Another item on the “someday” list: learn to ride a motorcycle. Scott has ridden most of his life and lives to ride. I tried riding on his bike with him, but, as Austin Powers would say, “that’s not my bag, baby.” Control issues: Check.
For our anniversary last year, my gift to Scott was a promise to take the Learn to Ride* class to find out if I like riding my own bike any better. Fast forward to April. I took and passed the class and got the coveted “M” endorsement on my driver’s license. And a crappy new driver’s license photo to go with it.
Long story short, I practiced riding Scott’s street-legal dirt bike for a while and then I bought my own bike. Not a little girly bike, either. A big, bad Harley Davidson Heritage Softail. It’s awesome. It’s still a little scary, but I’m definitely walking with a little more swagger these days. And learning a lot about motorcycle etiquette and rules of the road. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:
- Burning rubber doesn’t always mean leaving a trail of rubber on the road. Sometimes it means you’re squeezing the bike with your knees like you’re riding a barrel horse and the rubber sole of your boot is melting onto the tail pipe.
- That low, upside-down peace sign bikers give each other when passing? It means rubber-side down, or two wheels on the road, and is basically a signal to ride safely and one of camaraderie. A head nod is acceptable as well, particularly when you need to keep both hands on the handlebars. There are some very funny blogs out there about “the wave,” including one that teaches you how to not wave like a dork.
- A pat on the top of the helmet from a passing rider does not mean there’s something wrong with your helmet, so there’s no need to keep feeling around your helmet. Not that I did that. That would be silly. It means “heads up” because there’s something to watch out for up ahead. Sometimes it means there’s a speed trap ahead, but since I rarely hit the speed limit that’s not a big concern for me.
- Why don’t motorcyclists ride in the center of the lane? There are a couple of very good reasons for that. First, the center of the lane is where cars leak fluids and that gets slippery. Second, you’re more visible to oncoming traffic if you’re riding to the left of center. The hump in the center of the lane can also be tricky, unless it’s raining and then it’s a good place to be so that you can avoid water standing on either side.
- Riders look out for each other. I joined our local HOG (Harley Owners Group) chapter and attended my first meeting earlier this month. While the group looks pretty tough, the agenda included safe riding tips, hand signals to use when riding in a group and reports from the road captains who are in charge of keeping all riders safe on chapter rides. Robert’s Rules are followed. And there’s a lot of discussion about the best places to eat while on the road. All in all, a great group of people who encouraged me and made me feel welcome.
Why’d I do it? It’s definitely not something that came easily or without a lot of thought. The biggest reason was to be able to join Scott on his rides and give us a new way to spend time together, especially now that we have more time on our hands. It might also have something to do with turning 50 later this year and proving to myself that this old dog can still learn some new tricks.
I’ve put 800 miles on the bike. So far, so good. Stay tuned for posts about our rides around the state. Rubber-side down, my friends.
* If you are thinking about learning to ride, take the class. And always, always, always wear a helmet. Always.
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