MICHAELA FENGSTAD

Writing about life as it happens, trends in career development and new inspiration

Category: Motorcycle

Biggest Challenge of a Princess: Packing for a Motorcycle Road Trip

Finally, the glorious day when the 8 of us would leave busy Vancouver behind and ride to sunny California was right upon us. The night before, I somehow managed to sort through the mountain of clothes I wanted to bring along and the much smaller remaining pile was carefully stuffed into the two minuscule side bags we could take with us. It was my first time packing for a long riding trip and no matter how much I researched and how much I asked around for advice, I was still moderately confused about the “needed” and the “desired” items to be taken along. Our Honda Valkyrie Interstate came with 2 hard case side saddle bags and a trunk so when we started planning the trip, the first thing we ordered were 3 pieces of luggage inserts that proved to come really handy. One tip: never stuff them or you will have a hell of a time to get them in or get them out of the saddle bags. And because my husband knew whom he married, he ordered an extra bag to sit on top of the trunk, which proved again, to be a great investment.

IMG_0026To settle the confusion I basically took my whole wardrobe down and started sorting through clothes, pairing them and trying to put together two outfits for each day. I ended up with no less than 20 outfits. The pile was getting bigger by the second but I was still oblivious to the fact that I will have to fit everything in no more than one side bag – that was everything I was allotted as the trunk and the luggage on top had to be kept lighter. I did not know why and to tell you the truth I felt it was a ridiculous thing to invest money in this beautiful piece of luggage and keep it lighter than the other ones; then, the light bulb came on: everything has to do with weight distribution or weight centralization where one might want to keep heavy items close to the centre of gravity.OK,  I had help lighting up that bulb, I admit it! My husband gave me a technical lecture on the subject. Anyway, we decided we will load the heavy stuff on the 2 side bags and will keep the back one lighter.

As we were to go through 4 states, with different weather, on top of the chosen outfits, I needed warm hoodies, and swimming suits, a whole bag of toiletries and first aid items, curling irons and brushes… At this point I started looking for ways I could persuade my husband to give up his side bag and let me fit all my items on the list. After all, as a guy, you really don’t need a whole lot of clothes! But then, I remembered all our trips and the amount of luggage I tend to carry with me and I never use it: dresses and blouses, high heel shoes and sport shoes, T shirts and tank tops. Plus, on a motorbike not only quantity matters but weight as well! As I will discover later, while travelling, once you add luggage, the braking distance increases, handling becomes more challenging at times, and tires get hot—which at the worst could cause a blowout. Between vanity and safety, I smartly chose safety. It also became my challenge to pack light and still have enough items to feed my vanity.

The first items to go were my curling iron and styling brushes. We were planning a riding trip, with the intent to cover over 400 km every day, or anywhere between 6 and 9 travelling hours. Wearing a helmet for most of the day, not only makes any attempt to style your hair futile but it also adds extra stress to it. Sure we would have a few hours everyday to either chill, sightsee or just go out to dinner but all of the sudden, the idea of spending time styling my hair became ridiculous. I am lucky though as I have a naturally wavy and fine hair with major frizzy tendencies. I opted for a natural look and I packed just a small container of mousse to use at night, after I shower, and before I go out. That, my friends was a very good idea and worked wonders not only at night but the hair somehow held some of its volume even the next day, under the helmet. I did not take any shampoo, conditioner or body lotion  as every motel or hotel these days will provide these items. They might not be up to the standards all the time but no damage has been reported after using them for short periods of time. What I did bring with me was a very small container with coconut oil (I found them at a dollar store and I use them to store beads). A drop of it is an awesome leave in conditioner for the dry hair, dry skin or lips.

My make up kit usually consists of two big cases containing every eye shadow possible, 3 or 4 black eye pencils, three or four lipsticks, and various other items that a lady might need to create the perfect face. I eliminated most of my items and kept my face cream, my foundation, one eye shadow that I never used, two eye pencils and 2 lipsticks, one small pack with make up removing serviettes and a small tube of apricot face scrub that I used almost entirely. That was all I needed and all I used. As I love perfumes, I periodically visit The Bay and ask for samples. They are extremely handy when you travel: light, you can squeeze 3 times use or four out of each and they barely take any room.

