Getting Started as a Motorcycle Rider
My Journey (Tips for Women Who Want To Ride)

Jayne's first motorcycle lesson Jayne in the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course Jayne ATGATT Jayne's KLR

 

 
See the TravelAdvisor map of where I've been (not just by motorcycle). Note that the green markers are where I want to go but haven't been yet.

 
follow me on TwitterFollow me!

jayne_a_broad, personal Twitter account
My tweets here are about travel, motorcycling, tent camping, bicycling (mostly as a commuter), and things I find amusing. I tweet maybe up to half a dozen times a day, on a really good day - usually much less.

jcravens42, Professional Twitter account
My tweets here are about volunteers / volunteering, nonprofit / NGO matters, humanitarian / development / aid issues, communications, NPtech, & women's empowerment. This is my "grown up" Twitter account and I tweet anywhere from half a dozen to dozens of times a day.

International trips by motorcycle
Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Northern England & Scotland, France, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Macedonia (the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), Montenegro, Norway, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden

Trips riding my own motorcycle
California ("Lost Coast" and gold country), Idaho, Montana (Glacier NP), Nevada, Oregon, Washington (state), Wyoming (Yellowstone), Canada (Alberta and British Columbia, Jasper, Banff & Kootenay).

  I put together this page about how I became a motorcycle rider to help other women who are thinking about riding a motorcycle, but aren't sure where to get started. It's the advice I would have wanted had I been learning to ride a motorcycle, or buying one, on my own, without an experienced, trustworthy motorcycle rider right there by my side, helping me.

Once I decided I wanted to ride a motorcycle of my own, or was at least serious about really, really thinking about it, I started looking for courses to take. I know a lot of people run right out and buy a motorcycle as soon as they think they might want to be a motorcycle rider and begin riding almost immediately - good for them. I know far more who run out and buy a motorcycle and it's parked in their garage for months, even years, at a time and rarely ridden. I didn't want to be in that latter group.

I started my journey as a motorcycle rider by taking a day-long "taster" course in Germany, in 2008. I didn't get anything in terms of a certificate or permit, but I did get a lot of great advice and a very basic understanding of motorcycle riding. And I had NEVER been in the motorcycle driver's seat before - this course was perfect in teaching me some basics absolutely from scratch. If you are in Europe, visit a local Honda dealership and they will probably have brochures somewhere in the lobby of the motorcycle sales department about such taster courses. I don't speak German, but the instructor did speak English, and that will probably be the case for you too.

If you are in the USA, various motorcycle dealerships probably host women-only intro-to-motorcycling events, such as the Women's Passport to Ride event at Beaverton Honda Yamaha Suzuki (Oregon) and the Harley-Davidson Garage Parties for women at dealerships all over the USA. You won't get to ride a motorcycle at the USA events, but they are terrific inspirational events (and I have a t-shirt from attending the Harley event in the USA that gets a LOT of attention whenever I wear it).

About this same time that I was taking this taster course in Germany, I read The Complete Idiot's Guide to Motorcycles, which was really helpful in helping me decide further about motorcycle riding. It told me a lot of things about motorcycle riding that I never learned in any class, and laid the foundation for my own approach to motorcycle riding. I know a lot of people think reading about how to ride a motorcycle is silly ("Just get out and do it!"), but I really liked the advice I got from that book.

I felt ready to take a course and get my license, but that wasn't possible while I was living in Germany; to get even a driver's license in Germany requires about 20 hours of classes, in German - and the classes are VERY expensive. You can take the written test in English, after you take the class -- and the written test is jaw-droppingly difficult in Germany -- but the classes and riding test are in German. And as I don't speak German... so I had to wait until we moved back to the USA. Had we not been about to move back to the USA, I would have gone back to Kentucky for a vacation, gotten my license, then got it transferred to a German license (and note that Germany does NOT accept all U.S. state's driver licenses for transfer; check the web for more info).

My husband and I moved back to the USA in 2009 and I signed up for a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course in Louisville months before we had arrived, as these classes fill up very, very fast. I LOVED the MSF course; you do not have to have even touched a motorcycle in order to take this class, and the classes are available all over the USA (but not in Oregon). All you need is high-topped shoes (this can be tennis shoes), pants (no shorts), long sleeves and any kind of gloves. If you don't have a helmet, they will provide such. If you study up and take your written motorcycle test and get your permit before this class, you will get your license immediately upon finishing the class and presenting your paperwork to the DMV in most states (otherwise, you have to wait 30 days). Half my class were women, and at 43, I was not the oldest woman in the class! I got my motorcycle license in July 2009.

