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Learning to Ride

I grew up as an independent tomboy and always wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle. My father had a motorcycle when I was a kid, and during college I frequently rode on the back of boyfriend’s or friend’s motorcycles (they were all dudes!). However, I never made a concerted effort to learn until I started dating my now husband. He has this dream of riding through Central America and I want to go too! But since I do not want to ride 2-up for that distance, I knew it was time to get my feet wet. It’s now been six years. We still haven’t made the trip yet, but I feel prepared for it in the near future.

The main challenge for me has been learning to ride as a very short woman. I am 4’11 inches tall with a 27 inch inseam. My first bike was a 500cc Buell Blast and it was too tall for me as a new rider. The advertised seat height is 27.5 inches, but unbeknownst to us, the seat height was measured with a 160lb. person on it! The true seat height was more like 29.5 inches. If you are like me, you need every bit of the suspension sag you can get off the original seat height! Not to mention that I do not weigh 160 lbs.

I was in professional school at the time and my husband and I lived in this very old bungalow style house. It had no garage so the only place we had to store the bikes was this tiny shed about 2 feet off the ground that required a ramp to be built. Due to the height of the Buell, I had to push it around by leaning it against my hip, including backing it out of that cursed shed. Let me tell you, I dropped that thing so many times! I specifically remember one instance when as I was backing it down I lost my balance and the bike fell onto the right side, half off the ramp. I went around and lifted it up only to go a little too far and tip it over on the left side! I was so angry! I lifted it back up and got it down into the driveway. I wanted nothing more than to just leave it there, but I was also determined to not let it get the best of me. The carburetor was flooded at that point, so I waited a while and they rode angrily to school. Needless to say, that bike spent a lot of time in shed “time out.”

After riding the Buell for about 2 years, I was so ready to get rid of that thing. I hated it for many reasons (single cylinder rattle, bastard clutch, etc.), but I knew I needed a shorter bike to really become comfortable with riding. My ideal seat height is about 25 inches and this does not leave a lot of options, and all of them are cruisers. On a budget, I purchased a 1995 Honda Shadow off of Craigslist and named her Rizzo. She has been an awesome little trooper and has allowed me to go on motorcycle camping trips and learn to truly enjoy riding. She has moved with me across the country with significant sentimental value. But don’t think I have never dropped her, because I have! It hasn’t happened very often but a foot placed wrong, forgetting to put the kickstand down, and just plain exhaustion have got me a few times. The thing is, this is totally normal! It’s natural to be angry or embarrassed at the time, but it is not a reason to be afraid of improving your skills or learning to ride.

At this point, I am ready to go back to a taller motorcycle. I would like to have something that is not a cruise in order to do more long distance trips (like Central America!). I recently purchased a 2017 Suzuki SV650 as an intermediate step. My goal is to document my experience to share with other short riders who may have the same challenges as I do. Ride safe!


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