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From a Woman Motorcyclist's Viewpoint - Learning To Ride (Part 1)

The open road. Sun in your face, wind in your hair, and a constant reflection of your face staring back at you. After many years of looking at my reflection in the back of my husband's helmet, a little voice in my head started wondering if perhaps I wanted to be in the driver's seat.

Don't get me wrong, it's a nice helmet (I helped to pick it out), but a change of view would be nice. And while I like touring as a passenger, there were times I wanted to do a bit of exploring on my own.

As time went on, the voice got louder, and the urge to try something new became stronger each time we went riding. And then there were the little urges from my husband, who is always confident in me, and ever the listening ear as I worried my way through the decision. Finally, I decided it was time. I decided to do the one thing that I never thought I would try: I was going to learn how to ride a motorcycle.

Now, I wasn't about to do this by myself. I wasn't that brave! I convinced my very good friend to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Beginner Rider Course with me. Did I say convince? I meant bribed.

If we didn't pass, or didn't love it, at least we would have fun trying. And no one could ever say we didn't at least try. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Beginner Rider Class seemed the perfect fit. We get to ride on other people's bikes (my husband was happy about that one!!!), learn from top instructors, and if we passed the test at the end, we wouldn't need to take the states driving test to get our motorcycle certification.

For those of you that don't know. The MSF Beginner Rider Course is spread out over three half day sessions. The first session is a classroom session, and the other two sessions are on the motorcycles.

So, now it's 1 am on a Friday night. I'm sitting in my pajamas with a glass of wine, eagerly waiting for the registration website to be officially "open" so that I can register for the class. Seriously, in Ohio, there are so many people trying to get in, that they open the registration site at 1 am, and it is first come first serve! Five minutes later, my $25 paid, I am registered for the class and headed for bed. Seven minutes later, all of the spring classes were full and yes, the class in Ohio only costs $25.

A couple of weeks later, my friend and I show up for the classroom portion of the course. In this setting, the instructors take us through the book word for word, and have us work in small groups to capture the key topics for the rest of the class. It's pretty dry, but we of course found a way to make it fun. Overall, it teaches you the basic things you want to remember as you are on the bike. But you won't realize this until after the end of the first riding day!


Cjohnson says:

This is an awesome story. I also took the riders course in New Jersey. What a big difference and yes it definitely is a confidence builder. I had my license already but my husband paid for my courses as a birthday gift to me. It was worth every dime. My dad and brother ride and it was also something I grew up loving to do. I had my bike already the best one that started me off was a honda rebel 250 cc. That bike was great. After two months though I went for a bigger bike the yamaha virago 750. My dad worked with me prior to going to the riders course and they let me use my bike since it was the same speed level as the ones they were using. My instructors were absolutely great and had tons of wisdom to share. Next year, Lord willing I will take the advanced course for those who have been riding a while. I also was advised to ride thorn all the seasons, and I must say it has been great! There is nothing like the wind, the fresh air and the road,
Sun Nov 3, 2013 at 1:22 PM

jshevey says:

Weird there hasn't been a comment for YEARS...but feel the need to add. My husband got a bike again after about 30 years, last fall. We both obtained our M Temps and while he did ride about 1000 miles last year, we both took our local MSF 5 day course Memorial Day week/weekend. We both passed and BOTH learned a great deal. For my husband, it was to be more "safe" and get his M endorsment... For me, it was to learn IF I even really wanted to ride. Our instructors were awesome!! Tom & Jim :) Yes, within two weeks, we had found and purchased a bike for me (suzuki, but it's nice and a really good "starter bike" for me). My heart was really set on a BMW Touring bike, but I can wait until I grow up :) This past weekend, I've put over 70 miles on the road under my belt, and can't wait to get out again.... The MSF Course in our area of WI was over $300, but was intensive. I can't imagine the two or three day versions for $20, but glad if you've gone through ANY course, vs just winging it! Ride on! Thanks MSF!!
Tue Jun 11, 2013 at 8:06 PM

LadyTaz says:

I take my class here in Illinois this coming Thursday 7/7/11. The class only costs me $20. I can't wait to learn. I've thought about doing this for some time now and finally me and my sister have gotten the nerves to do so. I am short only 5'4 and I have read everything I could find, and everyone says that I have to test out the bikes myself to get a feel for them. Carrie thank you for your insight I found it helpful and an enjoyable read. Wish me luck. I'll come back after my last class which is 7/17 to tell you how it went.
Tue Jul 5, 2011 at 1:41 PM

Kandi66 says:

I have ridden behind my husband for the last 20 years. I always wanted to ride by myself. But he always insisted I wait till the girls were out of high school. Well, last year I decided to buy myself a Mother's Day gift, Riding Lessons.

It was a two day course. I must say it was a real challenge but worth every minute of it. I was the only women in the class. Needless to say I felt a little out of place. But the instructors were very knowledgeable. I would suggest the Rider Safety Course to everyone.

I have been riding for a little over a year. I have a 2003 H-D Fat Boy. We have gone on rides in the Arkansas Ozarks, Texas Hill Country and around Grand Lake in Oklahoma. The only thing I miss about riding behind my husband is being able to communicate. We might have to invest in headsets soon.

If you have been thinking about or dreaming about learning to ride. Just do it! Take the course! Be safe and enjoy the ride!

