Reader Story: Starting to Ride—at 68 Years Old!

Determination despite failing MSF two times

By Ruth Grant, Tallahassee, Florida

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It all began at the ripe age of 65 while vacationing in Pigeon Pass, Tennessee, during the spring when bikes were abounding everywhere. I decided that riding a motorcycle would be fun. I was so enraptured that I went to the Harley-Davidson dealer there and purchased a helmet. Upon arriving home in Florida, I signed up and took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course, which I failed by riding the bike off the course and going down.

Undeterred, I began looking for a used small bike to practice on. Not having any luck with this search and having been given the cold shoulder by the local Harley-Davidson dealer (whom I am sure thought I wasnt going to buy anything), I went to the local Yamaha dealer and purchased a new Yamaha 650 V Star. I could sit flat footed on the V Star 650. Afraid to take off on my own, my son would ride the V Star to a local neighborhood park. There was virtually no traffic and I would ride the bike around and around for about a mile in a circle. However, I must admit that I never became comfortable on the V Star—it seemed so large, intimidating and hard to handle. While riding it, I always had a death grip on the bars and prayed for the panic to end and the fun to begin.

Ruth on her Harley-Davidson Sportster Nightster.

Still thinking that I would do better on a smaller bike, I began another search, which ended with the purchase of a 2004 Honda Rebel 250. I felt more comfortable on this bike. After some practice, I took the MSF course for the second time, which I failed again. At this point, my desire to ride a motorcycle had become a quest—I was going to do this, and I was going to have fun.

I began searching the Web for sites that gave information and instructions on motorcycle riding. Fortunately, I found plenty of sites, but the most helpful to me were V-Twin Mama and Women Riders Now, along with an instructional DVD, all containing lots of inspiration and practical tips. Armed with plenty of information, I began going to an empty parking lot on Sundays with my bag full of tennis balls cut in half. I marked off my course and practiced and practiced. The third time was the charm. I passed! Still not comfortable on the V Star, a special friend convinced me to go to the Harley-Davidson dealer again, which I did and was met with a new staff that was super. I purchased a new Sportster Nightster model. The difference in handling versus the V Star is like night and day, even though they both are approximately the same height and weight. So while I will always respect my Nightsters capability, I am not afraid of it. At 68, I am having a blast.

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43 thoughts on Reader Story: Starting to Ride—at 68 Years Old!

  1. A truly inspiring “stick-to-it-till-it-gets-done” story. I used to ride motorcycles in my 30s, but gave it up for awhile. I sure missed riding on beautiful spring or autumn days, though. I’m planning on buying a Honda Rebel 500 CMX next year. It’s been awhile since I’ve ridden, so I’ll be taking the MSF test at 63 years old before hitting the backroads of Mississippi again. This time, I’m keeping my bike and riding for as long as I can.

    1. You go girl!The Rebel is a good bike to get back into it on. You might consider taking the MSF’s Returning Rider Course if a local site offers this class. It’s designed for riders just like you, who know the basics (where the controls are and what they do, how to stop, start, and turn), but who need a one day “refresher” course.Best of luck to you and your future riding adventures.

  2. Ruth, your story is the one that convinced me to sign up for a MSF course. I’ll be 68 this summer and never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would now have a motorcycle license, and a silver Honda Rebel in the garage to ride. I had an amazing RiderCoach and a supportive husband, but I would have never gotten started if I hadn’t been inspired by your story. Thank you so much!

  3. What an inspiration your are, Ruth. I note that this was written in 2009—I hope that you’re still riding into your 70s? I have a friend who got her motorcycle license at age 57, when she retired. She’s still riding 26 years later, and still on the same bike she bought back then.

  4. You ladies are such an inspiration. A few years ago, I had an old, raggedy, Honda Rebel. I only rode a few months, and then I sold my bike. I regretted it soon after. Well, today, I went and bought me a used Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200. I was immediately in love with it. I am supposed to go pick it up tomorrow. Now that I am at home, and my son has found out about it, I am wondering if I made the right decision. I am 46 years old, have four grandchildren, but there is no one at home but me and my husband. He is a trucker, and isn’t home much, so I thought this would be something enjoyable for me to do. My husband is all for it, but my son has really made me feel like I was too old. After reading your stories, I really think that I can do this and enjoy it. Thank you ladies.

