to ride so we could go on long rides together. This is where it gets really cool...
As you know, I don't have a Bucket List or Life List. I don't even have a current Vision Board (though I do love my vision boards), but I did have that thought way, way, way back and it never really left me. Somewhere in the back of my mind, there was a seed waiting to sprout. So when this very cool opportunity popped up out of practically nowhere, I jumped at the chance!
What opportunity? An invite to go to Harley-Davidson HQ in Milwaukee, WI, baby!!
As a part of Harley-Davidson's outreach to women, I was invited, along with several super amazing bloggers to the headquarters in Milwaukee to learn more about their learn-to-ride programs and the overall history and awesomeness that is Harley-Davidson. While there, we were treated to a Garage Party at Hal's (a local Harley-Davidson dealership), including a JumpStart demo, and later that week, an Introductory Motorcycle Experience in the parking lot of the corporate offices.*
*No executives were harmed in the teaching of bloggers to ride.
Garage Party at Hal's
Garage Parties are events to introduce the newbies to the sport of motorcycle riding. They're held at Harley-Davidson stores throughout the country. At these events, attendees learn about the motorcycles, gear, essentials, and get to participate in a couple of practical demonstrations. One was learning how to pick a bike up if it falls over. That was something we all admitted to being afraid of, so when we got our chance to get a bike upright from the ground, we felt a little more comfortable about the prospect of riding. Then we got to check out the JumpStart!!
The JumpStart is an actual Harley on a contraption that allows you to get the feel for the bike while remaining safely in one place. While the motorcycle is stationery, you can learn how to start it, rev it up, and change gears, just as if you were riding. If you've ever driven a stick shift, the shifting is the same, except that you're using your left hand and left foot. Thanks to a little coaching at home from Mr. Jones, I got the gear shifting on the first try. The most surprising part of the demo was how little I had to touch the throttle to get that machine to ROOOAAAARRRR!!!
We also got to ride on the back of a few cool Harley employees' motorcycles along through downtown Milwaukee and along the shores of Lake Michigan. (PS: You know what? Milwaukee is a pretty cool city!) I did NOT want to get off the bike. In fact, I wanted to get on the motorcycle myself and go on a ride! Just one thing...I still didn't know how. I was riding with Deb, who is the head of Rider's Edge, a new rider clinic held at participating Harley-Davidson stores. Deb assured me that after taking the class, I would be ready to hit the road.
But first, just to whet our appetite, we dipped our toes in the water.
Introductory Motorcycle Experience
Deb and Tracy took us through the basics of riding a motorcycle. Mounting, putting it in neutral, turning it on, revving the motor (my favorite), and initial take off in first. Needless to say, I was very excited to get on the bike.
After Tracy and Deb answered all of my questions and addressed all of my concerns, I knew 100%, that I wanted to move on to the next step: Rider's Edge!!
Rider's Edge is a 4-day program (25 hours total) that is basic training for anyone ready to learn to ride. There are two in-class days and two days spent on the practice range where you'll learn braking, turning, controlling skids, and other safety maneuvers. When you're done with the Rider's Edge Course, you'll receive a MSF Basic RiderCourse Completion Card. Some states accept completion of this course in place of the riding portion of your motorcycle license test. You may also get a discount on insurance!
Thanks to the wonderful folks at Harley-Davidson, I will be taking the Rider's Edge Course here in San Diego soon!
The Harley-Davidson Museum was such a great bonus on our trip. You don't really understand how intertwined the company has been in our modern history until you walk through the museum. We had the privilege of being lead through the museum by one of the curators, Kimberly. She had some amazing stories to tell. For instance, the original documents where the founders divide up the stock. Mr. Harley only got 5 shares to everyone else's average of 50. Until one of the sons came to the museum to tell the story, no one knew why the disparity. Turns out, Mr. Harley wanted to complete his education in engineering, so he took his stock in cash to pay for his schooling.
Here's a bit of shaky video I took of some of the highlights:
Just outside of the museum was a parking sign that said "No Cages." We asked what that meant. "Cars are cages," they told us. Motorcycles, being closer to the elements and to life, are not. No Cages, they continued, means more than not having the body of a car around you. It's a beloved term used to describe the motorcycle riding lifestyle. No Cages means not having anything holding you back. I loved that. I thought of all the cages I used to let hold me back, including the idea that I would have to choose between a baby or a bike.
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