Reader Story: WRN Articles Got Her Back in the Saddle

Finding her confidence through other readers' stories

By Michelle Landry, Tylertown, Mississippi
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After riding behind my husband on his Harley-Davidson for more than 16 years, I decided I wanted to try riding on my own. While searching online for advice, I discovered Women Riders Now.
I pored over each article, starting with “What To Expect,” which was so helpful. Yes, you will dump the bike, and yes, you will be nervous. OK, I needed to remember that. I found an MSF course in my area and immediately signed up. Because my husband’s Harley-Davidson Fat Boy was too big for me to practice on, I went to the class with no riding experience. Having been a passenger for so many years, I thought I should have some advantage, right? Wrong! I just couldn’t seem to get the hang of my left hand, right hand, left foot, and right foot all doing something different at the exact same time. After dropping the bike twice and not being able to keep up with the class, I ended up failing the course the first day.
Discouraged, I went home in tears. Thank goodness for the WRN article “You Flunked! Now What?”It was encouraging to read other women’s stories and how they didn’t give up. I especially related to a commenter named Susan, who felt the class moved too fast for her. I also felt like I needed more time on each exercise. I wanted to practice, so I bought a Honda Rebel 250. I felt it was small enough for me to learn to handle. I was so excited the day my husband brought it home, but I was scared to death because now I was going to have to ride it!
wrn articles got her back in the saddle rebel 250
Michelle on her first bike, a Honda Rebel 250, which she chose for its smaller size.

I started out by riding on a side road to practice what I learned at the safety course, but at my own pace. Instead of doing an exercise 10 times, I did it 20 or 100 times or until I felt comfortable. The first few weeks, it was a challenge just to take off without stalling. I would sit on my bike, one hand on the throttle, one on the clutch, my heart pounding through my chest, trying to remember why I’d wanted to learn to ride in the first place. Thank goodness my husband was patient and kept telling me I could do it. He even picked the bike up off me when I dumped it in the front yard.

This is when the WRN Reader Stories became invaluable. I could relate to people like Ruth Grant, who said she “prayed for the panic to end and the fun to begin.” Yes, that’s it. That’s exactly what I felt. Well, if she could overcome this fear and have fun, so could I. I would force myself to practice, if only for just 30 minutes a day. I felt every time I took off, every time I put my foot down at a stop, every mile I rode, was more experience gained.
Four months after failing the MSF course, I went back to take it again. I was still nervous, but I was more comfortable on the bike. I passed the second time and learned invaluable safety and riding skills. I went to the DMV and got my endorsement the next day. Yes!
wrn articles got her back in the saddle vulcan 750
After nine months with the Rebel, Michelle upgraded to a Kawasaki Vulcan 750 and loves it.

This past year, Ive ridden more than 4,000 miles, and it has been a year of firsts for me—first time riding in heavy traffic, first time riding at night, first time riding on the highway. The first time I took the bike out by myself, I thought of Rhonda Elkins, who wrote in her story about her first bike ride without her husband along. Each milestone, from getting her bike out of the garage to pumping her own gas, I could relate to.

I rode the Honda Rebel for nine months. It was a great bike to start out on and gave me a chance to learn the skills I needed. I recently purchased a Kawasaki Vulcan 750 and love it. At first, the extra weight was intimidating, but I started the same way as with the Rebel—in parking lots and on side roads—until I became comfortable on it.
When family or friends ask why I ride, I cant accurately answer them. Its impossible to put into words the feeling of joy, accomplishment, freedom, and thrill that I experience when Im riding. WRN is a place where other women get it. They understand.
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33 thoughts on Reader Story: WRN Articles Got Her Back in the Saddle

