Why I ride part 3: Lady riders look cool, and I got a pair of HD boots

by on April 13, 2013
in My story


This is Steve’s custom Sportster – the one he took to Bike Night where I first got the idea to ride my own.

Also in this series:
Part One – The Telephone Booth!

Part Two – The Honda Express!

And now, Part Three – Inspiration Boots!

After we got married in 1991, Steve bought and sold a few bikes over the next several years. Then in the late 90’s he got an idea to build a custom bike, and starting with a 1974 Harley Davidson Sportster he made a really cool retro-looking bike that everyone thought was a 50’s or 60’s model.

He’d take it to a popular local bike night to display it, and our daughter and I would follow in the car so we could walk around and look at the bikes. It was on these visits to Bike Night that I first noticed a few (very few!) women riding their own bikes. They looked confident, cool and independent – and I uttered the thought out loud as soon as it occurred to me:

“I wonder if I could learn to ride my own bike.”

Now one type of guy might have said, “No way, it’s too dangerous,” and I might have given up the idea right then and there.

Fortunately, my husband replied, “Sure, you could learn if you wanted to,” and he went out and bought me a pair of HD riding boots for inspiration. Now obviously, wearing the logo of a popular manufacturer doesn’t make one a biker, but I wore them anyway for literally a couple of years, trying to get the vibe before I really got serious about learning to ride.

Early in the Spring of 2002, we heard about a great learner bike being offered for sale by a friend, so we bought it. Now with boots and a bike, there really was nothing holding me back except my own tendency to over-think. It was time, as my mother used to say, to “shit or get off the pot.”

The learner bike was a 1982 Yamaha 250 Exciter commuter bike. Now this is about as nerdy a bike as they come: it had a plastic trunk on the back, had lost one of its side mirrors, and its top speed was about 70 mph. (It sounded like a Singer sewing machine at anything above 50, and you could hear the Wicked Witch of the West’s bicycle-riding music in the background when you rode it.)

I started out riding this bike up and down the driveway and around the front yard. The first day, Steve showed me how to work the clutch: I’d start the bike with the clutch pulled in, and he’d walk backwards down the driveway in front of me as I inched forward by feathering the clutch.

You know how interior decorators talk about using an "inspiration piece," like a rug or pillow, around which to design a room? Well these are my "inspiration boots," a gift from my hubby, around which I designed my desire to learn to ride.

You know how interior decorators talk about using an “inspiration piece,” like a rug or pillow, around which to design a room? Well these are my “inspiration boots,” a gift from my hubby, around which I designed my desire to learn to ride.

After a couple hours of this, I was able to ride the bike in first gear down to the end of the driveway, make a U-turn, and come back. I then progressed to riding circles around the house, and finally Steve rode the bike up to the nearby high school while I followed in the car. Once there, I used the parking lot to learn about shifting gears.

Around this time I also took the first of two tests required of all riders by the State of Iowa: a written “road rules” test. Passed that with no problem, and suddenly I was allowed to ride on the street as long as a licensed rider rode alongside me. (Because presumably, you’re less of a danger to others that way. I’m not sure that makes sense, but that’s the law.)

By late summer, we had a routine of riding up to the parking lot at the school where I could practice, followed by maybe 30 miles or so riding around town together. I was having a blast.

I turned 40 in mid-September that year, and about a month later I took the skills test to get my full license.

That was an adventure in itself. I had diagrams of the exercises required for the test, and was able to lay them out in the driveway and practice, over and over again.

But I hate any kind of graded performance, and although I was very comfortable riding the bike around town and for short stretches on the highway, the thought of having someone watch and score my skills was terrifying.

This is not my actual bike, but it's an example of an 82 Exciter. Sorry I can't credit the photo - when I clicked the Google Images link to see where the photo came from, it popped up a PORN site... with no motorcycle to be found. Just hoo-hoos. Lots of hoo-hoos.

