I feel I came late to motorcycling. I started riding in 1998 when my father purchased a Suzuki Savage for my sister and I to learn to ride on. We both managed to pass our riding test but I ended up using the bike so much my dad politely asked when I was going to buy my own. The first bike I owned didn’t come until 2000. I was 26 at the time and purchased a 2000 Yamaha VStar 1100 Classic. The VStar and I enjoyed each other for a several years. This by no means made me an accomplished rider. Two accidents, one on the Suzuki and one on my VStar, proved that. When I got married in 2003 I sold the Yamaha (the Suzuki was sold some time earlier). It had only 5,000 miles on it. At the time I thought I wouldn’t miss it and for a few years I didn’t. I hardly thought about riding.
Just three years later in 2006 I had an awakening. I know that’s a strong word but I cannot think of any other that would describe it better. I became captivated by motorcycles. I signed up for several magazine subscriptions. I read books about other riders and how to ride. I found myself hanging out at motorcycle dealers. All this culminated in the purchase of a used 2006 Harley Davidson Electra Glide Standard in 2008. Along with the Harley came my first set of real riding gear: pants, gloves, jacket, boots, and a decent full face helmet. My riding gear had previously been entirely inadequate to protect me. I have the scars from my two accidents to prove it.
For the first time I felt like I understood what was really involved in riding a motorcycle. I knew about the mechanics and physics of riding. I was aware of the dangers and the risks. I actively took steps to mitigate those risks through practice and education. More than a re-entry rider, I was a re-born rider. When someone now asks me “How long have you been riding?” I start counting from 2008. That’s how important this change was and still is to me.
With all that I read before buying my Harley, have read since, practiced, the work I do on my motorcycles, I still feel like a novice. When I read Peter Egan, Kevin Cameron, Kevin Ash, David Hough, and other moto-journalists/authors I’m struck by the length of their riding career, their knowledge of bikes, and the ease with which they are able to work on them. Their familiarity is born from a lifelong exposure to riding, owning, and fixing motorcycles. It makes me feel like I’m behind the curve. I struggle with the idea that this somehow diminishes me as a rider and motorcycle owner.
Conversations with other riders about how many miles they’ve ridden this year, what they have fixed on their bike or that they do all the maintenance themselves circle the tables of restaurants and rest stops when more than one rider is present. I have something to offer to these discussions, but not as much as I’d like. Why don’t I know more about how my bike works? When I see riders commuting to work on their bikes on days I chose not to it fills me with doubt. Am I a serious rider?
Of course all of this is in my head. Riding isn’t a competition (unless you ride professionally). The reason I ride is because I love it. I’ve taken to looking at the books and articles I read and conversations I have with other riders from a different perspective. We all want to share our knowledge and accomplishments with others and be appreciated for them. There’s a lot to gain from listening to experience and asking questions about things I don’t know or understand. My projecting of my own fears and inadequacy on others accomplishments limits my ability to learn from them. I need to ride and do as much as I’m comfortable with. Everything else is just an opportunity to learn more and become better.
Even Peter Egan wasn’t born riding a Triumph Bonneville with a wrench in his hand. We all have to start somewhere.