  1. First I want to say how so many of the stories here have helped and inspired me. I had never ridden a motorcycle by myself. I have been riding behind my husband for the past few years. I’m 49 years old and I completed the motorcycle safety course in July with a friend. I was the only person in class that had no experience riding. I was so nervous and scared and felt like I held everyone up in class. I did pass the class barely. A couple of weeks went by and I got my endorsement and bought a 2003 HD 883C Sportster. My husband took me to a parking lot and I rode small circles for about two weeks. Then practiced turning and stopping. Finally, I made a short road trip early one Sunday morning. I was so nervous that I thought I might die. LOL. I survived and my husband takes me out riding every day (weather permitting). Each ride gets a little longer and usually more challenging. I have finally made it to the point that I am not scared to death, not as nervous and I am actually enjoying this and having fun. This is one of the best things that I have ever done for myself. I feel so accomplished and confident. I have three grown children and they are so proud of me as is my husband. It does my heart so good to hear them tell me how proud they are of me. I would encourage any woman that wants to ride to just hang in there. Keep practicing and move at your own pace. I have learned that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to if you really want to do it badly enough.

    1. Congratulations Kim! And thanks for sharing your story with us. I’m going to post part of this comment in our next newsletter that goes out on Sept. 9, 2015. Be sure to sign up for it if you’ve not done so already. And great photo of your motorcycle. It’s beautiful!

  2. I can completely relate to this article. When I was in my 20s I use to ride a 250cc enduro on and off road. Then my son came along and I gave up my bike to focus on family. Here I am 17 years later wishing I could ride, but having let my motorcycle license expire. I took the MSF style Canadian course thinking, how hard could it be? I mean, I passed the same course about 20 years ago, and rode for four years with no problems. WRONG! I totally flunked. I didn’t even make it half way through the assessment at the end of the course. I was crushed. I felt like maybe I just didn’t have it in me anymore. Finally I sucked up the courage to retake the course, at full cost, there was no discount. But this time I finally passed! Even at that, I just squeaked by, but that is all I needed. Just keep at it, and don’t give up if it is important to you.

  3. Kudos to Michelle for sharing her story! I just bought my first bike even though I failed the test. I was in tears at the course site but I went home and my boyfriend encouraged me by telling me all I needed was practice. Today I laid my bike down and I wanted to cry but I am going to keep on going because of all the positive stories that are here. Thank you all for sharing as a 45-year-old first time rider I am nervous — but with all your support I know that one day I will be enjoying my bike too!

  4. Michelle’s story struck a chord with many of us, as it did with me. It could have been my story. I decided at the age of 58 that I wanted to learn to ride after seeing other women on motorcycles and after riding on the back of my boyfriend’s Harley for three years. I too believed that all I had to know was how to ride a bike before taking the MSF course. Big mistake! There was just to much to absorb. I was kindly asked to leave the first time. I went home, bought a Rebel and practiced alone for several weeks. The next time I took the course I was so exhausted by the time the range test came up that I ran over a cone and failed! At that point, I was so tired that I didn’t even care but I knew I wouldn’t/couldn’t give up. So I graduated myself to a Sportster 1200XL and practiced on that for a couple months. Then I went back to take the MSF course again. This time I passed. What a joyous day! I’ve been riding now for a couple years and can’t imagine not riding.I encourage all beginners not to give up. Expect there to be difficult moments and expect to drop your bike…that’s how you learn. There is nothing more rewarding than working hard towards a goal and achieving.Word to beginners: the Harley Sportster 1200 is a lighter bike but is a lot more powerful than some of the bigger Harleys. My friend, who rides a Road King, rode my bike the other day and said his bike couldn’t compare to the power of mine. The Sportster is not a beginner Harley. It is a lighter bike, however and a bit top heavy. I think I would have chosen a different bike if I’d known more about bikes at the time, but I love my Sporty. Happy riding!

  5. All I can say is there is hope! I, like Michelle, have been riding with my husband on his Yamaha Virago now that our four children are older. I just completed the motorcycle safety program with our 15 1/2-year-old son and flunked it by three points. I was embarrassed and disappointed to have failed the range course, but I did pass the classroom exam, didn’t dump my bike and did finish the course (the class lost three during the first day). My husband and family want me to forge on and get my license and after finding this great source of encouragement, I am now smiling at the thought of finding my own 250. Thank you for allowing a 45-year old wife and mother of four to alleviate her fears and not feel like she is crazy to get her license. It’s nice to know there is strength in numbers!

  6. Tears are streaming down my face while reading this! I just started riding this year and thought I was being a total wimp because even though I ride weekly and am getting better, my heart pounds outta my chest simply turning the bike around in my driveway! Thank you!