    1. Renea,The 40s is when the majority of women take up motorcycling. You are certainly not alone. Don’t be discouraged. Keep riding and reading WRN for more inspiration!

  5. Congratulations on your paid-off determination! There’s nothing like the accomplishment of learning how to ride your own motorcycle. The fun keeps getting better as you take trips and build memories with your bike. I hope your have many safe, wonderful miles with your Nightster.

  6. Thank you for taking the time to let other women know your determination has paid off. Riding has enriched my life with excitement in just getting ready for work in the morning.

  7. You go girl. I rode as a passenger as a teenager,
    rode a little Honda 125 in my 20s, and then was a
    dropout til I hit 60. Wanted a Harley all my life but
    couldn't have one due to raising kids alone, but now am remarried and while he had rode a lot more than I, we went in, bought two, took a safety course for an update for me, and off we went. I am 63, and I love the bike and the feeling I get on it. Of course it is like anything else, use a little smarts and a lotta caution and enjoy.

  8. I too am a late starter. I have been riding behind my husband for 26 years. At 54 I took the motorcycle safety course and the first day I had a heart attack. It was in August and our hottest day so I thought heat stroke. Nine months later I tried again only to fail the test. I own 2003 Deuce and I am not giving up. My only fear is my half mile gravel driveway. But I will tackle it soon.

  9. Reading about women my age, 62, riding just gives me such reassurance that I can do this. I've been wanting
    this for a long time. I pick up my 06 Honda Rebel next week and looking forward to a good time, then experiencing the feeling of going on to a bigger bike. Is it really possible? It is after reading these wonderful stories.

  10. Ruth, your story is the one I've been looking for. I completed the safety course two years ago, one day before my 60th birthday. On my birthday I got my license. Like you, the bike I had to ride never felt comfortable to me and, after a few weeks of practice I parked the bike. Two years have passed and tomorrow I will be 62. A few weeks ago I purchased the bike I wanted from the beginning – a '06 Honda Rebel – and I took off with no problem. I love my bike. Also, like you, my goal for a bigger bike – when I feel ready – is the Harley Nightster. I recently wrote a small blog entry/essay about my biking journey. Would love to keep up with you via email – I live in Oklahoma. Congratulations!

  11. Congratulations to all of the ladies who have taken the step to freedom in thought and action. Riding a motorcycle is the best way to see the world and make friends who are like minded. Just a little tip – look into the Motor Maids Inc. club, a womens riding club of 69 years and still going strong. I am 66 riding a 1100 V Star with 69,000 miles on the odometer.

  12. Congratulations. You are a great inspiration to all. Thanks for sharing.

  13. You go, girl! I started riding four years ago at age 57 and have not let go since. I did not factor in my age at all when I made the decision to learn to ride but did have “issues” with my size. I am 4 feet 11 inches so it has been interesting finding the perfect bike for me. After four other learning bikes, I now proudly ride a Softail Deluxe that works perfectly for me after I changed the handlebars to come back further and purchased a custom made for me Corbin Close Seat. What a life!

  14. That is great. I too wanted to be the driver of my own bike. At the age of 15 I jumped on a friend's bike and took off and was stopped by a barbed wire fence. At the age of 38 I tried again. My companion had me stop the bike because he could not run fast enough to help me. When I turn 50 I took the Riders Edge Class and passed. I bought a Honda VTX 1300, I wish I had a smaller bike to start with but I have grown into it. I love reading the comments and I will continue to read for inspiration

  15. Congratulations, Ruth! It's fantastic that you persevered and got your license and found the right bike for you Bravo! I
    started riding later in life also, age 52, and have now been riding for a little more than 7 years. I used to love riding with my spouse, too. The last time I rode with him was early this spring. I had surgery on my hand and couldn't take my bike out until it was properly healed. After the ride he asked how it felt to ride with him again and I honestly told him it was kind of like sitting on the couch watching TV – just a little on the boring side.

