Reader Story: Finding My Calling in Motorcycling

What I want to be when I grow up

By Manna Cali, Stony Brook, New York

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It probably started when as a young girl; I clipped a baseball card with a clothespin to my bicycle spokes so it would make that “motorcycle noise.” At 12 years old I got a minibike that made me the envy of the neighborhood boys. At 16 I went to the DMV and got my motorcycle learners permit. With no money for a motorcycle, the dream went on the back burner until I was 34 years old.

Like many women riders, horses filled the void for many years, but now the dream re-emerged with a vengeance. I got my first motorcycle, which was a 250cc Honda Nighthawk, and my then-husband begrudgingly gave me some rudimentary instruction in a parking lot. With my heart in my throat, I gradually worked my way from parking lot, to neighborhood, to highway over the course of about three months. After one season and 1200 miles, I traded in that little bike for a 600 Honda Shadow.

Manna on the track at the 2006 AMA Women and Motorcycling Conference riding at Kevin Schwantzs Suzuki School.

By that time a few years and 15,000 miles had elapsed, though I felt fairly confident in my riding, I still realized I had room for improvement. Common beginner problems such as making u-turns and cornering at road speeds were still not happening with the proficiency I felt I should have after all this riding. I flipped through the phone book, and found On the Road Again, a New York State Department of Motor Vehicles-licensed motorcycle school, and made an appointment. I had no idea how this would impact not only my riding, but my life.

After my one hour lesson with Steve Sorensen, the founder of the school, I felt the clouds had parted and the sun streamed down; all I needed was the angels singing! I learned the right way to use my brakes, some highly effective techniques for turning, and the cornerstone of riding the twisties, counter-steering. I also learned some concepts such as target fixation and mental motorcycling. From this point on, my riding and my life changed. A few years later, I went back for another lesson when I wanted assistance acclimating to a new motorcycle.

A few years later, when l was looking for a career change, I called Steve to inquire about becoming a motorcycle instructor. He said, “Come and work for me!” I was thrilled! I began my training in March of 2003. My first illustrious day, I managed to dump a school bike in a mud puddle. (I still think he only kept me on after that for his own amusement.)

Little by little I improved not only my riding, but my teaching. By being trained by other instructors, reading, watching instructional videos, attending skills workshops and by practicing on my own bike I became the instructor I wanted to be. By now I have trained hundreds of riders, both new and experienced, by using the program that has evolved and improved over the 15 years of On the Road Agains existence.

Mannas grand opening of On The Road Again at Suffolk Community College in Selden, New York.

When Steve decided to move on to other projects and sell the school, I thought about it for a year and then decided to make the leap. In January of 2008 I became the proud new owner of On the Road Again.

At this point I have been riding for 15 years, have logged tens of thousands of miles in many states, and have ridden dozens of different motorcycles. I give presentations at motorcycle dealers events, and this year will be teaching continuing education classes for prospective motorcyclists. Im a junkie for learning, and a firm believer in the quote “the more you know, the better it gets.” Sharing what Ive learned with new riders, especially other women, is my passion in life. Being part of getting a new rider started is like doing it again for the first time myself; the excitement and anticipation are now enhanced by my knowledge that its only going to continue to get more interesting and fulfilling as the new riders experience accumulates.

Although, this new “job” is 24/7, and requires a lot of un-sexy background work involving insurance, banking, scheduling, staffing, etc., I couldnt imagine doing anything else with my life right now. It took me until I was fifty to find out what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I finally found it at On the Road Again.

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20 thoughts on Reader Story: Finding My Calling in Motorcycling

  1. Great story. I am trying to get my wife to let me get a bike. I really want to learn to ride.

  2. I have a few of you beat on the age thing! I bought myself a HD 1200 Sportster for my 53rd birthday, never having ridden anything before except horses. I took two lessons with On The Road Again and was lucky enough to get Manna as my instructor. I still hear her saying “turn your head!” when riding! I now have more than 5200 miles on my bike with many more to come. I, too, an a member of Women In The Wind-Long Island and I look forward to lots of good rides with them and Manna!

  3. As a former student and instructor at On The Road Again, I am so glad I had the opportunity to be trained and work with Steve and Manna. Manna the dream is alive and thriving with your guidance and spirit! I miss those afternoons on the LIRR parking lot! Way to go lady and fantastic job!

  4. After 15 years of building On The Road Again and spending time with many different instructors, I knew that Manna Cali would be the only one who would carry on with the spirit I had of getting people to ride better. Manna puts her heart and soul into making the school the best it can be, and her students the best they can be. Great job Manna!

