Reader Story: Pushing Through Negative Motorcycling Comments

The life-changing rewards of sticking with it

By Heidi Friedrichs, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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I turned into the empty Walmart parking lot one chilly April morning and spotted my older sister, Liz, parked and waiting for me, a big smile planted on her face. Wearing a black leather jacket, black gloves and boots, a helmet, and sunglasses, she and I could’ve been twins that morning. She was sitting on her cycle, primed for practice.

“I ignored all the skeptics’ opinions…”
We had met to practice riding our motorcycles, having decided the previous winter that we should really do this thing and that it was going to be so worth it to learn how to ride.

Four months later, there we were in the parking lot, doing circle-eights and follow the leader, just like we had on our bicycles in grade school. We were having so much fun that we soon became bolder. We gunned our bikes up a small hill into another empty parking lot, just to see if we could do it.

After circling back to our starting point, I stopped and said, “This isn’t so hard!” Then I asked her, “What happens if you do this?” and took my hand off the left handlebar thingy. Not missing a beat, my bike dutifully responded by suddenly jerking forward, tipping me over. The cement was hard, I might add.
Now, a little more than a year later, my motorcycle has more than 2,000 miles on it. I have been coaxing myself to ride it as often as I can since that scary lesson in the parking lot. Even after taking a motorcycle class, which I miserably flunked the first time and had to take over, I was still freaked out by the thing. It’s big, it’s loud, it’s heavy—it weighs more than 500 pounds, I’m told.

When I bought my motorcycle, I didn’t tell anyone except my sister. Then the onslaught of questions poured in. I ignored all the skeptics’ opinions about how I was not (fill in the blank) enough, how I was too “this” or too “that” to be riding a motorcycle, and all the “What were you thinking!” exclamations. “How are you going to pay for it?” was a statement that came up frequently. Those comments echoed in my head as I stood in my freezing garage, staring at this gargantuan black and silver machine with fancy buttons and lights and levers sticking out of it that I knew nothing about.

What was I thinking, indeed?

What I was thinking was this: Look, I sit in a cubicle all day long, five days a week, and I’ve done that my entire adult life. That’s my job. I sit on the bus morning and night every day, and I sit at home to pay all my bills or watch TV. And so guess what—I’m tired of sitting still, OK?

Negative Motorcycling Comments Heidi Friedrichs
Heidi Friedrichs and her Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 Custom on an autumn ride in Wisconsin.

“Few things you can do in life are as dirty, noisy, uncomfortable, expensive, exhausting, frightening, exhilarating, terrifying, and downright dangerous as driving a race car,” writes Ed McCabe in the book “Fifty Things to do When You Turn 50.” Exchange “race car” for “motorcycle” and you get the idea.

When I am riding my motorcycle, every muscle in my body is engaged. Riding is 90 percent mental, they told us in class, but it is also incredibly physical, especially for an office gal like me. It’s loud, dirty, buggy, cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and wet and icky when it’s raining.

But when I shift into third gear, I leave my chatty brain behind and forget all about my responsibilities, problems, and worries. I am so focused on keeping with the flow of traffic or avoiding the city’s legendary pot holes or dodging inattentive motorists that all my energy is channeled into what is ahead of me. Everything else recedes into the background.

When I was 13, I was in a serious accident on a minibike, so you would think that would have scared me off of bikes forever. Not so, yet a subtle fear still hovers over me on my morning commute or those times when I am cruising along at 55 mph. When I turn right (for some reason I have trouble turning right), I slow down too much and then worry I will tip the bike—in front of everybody, no less.

Driving through an intersection can also be a hair-raising experience, as it was last summer when I was riding in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. Somehow I found myself in the crosshairs of an intersection with cars going every which way, and gosh, I wasn’t really sure whose turn it was to go, there were so many! So I did, and, uh, that was a close call.