  7. Thank you for such an inspiring story, Michelle. Wow! What an awesome thing to do to take off by yourself and see a part of the world that you wanted to see, and by the age of 50!

  8. What a great article! I am male, 48, been riding since I was 21, but I took 20 years off while raising my kids. I started out on a Yamaha 750 back in ’85, now I have a Sportster 883 and a Honda Shadow 600. I bought the Shadow with the intention of getting my wife to learn to ride. She used to ride as a passenger with me years ago in Colorado. Now she’s older (like me) and says she doesn’t have her “motorcycle legs” anymore. I think the lack of control as a passenger and having kids makes it harder for her.I stumbled across this rider’s site for women while reading reviews on the Harley Road King, which I am getting ready to buy to replace my Sportster. I, too, failed my first motorcycle test when I took it back in Maryland in ’85. I had bought the Yamaha two days before and had never really ridden. As Michelle stated, the key is practice. I just want to encourage all women riders, and will look for ways to get my wife to learn to ride. It is a dream to go pounding down the highway, looking at her tailights and blond hair blowing in the wind. Start with the smaller bikes, like the Rebel – perfect for beginners. And remember that no matter how much you ride, every mile is a practice mile.Keep the rubber side down, gals and ride with pride! God bless you all.

  9. Thank you all for your stories, I have been riding some sort of motorcycle since I was a kid. Bought my first Harley in 2004 – Dyna Wide Glide. Rode it for a few years and yes we hit the asphalt more than once, no biggie. In 2007 I took the plunge to my beautiful pearl white Ultra Classic, she is a big girl. Last May on my birthday, a beautiful day, decided I just gonna ride to work. My ride home was the biggest nightmare I had ever experienced on a bike. I was totally out of sync, could not figure out what was wrong. Got home, parked at the end of the driveway. Decided I had better get the bike out of the way, as I was headed up the driveway BOOM. Found myself in the street with the beast on top of me. No one was around, had to use my free foot to push her off of me. By the grace of God I did not splatter my head on the ground. I have not been on her since. I am hear to tell you after reading these stories I feel so different. Not that I want any of us to fall or feel the fear but now I understand I am not alone. As of yesterday, I feel the need for the wind in my face and to have the fear is a good thing. By the way, I figured out my ride home was so awful because during the day I had taken an allergy medication – big mistake. I am 57 years old and still learning – go figure.

    1. Karen,I have found riding a “bigger” bike, I have a Street Glide (I traded up from a Dyna Low Rider) that I have to be 110 percent on all the time when I’m riding that bike. Riding a bigger sized motorcycle does allow for any mis-steps, physically or mentally — meaning there’s little room for error when you’re not feeling “right.” When I had my Dyna, if had a moment where I was distracted – say backing up the bike – the bike was small enough where I had the leg and/or arm strength to catch it; not with the Street Glide; not much room for mis-steps. I’m finding this is the only downsize to riding a bigger motorcycle. I have to feel completely of sound mind and “strong” that day to ride.

  10. Way to go. I am so glad I read your story, Michelle. I was told also I should start with a Honda Rebel 250 as I am short and I need something not so heavy to start with. I need to have a hip replacement and once I am all done with that and ready to go I will sign up for a course. Thanks for a great learning experience story.

  11. Great article! Good for you! Sometimes you just have to dig a little deeper to find out what you’re made of. I have come to the Women Riders Now website since I started riding and it has been a wonderful resource. I needed a woman’s take on the whole riding experience and I get it here. Well done and congrats! Keep the shiny side up, Michelle!

  12. What a great story. It let me know there are others out there that had to repeat the MSF course. I finally passed and now ride my Honda Rebel 250. I learned so much more by taking the class twice. I am 74 and 5-foot-1.

  13. Michelle, I am so proud of you for not giving up! I passed the course but I had instructors who were kind and had a lot of patience with each and every one of us in that class. I was scared and said to myself, why am I doing this? Determination, like you, had kept me going. I got a small Yamaha and did just what you did: back roads, parking lots, and my favorite was the church parking lot, hoping God would somehow help me. I had to ride alone before I would ride with anyone, for I had to do it my way and at my pace. Gas…I didn’t put gas in my tank until the day no one was around to help. I am now on a Harley but still a small one, a Sportster. Wish I lived in climate area that was warm. Living in New Hampshire, the season is very short. May you continue to have the best rides of your life.