The next step was to divide tIMG_2147he mountain of clothes into riding gear and dinner outfits. For the riding part of the day, underneath my jacket and riding pants I packed the following:

  • A pair of long running pants and another pair of short running pants (for both cold and hot days). They are light, comfortable and don’t take lots of space. I used them both.
  • 3 sports bras for riding ( I could have done it with two only) and one bra for the evenings;
  • Rain gear that I barely used but I would never leave without it
  • Helmet and gloves, obviously, together with a few dozens of serviettes for cleaning lenses and visors
  • 2 T shirts, 1 long sleeve shirt and 3 tank tops – I used them all
  • 3 fitness tank tops I never used
  • One bathing suit that I did not use in a swimming pool but while riding through Nevada, under my riding gear.
  • Socks of different thickness – among them one pair of Hot Paws, to keep me warm especially in the first part of our trip.
  • Underwear – one pair for each day plus one more just in case.
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses and lip balm – so much needed.
  • Contacts and eye glasses – as I was not the driver, I did not use my contacts; I wore them one day but I decided it would be a waste and I preferred to wear my eye glasses at night, after we stopped for the day.
  • Advil, Polysporin, and a couple other creams and ointments  that proved to be useful, together with a small bottle of Aloe Vera gel. After the first two days of riding long hours, the skin gets irritated and at night, after having a shower, the gel adds a very soothing relief.
  • Feminine hygiene products – I never leave the house without them, whether I need them or not, especially after reading several articles about the mighty power of those unused tampons and their various uses!

For the times off the bike, I packed the following:

  • 5 or 6 nice blouses for afternoons – all made out of very light materials that really took no room at all, were light, wrinkle free and could be washed and dried out in no time. I used them all.
  • 1 pair of jeans and 2 pairs of shorts – I should have got only 1 pair; 1 pair of very light capri that I used a lot.
  • 1 pair of walking sandals and one pair of high heels sandals; after being all day in the riding boots, changing in the light sandals felt like heaven, especially after we rode through the desert, in high temperatures and my feet and hands doubled in size!
  • One hoody that I did not want to take first but I was so very happy I had it with me when the weather did not quite cooperate with us!

One thing that I completely forgot to do was to leave “out of country” messages  on my cell phone. The result: several phone calls from my dentist, that I could not answer. I am on their cancellation list. We also chose to add a roaming package to only one cell phone.

Looking back, I would have kept my insert to the jacket as for the first part of our trip I could have definitely used it to keep me warm and break the wind. One lesson learned though: when leaving for more than one day, be prepared and pack for all sorts of weather: from stormy rain to exhausting heat.

Other items that were extremely useful in this trip and I would not leave them at home:

  • Passports and Nexus cards (if needed)
  • Some cash, Credit card and bank card
  • Driving license
  • BCAA Travel Insurance and Out of Country Medical Insurance ( thankfully none of it was needed!)

IMG_2154To make sure that everything fit in and that I won’t have to empty my bags every night just to have to put them back together the next morning, I made up Zip lock Packs for each day: I stuffed in one Zip Lock bag a T shirt, a pair of underwear and 1 of socks, then rolled all the air out of it and placed the almost flat package into the bag. By doing this, it allowed me to fit more, to add extra protection in case of downpour or accidents: broken liquid or cream containers. At the end of the day, the dirty items would go back into their Zip lock bags, safely quarantined away from the clean changes.

I had more than enough clothes for the whole trip and in Reno, we also did some laundry which proved to be more fun for my husband who indulged into some beer and quality time spent with some of our friends. No, they did not ride to the laundromat but they shared a cab ride – both were quite affordable, the ride and the laundry machine. So, for our next trip, instead of trying to fit so many clothes,  will go with the essentials and, unless we decide to ride through the wilderness, will keep in mind that there are stores along the way to pick up an item or two. In this way I will also make sure I do not get that ugly shopping withdrawal symptoms that can definitely put a damper on our trip! 🙂

Honey, We Are Riding to California!