People riding their bicycles are scary. Driving west through downtown Milwaukee last summer, maneuvering rush-hour traffic with the sun glaring just about perfectly in my face, I barely noticed a young man glide into my lane from the right side-street, and my heart leapt into my throat. I would’ve honked at him, but I couldn’t find the horn— which made me madder. (A horn on a motorcycle isn’t that obnoxious anyway, but I still would’ve honked if I could have.)
There are lots of things to be frightened about while learning to ride a machine that could drive itself up a tree if it wanted to. But fear is good because it makes you hyper alert and forces you to become present, to live in the moment. This is something that is often very difficult for me to do. It is so easy in this life to have regrets from the past, to worry relentlessly about your future and to forget that today is all that really matters. No, actually, this moment is all that really matters.

That’s what motorcycling has done for me. It has given me the gift of present-moment awareness. Seriously, for me it’s not about the “culture” or the “image” or the accessories, like the advertisers would lead you to believe. Oh, sure, I confess I want to look like that chick in the ad with the sunset reflected in her sunglasses, a cute guy next to her on his own bike. But that’s not reality.

Reality is forcing yourself to get up and go ride when it’s cold out because you told yourself you would. Reality is bugs hitting your face when you are flying along a country road at dusk. Reality is not drinking alcohol when you meet friends on the weekend because you’re “riding tonight.” Reality is that you could get really hurt if you hit an animal or slide on gravel and so you have to wear proper gear even when it’s 85 degrees outside. Reality is helmet hair.

I would like to tip my helmet to all the women who have chosen to learn how to ride a motorcycle, whatever their personal reasons for doing so. This incredible sport has taught me not only that it is possible to rewire one’s brain to learn a new skill at 50 years old, but also that I am capable of making it happen if I keep trying, even when others are doubtful. 

As I went for a spring ride the other day, I actually turned right without even thinking about it. “Right on, Heidi,” I told myself. 

Or should I say, ride on!
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26 thoughts on Reader Story: Pushing Through Negative Motorcycling Comments

  1. Good Story. Reminds me of me a lot. I was 52 when I went out and bought a Harley (my first motorcycle) without any practice or even test driving. I thought “how hard can this be?” Well I was wrong. I guess thinking I had been an athlete for 30 years I could do anything. My reason for wanting to ride, it was my dream since I was a kid. Never thought my dream would come true. But my two youngest sons were killed in an accident. I got real depressed, I messed up my back so I couldn’t do my sports. So I woke and called my oldest son; he thought I had been drinking! I love it. I too bought a 2005 Custom 883 Sportster second time around. Been riding now for almost 13 years. Belong to an all woman’s group and my joy away from a stressful life is Riding. Do I need to say anymore? Oh I am going on 66 now and not ready to stop anytime soon from riding and going on adventures.

  2. Heidi, As I’m reading your story I’m more than convinced it’s not just a coincidence that I read your article today. I think it’s a confirmation and an inspiration to me! I got my motorcycle license in 1998; rode my ex-husbands 1983 Harley Low Rider twice; lost my footing and dropped it on a hill positioned at a back road intersection. I managed to hop on one leg away from it falling on me, so thankfully I wasn’t hurt.The bike suffered a cracked oil pan. It’s been sitting in his garage ever since and that was the end for me, no more riding. I guess my husband at the time wasn’t concerned about getting it fixed. Anyway, that was 17 years ago. Now I’ve been on my own for a few years and just today I scheduled to retake the motorcycle safety course again and get myself a bike and pick up where I left off, 17 years later. By the way, I’m 50 years old. I love your story Heidi. Thank you.I really like one of the comments you made:”….it is possible to rewire one’s brain to learn a new skill at 50 years old, but also that I am capable of making it happen if I keep trying, even when others are doubtful.”

    1. Thanks for sharing your story Franci. I like to call those coincidences divine intervention. All the best to you with taking the MSF course and your renewed interest in motorcycling.

