First, to all the doubters — and there were many (hi Shauna!) — I’m happy to report I have survived my first summer of motorcycling.
I realize I’m preaching to the choir here, but have you guys tried this? It’s really good.
Second, to all those who tell me, “You never learn!” I say: Not true. I have, in fact, learned some surprising things these first few months on two wheels.
LESSON 1: Buying a bike is hard
It’s not like buying a car. You can’t just show up to a dealer and expect they’ll have the one you want. And if you’re a total newbie like me, going for a test-ride is out of the question, which is probably a good thing. Buying a bike is more like buying clothes. Size and fit were the most important things for me. A bike show is better than any dealership for trying on a bunch of bikes for size. That’s where I narrowed down my choices. The shows are usually in the spring. Don’t miss ’em.
LESSON 2: The Classifieds
I combed the classifieds for all kinds of bikes. I didn’t (and still really don’t) know what I’m doing. But I was up-front about that with sellers. This was going to be my first bike. They were all more than happy to let me go check out their bikes, try them on for size, talk to me about maintenance. Great experience.
LESSON 3: You really do meet the nicest people
The day I brought my bike home, my neighbor Chris — who’s been riding for a couple of years — offered to ride around the block with me. I’d never ridden on the street before. Ever. He said we’d just go around the block until I felt comfortable, and then we could try two blocks. Every stop sign, I pulled up with this dumb, goofy smile. It’s like flying. I was (am) hooked. Doing those first few kilometres with another rider around was the best. Thanks Chris!
LESSON 4: Go around the block.
I know it’s sounds boring, but it’s not, because you’re on a motorbike. Slowly expand your riding zone as you get comfortable. Great advice from Chris, who got it from a book, which I should read, if only I could remember the title. Any ideas?
LESSON 5: Supermotos rule!
It’s bright yellow, it’s got tons of rad stickers, it’s like an escapee from the 1990s, and I love it. My first bike: a 2006 Suzuki DRZ400-SM. Bought off the classifieds from Mike, who used it as a street bike when he wasn’t riding motocross. It soaks up Toronto’s garbage roads. It doesn’t matter if I drop it. Can’t even imagine riding anything faster. It’s super quick. Except on Highway 401 or the DVP, where’s it’s terrifying.
LESSON 6: Neighbours
The DRZ is a bit loud though. An elderly man in my neighbourhood waved an actual broom at me as I rode past, even though I was trying to be as quiet as possible. Sorry man. I’d have to re-jet the carbs (right?) if I got a new exhaust, and that’s way beyond my skill level.
LESSON 7: Like riding a bike
Riding a bicycle around the Toronto area ever since I was a kid helped immensely as I learned to ride. It taught me to be afraid of drivers, to always under-estimate them, but also how to be comfortable on the road when you’re on two wheels. But, seriously, ride a bicycle first.
LESSON 8: Streetcar tracks
Everybody I meet who rides in the city has a scary story about crashing or almost crashing because of streetcar tracks. I’m scared of them. Avoid when possible.
LESSON 9: Time
I rode every day when I first got my bike. Finish work, go for a ride. After dinner, go for a ride. Sunday morning, go for a ride. Then, as the weather got colder and I was moving into a new apartment, my life got busier and I rode less. People talk about “carving out time” or “making time.” Planning to ride like that didn’t work for me. Instead, just go now. It takes five minutes to put on all the gear and go out. Even if you’ve only got 15 minutes, it’s worth it. Just do it.
LESSON 10: Next summer
I am still probably the worst motorcycle rider in the world. I have a lot to learn, and I can’t wait.
Sorry for all the sincerity here. Hopefully, this will help those on the fence about learning to ride. But I’m also curious to hear what the rest of you diehard CMGers remember from your first summer. What did you ride? What did you learn? How have things changed since then?