Heck’s Angels Revisited

The weekend offered almost every sort of weather possible except snow, and it was almost cold enough for that for about 2 hours. It was cold, it was wet, it was windy, it was sunny and it got hot. It seemed particularly apropos for the activity of the weekend as the weather will always be a factor when it comes to riding motorcycles. A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog wherein I said I was thinking about getting a motorcycle to combat rising gas prices. I also said I probably would not get one, but let’s save that for later.

In order to fully and fairly consider the idea, I needed to see if I could ride a motorcycle. In order to do that, I needed access to one. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers two motorcycle riding courses: one for beginners (like me) and one for experts (like me after my training, I was certain). I paid the exorbitant tuition (175 bucks less a $20 discount) and scheduled the class for the weekend. They required that I wear a long-sleeved shirt or jacket and gloves and boots. The class began at 7 am and lasted until 5 pm for both Saturday and Sunday. Yeesh! So much for a relaxing weekend.

7 am came early that Saturday and it did not find me at the classroom. Fortunately, I was only 10 minutes late and the class had not started yet. 6 other students had shown up that early morning and only one of us had any real experience on a bike with a motor. The young fellow was supposedly well practiced on motocross dirt bikes, but wanted to learn street. One woman had ridden on the back of her husband’s motorcycle for years and, as he was getting a new one and wanted to give her the old one, she figured she should learn how to operate it. Another woman had always loved bikes, but never owned one so her husband gave her the class as a birthday present to see if she really wanted one of her own. One guy had just bought a bike to ship to London and was taking the class to learn how to ride it when he got there.

The instructor had us teach ourselves the material in the books (a tried and true method of adult education) and then watch the videos before taking us out to the parking lot. The program had several motorcycles and helmets for students to use. Makes sense though, if you’re just learning how to ride, you probably don’t have a motorcycle license yet, which means you probably don’t own a bike yet. Good plan. The bikes were small. 125cc Kawasaki Eliminators. My large frame looked a little comical sitting astride one. They were also more than a little banged up, as one can imagine from repeated classes of motorcycle novices who probably dropped them or rode them into each other on several occasions. But they did work, even if they looked like refugees from the scrap yard.

We started by pushing the bike around with the engine off. It was quite windy and threatened to blow us over. By the time the instructor let us actually engage the throttle, the wind had died down and the sun had come out, which began to get quite warm so riding helped keep the wind moving. We rode for the rest of the day with the sun shining on clear blue skies, practicing taking off from stopped, slow maneuvering, slalom and stopping. When we finished riding that first day, I had made up my mind. I was going to get a motorcycle.

I also sunburned my nose.

The second day, the weather was less volatile but started out cold before turning quite warm in the afternoon. We watched more videos and finished the book material before taking the written, multiple-choice test. Then we went outside to finish the practical exercises before taking the riding test. It was sunny, clear and—as the day progressed—hot. I felt my face getting burned, but I had no sunscreen. Fortunately, the outfit they required us to wear prevented any more of a sunburn.

This day we were finally able to get the bikes up to a speed above snail. At the end of the day, I was still convinced that I wanted a motorcycle. When I got home that evening, my wife noticed my face and told me to look in the mirror. As I was wearing sunglasses for the entire day, my face bore a striking resemblance to a raccoon—or at least a red raccoon with a white mask, anyway. I drew a lot of attention at work the next day.

I said previously that I didn’t think I would actually get one unless I had a midlife crisis, but after riding one all weekend, I did decide to do it. I spent quite some time pouring over Craigslist and Motorcycle trader not to mention looking at several dealers around town before finding one.

The following Friday, I bought my first motorcycle: a 2005 Honda Shadow Aero. I opted for a used bike because—even though I aspired to be an expert by the time I finished my basic riding course, I knew I didn’t want to spend the money on a new bike—just in case I was not the expert I hoped to be. I have put about 70 miles on it so far and the more I ride it, the more confident I become. I am counting on this bike getting me to and from work in the HOV lane, so I am glad I took that course. Of course, if the weather pulls any tricks, I will probably opt to drive my Explorer Sport. As much as I like riding my bike, I don’t relish the idea of riding it wet.


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