  14. Thanks for the inspiring story, Michelle. I can’t wait for the weather to get better here in the Northeast so that I can ride again. Stories like yours encourage me to believe that I will soon overcome the panic with a tremendous amount of fun!

  15. Way to not give up, Michelle! I tell people all the time, “I’d rather try (fill in the blank) and fail, than spend my life wondering if I could do it!” I feel like this notion has served me well and I’ve been places, done things and met so many cool people along the way. I might never have had these experiences (or those that are yet to unfold!) if I’d allowed the unknowns to rule me. In terms of the fears that go along with riding—which we ALL face—what I try to do is make the fear work FOR me instead of against me. Fear can keep us aware, alert and alive! For me, finding the balance between fear and freedom is the goal. Never let anyone push you out of your comfort zone…always ride your own ride. I’m heading into my fourth year of riding, and I can’t begin to tell you how the confidence I get from riding has spilled over into other areas of my life—personally and professionally. What an amazing bonus I never saw coming! I upgraded to an H-D Dyna Super Glide last year, but cut my teeth on a Honda Nighthawk 550 and am glad I took the time to develop my skills on a smaller, lighter bike. I rode from NY to Milwaukee last year for the Women Riders Celebration, and that six-day, 1,800 mile trip was a multitude of “firsts” for me. There were challenges, sure—but the biggest one I had to overcome was ME. The mind is a very powerful thing, and whether you think you can, or think you can’t…you’re right! Ride safe, ride far, ride often! See you in the wind…

  16. Cheering for you. I was right where you were and crashed the first day of my course. I went through the fear and there were a lot of times I really had to wonder if it is all worth it. I have been licensed and riding for several years now and even progressed to a much bigger bike that I had one day never thought possible. I write about my experiences in hopes that I will encourage and inspire other riders to work past the problems and enjoy the great rewards you will experience in the years to come. I thank all those that went before me and showed me I can do it, and so can you if you dare to try. And thanks to newsletters like this one for encouraging women riders everywhere.

  17. Thanks for sharing these. I’m getting ready for my Rider’s Edge course in April. My hubby bought me a Harley Night Rod for Christmas (the one I begged for before ever driving one), and I laid it down in the driveway while he was at work. He told me not to practice without his help, but I knew I could do it…till I hit a pothole while backing up on the uphill driveway and laid it down. Not realizing how heavy it is or how to walk it up, I had to get a neighbor kid to help me get it up and garaged before I got caught. The humbling reality check was enough to scare me into second thoughts on my ability to drive it again. I needed to know I’m not the only first time failure and it is OK to be scared and try again. All the women riders I know are all so confident and experienced, it’s a bit intimidating to be the “newbie” this year.

  18. I loved your article! I’ve been wanting to ride for a long time and the letter you wrote was just what I needed. You look great on your bike and I’m sure your husband loves riding with you. It’s a great way to bond and to have some real “togetherness” as a couple. Thanks for your letter! Enjoy riding the countryside! Maybe I’ll see you up North Country sometime.

  19. I loved reading this! I too struggled to get started. I passed the MSF class the first time, but with few people to ride with, it took a long time to feel comfortable on my HD 1200XL Sportster. I had a minor crash at the end of that first season, and I really had a tough time getting back on my bike. But since we were just about to hit a long (Wisconsin) winter, I knew I had to ride again now, or risk being too scared to ride again the next spring. I did get one more ride in. Then I decided to take the MSF again at the beginning of the second season, and that was the best thing I could have done! I rode all last summer, often by myself, and can’t wait to get going again this spring. I’ve also been learning to wrench a bit on my bike, and I enjoy that. I never had an interest in working on a car, but my bike is different.I can’t say exactly why I ride, but I can say that I’ve gained so much confidence by doing this! It was hard, much harder than I thought. But no regrets! One of my grown daughters is very proud of her mom who learned to ride at 52. The other one just rolls her eyes and doesn’t say a word. But she knows how happy it makes me!

