Inclined to Wait

I must have ridden for about 10 miles, mostly on my neighborhood’s one-mile loop but also on connected cross-streets and cul-de-sacs, never exceeding 15 mph. A few cars drove by, and I passed vulnerable-looking people and a barking dog.

You should all be afraid. It’s a beautiful afternoon… but I have never done this before.

I couldn’t wave to my neighbors, of course, because that would have been life threatening. All I could do was nod at them, which felt too subtle by the time the angst waned. By then I wanted to wave wildly with both hands. To a few I shouted, “This is my first day riding!” like a five year old. One neighbor, who I know fairly well, stopped in his tracks for a double-take. I beamed back from inside my helmet.

Elated and disbelieving, I rode back to the base of my driveway. The modest incline was daunting, but I was in can-do mode so I rode straight up the hill and promptly stalled on the steepest part.

I stood up immediately and squeezed the front brake, probably harder than necessary, but I had no interest in discovering the brake’s threshold or what being in gear was really doing for me then and there with 440 pounds. I switched off the ignition, and I stood there, stuck, knowing I had neither the strength to push Little Red up the hill nor the skill to start her back up and ride forward under those circumstances. My right hand was getting tired from squeezing so hard.

I looked to the right. I looked to the left. No one was around. Where were all my neighbors? I looked to the right and left again, and I wondered how stupid I looked. I kicked the side stand down, and it seemed to bear the weight, but I couldn’t trust it. I waited, squeezing that front brake as my hand became weaker. Time passes slowly when you’re feeling stupid alone on a hill and your hand hurts.

Finally after a while, a dog-walking neighbor did come along and he graciously lent his strength to push Little Red up to the level part of the driveway while I walked her and steered. A motorcycle. Really?

Foot Pegs

At first, on the driveway, trying to learn how to ride Little Red simply involved rocking in first gear while gently squeezing and releasing the clutch. Then, I tried just enough gas to Fred-Flintstone forward—not stable enough to put my feet on the pegs. I was terrified of the throttle, so I slowly wobbled a few yards forward and then walked her backward to my starting spot.

Over and over I did this. It was actually kind of fun, but I was worried that I would never get my feet up on the damn pegs. I also felt pretty stupid and not in control, and I wondered if beginners ever just tip over. (They do.) I knew I needed more space, a good, long straight course, and that I had to stop being so afraid of the throttle. But it was hard to imagine ever becoming comfortable. A motorcycle. Really?

With winter knocking at the front door, I knew I had to get over myself quickly. I wanted to truly ride before hibernating, so while on the sofa under blankets and books I could look forward to spring with confidence and then take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation class without further delay. So on a spring-like November day, I took a last-minute afternoon off—no meetings and the sky was pure blue.

While I was gearing up, having conscientiously stowed my learner’s permit in the saddlebag, a friend sent these texts:

Go ride that bike today.

And then again tomorrow. Rain this weekend. 


A few minutes later I walked Little Red down the driveway, a small hill, slowly and deliberately as if I were doing T’ai Chi. I learned to use the front brake to control her 440 pounds; she is not a bicycle. On the road I wrestled her into a straight position far enough from neighbors’ mailboxes. And there, looking ahead I saw a vast plane so vivid in the sunshine and somehow different from the neighborhood street with which I was familiar.

Anything could happen here today.

I inhaled… and exhaled… and put Little Red in first gear, really meaning it this time. I didn’t have to Fred Flintstone for long. With room to ride and feeling comfortable with the clutch and gear shift, the throttle was less scary. I slowly gave the engine exactly what it needed and found the foot pegs. It felt right. For me, this was barely believable. If you knew me, you’d understand. I was riding a motorcycle and loving it.