  3. I loved your story of your experiences. We all had to start somewhere. I took the course at 61 three years ago with the heat being 111 in August, and with all the gear on. I did pass my course; there were nine others who were in their 20s and 30s who were also taking the course, and kept asking me, “Are you OK?”The only thing I needed to do was at break time, discuss what we had just done — and get the helmet off as felt I was choking. I did lay my bike down in the class once as would of hit the cones in front of me as we were coming out of a turn to line up again. All was good, was a shame, but picked it up and got back in line. I did pass, when it was testing time. I bought a Yamaha 250 and practiced in our pasture for two weeks before hitting the road, and then had to make myself go 50mph. I know I thought I was flying. On the way back made myself do 90 as that was the fastest it would do. Then I went and rode alone for four months; my hubby left me alone with this as he knew I needed to do this on my own as he couldn’t do the ride for me. And now I have a 2006 Sportster 1200 Custom and I love it. As I get ready to ride have I still have to go to the toilet — still haven’t figured out if it is just the excitement or needing to potty, thinking more excitement. HaHa! And then takes me about a mile to settle down and just enjoy the wind in my face. I remember what the instructors taught me on the looking where ya want to go and not where you’re at or you surely would be on the side of the road, or up a tree. And when the road is high take the low side, low take the high side, these things I don’t have to think about so much anymore as seems to be more natural now, but I am very cautious as approaching intersections as know they are not gonna see me, and if someone is at a stop sign and I am coming up the road, if I see their wheels even moving a tiny bit, I know they are subject to pull out in front of me, so I slow down. I did, in November last year, have a controlled lay down in a parking lot with the dang things where ya can go on through with the metal thing — well it came down on me and I knew lay it over or get slapped in the face with it, so lay it down I did. Hubby didn’t even know till he was parking. All is good. I love riding as a passenger over 50s years, but this feeling of me in control and one with my bike is the best feeling ever other than giving birth to my one and only son who is now in heaven as I know he is riding as my angel protecting me. Have a great ride and keep the rubber side down. Sorry for the long post. My brain thinks and fingers just seem to type. Keep up the good work.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story! I am 54 and just got my M2 license in October 2014! I to failed the course and threw me and the bike airborne the second time around, but I passed the test!My kids actually think I’m going through a mid life crisis. As I look at the machine I’m dying to get on, fear goes through me, but I swear I’m not going to let it keep me from riding! Oh and one of the reasons I got my license is because as much as I enjoy being a passenger it’s not fair he gets all the fun! Thanks for confirming that my thoughts and feelings are normal and I’m not the only one feeling this way! Ride on!

  5. Heidi, I applaud you for your courage but the quickest way to get better at riding and to conquer your fears is to enroll in more motorcycle training with a patient instructor. Many novice students take the Beginning Rider’s Course and never consider taking anymore training. The day you think you don’t need to learn anything new is the day you should hang up your bike keys. There are training strategies to learn how to deal with certain traffic situations that will make you a safer rider and build your confidence which is what most new riders need. Please don’t assume that these skills will just occur naturally while you’re riding. If you don’t know what to practice you’ll just make the same mistakes without correcting them. The reason most riders find turning right more difficult is because it requires more of a head turn (chin at your shoulder) than a left turn and look further down the road. You think you’re turning your head but you’re really looking down not too far out in front of the bike. “Look where you want to end up” not where the front tire is going. You can do this but get some schooling before you get in a situation that’s beyond your skill level. Good luck!

  6. I learned to ride at the age of 52. Yes there were those who told me I was crazy and that I was going to hurt myself. But there was the little voice inside my head that told me that if I didn’t do this I would regret it. I now own two Harleys and ride as often and as far as I can go. I have made some amazing friends through this sport and wouldn’t give it up for the world.

  7. Way to go Heidi! I stayed away from motorcycling until 45 because of a right-turn experience as a teen and various other priorities/excuses. Now riding for one year and having a blast. Couple scratches on the bike, mismatched gear and not the smoothest looking guy out there but having lots of fun!

