Learning to Ride the Right Way One Step at a Time

One new motorcyclist shares her decision to ride, dealing with naysayers, and deciding between a cruiser and a sportbike

By Molly Norman, Tucson, Arizona

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Great things happen in mid-life, like learning to ride a motorcycle.

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I’ve liked motorcycles since I was a young girl and have always been connected to riders. My brothers had motorcycles and would take me for rides. My boyfriend in high school raced dirt bikes and I enjoyed watching him race and always wished I could learn to ride even a small dirt bike. But throughout my life I was always told by my parents and partners how dangerous motorcycles were, therefore wasn’t “allowed” to learn how to ride, much less own a motorcycle.

learning to ride the right way molly honda cbr500r
Molly eventually followed her motorcycle dream, and is now proud owner of this patriotically-colored Honda CBR500R.

My life took a turn for the good in 2014 during a conversation with some coworkers who ride motorcycles. I loved hearing about their rides and the idea of being able to go out on the road and feel the wind in my face and mentally unwind as the road took me to various destinations. I started picturing myself on a motorcycle, but I was leery about learning to ride, especially when all the naysayers around me told me nothing but horror stories about riding motorcycles.

“The bike was heavy but I was managing it pretty well until I lost
my focus coming up to a corner.”

I shared my hesitations with one of my coworkers, who happened to be a MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) RiderCoach. She said the best way to be introduced to a motorcycle was to take the MSF’s BasicRider course. SoI looked into some of the local courses and signed up that very day. The anticipation was overwhelming, but I was anxious to get on a bike and learn to ride safely and experience what my riding friends had been talking about.

learning to ride the right way msf honda nighthawk 250
Molly learned to ride the right way, on a light, easy-to-handle Honda Nighthawk 250 in a MSF Basic RiderCourse.

The first day of class was spent in a classroom with a textbook and videos. I couldn’t wait for the next day when we would actually get on the motorcycles. But before we could get on the bikes, we had to pass a written test. I passed with a perfect score, which fueled my excitement for getting on a motorcycle.The next morning we met on the range (where the riding portion of the class takes place), and as we were told to go pick out a bike, I started to get a little apprehensive.I’m a petite, 115-pound woman at 5 feet 3 inches tall, and I was a little nervous about whether I would be able to hold up a motorcycle. But as we got acquainted with our 250s, I was surprised at how easy it was to manage the bike.

The class took us through a variety of steps, like starting, stopping, cornering, and avoidance maneuvers.I had a great time and learned a lot of respect for the motorcycle and for what riders have to be aware of when out on the street. I passed the course and had a greater sense of accomplishment and confidence in myself, which was what I needed.

Once I had my motorcycle endorsement I was anxious to get a bike. I sat on many motorcycles but didn’t have a clue about what would work for me. I had great guidance from my friend but I was told that I had to feel comfortable. I really liked cruisers, but they felt a little big and bulky so I sat on some sportbikes, which were a little more to my liking.

“I couldn’t get the grin off my face for several days.”

Still undecided, my son met me in a large parking lot with a Harley-Davidson Sportster 883. I sat on the Harley and let my body get adjusted to its weight, which was quite a bit heavier than the 250cc motorcycle I learned on. I started it up and took off slowly, riding a couple loops around the parking lot. The bike was heavy but I was managing it pretty well until I lost my focus coming up to a corner. Needless to say, my eyes were on the curb, and that’s where I went. I did not practice what I had learned in the course about looking farther ahead, not down at the road right in front of you. The Harley hit the curb and fell over with my leg caught underneath it. I wasn’t badly hurt, just a little bruised. 

Luckily my son was there to help me get the bike upright, because otherwise I would’ve been stuck. I got right back on the bike to do a few more loops around the parking lot. I didn’t want that one incident to affect my attitude or my confidence. What it did do was encourage me to look at other kinds of motorcycles. So I started looking at sportbikes, and after sitting on several made the decision to buy a Honda CBR500R. The Honda sits you more upright and is lighter than the cruisers, which feels more comfortable to me.
learning to ride the right way gates pass tuscon arizona
Molly and her Honda CBR5000R at Gates Pass in Tucson, Arizona.

