Breath of Life: Coming Back to Motorcycles After Time Off

A 6-year hiatus from motorcycling was enough for this mom

By Nicole Bonza, San Diego, California
reader story back to life honda cbr650r red motorcycle
I am a 44-year-old mother of two amazing boys who are turning 4 and 6. Two months ago I bought this new Honda CBR650R and am coming back to life again.

When you are a mom there are lots of opinions about you riding a motorcycle. Long ago, when I started riding at age 21, people asked, “Why do you ride?” I answered, “Have you ever had surgery where you woke up in recovery and realized you are taking your first breath? That’s why I ride! It’s my first breath of life.”

reader story back to life motorcycle hein gericke bonzai jacket
I took my first ride in six years on my new Honda CBR. Im wearing my beloved Hein Gericke Bonzai jacket (my last name was Bonza so I had to have it), and a backpack from the Femmoto event that inspired me.

My story starts out the usual way. I fell in love with a boy who had a motorcycle who took me for a ride. Thankfully, he encouraged me to buy my first bike, a 1986 Honda Hawk 650. On my first ride I thought I was going to throw up in my bargain priced purple Shoei helmet—that matched a Honda Gold Wing somewhere.

My second dream bike was a 1999 CBR600 F4. I bought it from a cop whose girlfriend was pregnant. Apparently, kids and motorcycles do not go together.

I came across an event called Femmoto, a track day for women with all the major players (Aprilia, Yamaha, Kawasaki) letting women try their demo bikes. It was here where I met industry women leaders Bonnie Strawser, Sarah Schilke, Alice Sexton, Sue Slate, Gin Shear, Jan Plessner, Genevieve Schmitt, and many more.

I was so inspired! I joined several motorcycle groups: the Women’s International Motorcycle Association (WIMA), Women in the Wind (WITW), and the American Motorcycle Association (AMA). I attended women-only events in Colorado, Canada, and Germany. I worked part-time for Hein Gericke, International Motorcycle Shows in various states, and the legendary Laguna Seca. The AMA gave me the remarkable opportunity to ride with Jay Leno and experience the Leno garage.

reader story back to life motorcycle wima 2007 germany
I love taking part in womens motorcycling events like this WIMA gathering in Germany in 2007.

reader story back to life motorcycle nicole bonza red honda
Another great thing about riding motorcycles is all the rides that raise money for worthy causes. Here I am with my “Red Rocket” getting ready to run a charity ride for kids in the burn unit of my local hospital.

During this time I was inspired by a colleague who led motorcycle tours. As the only sportbike rider and girl I was proud to join them on adventures through the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and Yosemite National Park. My motorcycle, named Red Rocket, became an extension of me through the 60,000 miles we journeyed together.

reader story back to life motorcycle touring honda sportbike
Who says you cant tour on a sportbike? Here I am all packed up riding to Sedona on Red Rocket.

Like many stories, life changed and I met another boy whom I married. I took my bike in for a valve job when I was three months pregnant. It was one of the most emotional rides of my life as I was no longer riding for me. I was riding for us. Fast forward 10 months, Red Rocket was dead. I went back to the dealership and the response I got from the service rep was, “It is not our fault you got pregnant and didn’t ride the bike.” I was infuriated.

Two older mechanics at a small shop explained that the Kamp;N filter had been oversaturated, which pitted out my carburetor and it would take $2,000 to rebuild the engine. So I decided to donate my Red Rocket to the Humane Society. The men at the shop did not know what to do with me as I said my goodbye, sobbing hysterically. Only she and I knew what we had been through.

reader story back to life motorcycle nicole bonza honda cb red rocket
Saying goodbye to my trusty Red Rocket Honda motorcycle.