  8. Two years ago I was off my bike for major hand surgery. I was worried if I would still be a calm rider. First ride with hubby wasn’t that great and the second time I just got on it and rode. Alone. This year I’ve had back and knee surgery so no riding until April 22. People who don’t know me well think I’m nuts. Friends know how sad I was when we almost sold them! I was grieving. In a dark place. Then I found a surgeon who said, “You you can ride again if you work to get back. April 22nd is that day.” The best day was when we cancelled the for sale ads.

  9. What I replied to my son’s question after I had been riding passenger on my own bike to start with, “Being on a motorcycle is an exercise in risk assessment, and terror management.”After I started out as a passenger—my son paid for my motorcycle safety course—I kept being a passenger on our mountain road, but Toby would put me behind the handlebars when we got down to the Avenue of the Giants. Brave man.He would pick us up when we fell over, instruct me quietly in what I had done incorrectly, put me BACK behind the handlebars and get up behind me. Then we got a newer bike, and suddenly it was on! “I didn’t pay for your safety course so you could be a passenger mom!” Hmmm, yeah.My tag line now is the simple thing my son told me four and a half years ago:”It is often harder to challenge yourself, then it is to face the challenge itself.”Thanks to my son—my Toby—I am now a seasoned rider with more than 35k miles behind me in all conditions. Never give up, never surrender, never settle, specially not at 50. I hope to ride until I am 100, then I will just trike my bike out and keep going.

  10. I loved this article. I passed my test in October, just prior to my 50th birthday. I struggled as I’m not a natural rider but I loved it and persevered. My husband has been a biker for years so he encouraged me to learn. I wanted to commute and also thought it was something we could enjoy together In January I was commuting when a pedestrian (who was texting on her phone) suddenly walked out in front of me. I was only doing 10 to 15mph due to a crossing up ahead. I skidded on the wet road and low sided. I found myself on my front in the road, someone moved the bike from me. Ambulance and air medic arrived and I felt my clothes being cut off. My leg was killing me so a quick dose of ketamine then I was asleep until I awoke in the CT scanner.I had broken my ankle but also broken my femur twice by the knee. Surgery followed so I now have a metal internal tattoo. It’s going to be a long recovery. I can almost bend my knee to 90 degrees. I’m still on crutches and non weight bearing. I really want to get back on the bike but I am scared. It’s not helped by the numerous warning from friends and family about my reckless choices If I don’t ride again it has to be because it’s not physically possible. I don’t want to be scared from biking. My first bike is now being ridden by my husband as his Harley is off the road. Eventually I’d like a Sportster 1200T.Loving this site as it as it’s encouraging.

  11. Thank you! I just passed the written course and started the rider portion in freezing weather (34 degrees) . On the second morning I was told that I probably wouldn’t pass my test that afternoon (meaning he wasn’t going to pass me) I should just go home and try again. I felt absolutely soul crushed. Boy did I cry (privately) I never crashed or dropped the bike. No, I wasn’t perfect but I felt degraded. Should I quit? I decided group class may not be for me. I am thinking I’ll buy a starter bike and have a friend teach me in the parking lot when I am confident. I’ll get my license on my own. I’m glad I’m not the only one starting out and fighting to do this sport. I’m not crazy. I love it and I hope I get my license soon.

  12. I loved this story. Especially since I am a woman rider who has been down (in an accident 10 years ago) and am still riding. It was not a difficult decision for me to get back on because of a love for riding I had discovered unexpectedly. And despite what may seem by some as “irresponsible” or “a death wish,” I am supported by my husband and family who were obviously upset after I had suffered an injury after what was supposed to be a “pastime.”It is difficult to describe what it is about riding that makes me feel alive, but this story, written by Heidi, really reflects my feelings. Riding for me is spiritual and I would go as far as to say that this is my religion. I can ride and change my mood for the day. I also want to add that I am still a little skittish about intersections as I had been hit by a driver making a left turn in front of me. But I also have a mantra that helps me to get out on those days that I feel like playing it safe and doing the same old thing. It is always worth it when I push myself to get out there and I will always remember how good I feel afterwards.

