MOTORCYCLES HAVE FASCINATED ME for as long as I can remember. I finally had a chance to be a passenger on a bike when I was 20 years old – the experience was exhilarating and I was hooked! Then and there I made a promise to myself that I would have my own motorcycle one day. I made good on that promise – it just took 28 years to do so…
I’ve gotten a bit ahead of myself. Looking back, there were a few barriers to making my motorcycle riding dream a reality:
- Time and money for a motorcycle course
- The cost of buying a motorcycle (on top of a car)
- The cost of insuring a motorcycle (on top of a car)
- Absence of role models who looked like me
FEAR – A lot of people think bikes are cool, but they’re afraid of them. I know a number of men who “used to ride” but stopped when they had kids. For my part, when I was 12 years old, a 15 year-old girl in our town was killed on her boyfriend’s bike when he lost control while riding in fog. It made a big impression on me; that impression was reinforced by my parents mentioning her name throughout my teenage years (likely as a cautionary tale) when motorcycles were discussed. At some point, I realized -hey – I actually know many more people who have been killed or injured in car accidents than in motorcycle accidents. I also realized that fear hasn’t really stopped me from doing much in life (moving around the country by myself, travelling to foreign countries by myself, etc.) so there was no reason for it to be a factor in my motorcycle riding decision.
COURSE – For years I believed having to find and then take a motorcycle riding course (usually held in the outskirts of a city) with a test on the final day was a barrier. However, it’s rather disingenuous to claim that a weekend course within city limits was an insurmountable hurdle given I have four university degrees completed in three different provinces. For some unknown reason, I thought it was.
COSTS – Motorbikes aren’t as expensive as you might think. You can get a great, used motorcycle in excellent condition for $6,000 – $10,000. You can get an old, crappy one for way less than that! Insuring a bike, depending on your age, driving history and other factors (including the type of bike you buy) is likely around $1000/year. So, while I’m not saying that either of those costs are insignificant, they’re also not as prohibitive as one might think. I’ll say this: when I think about ALL the other things I’ve spent my money on, I could have had a motorcycle earlier than I did if I’d “run the numbers” to determine what I could afford.
ROLE MODELS – I didn’t know any other Black women riders. Sure, at some point I heard about Bessie Stringfield but she was riding in Miami in the 1930s. I was looking for someone riding in my city, in my lifetime. Throughout most of my life, none of my friends – regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation – rode a motorcycle. This truly was a barrier because there was no one around to expose me to riding, even as a passenger.
So, it turns out most of these so-called “barriers” weren’t really barriers after all. By the time I figured that out, one additional “barrier” presented itself: public perception. It seemed pretty cliché for a middle-aged lesbian to start riding a motorcycle. Regardless, since I’d never let public perception keep me from other things in life, I certainly wasn’t going to let it stop me from getting a motorcycle. So, folks can think what they want!
I finally got my motorcycle license at age 46. Predictably, my only regret is that I didn’t get it years earlier. I can’t tell you how many women I meet who say that they’ve “always wanted to ride a motorcycle”. I get it – I used to say that too. If you’re one of those women, I’ll bet that the barriers to you getting your license are actually just perceived barriers, as mine were. If you’ve “always wanted” to ride but you’ve not gotten around to it yet, my advice, informed by Nike’s old brand campaign, is: just do it!
GETTING A MOTORCYCLE LICENSE
In 2011, I bought a 2005 Vespa 250-GTS. Admittedly, it wasn’t the bike I’d dreamed of riding since I was 20, but it was actually a really great introduction to riding a motorized bike. I didn’t have to worry about shifting gears so could just focus on driving. Plus, at 250cc, my Vespa actually had a lot of pep!
At the time I bought my Vespa, I lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia. So, I did my motorcycle licensing course there. This is no longer the case, but in 2011, if you did the course and the test on a 150cc+ scooter, you got a motorcycle license. Furthermore, 30 days after you passed the test, you just had to go to Motor Vehicles with proof of successfully passing the test and you were given a full motorcycle license. Pretty awesome!
Highly coincidentally, I was in the process of moving to Ontario when I was getting my motorcycle license in Nova Scotia – thank God I didn’t wait to do it in Ontario! I would have had to take two separate courses and two separate tests separated by two years! BTW: that’s now the case in Nova Scotia too.
Riding a Vespa was a really great way to get around Toronto. I could park pretty much anywhere (just off the sidewalk, beside bicycle stands, etc.). In a city like Toronto, finding parking is half the battle of almost every destination. People stopped to talk to me about my Vespa ALL the time. If I was stopped at a light, it was not uncommon for drivers stopped beside me to roll-down their windows and ask me about my Vespa and/or riding it in the city. One day a transport truck driver rolled-down his window to talk to me about my Vespa – true story!
Much as I enjoyed Vespa riding, after two years I wanted more – I wanted to ride a motorcycle. I had the full motorcycle license, I just needed the bike to go with it.
CHOOSING MY FIRST MOTORCYCLE
I wasn’t sure what I wanted as my first bike. I consulted a number of websites like the Women Riders Now’s “Guide to best beginner bikes for new women riders“. Sites like these were extremely helpful to me.
