Learning to ride a motorcycle after 40


A large volume of adventures may be grasped within this little span of life by him who interests his heart in everything ~ Lawrence Sterne

A child’s dream

I really don’t know how old I was when I started dreaming about riding motorcycles. I do have a picture in my mind of something I saw on the road when I was really young. I was laying down in the back of my parent’s car…might have been their station wagon, which dates me at about 7 years of age. I remember looking up at one point and glancing over at an approaching motorcycle on our left. I watched the man and woman’s faces as they passed the car. They had this sort of far-off look in their eyes, yet it was an extremely content look. I wondered what must be going through their minds and I wanted to feel exactly what they were feeling at that moment.

30-some odd years later…after my divorce and two weeks before my 41st birthday, I found myself at an MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) class, learning to ride with all sorts of people, including several other women.

Motorcycle Safety Training

I honestly did not want to start riding a motorcycle out of the blue without knowing a few tips and tricks ahead of time. I had an older friend who took me for a ride on his Goldwing and when we got home, he asked me if I liked the ride. I just looked at him with this ear-to-ear smile and he came up to me about a foot away from my face, pointed his finger in my face and said, “Good! Go take the MSF course!” Why was that important? Many people learn how to ride and drive from friends and family members, but no one can get all the necessary training that way. MSF does their job well and they use trained long-term riders to prepare newbies (new-to-motorcycle riders) for the joys and dangers of riding. Also, I had a plan…it was to either scare myself silly in this course and on a bike, or to fall completely head-over-heels in love with riding.

I not only fell completely in love with motorcycles and riding, but since that time (June, 2005), I’ve ridden over 58,000 miles on mountain roads, and on 4-wheel drive roads, as well as two different road racing tracks.

Motorcycles

I am not the cruiser-type of rider, or the full-on super sportbike rider either. While I like the sportbike style, I actually like the standard sportbike the most. My first bike though, was a ’79 Kawasaki KZ750. I bought this bike so that I could learn how to ride without spending a boatload of money…and just in case I crashed. And luckily for me, this bike was only $800, because on my second day of riding, I biffed it big-time.  The KZ was not trashed so bad that I couldn’t ride it from there, which is what I did and then proceeded to ride it for another year – without crashing it again.

When the KZ finally had had enough of me it actually died when I was on the road way out in nowhere land. But, I was lucky enough to be about a mile from a town that had dirt roads. So, I walked the bike into town because my cell phone could not find a signal. In town, a woman who was moving furniture asked me if I needed help. When I said I did, she called up a friend who brought his trailer along with his truck. They put my bike on the trailer and he drove me 50 miles back to my place…without expecting anything in return. Ah, the simple gifts of small-town life.

Because I was jones’ing pretty badly to go ride again after my KZ died, three days later, I found myself at a dealer looking and drooling over bikes. After speaking with a friend about choices of bikes, I had my mind set on the Kawasaki Ninja 650. This is a standard type of sportbike. Note the positioning of the handlebars in comparison to the Ninja 600. There are a few other differences, but for me, the handlebar positioning is a big one. After taking the 650 for a test ride, I found myself unimpressed. So, the salesman asked me what my previous bike was. I told him the KZ750. He then asked if I wanted to test ride the updated version of the KZ, now called the Z750S and then pointed to this beautiful black bike tucked away in a corner. My mouth dropped, because my experience had been with a 27-year-old bike and to think it could be update to look even remotely like a sportbike was not imaginable, but there she stood, a beautiful sparkle black sportbike. I had to ride her…and I was more than impressed with the ride…so, I made her my own.

Seating position

Seating position was so important to me, because I wanted to be able to enjoy my ride, since I typically ride for distances of 300 to 500 miles in a day. I’ve seen and heard other sportbike riders complain about riding that far. Their complaints range from sore butts, to sore wrists. I suffer from neither; accept for maybe pushing myself too much. And while other sportbike riders appreciate their riding positioning because of riding in twisty mountain canyon roads, or on the race track, I have no problem laying down on my tank to carve mountain road corners, or fly through track hairpins.

Road and track riding

In the first year of riding my Z, my riding posture was upright, which made my leaning into corners a tad labored. But, as I learned from friends who were also racers and had been riding for many years, I found myself loosening up my grip on the handlebars and relaxing my shoulders more. Once I learned to relax, I also found myself laying down on my tank as I eased into corners. It was and still is a thrill to swing out wide before the turn, let off the throttle, gently lean over my tank and point my face in the direction of the turn and as my bike’s lean angle moves closer to the ground, gently ease back onto the throttle right at the apex and then exit the turn quickly and gracefully…mmmm. This is pretty much the same way I have ridden on the track, except for one important other rider function…moving my ass off the seat and keeping my inner corner knee down.

I finally got the nerve to ride on a race track after about nine months of riding my new Z. At the time, I did not have the proper gear for track riding, but one track in Colorado has some very lax rules for motorcycle riders on their track. It’s a very short track, but has as many turns as much larger tracks – 10 turns in about 1.2 miles as compared to 10 turns in 2+ miles. My gear in my first track experience was jeans, hiking boots, light riding gloves, a leather motorcycle jacket with no armor, and of course my full-face motorcycle helmet. Six months later, I found myself taking part in a sponsored track day, which included coaching in the morning and riding at our skill level in the afternoon. My gear consisted of race boots, a one piece leather race suit, a back protector, and gauntlet race gloves. And while it was a pretty penny to purchase all of the gear, it was well worth the track experience. Things I did at the track?

  • Reached 135 miles per hour on the straight-away
  • Leaned the bike far enough to scrape foot peg and my knee
  • Hours of endless fun
  • Memories to last me a lifetime

Long distance riding

My biggest thrill though, without a doubt, is riding long distances. Not only is it because of all the twisty roads in the Colorado Rockies, but it’s because of the scenery and friendships I’ve made along the way. Nothing in my mind (except for marrying my second husband of course) comes close to the thrill, excitement, never-ending beauty and laughs along the way. Soon, I will be adding to these memories with more Scenic Byway tours, as well as me and my friends’ typical long-ass rides that begin at 7:30 in the morning and sometimes end at 7:30 in the evening. And one of these years, I will complete a ride that takes me out to the Northwest coast, down the coastal highway to central California and back home again…which is a dream that has replaced my childhood motorcycle dreaming.

More photos…

Road crew, misspelling…

MRA race day at PPIR, 2008 (I was only a spectator)….

Boreas Pass…riding dirt…

Riding the small track…

What happens to tires after leaning in the corners (no more chicken strips)…

Long-ass rides with friends…

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4 thoughts on “Learning to ride a motorcycle after 40”

  1. When I moved from Denver to the East Coast, I shipped all my stuff east and drove my Honda which turned into a 6 day journey. From that trip, I learned to love the long ride. You have a sweet ride and I only wish I could ride like you…Keep cool and let the ride continue.

    1. Thanks a bunch and to be honest, when I ride with my pals, there are a few who just blow me away. We all love the ride and I’m really happy I’ve so many friends who also enjoy long rides. This summer should prove to be quite busy with lots of them, too.

      And enjoy your ride as well. I hear there are some really wonderful roads out there as well.

  2. Thank you for this. I just turned 40 and have wanted to ride for sometime. Ha! And i just moved to Colorado.

    This is great.

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