In the German course, I rode a Honda CB600. In my MSF classes in the USA, I road a Kawasaki Eliminator and a Honda Rebel, both 250s. That was helpful in being able to know what kind of first bike I wanted - something around 700 or less, and where I could be firmly on the balls of my feet, at least, on either side of the bike while stopped.

Gear

Before I bought a motorcycle, I started buying my gear. But I could not afford to go out and buy a full set of motorcycle gear all at once. The first piece of "clothing" I bought was a motorcycle helmet. I am a strong believer in wearing a full-face motorcycle helmet, and was happy to pay the big bucks for a new, quality helmet. It was nice to have my own helmet once I finally took a motorcycle class. I figured that, even if I decided NOT to ride a motorcycle on my own, a helmet would be a good investment because then I'd always being able to say yes to being a passenger on a motorcycle.

I borrowed a motorcycle jacket from a friend (he ended up giving it to me, in fact), and used some light winter gloves I had. I always wore jeans and high-top boots while riding, even when on the back of a motorcycle. I suggest you find a used jacket to get started, rather than buying new - it will help you find out what you really want in a jacket once it's time to buy new.

About six months after I bought the helmet, I bought a motorcycle jacket and summer riding gloves. About a year after that, I bought motorcycle pants.

   
My husband designs and sells aluminum top boxes and side panniers. They are tough, light-weight, and affordable. They are German-designed and made in the USA!

Motorrad Aluminium Topcase

Motorrad Aluminium Topcase

Motorrad Aluminium Topcase

This small top box is 20 liter (5.3 gallon)

400 x 250 x 200 mm
(15 34" x 9 34" x 7 34")

1.6 mm (116") thick aluminum

Motorrad Aluminium Topcase

Motorrad Aluminium Topcase

  • completely welded, not glued or riveted
  • lid with four loops to fasten additional luggage
  • lid completely removable, which makes loading and unloading much easier
  • two tie down hooks, which can be locked with a small padlock each
  • gasket in the lid makes the aluminum box completely waterproof
  • all attachment parts (loops, tie down hooks, and screws) are made of stainless steel
  • all corners and bends are rounded
  • light weight, only 2.3 kg (5 pounds)
  • spare parts available
Also available in custom sizes.

And, yes, those side panniers are also available to order.

 

It's fine to buy everything used except the helmet, IMO -- the helmet needs to fit you perfectly, and with a new helmet, the likelihood of any hairline fractures are small (there's a good chance a used helmet has been dropped at least once).

I'm an ATGATT girl: all the gear, all the time. I always ride with my helmet, jacket, gloves and hiking boots. I might wear just jeans on a short ride around town, but otherwise, I'm in my biking pants.

Buying a Motorcycle

I bought my own motorcycle in November 2009 - a 1982 Honda Nighthawk 650. Buying a motorcycle was definitely the hardest part of becoming a motorcycle rider. I had (and still have) a very limited budget, so I couldn't afford a just-one-owner bike, let alone a new bike. However, even if my budget hadn't been tight, I wanted a very used bike as my first motorcycle, so that, if I dropped it -- and I knew, in my first year, it would, at least, fall over at some point -- I wouldn't be absolutely devastated. I really had no idea what I was doing in buying a motorcycle. I certainly didn't feel comfortable test riding motorcycles, since I hadn't ridden a motorcycle in the four previous months and, even then, just ridden for two days. Luckily, I had (and still have) a very knowledgeable motorcycle-riding husband, who helped tremendously in picking out bikes to go look at on Craigslist and giving each a test ride.

As I had someone helping out (thanks, schatz!), we decided to buy a motorcycle big enough in terms of power for me to keep up (mostly) with my husband on his motorcycle when we ride together, powerful and reliable enough to take on a trip of several days, low enough already for me to ride (no need to lower it), and very comfortable to ride (I don't want to lean over at all, like on a sports motorcycle).

Had I not had an experienced motorcycle rider to help? Then I think I would have looked for a Kawasaki Eliminator 250 or a Honda Rebel, like what I road in my motorcycle class, and just ridden that around town for all my commute needs until I figured out what kind of motorcycle I wanted.

Which Motorcycle Should YOU Buy?

Don't go looking to buy a motorcycle until you can say what it is you want the motorcycle for: To commute to and from work? To take pleasure rides on weekends? To cruise? To go fast? To travel long distances? To ride mostly on tarmac? To sometimes ride on gravel or dirt? To carry a lot of things (groceries? luggage?)? Your answers to these questions will help you know what kind of motorcycle you want, and to be able to help a salesperson help you find what you need.

