After taking my knowledge test and sitting in 2 days of theory classes, I started my 2 days of parking lot training. It was painful, frustrating, maddening, exhausting, difficult, tough, fun and even more difficult. At the end of the two days I was exhausted, physically and mentally and painfully aware of all the skills a motorcycle rider has to have in order to keep herself / himself and all the other traffic participants around safe. Unfortunately I also became painfully aware of my own mental blocks that kept getting in my way.
One of the first things I had to figure out was why I want to ride: am I doing it for myself or to please my husband and to prove something to my friends? I needed time to understand myself and my reasons. Eventually I had one of the many AHA moments: it was my desire to become part of the riders community which I was already exposed to, when riding on the back of my husband’s Valkyrie. I just wanted a bit more than being a member by association only.
I did not think it would be easy to learn. I have never rode a dirt bike, I don’t necessarily like to drive – it is more something that I need to do and I have barely ridden a bicycle. The first day of training was an absolute disaster. I was scared to even turn on the engine. There were a couple of times when I got so confused and overwhelmed that I could not tell you which was the clutch and which was the front brake. I was revving the engine so high because my right hand kept on leaning on the throttle. The noise of the revved up engine is a devil in itself. Our brain is wired in such a way that we associate the noise with power and speed. It took me a while to understand that as long as I know where the clutch is the noise is just … noise.
By the end of day one I was miserable and mad, so incredibly mad. I also realized that I had started this process with a wrong attitude: I had no confidence in my ability to learn therefore I projected all my fears onto my instructors who, in turn, in a “life imitating textbook” scenario attached all the stereotypes to my persona. I was facing now a double challenge: get over my mental blocks while fighting to change his biased opinion and his subsequent approach when dealing with me. Thus I became a real life example of Merton’s self fulfilling prophecy.
Although more and more women take up riding, the industry is not changing fast enough. According to a 2012 statistics from the Motorcycle Industry Council, the industry trade group that tracks the number of women in motorcycling in USA, cited by Genevieve Schmitt, the founder of Women Riders Now Magazine, almost 25% ( 1 in 4) of the riders are females and from 2003 to 2012, the estimated number of female motorcycle operators increased 35 percent. And yet, there is little to no regard to accommodating the needs of the female riders. I definitely needed a different approach in getting over my mental blocks that was not there yet. As a man, when you announce that you will take up riding a motorcycle, unless you talk to your mother, you usually get the thumbs up, attaboy kind of a reply. When I announced the virtual and real world that I will take a shot at riding a motorbike, I mostly got the “are you crazy/suicidal?’ kind of replies from the people outside of the riding community.
Day 2 came with a new instructor and a new found attitude: I could start the motorcycle, take sharp turns, managed a couple of tight circles too. My position on the bike changed, stopped riding on the foot brake and had a new found confidence that I could do it.
I started developing the skills and there were a few times when I even impressed myself. Unfortunately, I was not confident enough and failed my MST (motorcycle skills test). Sure, part of it is my inability to develop the necessary level of confidence to let my newly acquired skills take over and not to over analyze and double guess myself. But part of me is frustrated: if I had had a qualified instructor to understand that not all people’s brains are wired the same and would have not given up on me before the course even started, I might have had a different outcome.
We were 4 women in the group among which 2 mothers. The 2 mothers faired the worse. Generally speaking, women are extremely safety conscious; becoming mothers, safety becomes an even more important issue for mothers and, at times can be crippling. Motorcycling is a dangerous sport. Therefore, no matter how much you want to learn, I feel that with women, instructors need to address first their fear of danger, of taking unnecessary risks.
All these being said, I am still happy I chose Open Road . There are not that many motorcycle schools to begin with, and they mostly cater to the needs of men. I have heard first hand stories about instructors that refuse to sign up women unless somebody else helped them get over the fear and on the bike and showed them the basic controls prior to the course. With Open Road at least I got the basics even if in a rush format, and now it is up to me to practise and get where I want to be. I wish I would not have been told that I was too scared or not confident enough. Although their intentions were good, all I heard was: we can not teach you anything…
For the last few days I have been reading a lot about other women’s riding experiences and one thing that surprised me is the difference in hours offered by training schools and actual hours needed to build up the basic skills. In BC, schools offer 2 days of parking lot training which translates into approximately 10 hours. Because of the poor start we had, as a group we were offered another half of a day, about 4 more hours to bring us up to speed. Well, from what I have read and my own experience, to really feel confident you got the basics covered, one might need approximately 50 hours. Do I think all of them should be covered through schools? No, but everybody would benefit of an extra day of parking lot training.
There is no such thing as “fear of riding” but there is fear of leaning in curves, fear of too much throttle, fear of braking, fear of falling, fear of slow speed manoeuvres, fear of riding on wet surfaces, or at night, or in a group or by yourself, and the list can go on. I’ve learnt that it is important to tackle each and every one of these fears. Avoiding them will never cure your fears. Only by doing you can overcome every obstacle. The key though is one at a time. One new concept at a time, one fear conquered at a time. If not, you will do nothing else but add another obstacle to your list: becoming overwhelmed and unable to process or follow the simplest tasks.