    If any of the ladies are looking for a Harley, try the new 2010 Fat Boy Lo. It is the lowest of the H-D's and is pretty light. I'm thinking I may need to trade in my 1200 low pretty soon.

  16. Congrats Ruth! I too started late, as in I will be 50 next month. I love it and wished I had started sooner. I also have a V Star 650. I really love the look and the sound, but I am not so sure that I really like how it handles. Just a bit bulky to me. I am looking into a H-D Sportster. After reading what you said about the H-D vs. the V star, it makes me want to start looking harder.

    Tina, I have to drive a 1 1/2 miles down a gravel every time I get on my bike. I have to turn off of a 55mph highway onto a dirt road. I just get down to 1st gear and look for the smoothest track and just slowing let out the throttle and drive slowly. When I turn into my driveway, it's almost like a U turn on gravel. I just make sure I am in first, keep a hold of the throttle and slowly make my way in.

    You just have to get back on, just like you did when you first started riding. You kept doing it and because you did, you can drive a motorcycle. Same with this…just do it.

  17. It just goes to show you, what's comfortable for one woman is not for another. I learned to ride at age 52 after riding two-up with my husband for 25 years. I tried out the H-D Sportster and it is just too top heavy for my 5-feet-1 115-pound self. My first bike was a 2007 Suzuki S40. It wasn't great on the long highway rides we do sometimes, so I went and got a V Star 650 that had been lowered so I could flat-foot it. I love it. But I also just got a 2009 Ninja 250R (also lowered) and it is a blast.

  18. Good for you, I also started late in life to ride. I also failed twice to get my license. I felt like you, it became a quest, by gosh I'm going to pass this if it takes me a hundred times. I passed the third time after a lot of practicing. I also practiced in parking lots every time I got ready to ride with a group. I started riding at 55 have been riding for 10 years now. It's just great, I actually made myself ride to Oregon by myself to prove I could do this. Piece of cake! Welcome to the world of riding!

  19. I love hearing about “older” women riders! I got my license at 45, and rode a Honda Helix for 11 years. After a six-year period of “time off” due to an accident (not my fault!), I got a Honda Rebel 250cc, then moved up to a Harley Sportster 883 Low last year at the age of 64! I try to get the most out of riding while I still can. My husband doesn't ride, so I don't travel as much as I would like on my bike yet. Last year, I went to the Catskill Mountains alone, as I grew up there during the summers of my youth, and I learned to drive a car on those mountain roads when I was 16. It was great riding those same roads on “Lil Beast,” my bike! Stay safe, Ruth,and have a blast!

  20. Way to go! I am still struggling to get over my fear. I spilled my bike on a gravel road and it landed on my leg. That was three months ago. My leg is still sore as heck, and I have not find a way to get pass my gravel driveway. Any tips from anyone is deeply appreciated.

  21. You're an inspiration. I also want to learn to ride on my own. I now ride as a passenger on my husband's 2008 Road King, don't get me wrong I love riding behind my husband but I want to feel the control of riding my own. I am very alert as a passenger, watching the traffic, the way the bike rides the curves, etc. I'm also looking for a small bike, but not an easy task to find one. You keep riding, be safe and God bless.

  22. Good for you. I was also a late starter at 52 years old and have now been riding about seven years and I still love it. I too purchased a 2008 H-D Sportster Nighster 1200 in September 2007 and it's my fourth bike and will be my bike forever probably. Good luck to you and ride safe, but have fun.

  23. Here, here! Three cheers for you, Ruth. Thanks for the inspiration. I had a Honda 70 as a kid, now at 49 I just purchased my first grown up bike, a Honda Rebel 250. My MSF class is next week. I haven't practiced at all, thought I'd wait until after the class, just because it's been so long. I've been a little timid that I might not pass and here I'd be stuck with a fizzled out dream and out a lot of bucks. After reading your story, I know if I don't pass the first time I will just keep on until I do.
    Thanks again!

  24. More power to you, Ruth – you're a complete inspiration!

  25. Way to go! I am glad to see you never gave up on the dream and faced the challenge head on. More women should be as driven to succeed as you are. Great boots! Where did you find them?