One of the first stories I remember is the story of the Bear that lost his tail. Well, one day, Mama Bear asked the Little Bear to go with her and try some honey from their neighbours, the bees. Little Bear refused and started crying: honey was not something he ever craved for or had any desire to try. No matter how much Mama Bear tried to appease him with stories about the sweet taste of the golden liquid, Little Bear wanted to have nothing to do with it. But Mama Bear never gave up. She kept on trying to convince him, until one day, tired of hearing the same stories over and over again and tired of Mama’s nagging, Little Bear gave up and said: fine, I will come with you to taste the honey. Mama Bear was thrilled and lost no time: grabbed his little paw and they both hurried to the bees’ heave to try the miraculous honey. Little Bear closed his eyes, and preparing himself for the worst, took a tiny little bit of honey on his paw and quickly licked it. Then he took another one, and another one, and soon enough he was biting off the honey comb! Honey was delicious! Mama Bear tried to take him away  but could not so she called Papa Bear to help her and both were pulling Little Bear by his tail until the tail broke! And that is why, up until nowadays, all Bears have no tail to be pulled by and they all love honey! I am just like Little Bear, but instead of honey, I got hooked to riding.

When my husband first told me that he would like to ride to San Francisco, I threw another one of my many temper tantrums. Yes, I am predictable: every time I feel I have no voice or I have a too weak of a voice, I throw a fit. And I hope my husband will listen. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And this time it didn’t. He pushed along and with his amazing organizing skills and patience, researched roads and hotels, points of interest and history of the places, gas stations and coffee shops. Because a ride, just like a trip, is better with company, he invited some other riding friends to join us in this trip. Soon enough,  his vision for a vacation was not a vision anymore, but a very well planned and researched commitment to ten people on eight motorbikes.  At the start line, there were only five bikes, seven people and one “service” car.

I was hardly thinking about taking the training when he already was planning this trip. We all know that at the time, riding was really not my priority nor my passion or Bucket list item or prefferred means of transportation, ore my dream. It was just a frightening sport that I wanted to have little or nothing to do with.  Fast forward a bit over six months, and here I am, riding my own bike and embarking on an adventure like no other: a 10 day riding trip Vancouver to San Francisco and back. No, I am not riding my own bike yet: it is a little too much, too soon but I am a passenger on my husband’s bike which allows me to experience the riding excitement without the work. A bit of a cutting corners, if you want but nonetheless, daring for a middle aged woman who really has no adventurous bone in her body and still thinks that riding is not for the faint hearted.

In a matter of a year I not only learned how to ride a motorbike but I came to enjoy the wind in my face, the twisties and the hair pins along the way, the brotherhood of the bikers (the real ones not “the wanna be bad ass,  look at me in awe and fear” kind), and a new found connection with the roads and the nature. I still have my moments when I go in panic mood, and go through all the reasons and dangers why I should not ride but somewhere along the way, I lost my tail and now, I can not have enough.

 

 

The Art of Being a Brother … or Sister

trabant-601-04If you are asking me, a novice motorbike rider that has not yet caught a taste for twists and wind in your face, the best part of a ride is greeting other fellow bikers, or giving the (in)famous Riders’ Wave. Now seriously, how many other owners of vehicles do you know that will take the time to salute a fellow Saturn owner, for example? None! We, the bikers, don’t discriminate: whatever make or kind, whatever colour or art, we will always wave at each other. With a few exceptions: if you ride a Harley Davidson, we say Hello, you most often give us the nod! Or this is what we think as nobody likes to be ignored! Just to be clear, scooters and mopeds are NOT motorbikes, therefore acknowledging their presence on the road will definitely bring an uproar of dissatisfaction with possible grave repercussions from the bikers community! On the Can-Am’s and other 3 wheeled motorcycles, the jury is still out there! I wave anyway… just because I am friendly!

But how do you wave? Actually, I am quite confused why it is called a wave when all you do is extend your arm out. My kind of a wave is extending your arm out upwards and shaking it violently from the elbow, right to left or left to right . But I will not debate now the anatomy of a wave. Let’s discuss the multiple ways the riders wave! It turns out that the number of fingers one extends will tell the other rider how many cylinders his bike has: 2 fingers out – 2 cylinders, 4 fingers out – 4 cylinders. Now, to make things even more complicated, watch for which fingers you are extending. No, the middle finger is never a good choice when meeting a biker – you never know which one you just offended: the nice guy, that will laugh it off or the bad guy that will make sure you will not be able to move any fingers for an undetermined period of time! So, if you want to really tell the others that you are riding on top of 2 cylinders, extend your thumb and your index.  What if your bike is a 6 cylinder beast? I could not find a perfect answer on all the forums I researched but I would go with either one of my 2 favourites: the peace sign with the fingers pointing to the road or the low Hi five.