I was so excited the day my Honda was delivered to my house that even despite some strong winds, I took it out for its first ride. I couldn’t get the grin off my face for several days. I continued to ride around my neighborhood to get more comfortable with starting, stopping, and parking. There was just one small issue. The bike was a little tall and I couldn’t put my feet flat on the ground. This was a little unnerving at every stop, so with the guidance of a knowledgeable friend, I ordered a lowering kit and got help modifying the CBR. What a difference an inch-and-a-half makes, especially in my confidence level. Excess fear and a lack of confidence does not make for fun riding.

Not long after buying my Honda, I joined a motorcycle riding group called the STAR Touring and Riding Association. I’ve joined them on some great rides including a challenging ride through strong winds and my first heavy rain storm (with no rain gear.) I enjoy riding in a group such as this one, where there is support and the pleasure of visiting places together. 
learning to ride the right way star touring and riding
A STAR Touring and Riding breakfast run to Maria’s restaurant in Winkleman, Arizona.

I’m looking forward to my first long trip from Arizona to Colorado soon. I need to add a few accessories to my motorcycle that will make the trip a little more bearable, like a larger windshield to deflect the wind and saddlebags to carry more gear. Having a motorcycle can be costly when you start adding accessories, but it’s worth it to be comfortable and enjoy the ride. Who knows. Maybe down the road I’ll consider buying a cruiser, but for now I’m having a great time with my sportbike.

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10 thoughts on Learning to Ride the Right Way One Step at a Time

  1. I own the exact same bike and love it! You made a wise choice.

  2. I own a sportbike and I absolutely love it! I started out on a Suzuki TU250X last year, which was a great starter bike but just didn’t have much power. This spring I bought a Yamaha R3, and it’s perfect for me. It’s light, has more of an upright seating position compared to other sportbikes, is relatively easy to maneuver, and has plenty of power to keep up with my significant other’s Suzuki V-Strom 1000. Like they say in the MSF course, ride your own ride. Choose a bike that feels right to you. Don’t waste time trying to ride a bike that’s too big, too heavy, or just isn’t comfortable for you!

  3. What a great story. I love hearing about people who are still riding, or as in this case, start riding later in life. It’s all about the freedom and the lifestyle of biking, not the speed.

  4. I loved reading this article and everyone’s comments. I took the class in June 2014. I passed and loved it. My mistake was buying the wrong bike that I still have and am still afraid to ride — a 1999 Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200. I was talked into buying it and wish I hadn’t. It’s a beautiful bike but is too heavy for me. I’ve tried to sell the bike but no luck. I need to buy a much smaller bike that I feel comfortable on. But I’ll have to sell this Sportster first. Looks like I’ll have to take a huge loss just to sell it if I want to ride. And I do want to ride. You ladies are awesome for making the first right decision on your first purchase. Wish me luck and keep riding ladies. Have a blessed day.

  5. Awesome story! Ride on! I totally relate with this story. I am 5 feet 2 inches and weigh 95 pounds. With such a great desire to ride, you should seek out a bike that you will feel most comfortable on. This is a personal decision because no matter your size, you could take on just about any bike, but each person has his/her own comfort level. I ride a Ninja 300. So far, it is the sportbike that suits me best.

  6. I loved reading your article because this was pretty much me to a “T” when I first got into riding almost two years ago. I sat on many Harleys because my husband owns a Sportster 883 SuperLow and thought I would get one.Then I discovered sportbikes walking into a shop one day, and they just felt more natural for me to pick up. I ended up with a Yamaha FZ6R that I still have and love to this day. It’s been a great first bike—very tolerant of my many new rider mistakes, and fun. Maybe down the road I might get a cruiser, but I love what the sportbike world has to offer. I also used to train horses, and I trained jumpers, so the sportbike riding position feels more natural to me.Your bike is beautiful—I love the colors! Attached is a picture of my bike with a Zero Gravity Double Bubble windscreen installed.

  7. Enjoyed the article! Every potential rider faces the dilemma of which bike to start riding. After years of being asked that question, my response is pretty much the same: start with one you feel confident and comfortable on. For most of us, a 250-500 is almost ideal. Molly’s article is one I will share now with any who ask about beginning to ride.

  8. So glad to hear that you sat on bikes of different kinds and decided on what felt right to you. So many times I have had discussions with men that said they were going to buy a bike for their spouse or girlfriend. I always tell them to have their wife or girlfriend pick out what feels right to them. Guys have a total different perspective than most of us women.As you get more riding time in you will decide down the road if you want something different. I am also a member of the Star Riding group in our area. It is nice to have a riding club that is not brand specific to be a part of. Enjoy and safe riding!

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