June 10, 2012

Just a Bit of Throttle

I'm blessed with a lot of freedom. It allows me to tackle my bucket list. I don't have an actual list, but there have been things I've always wanted to try or do before I'm 30, or die, whichever comes first. These include:

Trying out for a dance team
Visiting a casino
Travelling to Europe
Starting a blog
(I realize I'm just listing previous blog articles. But I'm not going to post my non-existent list and make it existent now am I?)

Anyways, you probably think I'm being morbid, but death is actually a stigma related to this one:

Driving a motorcycle

Before you gasp (I've already heard enough of them to put all of my asthma attacks to shame) hear me out: Driving, not just riding, a motorcycle has been simmering on the back burners of my mind for awhile now and everything fell into place this spring for me to give driving a motorcycle a chance. Take note, I still don't have my license and this motorcycle thing didn't go as well as planned, but it was definitely a learning experience. This is my story:

It started in March with my dream of putt-putting around Winnipeg on a scooter, something small and functional - maybe a Vespa. Sure it has the cool factor of a mini-fridge, but it gets you where you want to go. I was determined to make it look sporty, or at least Euro preppy. I quickly exchanged this idea when 2 bike-experienced friends of mine convinced me that motorcycles were a superior choice. The buying prices were about the same, and motorcycles have about 500% more power and infinous amounts of cool factor. Being able to take my bike on Kenaston would also be a great bonus. My Comptroller at work suggested I take the Motorcycle Safety course even if I only wanted a scooter, as it should make me a safer rider either way. So I signed up for the course for the first week of May. It's a 21 hour course designed to prepare you for driving a motorcycle, as a written test is not enough. Just because you can pass a written test does not mean you can make safe passes on a 2-wheeled motorized vehicle.

Commitment made, I looked into buying a bike. When I found out a co-worker was selling the EXACT motorcycle I wanted for a great price, I could not say no. Flip, I could buy it and re-sell if I wanted to. It is a red Honda CBR 125 - my Fit's baby sister. What a cute pair they make and model.

So I wrote my Class 6 test, bought my bike and gear and waited to take the course. I rode as a passenger a few times with my friends to get a feel for turns and gear shifting. I also got a bit of practice driving my bike around on the grass field of a school (making tracks all over their ball diamond - oops) and mistakenly thought that would be enough experience for the course.

This is the dream, but not on grass.
Course day arrived and the first task was choosing a bike. Most of the Honda CBRs were already claimed but I managed to snag the last one although the seat seemed a bit higher than the one I owned. I knew I would struggle to push the bike out to the practice lot, and dreaded this part of the day. So I'm pushing this bike with a dry weight of 280 lbs, slow and awkwardly unbalanced, nose to the handlebars, scared out of my mind that I'll drop the thing. Of course no one else is struggling as much as I am. The instructor comes up to me and says, "So I guess pushing the bike isn't your favorite thing?" You've got it. There's nothing in the world I love more than pushing the weight of 2.5 family members on a crazy carpet on asphalt. I was also 10th in a single-file line of about 35 people. I guess pushers behind me started getting impatient and pulling away from the pack because the instructor walking with me held out his hand and exclaimed, "whoa- no passing!" And I'm like, "What? It's like someone driving 20 km/hr down a single lane of construction on Waverley with 2 open lanes on either side, and you're not going to let them pass? Flip sakes!" I didn't say that outloud.

I don't actually ride in those boots.
After losing most of my dignity and pride, and dropping my cool factor down to 5% save my helmet, jacket and gloves, we started the riding portion of the day. Without boring you with a detailed descripton of my lack of skills, it didn't go well. I fell during lesson 1 and the rest of the day went downhill from there. I had no time to react when the bike dropped. I just fell like a loose board on a hot day. One second I'm panicking, the next I'm pinned to the ground with a bike on top of my leg waiting for someone to peel it off me. After fall 2 on the Honda, I said good-bye to the trace amounts of pride I had left in reserve chambers, and I switched to a low-riding cruiser - the Kawasaki Emlinator. Similar in engine displacement, but with a lower seat height - I could at least flat foot it when stopped. It went okay, I still struggled to make tight turns, and once we started turning in first gear, I messed up, grabbed the front brake (a huge no-no when turning) and fell over. This one was my worst fall - the bike was still running as I was pinned under it and because of the way I fell, the whole bike landed on my ankle. My ankle is still swollen today.

After 3 falls you have to speak to the director and your situation is assessed. It was now a safety concern for me and the other riders, and he asked if I wanted to keep trying. (I think the health concern was that I would die of embarrassment). I didn't have the confidence in my ability to continue so I withdrew. I collected my gear and the director drove me back to the service centre in a golf cart AKA the motorcycle rider's ride of shame. Needless to say, I didn't pass the course.

I kept my bike a secret until my parents knew. And just for fun, this is how my youngest sister reacted when I told her about my bike:

Bless her heart.

Driving a motorcycle does not come without its risks, but it's mostly only as dangerous as the rider. You have to be extremely defensive and very aware of your surroundings. It's about gearing up for the crash, but it's also about cruising down a highway with nothing between you and the world. Even if I never attain my class 6, riding as a passenger is something I would love to do on those warm summer days. Maybe one day my dream of driving a motorcycle will come true. It's really expensive to keep trying for now though. Until next time, happy safe driving, and watch out for those bikes!