Unclear to me is who has the time to check out your wave and count the number of cylinders. Just imagine: let’s say I meet you on the road, riding at a comfortable (probably for you only at this moment) 70 km/hour. We wave at each other but I just could not be sure – did you wave 2 fingers or 4 fingers at me? 2 or 4 cylinders?  Exactly: I really don’t care! The fact that you waved is the important part! Remember Shakespeare? Remember Juliet’s famous quote: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.” Allow me to trivialize a bit the lines: what’s in a wave? That which we call a wave/By any other name would mean as much! Two fingers or 4 fingers, Hi fives or Peace wave, they all used to mean the same: if you ever are in need, we will be there to help you out! I don’t know and I hope I will never find out if the meaning behind the wave is still there. What I know is that the group of friends we are riding with will do just that: always stop and make sure you and/or your bike are ok.

There is another personal reason why I wave:it brings back memories from back home where I used to be the proud owner of a Trabant. Some of you might have heard about this corky East German car. I call it corky but most of the conoisseurs call it junk. Although the name is related to the Russian word Sputnik (satellite)  the little Trabi had nothing to do with speed, safety, scientific or technological development. Designed first as a 3 wheeled motorcycle, somehow it ended as an air-cooled two cylinder 500 cc, (later 600cc) two-stroke engine encased in a steel cage, draped in a plastic shell made out of recycled cotton or paper.

Small, light, grossly inefficient and extremely pollutant, owning a Trabant was good mainly for the ego: in a communist country where cars were scarce, to own a car meant that you somehow made it. The selection was quite limited: you could buy only a Dacia or an Oltcit, both Trabi and usRomanian made cars, a Wartburg or a Trabant, both East German cars. But there was something special about the Trabant and its owners besides the fact that the pre-owned cars were cheaper than the other makes and quit well taken care of: once you bought one, it was like going under a spell. The car came with an imaginary membership to a unique community: supportive, helpful and proud.

On a highway, country road or side road, wherever the car broke, you would always see more than one person working to fix the car. It did not really matter how busy or rushed you were, if a fellow Trabant owner was having mechanical issues, you stopped. If drivers like me, with little to no mechanical understanding or inclination, would happen to drive by, they would still stop and offer a coffee, a sandwich or just moral support. And as there were not that many cars in the country we were a very tight community; failing to stop (even if your wife was almost delivering your baby on the passenger seat) was considered the biggest snub ever and we all lived with the fear that next time when it happens our Trabi to let us down in the middle of the street nobody will stop!

In a country where the Secret Police’s job was to make sure nobody trusted anybody, it was the camaraderie that we all treasured. It had a subtle subversive note to it. The meetings were random and unplanned but between a couple pieces of advice on how to fix the engine, we would always slip something against the government, the communist leader and against the poor life we all were living. And it felt good. The blink of the headlights every time we would meet in traffic was more than just hello, I have your back! It was one of the few things that the government had no control over, could not censor or strangle.

So, wave on fellow riders! And smile, and nod and stop by for a coffee and a story! There is no better feeling than knowing I am now part of a great family.

 

How to Keep Momentum Going

Iona ParkWe all watched the Olympics in Sochi this year and rooted for our athletes. I will admit that other than figure skating, sport that I simply adore, I am not a big fan of the winter sports. I will sometimes watch ski jumping  and cross country skiing but with the same interest I would sometimes watch curling. Read here: no interest whatsoever! As they have no one competing in figure skating, I never watched the Paralympic games, therefore I am not familiar with the names of our Paralympic athletes. So, the other day when the Global News Crew had Josh Dueck as a guest I really did not get that excited. I remained in front of the TV just because I had 2 more lives in my Fruit Splash game and it was necessary to move up a level for my and everybody else’s mood for the rest of the day. I found out that Josh became a Paralympic athlete after a work accident on the ski slopes and, he brought back home a gold and a silver medal. What actually caught my attention was what he said about how he felt after the competition: coming back home after reaching his goal, he sank into depression. So, I was confused. I would have probably still be on the phone, trying to  contact almost every human being on the planet just to inform them of my success while obviously continuing to celebrate! After all, it was only last month that it happened.

