'86 Honda Rebel 450

'86 Honda Rebel 450

Five years ago, I worked with a company called M&R Products based out of Vineland, New Jersey. While primarily focused on racing safety products, they also had a line of motorcycle products and accessories. I was responsible for the new logo/trade show booth/collateral, but not the use of “tie down the ones you love”. That, my friends, would have violated my marketing-to-women sensibilities, even then.

In 2005, the company needed someone to go down to Daytona for Bike Week and work a booth selling their wares. Being a city boy who had never touched a motorcycle, I was called upon to advise people how to secure their $20,000 bikes to trailers of various sizes. You’d think this would be a disaster, but it wasn’t — by the end of the week I had showed more than 100 people how to configure their tie-downs and anchors for optimal safety. It’s amazing how basic knowledge of geometry and physics can come in handy when you’re completely making it all up as you’re going along. By the end of the week, I had guys coming to introduce friends to the “expert”. Yeah, about that…

In any case, in the week I was there, I fell in love with motorcycles, if not the culture (“If you can read this, the bitch fell off” t-shirts aren’t really my thing). I asked everyone and their mother what kind of motorcycle I should get. Some suggested the super fast “crotch rockets”, others suggested cruisers. Perhaps the most hilarious answer came from a 60-plus guy who had obviously seen a ride or two in his day. When I posed this question to him, he suggested that cruisers are the way to go since: 1) you could have a passenger; 2) that passenger could potentially be female; and 3) that female passenger could prove to be a good companion (I’m paraphrasing of course — he said it in a slightly different way using different terminology). It was a compelling case — a cruiser it is!

I spent the next five years thinking about it, secretly pining for a bike of my own. In the meantime, my friend Doug bought a bike, a little 250cc Suzuki and then a 1982 700cc Honda Magna. He’s a bit of a tinkerer and an engineering genius, two things I can’t claim to be. I watched him on his bikes and thought, “you know, I’d probably kill myself on one of those.”

I pulled a little vision board together last summer and in the bottom right corner I placed a picture of a gorgeous Harley cruiser. I’ve hacked at a few of the things on the board within the last year year — I’m learning wine, I started B-school, I’ve worked on my leadership skills and I’ve scheduled another skydiving trip to build my jumps for future certification. But, just sitting there staring at me was that bike. I looked into what I needed to do to get my license and, to my surprise, the learner’s permit only required $10 and a 20-question multiple-choice test based on the state’s motorcycle operator’s manual. So, last Saturday, I popped down to the closest DMV, waited 15 minutes, took my test and left with a class M learner’s permit. I also discovered that Pennsylvania holds free Motorcycle Safety Foundation courses near my house, which fulfills the requirements needed to get a full license. Classes start Wednesday, meaning that it will be a learner’s-permit-to-license in three weeks. Awesome.

The downside? My dad is ticked (like seriously ticked, probably more than he’s ever been at me), my friends are a little leery (I was chewed out by my good friend Meghan) and my extended family thinks I’m nuts. This is par for the course, however.

I found two helmets on sale (yes, they’re DOT certified and, according to online reviews, very good helmets): one, a full-faced helmet; and a 3/4 face. I bought both not knowing which I’d prefer (I’ve since found that the full-faced helmet is more my speed). I got a pair of gloves with Kevlar knuckles and am shopping for a padded jacket. I’m committed to doing this conservatively, the right way and as safely as humanly possible.

After talking a little bit this weekend about riding, Doug was kind enough to offer to put me on his little Suzuki so that I can get a feel for the bike before I go into the MSF course. He started from scratch: starting the bike; using the clutch; engaging both the front and rear breaks; and changing gears from neutral to first. Then was the real test — riding around the parking lot in first with my feet up on the pegs. Success! It was awesome. I made it a few laps around. On my fourth lap, I had a slight mishap — my glove got caught on the throttle as I was pulling the break (don’t ask) and, well, I hit a curb and dropped the bike. Fortunately, neither I nor the bike had even the tiniest scratch. My back is a little sore from picking it up, but it was a worthwhile first lesson. Doug was forgiving (he’s a saint and taught me how to drive a standard, a life-threatening prospect in its own right) and I had completed my first little training, even if it wasn’t error-free.

So, this is my story and the first of a series of posts about my motorcycling experiences. I’m not sure if they’re particularly interesting to anyone but me, but I figured others might like to hear about the step-by-step process of a brand new rider.