This is not my actual bike, but it’s an example of an 82 Exciter. Sorry I can’t credit the photo – when I clicked the Google Images link to see where the photo came from, it popped up a PORN site… with no motorcycle to be found. Just hoo-hoos. Lots of hoo-hoos.

My goal had been to get my license before my birthday. But, due to my fear of testing, the day came and went with nary a licensing attempt having been made.

By the time October came around, I was feeling pretty silly. There was no reason to think I wouldn’t pass the test – I’d been riding all summer – and the season was drawing to a close. So I picked a day and just decided to do it.

Up at the DOT, it was me and six guys. First came the equipment check – we knew the bike needed both side mirrors to pass inspection, so we had snagged one off my bicycle and screwed it into the open hole on top of the handlebars. It wasn’t pretty, but it did the job.

The next potential hurdle was the horn test. The horn on this bike was very, very weak – it sounded like a wounded canary. Fortunately, the license inspector had the group test their horns together so my bike’s sickly bleating went undetected.

When he asked for volunteers to go first, my hand shot up – there was no way I was going to sit here any longer than necessary. I was either going to pass, or go home and practice.

I put my foot down once going through the orange cones, and I don’t think my quick-stop was exactly what he wanted, but I passed. I passed! And with that, Rebel Biker Mom was born.

I started the summer of 2002 as a wannabe with a pair of Harley-Davidson boots and a keen envy of girls who rode their own bikes. I ended that summer with a bike, a license, and a full season of riding adventures and “firsts” already behind me.


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7 Responses to “Why I ride part 3: Lady riders look cool, and I got a pair of HD boots”
  1. Sash says:

    Aaaaaaaadorable story!!! Sounds so familiar, huh? I just went through all of this. Although my situation was somewhat reversed. I took the course, kicked ass on the test, then didn’t ride for a year. Then I crashed. And dropped. And dropped again. Now I’m riding with confidence, skill and caution. I’m constantly gauging whether I can do something or not, but trying not to over think. I think that “overthinking” is a chick thing, because most men I know don’t do that. LOL!

    Thanks for your story,

    Sweet Rides,

  2. Corn Dog says:

    Sash, oh yeah, I’m frequently told I think too much. It’s a gift. LOL And don’t worry, I haven’t got to the part of the story yet where I dropped and didn’t ride for a year. That’ll have to be Part Four. :) By the way, I was just digging through some notifications on my blog’s FB page, and I found THIS blog – do you know Ursula Wachowiak? You MUST read her “About” page… she is nomadding it too (is that even a word?)… and has a great epiphany story. Here’s the link – http://hdbroad.wordpress.com/

  3. Pam says:

    Love reading your story!!

  4. Tim says:

    Thanks for the story Janet! We all had to start somewhere and it’s good you had Steve to help you get started and do it right. You sure have come a long way since then.

  5. Corn Dog says:

    Pam, thanks! Hope your weather’s improving up there – you guys had some snow last week I think didn’t you? We managed to avoid it, but it’s still been chilly. Hope you’re out riding soon!

    Tim – yes it’s a brave man who walks along in FRONT of an in experienced person learning to feather a clutch! LOL I probably could have shortened/simplified the process a great deal by just taking the class at DMACC. In fact, I had signed up for it early that year but was on a waiting list, and got impatient so went this route instead. More on THAT, and what it cost me, in the next installment. :)

  6. Shirley says:

    Well you know you were my inspiration. The day you rode that first bike into our driveway I said to my husband “what the H am I doing still behind you. If Janet can do it so can I”. Luckily, like you he said okay let’s do it and the rest is history. Thank you for getting me on a bike and for our many rides together!

  7. Corn Dog says:

    Ah, glad you did it Shirley, we seem to have fun even on the shorty rides! And a Yamaha 250 turned out to be a pretty good starter bike, didn’t it? :) Although yours was at least two decades newer than mine. LOL

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