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Reader Story: WRN Articles Got Her Back in the Saddle

Finding her confidence through other readers' stories

By Michelle Landry, Tylertown, Mississippi

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After riding behind my husband on his Harley-Davidson for more than 16 years, I decided I wanted to try riding on my own. While searching online for advice, I discovered Women Riders Now.
I pored over each article, starting with “What To Expect,” which was so helpful. Yes, you will dump the bike, and yes, you will be nervous. OK, I needed to remember that. I found an MSF course in my area and immediately signed up. Because my husband’s Harley-Davidson Fat Boy was too big for me to practice on, I went to the class with no riding experience. Having been a passenger for so many years, I thought I should have some advantage, right? Wrong! I just couldn’t seem to get the hang of my left hand, right hand, left foot, and right foot all doing something different at the exact same time. After dropping the bike twice and not being able to keep up with the class, I ended up failing the course the first day.
Discouraged, I went home in tears. Thank goodness for the WRN article “You Flunked! Now What?” It was encouraging to read other women’s stories and how they didn’t give up. I especially related to a commenter named Susan, who felt the class moved too fast for her. I also felt like I needed more time on each exercise. I wanted to practice, so I bought a Honda Rebel 250. I felt it was small enough for me to learn to handle. I was so excited the day my husband brought it home, but I was scared to death because now I was going to have to ride it!
Michelle on her first bike, a Honda Rebel 250, which she chose for its smaller size.
Michelle on her first bike, a Honda Rebel 250, which she chose for its smaller size.

I started out by riding on a side road to practice what I learned at the safety course, but at my own pace. Instead of doing an exercise 10 times, I did it 20 or 100 times or until I felt comfortable. The first few weeks, it was a challenge just to take off without stalling. I would sit on my bike, one hand on the throttle, one on the clutch, my heart pounding through my chest, trying to remember why I’d wanted to learn to ride in the first place. Thank goodness my husband was patient and kept telling me I could do it. He even picked the bike up off me when I dumped it in the front yard.   
This is when the WRN Reader Stories became invaluable. I could relate to people like Ruth Grant, who said she “prayed for the panic to end and the fun to begin.” Yes, that’s it. That’s exactly what I felt. Well, if she could overcome this fear and have fun, so could I. I would force myself to practice, if only for just 30 minutes a day. I felt every time I took off, every time I put my foot down at a stop, every mile I rode, was more experience gained.  
Four months after failing the MSF course, I went back to take it again. I was still nervous, but I was more comfortable on the bike. I passed the second time and learned invaluable safety and riding skills. I went to the DMV and got my endorsement the next day. Yes!
After nine months with the Rebel, Michelle upgraded to a Kawasaki Vulcan 750 and loves it.
After nine months with the Rebel, Michelle upgraded to a Kawasaki Vulcan 750 and loves it.

This past year, I've ridden more than 4,000 miles, and it has been a year of firsts for me—first time riding in heavy traffic, first time riding at night, first time riding on the highway. The first time I took the bike out by myself, I thought of Rhonda Elkins, who wrote in her story about her first bike ride without her husband along. Each milestone, from getting her bike out of the garage to pumping her own gas, I could relate to. 
I rode the Honda Rebel for nine months. It was a great bike to start out on and gave me a chance to learn the skills I needed. I recently purchased a Kawasaki Vulcan 750 and love it. At first, the extra weight was intimidating, but I started the same way as with the Rebel—in parking lots and on side roads—until I became comfortable on it.     
When family or friends ask why I ride, I can't accurately answer them. It's impossible to put into words the feeling of joy, accomplishment, freedom, and thrill that I experience when I'm riding. WRN is a place where other women get it. They understand.

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Reader Comments

I can completely relate to this article. When I was in my 20s I use to ride a 250cc enduro on and off road. Then my son came along and I gave up my bike to focus on family. Here I am 17 years later wishing I could ride, but having let my motorcycle license expire. I took the MSF style Canadian course thinking, how hard could it be? I mean, I passed the same course about 20 years ago, and rode for four years with no problems. WRONG!

I totally flunked. I didn't even make it half way through the assessment at the end of the course. I was crushed. I felt like maybe I just didn't have it in me anymore. Finally I sucked up the courage to retake the course, at full cost, there was no discount. But this time I finally passed! Even at that, I just squeaked by, but that is all I needed. Just keep at it, and don't give up if it is important to you.

Kingston, ON, Canada
Sunday, September 28, 2014
Kudos to Michelle for sharing her story! I just bought my first bike even though I failed the test. I was in tears at the course site but I went home and my boyfriend encouraged me by telling me all I needed was practice. Today I laid my bike down and I wanted to cry but I am going to keep on going because of all the positive stories that are here. Thank you all for sharing as a 45-year-old first time rider I am nervous -- but with all your support I know that one day I will be enjoying my bike too!

Pittsburgh, PA
Saturday, June 29, 2013
Michelle's story struck a chord with many of us, as it did with me. It could have been my story. I decided at the age of 58 that I wanted to learn to ride after seeing other women on motorcycles and after riding on the back of my boyfriend's Harley for three years. I too believed that all I had to know was how to ride a bike before taking the MSF course. Big mistake! There was just to much to absorb. I was kindly asked to leave the first time.

I went home, bought a Rebel and practiced alone for several weeks. The next time I took the course I was so exhausted by the time the range test came up that I ran over a cone and failed! At that point, I was so tired that I didn't even care but I knew I wouldn't/couldn't give up. So I graduated myself to a Sportster 1200XL and practiced on that for a couple months. Then I went back to take the MSF course again. This time I passed. What a joyous day! I've been riding now for a couple years and can't imagine not riding.

I encourage all beginners not to give up. Expect there to be difficult moments and expect to drop your bike...that's how you learn. There is nothing more rewarding than working hard towards a goal and achieving.

Word to beginners: the Harley Sportster 1200 is a lighter bike but is a lot more powerful than some of the bigger Harleys. My friend, who rides a Road King, rode my bike the other day and said his bike couldn't compare to the power of mine. The Sportster is not a beginner Harley. It is a lighter bike, however and a bit top heavy. I think I would have chosen a different bike if I'd known more about bikes at the time, but I love my Sporty. Happy riding!

Seattle, WA
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
All I can say is there is hope! I, like Michelle, have been riding with my husband on his Yamaha Virago now that our four children are older. I just completed the motorcycle safety program with our 15 1/2-year-old son and flunked it by three points. I was embarrassed and disappointed to have failed the range course, but I did pass the classroom exam, didn't dump my bike and did finish the course (the class lost three during the first day).

My husband and family want me to forge on and get my license and after finding this great source of encouragement, I am now smiling at the thought of finding my own 250. Thank you for allowing a 45-year old wife and mother of four to alleviate her fears and not feel like she is crazy to get her license. It's nice to know there is strength in numbers!

La Grange, CA
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
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