too many words by laura lemay

returning to the fold

Fourteen years ago, give or take, I got my motorcycle license. I owned a whole lot of bikes, and rode a lot, and worked on bikes, and wrote about bikes, and quite a bunch of my life revolved around motorcycles for a long time.

And then slowly, over time, I stopped riding.

Eric still rides and we still have a lot of motorcycling friends. And so quite often we would get together in big motorcycling groups and someone would ask me the question: so why did you stop riding?

And I had a bunch of half-assed answers about how I had fallen over too many times, I had a bike that was too big for me, we had moved to a house with a complicated driveway, I live near a dangerous road, etc, etc, etc. A bunch of dumb answers I stated emphatically, with conviction. My friends nodded as if they understood.

If you had really held me down and demanded an actual honest, truthful reason for why I gave up riding I suppose I would have had to say that I was scared. I never rode enough to be comfortable on a bike. It was never all that much fun for me. I had a lot of trouble with the basics, with slow-speed maneuvering. I had a terrible sense of balance. I fell over a lot. I felt like an idiot. I lived in constant fear of u-turns, of parking lots, of gas stations. Riding at night was out of the question. Riding in traffic was terrifying. It wasn’t that I was frightened of getting injured or getting run over or crashing at speed; I had training. I knew how to avoid accidents. Mostly I was just afraid of the bike.

But its hard to say that to friends who are into bikes. Its hard to say that you’re just plain bad at the skills that are completely second nature to them. Its hard to just admit you were scared.

Over the years I sold all my motorcycles: the blue RZ350 that I adored but that was too tall and I kept falling over on; the red Honda Hawk that a good friend had sold me just before he lost his battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma; the gutless Honda dirtbike that was so hard to kickstart when I fell over on it. The only bike I had left was a 1960’s Honda 305 Superhawk, the bike I had always considered the most beautiful classic bike ever, a bike with terrible handling, terrible suspension and terrible brakes. It was my only remaining bike and I could not bear to sell it, not only because it was my most beautiful bike but also because if I sold that bike then I would have no bikes left. If I sold that bike I would no longer be a motorcyclist — even if I hadn’t actually ridden in years. Even if I didn’t really want to ride anymore.

But then, recently, something changed. Part of it was because of bicycling. I started cycling a few years ago when my hips and feet went all bad from running. And thanks to bicycling my balance got enormously better. My road skills on the bike have improved immensely over the last few years. A motorcycle is of course different from a bicycle in terms of weight and balance…but a lot of the skills do transfer. I feel different. I feel better.

And then I realized that I actually wanted to ride again. I missed it. In amongst all the memories of being incompetent on a bike I also had terrific memories of long rides in the hills and perfect corners and that incredible feeling when you twist the throttle and the bike pulls under you, pulls away and you have to go go faster faster, holding tight and leaving everything behind.

I missed it.

And then a few months ago a co-worker noted that my IM login was motorcycle related and asked me about it. “I don’t ride anymore,” I explained. “Why not?” he asked. The dreaded question.

And this time my honest, truthful answer was: I don’t know. I really don’t know.

It was soon after that I started shopping for a new bike.

It took a long time; I decided to buy a bike at the same time that gas prices hit an all-time high and everyone in the world decided motorcycles were a good idea. I found a bike and then it took time to get the paperwork sorted out. That was OK because it gave me some time to re-take my training, the same beginning motorcycle class I took fourteen years ago and at that time did only OK in. This time I passed it with flying colors, and I felt so confident. I felt so much better. This time I wasn’t scared at all.

And this weekend I brought home the new bike: a 2004 Kawasaki Ninja 250, a little blue sport bike. Its a cool little bike, small enough to me to relearn how to ride but still cool enough that I’m not embarrassed to be seen on it.

The bike sat with the previous owner and it needs a little tuneup work before I can ride it. But it won’t be long before I’m out riding again.

I can’t wait.