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I recently acquired a new boyfriend and have been riding as a passenger on his Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic. Ready for my own ride, I called up my local Harley dealer and booked a beginner’s class.

I ride motorcycles like girl rear view
Here I am, ready to start the road test that’s given at the end of class. I’m glad no one can see the dried tears under my helmet.

Two accomplished middle-aged men taught the class. Day one in the classroom and the conversation steers to crashes.

The instructor asks, “What happens when a woman crashes her bike?”

I immediately answer, “It sets the women’s movement back about 50 years.”

This just came out impulsively. Thinking back, I know where it came from. It came from years of standing on that first tee at the country club, praying not to reinforce the stereotype that women can’t play golf. And from getting the dreaded eye roll. The one that says, “Oh, great. It’s gonna be a long day following this foursome.”

Back in the classroom, I get the look that a comedian gives a heckler who just ruined the joke. But he continues to the punch line. “Ten guys will rush over. Eight of them will brush her off and pat her down repeatedly checking to make sure she’s ok. Two of them will pick up her bike.”

I sigh a very audible sigh.

Three weeks later I did crash a rented Harley-Davidson Dyna Low Rider. I wasn’t comfortable making the tight turn necessary to end up right next to my brother’s parked Street Glide Special.

So I turned wider and backed the bike in. Ironically, I could have much more easily toppled his ride by doing this. Lesson learned. I could have power-walked the bike in the turn. Again, lesson learned. But the pressure of being a female rider is still there.

So I learned what does really happen when a woman crashes her bike. Five guys rushed over and got my bike up lickety-split. A couple asked me if I was hurt. I said I wasn’t and thanked them. Then they asked if maybe my ego was hurt. I told them, “No. I’m a new rider and I learned something new today.”

I ride motorcycles like girl softail slim
My Softail Slim S is much easier for me to reach the ground on than the Dyna Low Rider that I dropped. I already learned that lesson and don’t want to repeat it.

Now here’s where the conundrum is. Somewhere deep inside me, I felt a primordial fuzzy feeling in my belly. That feeling I get when a guy opens a door for me. I’d like to think it’s just feeling warm about human kindness. But it’s not. It’s completely gender based. I felt cared for by a man (or two) and I liked it!

And I will admit, I like the feeling of pulling up to a red light and getting a thumbs up from a guy simply because I’m a woman on a badass motorcycle. I like when I hit a great drive off the tee in front of a cart full of men. Or when I hit the bullseye or sink the eight ball. I think, “Look at me. I’m a girl and I still can do this and do it well.”

Then I come to a stunning self-realization. All my life, despite considering myself a feminist, I’ve used my gender as an ego-booster — a lower bar that I clear with ease. I hate myself at this point. I feel like I set the women’s movement back infinitely. Am I hard wired a certain way because I’m a woman even though my brain and mouth say differently? Is it environmental or biological? Can I bake my cake and eat it too?

I ride motorcycles like girl Wendy
Here I am on one of my first long motorcycle rides to Starved Rock in Illinois.

A couple weeks earlier a guy crashed his bike on a wet day in a sharp corner. A posse of bikers pulled his bike out of the guardrail, directed traffic, and cleaned it up like it never happened. He was embarrassed, but I wonder if his embarrassment only existed on one level. He’s embarrassed because he crashed his bike. If it was me I would be embarrassed on two levels: one that I crashed my bike and two that I am a woman who crashed her bike. Double whammy. Ugh!

Day two of the motorcycle course. The group is divided into two. The instructor informs me on the sly that I’m the only woman in the “faster” group. I instinctively give him an eye roll, but inside, I am secretly pleased. Cue self-hatred! Cue apologies to Gloria Steinem, Lucy Stone, and Elizabeth Stanton!

Day three. I have a complete meltdown. I’m not executing an S turn properly about an hour before the DMV road test. Tears are streaming down my cheeks hidden by my full-face helmet. I’m crying, and my biggest fear is not that I’ll fail the DMV test, but that I will be noticed for crying “like a girl.” Ugh!

Eight people took the course. Three women. Five men. Two of the three women passed. Three of the five men passed. But who’s counting?