  26. Whoo hoo! Good for you! I got my license at 57! Where did you get those boots? Love 'em!

  27. Congratulations to you Ruth, and a big double thumbs up, for staying with it. It will only get better the more you ride. I hope you enjoy your bike and all the wonderful people and roads you will see along the way.

  28. Congratulations and good for you! I envy your courage and commend you on your determination to not let failure get you down or discourage you from trying more than, not once, but twice — and then some! You've got a great looking scoot and I hope you have lots of fun. It's too bad we're not closer as I would love to take ride or two with you. Good luck, keep at it and ride safe! Your story is and will be inspiring to many women out there.

  29. This IS inspiring. You're never too old, too busy, too whatever to do something bold and wonderful. What determination. Thanks for the story.

  30. You go girl. You are very brave to keep trying. I didn't starting my own till I was 50 years old. I bought the bike first in July 08, took the Motorcycle Safety Course in August 08 and passed. My husband took me to a church parking lot to practice, and I finally rode my bike on the rode in late Sept. 08. I also have a Nightster, I love it. I and only 4-feet-11. This bike works great for me. Have fun and ride safe.

  31. I admire your determination. I have taken a few spills this year being my first year riding alone and the thing I am proud of is the last time I dumped, instead of being shaken up, I got up and after checking everything out, I was excited to get going again. Keep it going Ruth!

  32. Atta girl! What a great attitude. Love your determination. Have fun and be safe.

  33. Ruth, what an inspiration you are to me! I purchased a 2004 Honda Rebel to learn how to ride on, but every time I get on it, I too have the 'death grip and panic' attacks. I bought the Ride Like a Pro DVD for beginner riders and have watched it several times. I have not taken the MSF course yet as I was hoping to get over the panic feeling before doing so. I am also trying to decide which course to take the MSF that our state puts on, or the Rider's Edge course that Harley-Davidson does. I believe that the Rider's Edge course use Buells which have a bigger cc than the Rebel. Thanks to you, I am going to keep on practicing, take the course and see what happens from there.

    Ride safe!!

  34. Thank you so much for sharing your story! I was encouraged by your determination and fortitude. Good for you! So glad you didn't let those sales people discourage you and you stuck with it. I have dropped my bike twice while learning but got back on every time, realizing almost immediately what I did wrong and vowing to not let it happen again. I am glad I am not alone out there in needing to take “baby steps” while learning. Kudos to you!

  35. Good for you Ruth! I pretty much did the same thing. When I retired at 55 and was looking 60 in the eye, I realized that there must be more to do than laundry and housework. I used to ride 30+ years ago and always loved it, so I decided to give it a try again. I bought a V Star 650 and outgrew it after 900 miles but learned to ride better every day. I too took the Rider's Edge course and got my license. I then fell in love with an Anniversary Edition Dyna Wide Glide. Wonderful bike but since it had a raked out front end it became too cumbersome to handle at slow speeds. Thought I'd now try a new Victory Kingpin. Beautiful bike and so well suited for women but it wasn't a Harley like I really wanted.

    So again I traded to my first love and final bike. I did go through four in six months so I figured it was time to settle down with what I really wanted. I now own a 2009 Harley-Davidson Softail Classic which is superb! Rides smooth and handles like a dream. Can't think of a better ride to own so my trading days are over and I'm always looking for another road to explore with or without all the great friends I've made along the way. Keep the shiny side up and have a ball. I sure do.

  36. You are a true inspiration to me! I am now 53 and just really starting to ride. I took the safety course in November of 2007, didn't purchase my first bike until the following July. I had to relearn everything that I learned in class and this was definitely not the right bike for me. I have since sold that bike and purchased a 2006 Yamaha V Star 650 which I love. I did have a couple of spills (low speed) on my first bike, so that has made me a little gun shy with this one. My husband and I have taken a couple of short road trips (the longest 185 miles) but I am looking forward to getting out there and really riding.

  37. You go girl! I am still in the intimidation stage and like you am determined to have fun on my bike (at the age of 55). Thank you for the pep talk via your story.

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