  20. I had not ridden in 33 years, and that was on small dirt bikes. After my husband passed away, my son convinced me I needed to put some life back into my life, and at the age of 54 I bought a Harley Sportster 1200. I took the Harley riders course on their smaller Buells and passed. Still nervous (read: scared crazy), I took out my much larger and heavier Sporty and rode around and around my neighborhood. One day out practicing stops and turns, after passing a local police officer four times, he pulled me over. “Oh boy,” I thought “I haven’t even been out on a main street yet and I’m going to get in trouble.” After explaining to the officer that I was “practicing” because I was a newbie, he said, “I don’t know how well you are improving, but your lap times are getting better.” I have since graduated to a Harley FLHX Street Glide and I love my bike. I am now 57 and I ride every chance I get. I’m glad you didn’t give up, and you are an inspiration to many for your perseverance. Ride safe.

  21. Michelle, your story is one of inspiration. I took the class this past July and passed, so my fiance bought me a Honda Shadow Phantom. The first time out, I dropped it trying to show him that I knew how to brake hard. That was when he invested in crash bars. A few times after that, I was making a left turn and I rode off the road and dropped the bike. I did fairly well after that, but was a nervous wreck every time I got on the bike. Making turns from a stop and starting off on a hill were my two biggest weaknesses. I finally have gotten to where I can start off on a hill without stalling, and I thought I was doing better with turns, but I just went out after being on winter hiatus and not riding for about three months and was going to make a turn around in a cul de sac and freaked about almost hitting a garbage can, so I grabbed the front brake and dropped the bike. That made my confidence waver so I am now back to being a nervous wreck when I ride. The biggest thing I have to keep telling myself is to look where I want to go and the bike will follow. I pray the day comes sooner rather than later that I not only feel comfortable riding but will also feel comfortable enough to take the bike out on my own without needing my fiance for moral support. Congratulations to you!

  22. Wow, you go girl! I am so very proud of you! We have similar stories because I also rode on the back of my hubby’s bike for 16 years. I started out on a 250 Kawasaki “crotch rocket” and initially dropped the bike within the first month (on a busy highway with traffic backing up). I was fine but my pride was hurt. Got past that and vowed to myself to not take hills or curves until I could handle the bike with greater ease and experience. Three or four months later I moved up to another Kawasaki 636. Loved it! Rode that for almost two years, and three years ago hubby purchased my Hayabusa 1300. Love it! Sure, the biggest thing is getting used to the weight of a bigger bike, but this one has more HP = faster speeds. No, I’m not one of those who live for speed (don’t get me wrong, it is exhilarating, and yes, I’ve gotten a couple of speeding tickets) but I believe in enjoying the ride itself. Experience means getting out there to ride. I put 10,000 miles on the “busa” the first year I got her. Men approach me and are impressed with the size of this bike and the fact that I can handle it. Again, experience means getting out there—you acquire a wide array of skills in the midst and take in great scenery and fresh air. Oh, one more thing—I’ve been riding for about five years now, and yes, still get a bit nervous throwin’ a leg over (perfectly normal, there are fools out there who don’t watch for us) but once I hit that throttle…IT’S ON! You are an inspiration!

  23. Thanks for the story. I barely passed MSF, but kept practicing. The first week with my bike, I laid “us” down five times. It was my right turns! Finally, a friend told me what I was doing wrong—no throttle on the turn. Duh! I am still learning and gaining confidence every time I reread my manuals and ride. I know what you mean about the “firsts,” like the first time without my husband and the first time across the state without my husband. What wonderful memories of accomplishments. I also remember investing in several bottles of Pepto Bismol because I was so nervous about getting on the bike. Great riding, Michelle!

  24. Thank you for sharing your story. I just received my license in May of last year and had to put my bike away for the winter. So I did not get a lot of riding time in. I also did not pass my first class. I quit! I was not going to give up. I signed up again and passed the second time around. It is so nice to have people relate to what you are going through.