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16 thoughts on I Ride Motorcycles Like a Girl

  1. I loved this article. I share all your sentiments! I am a trucker (man-based world) and I thrive on driving as good as, if not waaaay better than most of my male counterparts. And thus it is so with my bike. I still consider myself a newer rider (I’ve been riding for about 2.5 years, started on a Yamaha R6) and feel I have nothing to prove to anyone but myself. I have always done well but still feel that “for a girl” moment every now and then too. Thanks for your humble and humorous article! It’s nice to know it’s not just me that feels it, even while wearing an “I got this” face.

  2. Great article. I always feel extra pressure and that all eyes are on me! My husband did not want me getting my own bike although I had ridden a bit in college before meeting him. He would say it was out of concern for other drivers and not my lack of skill although it didn’t stop him from owning two bikes of his own. In my mind I was hearing “you’re just a woman and not capable of good judgment and defensive riding.”Of course this fueled my passion to get back on two wheels. I took a safety course and would only ride in a group in the beginning more for his peace of mind than my own. I decided to not let anyone get in my way of doing what I love to do! Even having ridden many years ago the safety course was so great and informative and helped me rebuild my confidence once again. They treated us all equally and I showed those boys a thing or two. Women are super supportive and always have to come up and tell me how cool it is to see female riders. I would love to see more women join the sport.

  3. Thank you for a wonderfully, honest article. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your experience.I am a riding instructor in South Africa. I started off 10 years ago as the only lady instructor in Cape Town and I was ridiculed by many of my male counterparts as well as the testing officers but I pursued my dream and was extremely successful, eventually teaching more men to ride than women.I did realize though that women needed to be taught differently than men. Women do not naturally have the aggressive nature, assertiveness and physicality that men do and so, I adapted my training methodology when teaching lady riders. It worked like a charm and my female students started learning faster and became confident riders at a much quicker pace.Today, I have a “finishing school” for lady riders, basically to smooth out the rough edges and teach the ladies alternative ways of handling situations that just seem to come naturally to men.I have been riding for 40 years and I learned the smart way, not the hard way! I had to find alternatives because I am not a strong as a man.Yes, we are different but our love and passion remains the same and that is what is important.

  4. April begins my 19th year teaching motorcycle classes, both for the State of Illinois and Harley-Davidson. The training a prospective instructor goes through includes treating each student with respect and understanding that different people come to class with different skills, abilities, concerns, etc. Any instructor who can’t respect his/her students and treats women in any way less than they would treat men should not be teaching folks how to ride.

  5. I took the MSF course at a local community college three years ago, and I was fortunate to have both a female and male instructor. They were both wonderful. Six out of ten of the riders in my range course were women, and all of the women passed the course and did very well. At no time did I feel that I was treated unfairly or differently than the men in the class. I see more and more women out riding their own every year, which is amazing!

  6. I forget the total number of riders in my beginner’s course, but I was one of three women, and two of us had never ridden our own motorcycle previously. Everyone else either had ridden in dirt or had been riding on the street without an endorsement. I had been a passenger for more than seven years.It took me a while to work the wonky throttle, but I managed to get the hang of it, and finally realized why my ex loved to ride. Now, more than 20 years and 180,000 miles later, I love riding my 2012 BMW R 1200 RT. I’m 5 feet 4 inches and “generously proportioned.” Folks ask me if “I rode it here” when they see me climb off of the bike alone!My favorite is if a little girl or her mom, or aunt, or grandmother sees me, and sees that it is a woman riding, I wave and often get a thumbs up, especially from the grandmothers out there.It keeps getting more fun every year.

