Monday, April 6, 2015

Will I ever not be a novice motorcycle rider?

I've been riding a motorcycle now for almost seven years. And I still say I'm a novice rider.

It must be wonderful to grow up riding dirt bikes. When I see motorcycle riders now that seem so utterly comfortable, so at-one with their motorcycles, and I get the chance to talk to them, it always turns out that they started riding dirt bikes as a teen - even a pre-teen.

My husband didn't ride dirt bikes. He didn't start riding a motorcycle regularly until he was 27, yet, by 30, he was riding his motorcycle with such incredible grace and confidence and, well, I would say perfection, like he had been doing it for oh-so-long. I'm not saying he could do the Dakar Rally, but nothing seems to intimidate him as a rider, not sharp turns on a hill, not turning around on a hill on a one-lane road, not gravel.

Me, on the other hand... I'm Ms. Barely-the-Speed-Limit off the interstate. All motorcyclists and drivers hate being behind me off the interstate. Let's face it: 99% of riders and drivers go at least 10 miles over the speed limit, even on winding, narrow roads. I go around curves as quickly as I feel comfortable, and that always turns out to be the speed limit. I'd be okay with that if it weren't for the long line of cars and motorcycles that often end up behind me, or that one car following too close, or seeing my husband in my mirror and knowing he'd so love to be going faster.

But I think if you see me riding, even if you are following me, you don't think I'm a novice rider - just an overly-cautious one. I think my form is pretty good, and I really do enjoy riding off of main road (the freeway, and anything with lots of traffic lights). I enjoy gravel that isn't too complicated - I was going up and down Dixie Mountain Road and Otto Miller Road with quite a lot of confidence in 2013 and 2014. I've had a bit of a set back in confidence since my wreck in Utah last year. But I'm getting more and more comfortable again. If I didn't still really enjoy riding a motorcycle, I'd quit - and I still really do so enjoy it, and I want to not only keep riding in the USA, but do more ambitious trips in Mexico and Chile in the coming years.

But if you see me when I park my motorcycle, or leave a parking place, you know I'm still a novice rider. And it's during those times when I think - maybe I'll never get this. And it's when a lot of people watch me and think, wow, she's a novice. She must have just gotten her license last month.

The areas that I just cannot master so far - or even just feel comfortable with:
  • Sharp turns immediately after an uphill stop
  • Stopping and starting on an incline
  • Turning around on an incline
  • Parking (if it involves any of the above, to park or to get out of my parking place)
I loathe driving in cities because they involve all of the aforementioned. The idea of driving in Portland, even Beaverton, and especially Oregon City, makes me start sweating profusely - even just sitting here on the couch, not about to ride anywhere.

How do I practice these things? How do you practice something that, if you get wrong, you drop your bike?

I really need a one-on-one class to work on these things with someone who really knows what they are doing and how to transfer those skills. I'd love a class on how to better ride on dirt and gravel as well - especially how to stop. Stefan has been really wonderful teaching me dirt and gravel riding techniques, but we both think another person, who is really comfortable teaching novices, would be so helpful. But I cannot find such a class.

I have emailed and called and left a message with a training center in Washington state that shall remain nameless that offers a range of dirt bike and ADV rider courses, but they never called or emailed me back. I finally got someone via IM chat, but he wasn't clear on what class he thought I should take - and even suggested one class that seemed more about learning to camp via motorcycle - which I am quite experienced at doing - than a class to teach me the skills I need.

I took the Advanced Rider Training class with Team Oregon, and it did help me with cornering, but I got the impression the class is really about learning to go AS FAST AS POSSIBLE, safely, around curves. I'm just not interested in going fast... though I'd like to go faster, and this course did help. I also got the impression that the instructors were frustrated with me - they didn't like that I just couldn't go as fast as the other riders. It wasn't a nurturing environment - just a "Here's how you do it. Now do it. Okay, you didn't do it right, so I'll tell you again." I'll be trying another Team Oregon course, Rider Skills Practice (RSP), in May, since it's all I can find. Unfortunately, Motorcycle Safety Foundation courses aren't offered in Oregon - I loved their basic rider's course back in Kentucky (so supportive, so clear, so fun!), and I would SO love to take its Ultimate Bike-Bonding RiderCourse (patterned after police training courses).

And I'd still love to find a one-on-one trainer to help me with those bulleted items, and with riding better on dirt and gravel. Anyone?

I am always aspiring to be a better motorcycle rider. Always. I sure would like some help in that quest.


  1. Check out the BMW off-road school. I just got back from the two-day training and highly recommend it (even though I ride a Ducati dual sport, not a BMW). Excellent skill drills, great instructor to student ratio, solid curriculum.

  2. I'm in Oregon. This school is in Colorado.