LARCHMONT–In the last fifteen years, I’ve bungee-jumped off of the Macau Tower in China, I’ve scuba-dived in most of the world’s oceans, I’ve traveled to nearly 170 cities around the world, and I married an Aussie.
Seriously, the last one was the scariest.
So what’s next for a thrill-seeking author who’s looking for excitement beyond the pages?
Problem is, I now have three little kids. Though I’m still an adrenaline junkie I tend to err more on the safer side than the riskier side of things. You know, like trying that new restaurant in Port Chester or foregoing sleep to catch a 10pm movie at New Roc. I know, I like to live on the edge.
What’s next for me?
A motorcycle license. With a mommy’s voice in my head saying, “Be Careful!”
With something as dangerous as motorcycles, I knew that asking a friend to teach me wouldn’t be the best idea. I’d need to learn the ins and outs safely from professionals with no established bad habits. That’s the key. On a bike, bad habits can get you smushed.
So first things first, to take an accredited course, I needed to have a valid Driver’s License as well as a Motorcycle Learner’s Permit. To obtain this, I had to pass a written test at the DMV in Yonkers. And it wasn’t easy. If you got two questions wrong on the motorcycle section, you failed. There was a guy doing the test with me who had failed it five times!
With my Learner’s Permit in hand, I researched a couple schools in in the New York area, and found two options for the Basic Rider Course (BRC): Motorcycle Safety School and Trama’s Auto School. I chose Trama’s not only because of their reviews, but also because they offered the BRC on a weekend that coincided with my availability. Both schools are certified by the NYS DMV and both cost the same, so in the end, it comes down to scheduling convenience and location. Trama’s has a location in Queensborough, 15 minutes over the bridge, and MSS has one in the Bronx, also about 15 minutes away from Lower Westchester.
Geared up and ready to ride (the first day started at 6:45am), I spent the first six hours in a parking lot marked with lines and cones, learning drills, techniques and skills with nine other students ranging in age and ability. There was one other woman, and all of us were beginners. I have to say that it was SCARY getting on a bike by myself for the first time and engaging that throttle! Not to mention navigating the clutch, rear brake, front brake and gears! But once I got going, it was pretty exhilarating. And scary. Did I mention scary?
My instructors, Marty and Mike, were two stern-looking older guys with handlebar mustaches and ponytails. Put it this way, when they talked, you listened. Marty was gruff and didn’t sugar-coat if you did something dumb … like the time I let go of the clutch while stopping and still in first gear. Um, so that’s a no-no. But while firm, he still gave kudos if you performed a skill well. Those were sparse but prized. And he was all about safety. Bike safety, road safety, rider safety … it was drilled into us consistently. And for good reason—nearly 47% of motorcycle accidents with another vehicle are fatal to the motorcyclist (wearing a helmet can reduce risk of dying by 37%).
After two grueling days of parking-lot practice and theory in a classroom, we had to take a written test based on the material covered. Don’t panic, it was multiple choice and mostly commonsense. The real stinger came with the Riding Skills Evaluation. Sound ominous, doesn’t it? The skill evaluation was made up of four tests: two slow U-turns, swerving, braking and cornering. I don’t test well under pressure so despite performing confidently during the two training days, I psyched myself out the second the test started.
Don’t feel too bad for me just yet. 5 out of the 10 people in the course failed the road skills test. That’s a 50% pass rate. At first, I was devastated. Plus, I hate failing. Like really, really, really hate it. You get the picture, I have performance issues. But still, I’d never ridden before and this was only after about fourteen practice hours on a bike so I knew I needed to cut myself some slack. So what do they say to do when you fall down? You get back in the saddle. As part of the course, I had the opportunity for a skills retest. I took mine the next day. And left my nerves where they belonged. At home.
I passed with flying colors. Booyah!
My retest was with my previous instructor, Marty, and I have to say that I’m glad I didn’t pass the first time, because having any one-on-one time with him was invaluable. With over fifty years of combined riding and teaching experience under his belt, having all of his attention was pretty sweet silver lining. Not to mention getting to ride around an empty parking lot at the Nassau Coliseum with the wind blowing through my hair and hitting up third gear! That was awesome. But the sweetest moment came when Marty handed me the little card that said I’d passed. As he succinctly said after giving it to me, “you’ve just graduated motorcycle kindergarten.”
That puts it into perspective a bit, doesn’t it?
So the lesson learned here is that riding a motorcycle is hard. It is difficult—there’s so much mind/body synchronization that it is not easy. It takes massive amounts of coordination and concentration—you have to use all four limbs concurrently, as well as your head, to smoothly operate all the controls on the bike. You have to be aware of everything and everyone around you—no more putting on lipstick in the rearview mirror or glancing at your phone. It takes a ton of skill to do different things at once while riding a 300-pound bike and navigating all the pitfalls (pot holes, glare, parked cars, rain, dogs, other drivers). And the truth is, if you fall or get into an accident, the risk is injury and/or death. Riding a motorcycle is no small feat and even though I’m now licensed to ride, there’s no way I’m going out on the road without logging a few more parking lot practice miles under my belt.
I’m proud of myself for doing this and for following it through. It was something that was on my bucket list, which I can now cross off. And if it’s one thing I can say for the motorcycle safety course is that it gave me a wider appreciation for what motorcyclists are up against on the road, especially if I’m a driver in a car. They’re not all thrill-seekers who want to break the law. Most of them are just riders … like me, so let’s share the road and respect each other.
Now all I need to do is find a pair of smoking-hot leather pants. Do those come for mommies?
photo: Amalie in training