Just as there is no crying in baseball, there is no crying on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Yeah, well, I’m here to confess I did just that. Straddling 500-some pounds of hot metal between my legs on a cool December evening, I sat bawling because I accepted reality – I am not coordinated enough to drive a motorcycle.
I’m Old Enough to Ride a Harley-Davidson, Right?
Being in my mid-forties and living in Southwest Florida means I’m at a point in my life where my friends are either retired or nearing retirement. They’re engaging in what I consider fun experiences they’ve worked their entire lives for including many riding Harley-Davidsons, either as the driver or on the back as their boyfriend or husband drives. As I’m learning, Harley-Davidson is a culture, lifestyle and mindset. Easily, it’s a form of escapism and lately, I need a little bit of that in my life.
I’m not really a tribe person, meaning, I honestly think I’m at my best doing things solo or with a partner in crime, or small, close group of people. I don’t have time or patience for drama that comes from large tribes. BUT, I really want to be part of the Harley-Davidson culture. I want to be a biker babe who hangs out at the local dealership (in my case, it’s Bert’s Black Widow Harley-Davidson in Port Charlotte, Fla.) on the weekends taking part in the music, camaraderie, and rides over Florida’s backroads to see and experience real America. I want to meet and get to know new people, explore backroads, and experience a new freedom.
Alas, I haven’t found anyone inviting me to ride with him so I thought, “Hey. I could ride by myself.” After all, many dealerships rent Harleys.
Bert’s Black Widow Harley-Davidson Riding Academy
This logic of thinking didn’t kick in until I realized a gift certificate I had for Bert’s Black Widow Harley-Davidson Riding Academy was for earning a motorcycle license/endorsement. Honestly, I thought the riding academy was something like driver’s ed, a class where you learned the basics then went to the DMV to take your test. Nope.
The Harley-Davidson Riding Academy is a three-day course where you learn in the classroom then on the road course with the end goal of earning your motorcycle license/endorsement. It consisted of a full day in a classroom setting with a prerequisite of reading the Basic Ridercourse Rider Handbook published by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation prior to class.
After passing the classroom portion, the next steps are two, six-hour on-the-course classes where what was learned in the classroom is applied in real-life on modified Harley-Davidsons. I say “modified” because they have extended handlebars and something else to prevent the bike from fully tipping over. Now, other than riding on the back of a motorcycle less than a handful of times (including on the back of a motorbike in Vietnam last April), I went into this experience clueless on how a motorcycle functions.
The course, created by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, was designed with a building concept meaning everyone in the course (up to six people) must pass each step in order to proceed to the next step. If a student cannot successfully complete the step, they are counseled out. Or, if a student does not feel comfortable advancing, they can pull themselves out. Safety comes first.
Then the Waterworks Broke
I’ll spare you the details, but during my first go-around with the riding academy, I was counseled out on the second day of on-the-course maneuvers. I was tired, sore from the previous night (I underestimated the physical requirements of riding), hot and sweaty and could not concentrate.
The second go around at the Harley-Davidson Riding Academy, I took myself out not even midway through the first day of on-the-course training and that’s when the waterworks on a Harley began. I had more confidence this time but for some reason, I could not get the coordination of the whole shifting concept from first to second gear. Mentally, I played it over and over in my mind how it should be done, yet I just couldn’t get left hand and left foot in sync. I knew I had to give up which was frustrating, embarrassing and ego-busting.
Don’t Take Riding Lightly
Harley-Davidson has a sexy, badass, patriotic appeal, and reality is, being on a motorcycle, whether driving or riding, is dangerous. This time of year (winter/spring), Southwest Florida roadways are congested with out-of-town visitors navigating their cars and trucks in unfamiliar territory which means they’re probably not paying attention to the road and others on the roads, including motorcyclists and bicyclists. Plus, motorists have other distractions such as smartphones, eating, other passengers, and whatever else. Here in Florida, we don’t have a helmet law and many riders can be seen sans headgear which makes me nervous. Although I am disappointed in myself for not passing, I know I am not ready to ride.
If I had a bike to practice on, I think that would make a difference. The first time I took the class, most everyone had a bike and the course seemed easy for them. The second time, only one student had experience on a bike. I later learned she was the last one standing, out of six students, on the final night. Everyone learns differently and for me, I need lots of hands-on practice.
Bert’s Black Widow Harley-Davidson Riding Academy. Do It!
The rider coaches at Bert’s Black Widow Harley-Davidson Riding Academy are excellent. I was concerned they would be condescending and impatient but they were not. They were kind, patient and always have safety first in mind. The course is designed for beginners and maybe this spring or next fall I’ll give it another try.
One of the coaches, who commented on how I had improved from the first class to the second class, suggested I hire a tutor to work with me. Nice idea but I think a membership on one of those online dating sites may be cheaper. I’d just need to create a profile for a biker babe wannabe and hope I can find someone who wants to show me the ropes, err, the gears. Or, maybe I’ll stick to my mountain bike.
Bert’s Black Widow Harley-Davidson
2224 El Jobean Rd
Port Charlotte, FL 33948
Tel: (941) 883-8000
Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links which supports this blog, my traveling habit and special needs dog.