Here's my opinion regarding what motorcycle is right for different riders:

Primary reason to ride a motorcycle
 
  Suggested motorcycle
 
  • To commute to and from work
  • To ride around locally on the weekends
  • Always riding on paved roads
    (limited or no riding on gravel or dirt)
  • Going really fast is not the goal
  • You want to sit upright while riding
  • You're short
  A cruiser, a roadster or a standard is, IMO, the way to go. Anything under 500 would be enough for you - no need to get a 1000 cc bike, at least not to start. The most popular motorcycle for women in the USA is the Harley Davidson Sportster, for all the reasons in the column at the left. Personally, I'd love to have a Honda Rebel for this kind of thing (or, if a win the lottery, a Triumph Bonneville or a Honda Shadow).
  • To commute to and from work
  • To ride around locally on the weekends
  • Always riding on paved roads
  • Going really fast is the goal
  • Sitting upright isn't important
  A racer or sport bike would be a great bike for you. Also known as a "crotch rocket". Like a Kawasaki Ninja.
  • To commute to and from work
  • To ride around locally on the weekends
  • To ride on gravel and dirt
  • To travel long distances
    (more than 100 miles a day, over multiple days)
  A dual sport may be right for you. These sit higher than other bikes, and that can be a problem if you're short (like me). They are also, usually, single cylinders, and that makes them "thumpers" - the ride isn't silky at all, like a cruiser or sportser. But they are what you need for traveling long distances that may include gravel and dirt, or for rides that are going to be a mix of on road and off-road. I have a KLR 650 and here's how I ride it.
  • To commute to and from work
  • To ride around locally on the weekends
  • Always riding on paved roads
  • To travel long distances
    (more than 100 miles a day, over multiple days)
  • Might want to take a passenger
  A cruiser or a touring bike, like a Honda GoldWing, may be the right bike for you.

(and that doesn't even touch on dirt bikes, I know, but I really don't know anything about dirt bikes - there are plenty of web sites that can help you explore dirt bike options)

For more advice, see this Wikipedia page on types of motorcycles

After You Have a Motorcycle to Ride

I decided to create a list of goals for my first year of owning and riding my own motorcycle. I thought this would help push me to actually ride and avoid the temptation of letting the bike sit in the garage, as I've seen so many people, particularly women, do. My goals for the first year of riding:

I highly recommend you set your own goals as well for your first six months and your first year.

To reach these goals, I started by practicing at least once a week just on my street and in a nearby parking lot. I practiced breaking and cornering. Then two weeks later, I wrote about 40 minutes on what I consider my first real motorcycle ride. For about three months, before every ride, I would practice stopping. Yes, I was very cautious. Most people aren't this cautious. But, well, I needed to do what I needed to do.

I started looking for women's motorcycle clubs almost as soon as I arrived in Oregon. I was looking for both for people to ride with when I wasn't riding with my husband and announcements for events I might be interested in. Groups have been easy to find on Google and various keywords (like women motorcycles Oregon or women motorcycles Portland. In my first year, I haven't done any riding with any of the groups I've found, but I've joined their mailing lists and I ended up attending an event because of my membership.

Changing Motorcycles

After two years, I bought a KLR 650 (Kawasaki), a dual sport motorcycle. I loved loved loved the smooth ride of the Honda Nighthawk (four cylinders is so awesome), but my goal is to be able to do more adventure motorcycle riding - that means riding offroad sometimes, some times all day, to get to my destination. My Nighthawk can go on gravel, as most any cruiser can, but I needed something lighter, that was made for adventure travel.

Here's more on my transition from a cruiser to a dual sport motorcycle.

My first two years of owning and riding my own motorcycle in photos (Honda NightHawk), October 2009 - September 2011

My experience on my KLR 650, in photos, beginning in October 2011

So, that's my journey to becoming a motorcycle rider. Hope it helps someone out there to become a motorcycle rider herself!

Also see:

_______________________________________________
_______________________________________________

If you have read this blawg, PLEASE let me know.
Comments are welcomed, and motivate me to keep writing --
without comments, I start to think I'm talking to cyberair.


Broad Abroad home page | Jayne in Germany | Jayne in Afghanistan | contact me


This is a personal non-business-related page

The personal opinions expressed on this page are solely those of Ms. Cravens, unless otherwise noted.