  13. Thank you so much for this article! It has helped me trust that yes, I will get out of the parking lot and onto the road at some point! I’m 69 and sat on a motorcycle for the first time in my life on September 7, 2013. Talk about being intimidated! I didn’t pass the MSF class the first time around but did on my second attempt October 5, 2013. I’ve been taking it slowly and trying to get accustomed to Bella, my Harley Sporster SuperLow 883. She seems so much bigger and more powerful than the Honda Rebel 250 I learned on…but I’m determined to bond with her and believe I can get her to do what I want her to do. At any rate, it’s great to know there are others out there like me who are taking some time to get into the swing of things. I’m really looking forward to getting out on the road and enjoying what I know will be a great experience!

  14. I loved this article when I first read it, and had to read it again after last weekend. You see, after successfully passing the riding course for the first time, I was doing so well. Then one day a few weeks ago I laid my girl, Lilith (2005 H-D Sporty) down for the first time.Confidence hit = 1Then a about a week after that, ditto, only this time I was witnessed by many and helped by a few to lift her up.Confidence hit = 3But last weekend was the worst. I was slowing to a light on a country road and was hailed by another rider opposite me. I hailed back, taking my hand off the “left handle bar thingy” and yep, Lilith bucked and threw me off doing about 20 mph. It was more embarrassing than injurious, although I did bust up my elbow quite a bit.The first thing I thought about was visiting this forum and reading the stories again. I’m still a little shaken up, an may not ride for a few days, but “listening” to other ladies with similar stories really helps.Thanks for sharing them.

  15. Love this! I’ve been riding only a year and it’s both the most terrifying and thrilling thing I have done. One year in and I have already logged 7,000 miles on my bike. So keep riding! I sure will!P.S. I barely passed my test. Now I run into my instructor out on the road all the time. Who would have thunk it?

  16. What an honest and open story… and yes, I know helmet hair, being 50+, right hand turns, test failure, attempting to quickly find the horn and I’m still at it more than a decade later and having fun while friends and family wonder “why.”

  17. This sounds like my story exactly. Waited until 50 to take lessons. Failed the first time then retook class in a smaller size setting and did great. Practiced in the cold in a parking lot, then hit the roads. It’s an amazing feeling. Congratulations!

  18. Reality is bugs hitting your face when you are flying along a country road at dusk.How about wearing a face shield? Helps with bugs/rain/gravel/windburn/etc.I’d also recommend taking the MSF BRC2. Helps tighten up those skills.

  19. Thanks for sharing your story. I can relate to it in so may ways!

  20. I can definitely relate as I too learned to ride when I was 50, still riding and loving it at 58! Challenging to learn at a later age but boy the rewards are great.

  21. That really was a great story! I could totally relate, especially about living in the present.

  22. Love the story. I am 56 and this is my third summer riding. I can relate to your story on all levels. I love riding my bike but it can be scary and is definitely a challenge as car/truck operators often don’t see us. Keep on riding my dear!

  23. Great article and thanks for sharing what we all think when we start riding — “What am I doing? And why do I ride?” For the peace and freedom of no phones, no radio and no backseat for the kids!

  24. Wow! What a great story…reminds me of me! Just keep riding my sister. Believe it or not, it gets better and better! Oh and as for the negative comments, just smile and keep on moving!

  25. That was an awesome story! I could relate in so many ways. It’s true, there’s nothing worse than the “nay-sayer” looming around every corner when they find out that you ride your own bike. I just wish I could come up with the “ultimate” “cool” come-back for them.I love riding my own. It’s the greatest feeling of independence I’ve ever felt, and it boosts my confidence and makes me know for sure that there’s nothing I can’t do if I put my mind to it.

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