Now, six years later, a single mom with two children, like Shel Silverstein’s Giving Tree, I had given my all. COVID-19 brought more stress to my life than I knew I could handle. I have given every part of me to my ex, my kids, and my job. In February, I was in the hospital command center for the first people who came from China and arrived at Miramar Hospital in San Diego near where I live. My heart went out to these people who were terrified of an unknown disease who were being treated like the scenes from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial for the safety of everyone involved. All these people wanted was a warm shower and to feel a little normal while they were locked inside their rooms with guards outside.

In March, I was one of the main people who helped organize setting up the surge tents for our hospital, helped establish temporary morgues (that thankfully we have not needed like we saw in New York), and found every nook and cranny for PPE for COVID-19. I worked from home as much as I could while homeschooling and sheltering the family the best I could. I finally hit a point where I needed to do something for me.

I started dreaming about Red Rocket and riding again. I tried on my old purple helmet, gloves, and boots, which disintegrated when I showed my boys. I ordered new boots thinking about the possibility.

My boss, who’s been an inspiration to me and has two young children of his own, showed up on a Honda Gold Wing and let me sit on it. Would I want an adventure bike? Sportbike? The possibilities were exciting!

Voices took over my head, “…but you are a single mom!” After massive deliberation I bought a brand new Honda 650R. Was this a midlife crisis or the return of Nicole?

Six years without riding and now riding away from the dealership on a beautiful new bike, I almost threw up in my helmet—yes again. It was the most irresponsible and selfish purchase of my lifetime. On my first few outings I quickly remembered the fun of riding with a bee in my helmet, sweat pouring down my back, and experiencing a tired clutch hand in traffic. And then there were new challenges and driving hazards like the legalization of pot and proliferation of text messaging while driving.

Change happens and yet for the first time in years I belong. After a family discussion she, the CBR650, is now named Arcee from the Transformers (a merciless and deadly warrior whos an expert in hand-to-hand combat and one of the best sharpshooters on record). Arcee and I are already interwoven with head nods, hand hellos, rides to the top of Palomar Mountain, reconnecting with friends, feeling unique (I’m the only mom on a motorcycle at daycare), and of course…my first breath as I come back to life.

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8 thoughts on Breath of Life: Coming Back to Motorcycles After Time Off

  1. I am also a riding mom. My kids (now 13 and 17) think nothing of it, but for all the years I rode them to soccer practice etc. on the motorcycle (they wore a safety harness when young), I never once saw another motorcycling mom.The summer after #1 was born was the only time I have ever been without a motorcycle in the garage. After that experience, I swore it would never happen again as long as I had the resources…and it hasn’t! I’m going on 35 years of riding!

  2. I’m 64 and rode for many years with my husband. He passed away last year and I’m still trying to find the strength to go ride by myself. He was always the leader and I followed. Hoping next summer will be my time to forge ahead on my own! We were married for 45 years so it will be different and emotional.

  3. Welcome back! You’ve had some wonderful opportunities in your first motorcycling life. I hope you have many more in this new life. Including riding with your boys when they’re old enough and big enough.

  4. Great article! I had a nine year hiatus after being hit from behind on my 2009 Harley-Davidson Softail Custom. This year I bought a new Sport Glide and have put almost 4,500 miles on it. Female riders like the one in this article are very inspiring. It is so important to have an outlet for stress and riding is the best one I have found! All little girls need to know that motorcycle riding and racing is not just for the boys.

  5. Like so many moms, I’m sure, I gave up riding when my daughter was in first grade. So did my husband. Between work schedules, my husband’s military deployments, and the daughter’s needs, we sold two bikes. Fast forward, daughter leaves for grad school out of state. It did not take long for us to both get back into riding.

  6. Good for you mama! So great to read a story about a mom doing something for herself! We are told we have to give, give, give, but without anything to fuel our souls, who we really are is dying. The first money I ever spent on something for me was my motorcycle, and I would have felt bad but when I ride but I know it is the most “right” thing I have ever done in my life! Thanks!

  7. Thank you for sharing about your journey back to motorcycling. It’s really an inspiring story. Wishing you many happy (s)miles with Arcee!

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