It must feel terrible when you have this great momentum working for you and reaching your goals just to have to stop and reset your life. I have never thought about success in this way. I am usually happy to put a check mark in front of a particular accomplishment and I quickly move to another project, most often unrelated to the previous one. But great accomplishments don’t work like that. Great accomplishments are more like snowballs: it is tough to start them and even harder to make them roll down the hill without breaking apart, but once you have them rolling, they will become bigger and stronger with every small or bigger task mastered.

My passing the MSA although it meant a lot to me and infused a new kind of poise into my old self was only the beginning of a momentum! I have to keep on building on my success and grow my skills and my confidence. Contrary to what I felt in my heart, by only graduating to a higher level in my training it does not mean I now am a motorcycle rider.  But how do you keep that momentum without giving into distraction? There are so many other things that either I should do or I want to do!  And what do I do with my other mind that keeps whispering into my ear that I will never be as good as my other friends and I should just give up an be happy with that I have accomplished so far?

I turned to books again and this time it was Sir Isaac Newton, the father of physics that talked to me through his First Law of Motion: the tendency of a body in motion is to keep moving; the tendency of a body at rest is to sit still. The way I understand this is that between the frequency and the duration of an action, the more important is the frequency.  The more I go out on the street and ride, the more confident and skilled I become.

When my husband asked if I were up for a longer ride than around the house as we had done so far, he thought the chances I would say yes were fifty/fifty . But I said Yes, before he finished asking. Mainly because I was scared my Other brain will start talking to my (somehow) Working brain and I will end up doubting my aptitudes and capabilities again. By the time I started realizing what was happening, I was all geared up, on my motorcycle, getting out of the garage. Too late to turn back! It was a Sunday morning with few cars on the streets so for the first part of the ride I kept on building on my confidence.  The more I advanced into the busier intersections, the less anxious I felt.  We got to Iona Park, our destination, without any incidents. I was happy but I became ecstatic when I saw how proud and happy my husband was! These days I don’t have many things to make him feel proud of me. Everything I have starts with “I used to be this and do that… ”

On our way back we stopped for a coffee in the Village. I managed to park my bike facing the street and I definitely took my time taking my helmet off, checking the oil again, cleaning a couple of imaginary spots on the seat and making sure the entire street saw me getting off that beautiful Honda. I proudly strutted towards the coffee shop where we had a coffee and let all our Facebook friends know what we were up to. For the first time, I did not feel like a fraud wearing all the gear! I was proud and happy but a bit on the verge of becoming arrogant and annoying!

All my training the phrase that kept being repeated every 5 minutes was: build your muscle memory! Well, I did build some but coming back to the bikes I realized that there was one memory that I need to work on: taking the key out of the engine when going for coffee! To my husband’s horror and my total embarrassment, I forgot to take the key with my awesome self after I parked!  Oops!

It took us another week or so until I got back into the saddle and the momentum was gone. I was shaky and unsure and made quite a few mistakes. Maybe my head was not in the game or maybe my Other mind had enough time to start questioning my abilities… I knew I know better than that! So, I put together a plan and I officially (in my head) put together a team made up of Myself and My husband as he is the most reliable person in my life. And this is the plan:

  • There will be no rides the same or on the same roads! My husband is in charge with re-setting greater goals for each ride.
  • My effort is the only one that will take me a step higher so, I will not wait for anybody to drag me out of the house but I will put the effort in blocking time for us to go riding
  • Set a date for the Road Test and work towards passing it the first time! I get distracted so easily that I am afraid that without a set date I will find something else that will sound more interesting to pursue. Scheduling my road test will feel more like a commitment not only to ICBC but to everybody around me that has been so supportive.

In Seth Godin’s words, “Momentum is incredibly useful to someone who has to overcome fear, dig in deep and ship. Momentum gives you a reason to overcome your fear and do your art ” It is easy to lose or fear momentum, he says, but when you have commitments and appointments you have to start doing the work and usually this acts like a jump start to get you into the zone.

So, for now, I will try to hang on to the momentum and see where it takes me!

 

 

From Scared Mouse to Feared Rider…

Mark Twain once said that “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” We are all afraid of something: spiders, heights, speed, deep water, birds, darkness, public speech, failure, you name it… and we all handle our fears differently. Some of us better than others… but if not mastered, fear is a debilitating ailment that will take over your mind and cripple your body to the point where you cannot see the way out, even if you are standing right in front of it. On the flip side, once kept in check, it will allow you to experience amazing places, people and feelings but most importantly, will take you one step closer to enjoying life.