You’ll learn, as I did, there are a number of things to consider for your first bike:
- Buy used – do not buy a new bike
- Fit – style/type of bike that fits your personality and needs
- Fit – size of bike in relation to your stature
- Insurance – the cost of insuring your choice of motorcycle
BUYING USED – I read and was told that whatever bike you start out on, you’re going to want to trade-in for a more powerful bike after one to two years. This is simply a fact. So, don’t waste your money on a new bike. I followed this advice and I’m very glad I did – but for different reasons than I was told. More on that later.
FIT re: STYLE – I didn’t know what style of bike I wanted; I was just 100% sure about the type of bike I didn’t want – a sport bike. Fun fact: in Ontario at least, you can’t just go to a motorcycle dealer and test drive a bike. The only time you can test drive a motorcycle is on specified “demo days”. So, most motorbikes purchased at an Ontario dealership are purchased without the buyer ever riding it. Turns out to not be such a “fun fact” at all. In my case, that didn’t really matter because, although I had a motorcycle licence, I didn’t know how to ride one yet.
FIT re: SIZE – I’m about 5’4″, so I’m not very tall. As a result, I didn’t want a big bike. Incidentally, all the motorbikes I looked at seemed really big by comparison to my Vespa. One of the things I noticed reading sites like Women Riders Now is that cruisers are a popular choice for shorter folks (often women) because cruisers have a “v-shaped” body that will allow most riders to plant their feet firmly on the ground on either side of the bike. This is really helpful when you’re first learning to ride.
INSURANCE – I recommend calling your insurer with a bike’s details before making the commitment to purchase it. It can be very illuminating. You’ll find that sport bikes are the very most expensive to insure. So, be certain to factor that into your bike decision.
So, considering all of these things, I decided to purchase a 2009 Harley Davidson Sportster 883-XL from an individual seller. Below is a pic of the bike in the seller’s garage the night I purchased it – it was a beaut!
ALL OF LIFE IS TIMING
I’d love to say I bought my Harley, the angels started singing and I haven’t looked back since! Unfortunately, if I said that I would be lying. There were a couple of challenges for me to address before I could enjoy my new purchase:
- I live in Toronto but I purchased my bike from someone living two hours away in Woodstock, ON
- I hadn’t learned how to ride a motorbike yet and all motorcycle skills courses expect you to bring your own bike.
So, what do you do when buy a bike that you don’t know how to ride but you need it for riding lessons and you need to first pick it up from a town two hours away before you can go to riding lessons? You turn to YouTube. Sad but true, I learned to ride a motorcycle on YouTube. I most certainly don’t recommend it but, my desperate times definitely called for desperate measures.
Here’s what I did. I took a Greyhound bus to Woodstock. Then, took a cab to a service station where the seller had left the bike for me. I got the bike and its paperwork from the service station and then headed back to Toronto via country roads. Then, the next day, I took a riding course from the Rider Training Institute.
Let me share a few “highlights” from my trip back to Toronto from Woodstock. The 883 in the name of my Harley stood for the motor size: 883cc. To that point, the most powerful bike I’d ridden was my Vespa at 250ccs. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I probably looked like I was riding a bucking bronco on numerous occasions on that return trip. Remember: I didn’t have to deal with a clutch on my Vespa either. It’s also fairly safe to say that I stalled my bike almost every time I stopped it. That wasn’t really an issue on the country roads but on the streets of Toronto returning home that afternoon and heading out to my riding course the next morning, I stalled at pretty much every intersection. Although that trip from Woodstock to Toronto provided an interesting mix of terror and mortification, as you can see in the below pic from my arrival, I was proud and thrilled to finally have my own motorcycle!
I’d thought that by getting a bike that was nearly 900cc as my first bike, I wouldn’t trade it in after a year or two like most people do with their first bike. However, I was mistaken. Next time, I’ll tell you why I had my Harley for only one year and I’ll tell you about my first long trip (which I took on my second bike).
18 thoughts on “Just Do It!”
Great story. Would love to know more about what happened on your first ride without taking a motorcycle course? Any spills?
Thanks Josette! No spills!
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Great story and inspiring. I had the oppprtunity to go on a few rides a few decades back and loved the experience.
Thanks for taking the time to visit!
BTW – it may be time for you to go on a few rides again!
Great story and so proud of you. My motorcycle journey started on an 80cc Honda scooter. I now ride several bmw bikes, oddly enough preferring the smaller 310 cc. Hope to meet you down the road. Safe travels👍👍
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Appreciate the great words of advise.
It’s true – just do it!
Love your blog with advice and great stories! Looking forward to your trip to PEI
Hey Linda – so glad to hear that you’re finding the blog interesting! Thanks for letting me know. Cheers, CM
Omg! I love this!! I can so relate to your stories and we have spoken about a few of them 🏍💨. 2wsister that is the most awesome name! Can’t wait to read more about your adventures 😁 motorcycle trips are always the best times…🥳maybe see you on the road this year? Until then keep the shiney side up!
Hey Rachel – I miss having a colleague to chat with re: riding. I hope you’re keeping well. The weather has been great so far this year – rather a shame about the “Stay-at-Home” Order…
Great story! I think it’s about time I learn to ride a bicycle…never too laet to learn.
You’re right Ese – it’s never too late to learn! Just do it!
Thank you for sharing. I learned a lot about motorcyckes.
Thanks so much for taking the time to check it out, Aretha. I hope you liked the blogs (and pics) re: my Africa trip.