  7. Thanks for a great article. I want to help more women enjoy motorcycling, so every insight is helpful.

  8. Wendy, great, honest article! So many new riders have a similar experience. I’ve been an instructor for about 14 years now, I’ve picked up many dropped bikes in class and on the roads (male’s and female’s), seen many a student shed a tear (male and female), and had the (male and female) student in the class that didn’t cut it and was dropped, resulting some tears of embarrassment or frustration.I think men, unfortunately, have had more practice and training at hiding the tears and fears than us women, but I’m hoping someday this balances out for all (again, male and female) of us. I hope that my granddaughter can grow up in a new world where the phrases “be a man” “man up” and “[insert a verb here] like a girl/woman” mean something different than they do now.From what you described, it sounds like those instructors made a lot of mistakes and set up all the women in the class for an uncomfortable day with their words, by essentially starting the day off by pointing out “Hey, everyone, look, there are females in the class!” (They probably didn’t do this intentionally but, rather, out of ignorance and a lack of training).It reminds me of when I had a petite and pretty gal (15-1/2 yrs old) in my class looking to get her MC endorsement, and I immediately recognized her name and face as the daughter of a legendary MC Hall of Famer rider. I knew she was going to ride circles around everyone. I overheard some of the (mostly the middle-aged male) students before class giving this cute teen riding advice and suggesting what bike she should ride, blah, blah, blah… She was so polite, just listening and nodding, and smiled to herself. I was practically on the floor of our bike-storage container with the giggles overhearing this!Needless to say, she was a sensational, precise rider with a beautiful technique. And by the end of the second day, many of the students lingered after class, asking her questions and advice. She had let her riding do all the talking.My experience is that, once the helmet is on, motorcycling is an equalizer of gender/race/religion/etc.etc. And pretty much all motorcyclists I know will stop and help a fellow rider pick up a bike or offer assistance.Thanks for your honest article that says what many of us gals are thinking as new riders and the inner battles we have with ourselves in this new era. And I really hope that someday you get the chance to fly past those two middle-aged male instructors in a fast sweeper as a badass motorcyclist. Because success is the sweetest revenge.

  9. Next time you decide to come northwest I can ride with you and help you out on some nice country roads. You would have had to come up this way on your way to Starved Rock. Be glad to help out another rider.

  10. About a year ago I made a decision to make out my bucket list. Two of the items on that list: Learn to ride a motorcycle and own a Harley. It took six months of research and reading to finally take the class. I had never been on a bike but as a passenger and then only two or three times. But it was in my blood. I had a Yamaha 650 V Star as a starter bike. I had not ridden it yet. I got a 100 percent on the written test. The riding course? I tapped out on the first day. Why? All men—instructors and the other students. I was so nervous I could not get out of my head. I felt I was slowing the class down. The “girl” was slowing everyone down. Most were there just for insurance purposes. I was intimidated not by the course or bike, but by the men. I was frustrated and angry. I’m a general bad ass. Long story short, I took what I learned and taught myself. It took a long time. And I am still working on it a year later, but I am riding. My way. Yes. I ride like a woman, and make no excuses for that.

  11. Completely agree. I have fought the good fight all my life to be recognized for accomplishment and not gender. Sometimes it is an epic fail, and that’s ok. I like having the door opened for me. I like that I can ride my own or choose to ride behind him. Yes, I have dropped it. And never has anyone, man or woman, made me feel less of a rider for it. Ride on. Ride safe.

  12. Those of us with kids encourage them when they fall. We tell them to get back on and not feel bad or embarrassed. We know how important that is for their self esteem and their growth. When did it stop as we grew into adulthood? Those of us who are new to riding still need that encouragement—at least I do. And nothing is worse than being ridiculed by another female. Let’s help each other!

  13. Boy, can I identify! When I took my state motorcycle test (about 48 years ago) I had my long hair up under my helmet, was wearing sun glasses and a leather jacket. After I passed my test with a 99 out of 100 (didn’t have my front wheel actually touching the stop line) the tester had me come over to get my results and certificate. When I took off my helmet and my hair came out, the guy said, “Geez, if I had known you were a broad, I’d have flunked you on general purposes!” I responded, “Good thing you didn’t know and I’ve already passed!” And it continued. I’ve had drivers try to run me off the road once they realized I was female. Luckily, I have a big male support group (including my husband), and the Harley dealership I’ve used is female-owned and has lots of events just for women. And look how many female riders there are today! Ride on! (And celebrate those little moments of being female—they don’t come very often.)

  14. Great article. Although I have been riding many years now, all the feelings you felt I still feel! I often wonder if it’s because of my gender or just how I have experienced life. Keep the shiny side up and I hope to see you on the road sometime.

  15. I know exactly what you mean when you say how you like getting “kudos” from men while riding. I take it as a compliment when a man acknowledges the fact that I’m riding my own bike. Not that I’m trying to gain their acceptance but it does make me feel proud. I will be going on a long distance solo ride this spring and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about it, but riding alone is something I see men do all the time. If it doesn’t stop them from riding then I’m not going to let it stop me either.

  16. Great article. I tell all the people who talk to me how important the rider safety course is and I have taken it a couple times in support of new rider friends who don’t want to go alone. We found a safety course in West Virginia that is run by two women.

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