According to the scientists, everything starts with the part of the brain called Thalamus, in charge with receiving and sending the sensory data that our mouth, eyes, ears, and skin collect and ends with the Hypothalamus, the part of brain that either activates the “Oh shit I’m gonna die” response known as “flight”or the “OK, I will deal with it” aka “Fight” kind. My hypothalamus was once brave but in time, has slowly given up on me and most often than not it sends the “Oh shit I’m gonna die” signals.

The chrome and metal, the flames and all exquisite artwork on the motorbikes are meant to intimidate. Sure, if you talk to a rider, they will be quick to point out that this is just a small factor they considered the main being safety: the shinier the bike, the more visible. The first time I saw my silver Shadow, I fell in love. I fell in love with the classic look, with the extra comfortable Corbin seat, and with a vision.  With the vision that a conservative and princessy girl like me will potentially be able to control the silver beast. Wearing a cool motorcycle suit.

The sound of the double pipes, was another thing that sent shivers down my spine. No, they were not of pleasure but of fear. I remember looking up to my husband in utter panic, just to see his whole face inundated with glowing pleasure and pure ecstasy. I forced a smile and, as I did not have anything else, gave him a thumbs up while taking a couple of steps back. All I could hang on to was the vision of a very slender and younger looking me in a cool motorcycle suit.

The rest is history. I kept on freaking out and allowed the sounds and looks of the motorcycles to access the drawer where I keep all my biases and stereotypes. It seemed like I could never get over them or reclaim my confidence. I failed my first MSA test and it did not look like I would ever be able to ride. Shocking? Not quite as I could not see myself in any of the predetermined categories my mind was associating the motorcycle riders with.

Then I took my Shadow out. Going from a 250 cc to a 600 cc was a bit of a stretch at the time but I was able to ride it. After a bit of practice in a deserted parking lot I could even make eights, I could stop the right way, and I could shift. Then, we went out on the street. Sure I held the traffic back and 30 km/hr was all I could do but I rode a real bike on a real street. The next time we rode, I managed to take a corner in the 2nd gear and even leaned a bit. My heart was racing, but the disappointment that nobody on the street would stop and cheer on my accomplishment changed my mood from excitement to anger. My husband’s voice in the intercom brought me back to planet earth and I joined his excitement. It was a great day. I was ready for another shot at the MSA.

Going back to a 250 cc motorcycle boosted my confidence and took away the fear of power. I was now able to listen to instructions and follow them without worrying about how powerful and loud the engine was. I was now listening and feeling the engine, I was having a dialogue with my bike and I hoped I would win it. My shock came during the lunch break when the instructor looked at me and said: “you are doing a fantastic job!” I looked back at him, looked around and back at him. Yes, he was talking to me. I mumbled a feeble Thank you and parked my bike. At that moment I knew I was winning. Actually, I did win: I passed my MSA test.

My next challenge was the traffic qualifier. A combination of shifting up and down 1st to 3rd gear, emergency braking at higher speed (30 km/hr) with a slow controlled riding on a tight S-like portion. I knew the course. I tried it before and after 3 unsuccessful attempts I gave up thinking I will first have to make a pact with the devil and then try again. Well, this time, as the devil was busy with some other business, I had to try it again, by myself. And I did it! And I did it so well! All I had to do was to concentrate, apply all the things I learned and … enjoy! My excitement was so big at the end, that I almost dropped the bike in an attempt to jump off it into my husband’s arms! 🙂

Have I magically lost all my fears of riding? Definitely not! But I learned once again that fear in itself is illogical and thrives when you stay within a well-beaten path in your comfort zone. I also learned that being adventurous does not mean being stupid but rather being open to learning new skills with safety always on your mind.  I would often recite this out loud with that superior smugness whenever I felt it was fit, but I never really understood it. Riding a bicycle was as far as my adventurous spirit would stretch.

Now, I stand a bit taller, a lot more confident and I enjoy every moment a pedestrian stops to watch me  riding by in my pink jacket and on my silver beauty. I am now looking forward to the times I will be skilled enough to ride with our friends, enjoy the thrills of a twisty road and bask in the warmth of the many friendships we have made.

Parking Lot Training

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.