  5. What a great story and such an inspiration to all women who love motorcycles and those who think they would “like to try one on for size.”

  6. What an inspirational story for new and seasoned motorcycle riders everywhere. It is never too late to live your dreams!

  7. Great article. Well written and the author's enthusiasm shines through!

  8. I so want to do this when I grow up! Hope I get my wish. Although I am new to the sport (almost four years and 55 thousand miles), it is all I can think about! How cool it would be to have a job and your passion both! Wish me luck.

  9. Story sounds the same as myself. I'm also 50 and don't know what I'll be when I grow up. I'm a cancer survivor; got my own bike at 45 then a new hip, but still riding. I love my Sportster, but I want to let you know your story reminds me to never give up my dream. Thanks.

  10. Wow, seems like you are living MY dream. Getting paid to do something I really enjoy. I love riding motorcycles and have been doing so off and on for 36 years. I, too, rode when I was 16 years old and have tooled around on two wheels when four would have been better.There was a time when I only rode if it was nice out. I soon realized that by doing so, was drastically reducing my fun factor. I rediscovered the motorcycle and the fun when I joined a women's riding group.

    As it turned out the director's husband was a motorcycle instructor. He kept after me for two years to become an instructor. He finally talked me into it and I haven't regretted it yet. I am always looking for a class to take or a ride to go on. The only problem I have is fitting it all into my day, month or year.

    Congratulations and good luck in your new endeavor and maybe sometime I will stop by and chat.

  11. As a guy and a former student of “On The Road Again” I have learned more than I can ever learn by just reading a book, or have one of my friends teach me the wrong way of riding. I found all of the instructors to be patient and understanding (something I really needed). I have been riding on the road now for full year have have put many of the things I learn to use. I want to thank the entire staff of “On The Road Again” for putting me on the road!

  12. That's my boss and mentor. She is everything she states. Motorcycling, as well as most events in life, are not gender things. It is for everyone who wants to participate and learn correct ways of accomplishing their dreams with the help of both genders — and getting there.

  13. I liked this story very much. It is inspiring. I thought, however, that the article was going to discuss a number of career options regarding motorcycles. Women just as well as men can be racers (street or dirt), promoters, marketers, mechanics (we know we need more of them!), salespersons, designers/engineers, customizers (if I see another custom cruiser with naked women or skulls and skeletons painted on it I'll puke), and adventure riders that write books that get us all off our tushes!

    1. Christine,
      This is a Reader's Story as the headline states — a story that a reader submitted. It is one example of a woman finding her calling in motorcycling, that is, making motorcycling her career. We think these real stories inspire others to do the same.

      The type of article you're thinking of would be found in our Features Article section, but I can tell you, we've yet to do a story on this subject. Maybe we will. Thanks for the idea!

  14. I am one of Manna's past students and a proud member of Women in the Wind Long Island, New York. I had turned 40 and never rode a bike. Manna was my instructor and to this day I still hear her voice in my head and see her smile when I did it right. Manna has a wealth of knowledge, a great sense of humor, and I am forever grateful for all of her help in accomplishing one of my lifes dreams of riding a motorcycle. Thanks Manna. You are an inspiration!

  15. You rock, Manna. We are so proud of you.

  16. Manna's spirit and abilities are beyond impressive, they are shout out awesome.

    Thank you, Manna, for inspiring all of us to be the best riders we can be and the best people we can be!

  17. Boy Manna! I know just what you mean here. I have always been interested in riding a motorcycle since I watched the first episode of Batman where Batgirl made her debut on her 250 Batcycle. I used to do the same thing with taking clothes pins and clipping playing cards to my bike so I could get the motorcycle sound as well.

    It wasn't until I was in my early 40s that I learned to ride though. I got my endorsement two years ago and this will be my third summer riding. I have put almost 10,000 miles on my Yamaha V Star 650 and I am looking forward to moving up to the 950 soon.

    I have accomplished quite a bit in my two short years of biking. I am currently the Safety Officer for the Twin Cities Chapter of Women On Wheels and will be taking my Rider Coach Training with the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center this June. I am really looking forward to teaching others to ride and hopefully getting into the motorcycle training full time. Good for you girl! I am right behind you.

  18. Great story — a business ran by someone with a passion for what they do. I have heard amazing things about your school “On The Road Again.” Sign me up!

  19. You are multi-talented. Congratulations on all of your success. You truly deserve it! All of your hard work and determination has paid off.

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