  25. Great job!

  26. I love to hear the same story lines like what I went through. I had also never ridden a motorcycle but wanted so bad to ride and own my own! And thinking, “Oh, this has to be easy” and finding out it’s not as easy as I thought! I was 53 and had ridden on the back of men’s motorcycles for years. To own my own was on my “bucket list,” but I never told anybody. So after driving to Sturgis in 2000 and my two youngest sons getting killed and having to quit playing sports after 30 years of too many sports injuries, I was quite depressed and needed something to jump start my life again. My first motorcycle had to be a Harley, so I bought a 1990 1200 Sportster. But I flunked the written test more times than I want to admit. But I finally passed it and the riding part of the test. I was on a quest to learn everything and be the best motorcycle rider I could be. Now I own my second Harley and have belonged to an all-women riding group for seven years. I am going to be 62 years old and plan on riding as long as I can because it makes me feel alive and happy! What more can I say? Except HE HAW! Thanks, ladies.

  27. G

    Great story! I remember when I took my MSF class in Northern California at the age of 42, and I just turned 50! Having had no experience on a motorcycle, I was intimidated. I also felt that the MSF class moved too fast with not enough one-on-one time, but as JL said, they do the best they can with what they have. I started out on a Rebel 250 and, like you, rode it for a year and upgraded to the Kawasaki 800, and now I’m on a VTX 1300, and I’m quite comfortable. The one thing I think we can all do for each other is to share our stories and provide encouragement to other women riders. It’s so inspiring to read a story like this.

  28. I barely passed my rider’s course the first time. I think they felt sorry for me. I had a Suzuki 250GZ that I practiced on for months. I drove around my neighborhood for such a long time once that my husband rode out to find me. It had to have been about an hour that I was gone, and he got worried. My next bike was a Honda Shadow 750. Every time I went out, I would also pray and chant and ask for divine protection. I now ride a Harley Softail Deluxe ’08. I’ve been riding for almost five years, and I am 56. I plan to ride out alone to the women’s rally in Gettysburg, PA on June 16-18. I have ridden alone but never that far. This will be a first for me.

  29. Congratulations, Michelle! I am so happy for you, and I want to encourage you to continue moving forward as a rider. Never let anyone place limitations on you. After 30-plus years of riding, I promise you that there will still be times that you will get that fearful feeling. Know that when the day comes when you don’t have a little reverential fear, that’s the day you should quit riding. I still don’t like gravel parking lots or huge events with tight parking. I don’t like riding in heavy traffic, especially in cities I am unfamiliar with. I know that when I hit the pavement or another obstacle, it is going to hurt. A little reverential fear can save your life. But each time I face a challenge, I go through the steps in my head and then take my own sweet time getting through them. Do not let anyone tell you how you “should” do it or push you too far out of your comfort zone. Yes, you do want to continue the growth by moving forward in your experience. Find what works for you and do it. If I can give one word of advice, never park on a hill where you have to back up the hill to get out! Little things like that, no one seems to mention! Again, congratulations! I am proud to see another woman in the wind!

  30. I too was asked to leave the first time around because I was supposedly a danger to myself–but I was determined to make it. I came from a nonriding family and believed the Rider’s Edge ads that said you only need to be able to ride a bicycle! I discussed my concerns with the dealer and got some one-on-one with an instructor. Then I was allowed to retake the course. I am now on my second bike, a 2010 Heritage Softail, and it’s the best therapy around. Now I can look back and laugh at my “failure”!

  31. I really liked reading your story Michelle.I started riding when I turned 50. I was never on a motorcycle before then, even as a passenger. I flunked the MSF class twice before I passed on the third try. The MSF classes are good and they do their best with the limited amount of time you have but I too think they move to fast. The first time I took the class I grabbed the front break and went flying like Superman. They actually kicked me out of the class, told me I was a danger to myself and the others. I have been riding now for 10 years, the first seven on a Suzuki Savage 650 and currently on a Harley-Davidson Low Rider 1584cc. I have dropped both of those bikes a few times (buy crash bars, you will never regret that you did).I want to tell everybody to not get discouraged, just keep persevering. Even after a decade of riding, every time I’m about to throw a leg over I get a little nervous but as soon as I twist the throttle I’m glad I did not give up.

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