Learning to Ride

I had to get my friend to ride my new motorcycle home from the dealership because I didn’t know how to ride.

OK, it wasn’t exactly new. My first bike was a sturdy, somewhat scuffed-up Suzuki 360-DR with an oversized aftermarket fuel tank. It was yellow and white, the fuel tank that opaque whitish plastic.

I met my friend in the F.H. Collins driveway/parking lot, me getting there by car, and him riding my bike.

It was the training ground.

We started with me sitting on the bike, engine off, transmission in neutral. He pushed me from behind until I could stay balanced and going straight. It was a workout for him.

The first three or four times he gave me the push, I could not balance the bike. I’d turn the front wheel and start falling over. Each time, he’d catch it before it went too far and we’d start again.

Once I was able to keep my feet on the pedals and the bike in balance while moving, I graduated to Lesson 2.

Here, the goal was clutching and braking, stop and go, 1st gear and neutral. My friend stood 10 to 20 feet in front of me, making like a traffic cop. Palm up, curling fingers meant come forward; palm facing me, stop. Repeat, repeat, repeat …

He was so trusting. He actually let me get as close as three or four feet before he signaled stop.

Lesson 3 was a co-operative activity, learning how to shift gears. While he sat behind me on the bike, I worked the foot shifter and he worked the clutch. We went up and down, first gear through third, several times, till I could to do both parts on my own.

The bus loop was perfect for practising gentle cornering. The long driveway gave me the chance to get up into 3rd gear, if only briefly.

By the time 45 minutes had gone by, I was riding! Thank you, my friend.

Not everyone learns to ride a motorcycle in such a structured and methodical way.

My guy learned a “guy way”: he went out by himself on a nearby dirt road and just kept at it till he stopped falling down. He got an extra self lesson out of that method … he learned how to efficiently pick his bike back up again.

Our lessons continued through the spring and summer that year and the next.

I learned to ride the highways on my own and by going on organized rides. I traded in my DR for the Honda Shadow and learned about lanes and freeways and holding the speed of a group.

He spent more time on local back roads, chasing buddies who had been riding since childhood, learning how to pick up his bike on washed-out hills and in small streams.

That was a few years ago. He has spent a little more time on the highway and I have spent a little more time in the dirt since then.

We ride together most of the time, but he is still more comfortable on dirt, away from traffic, and I am still more comfortable on highways, away from dirt … oh yes, and sand.

This past winter in Mexico, the only time I dropped my bike was on pavement. The expert helped me pick it up. I still have some lessons to learn.

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