 

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Baby Steps – My First Riding Jacket

I am not sure if I ever loved clothes as much as the shopping experience. There is something about the stores that make me smile even if I get there in a foul mood. I might be quite rude to the first couple of store assistants that don’t know better and come to offer the most spectacular discounts in their store’s view but I calm down quite soon after and enjoy myself. My shopping trips last anywhere from 4 hours to a full day only because I have to try almost everything. I must be one of the most frustrating customers as I try lots but buy a few. This is how my husband eased me into the world that he loves. He took advantage of my weakness for shopping.

The first thing after we bought his motorcycle, and I swore I would never ride with him or by myself, he asked me to help him pick a jacket. He found this store Up Your Leather that sounded kind of dirty and funny at the same time. My interest was  peaked! Plus, when you say leather jacket, any woman suddenly is interested. It is something about leather that makes us giddy and bit naughty. We went to the Langley store and  I pretty much tried every jacket they had. Now, as a woman future rider, I did not find the selection was breath taking. There were maybe 7 styles, with one coming in a few colours. Even so, I forgot why we were there in the first place: to find a jacket for my husband. We ended up buying a jacket for myself instead. I chose my first jacket based on how well fitted me and based on how much I liked the style. At the time, I knew nothing about what you are to look for, when choosing a proper riding gear. It didn’t really matter as we went to a specialty store and they guided us to what we needed.

 

 

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Fast forward 1 year, on my way to get my own license and having been around a lot of experienced riders and a lot of research I learnt that there is more to what you should be looking for when buying a jacket. And here is what I now know:

  • There are 4 criteria your jacket needs to fit: style, comfort, safety features and performance. And yes, style and colour are as important as all the other features. I would never go for style only, but, I will not ever wear a jacket I find ugly.
  • Your jacket should fit your riding style: you are a weekend/occasional rider, you are planning a touring trip with long hours riding your bike, you like cruising around on country roads, you enjoy off road riding, etc. For each riding style, there are certain features you should be looking for in a jacket.
  • Are you riding only in good weather or maybe in colder, wetter weather? Vancouver is one of the most beautiful places on earth but, here, all you need is 5 minutes and weather will change; planning for wet weather is a must even for a few hours rides;
  • Leather versus textiles; while leather is more resistant to abrasions and weather, the textile fibre jackets are lighter and more comfortable; leather will last longer if properly cared for but again, textile is more flexible and lighter. If you want a textile with the leather capabilities, you should chose a jacket with Kevlar padding – which is a high strength material. Some of its uses: bullet proof vests, military helmets, car tyres, fire proof clothing…
  • Your jacket needs to have elbows, shoulders and back padding and while shifting positions on the bike or just moving around, the padding must stay in place and not shift. In case of an accident, you need all these pieces to protect you as planned
  • Reflective material! This is a very important feature of your jacket. We all know how easy it is for a motorcycle to get into the blind spots of the other vehicle they share the road with. Anything that can increase your visibility on the road needs to be considered. Most of the jackets will have already reflective features but, if you choose a black jacket, add reflective bands around your arms , wear a reflective vest over the jacket as soon as the sun prepares to come down;
  •  Inside pockets – if you need to hide a wallet, sleeves that can be locked around your wrist to protect you from the wind creeping up your arms,
  • No unnecessary add-ons like flaps or  outside pockets that can easily get tangled on your jackets. Sometimes fashion is not necessary safe. See the beautiful 10 inch high heels that are still so fashionable. Don’t fall for a bit of unnecessary glam that could put your life in danger. Style is good but too much of it can kill you!
  • In the Internet era, research is just a given! Every item for sale has a bunch of reviews. Even i everything seems to be perfect, take the item to research your choice. Read the reviews and then, make up your mind. And don’t forget to give back to the community! You have your own opinion? Please share it with everybody else. Write a review of the product. Knowledge is powerful only when it is shared!

One thing to remember is that the jacket will not fit the same when you are on the motorcycle. The best way to try it is by taking it outside and getting on your bike. Get in the riding position with the hands on the steering bars. If it feels comfortable, everything falls in the right place, then you know you found the best fit!

My second jacket is a Joe Rocket. I liked the vibrant colour, the very sleek design and the way the padding matches my body. It is still new and I wore it only once but I think I made the right choice.

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Have you found your jacket? What was the feature you could not live without? Let’s hope now for a sunny season! Safe riding everyone!

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