Fri Jun 12, 2009 at 2:59 PM

CaCruiser says:

Hello Ladies
Just a bit of encouragement to all of you, I own 3 bikes...650dr suzuki, fz1 yamaha and GL1800 Goldwing. Sport, dirt and cruiser. Yes it is possible. Ride safe and enjoy!
Tue Dec 23, 2008 at 1:54 PM

kwright58 says:

I started again in 2004 after not riding since 1972-73 or so. Took the MSF course with my husband of 24 years. Both passed bought Sportsters and have been riding since. Traded to a Softail Deluxe in '06 and can only say the difference in the seat height made riding even more enjoyable. I am only 5' tall and can flatfoot the Deluxe with no problem. I agree that the instructor didn't know what he was talking about when we took the course, I was the shortest one in the class they were 2-3 different types of bikes and the instructors had me sit on almost every bike unitl I found one I could sit on comfortably. Don't give up there is a bike out there for you!!!!
Tue Jan 29, 2008 at 10:08 AM

Sulley says:

I'm in the UK, but it sounds like this instructor didn't know what he was doing. The difference between a 125 and 250 is neligible. However being able to put your feet on the floor is crucial! The off road bikes normally have the weight quite high and are not so well balanced. Great if your 6ft plus but not if you're 5ft. I'm lucky that even though I'm a lady I'm 6ft and seat height is not an issue (I ride a HD Fatboy), I also have a friend who rides a HD sportster low who is 5ft and manages this with ease. The key thing is to get your wife a bike with a low seat height so she can get her feet comfortably on the floor, balance the bike and gain confidence. Lots of ladies in the UK buy import sports bikes from Japan to get the low seat heights. I don't know anything about Ridley bikes (never heard of them) and personally I wouldn't like to have an automatic bike but that it is just personal preference. Good luck and I hope she finds a bike she likes.
Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 8:19 AM

Dirk says:

My wife is just 5' tall, and the instructor of her MSC would only let experienced riders ride the rebels because the bikes were 250cc. She had to try and ride a very tall dual on/off road bike. It was only 125cc, but way too high for her. She not only couldn't touch the ground with both feet, she couldn't get one foot on the ground and her butt on the seat. She dropped the bike a couple of times in the class, and the instructor told her she was too small to ride a motorcycle. He wouldn't even let her try the small 250ccs. We have since looked at the Ridley motorcycle( She can standup with both feet touching and space between her and the seat. The bike is less than 400 lbs and it is automatic. Nice sound and power (740cc), lots of chrome and paint. This bike is priced like a Harley, which is very expensive for a first time bike for someone who isn't sure how much she will ride. Has anyone here had any experience with a Ridley?
Sun Jan 27, 2008 at 10:15 PM

Nata15 says:

Sounds a lot like my experience! I always wanted to learn to ride, but kept putting it off. I actually bought a bike to convince myself to go take the course. I figured if I had it waiting for me in my garage, it would encourage me to get signed up as soon as possible. I had a permit and tried learning from my boyfriend, but he was too advanced to remember to teach me the basics. I definitely recommend that everyone take a Beginner's Rider Course.
Tue Jan 22, 2008 at 12:09 PM

HarleyAngel3 says:

Now that you ride your own look for a WIN (Women In the Wind ) group near you its a group of women riders they are nation wide we have a womens convention in Cocoa Beach Fla Feb 29 - Mar 2 2008 We love to have new women join us and bring your friend ....
Wed Jan 16, 2008 at 3:31 PM

gailmi821 says:

I didn't finish the class, someone cut me off, I spilled, landed on my wrist, the instructor said just get up, I did, but was really shook up, and too bugged to go back the next day.....gmi
Sun Jan 13, 2008 at 9:34 PM

desert_angel says:

wow this is great as i,m a learner in the progress. thank you for all the tips and help.
Fri Jan 11, 2008 at 2:19 AM

suez1040 says:

I just love seeing the excitement in the 'eyes' of other women who have caught the bug to ride! I was listening to my uncle's stories of past and future trips this past summer. I was so envious of what he experienced and wanted my own experiences.

So, one day I arrive home and announce to my husband (retired Army and we're both 57 years old) that I was going to learn to ride a bike and planned to go with my uncle (72 years old) to Anchorage, Alaska! (He knew after 32 years of marriage that meant 'we were going to learn and ride to Alaska'.)

We took the MSF course in Sedalia, MO and now ride our Honda's as much as possible. The course is well worth it. Since my decision, a brother bought a bike and has started riding again after nearly 30 years.

I congratulate you, Carrie, and all other women, on your adventuresome spirits and may you continue to seek that next road trip. Ride Safe!

Mon Dec 24, 2007 at 1:45 PM

gurlie_girl says:

Awh, I wish I could post the photo on my drivers license the day I got my "M" endorsement added! I have a million dollar smile! I'll never forget the way I felt the day I completed and passed the MSF riding course! I'm thinking I want to get into becoming an instructor just so I can help share the feeling I had when I first learned to ride! Great article btw! Thanks for the smile! Lady riders ROCK! It always brings an ear to ear smile on my face when I see a fellow lady rider on the road! Ya'll ride safe and most of all have fun!
Beth Ann
Fri Dec 14, 2007 at 1:33 AM

NorthEast says:

Enjoyed the article. The wife is going to start riding next spring, a Honda Rebel 250. Yes, she will be taking the safety course.
Tue Nov 27, 2007 at 5:34 AM

Harleycat says:

After riding 2 years on the back and having my boyfriend break up with me and take the Harley with him, every time I heard that sound it was a knife in my heart Noe I have had my own for 2 years on Dec 5 and I have put 21,00 mile on it. It the best thing that ever happened to me,
I highly recommend learning to ride on a small (ie Suzuki 250) and then ad the weight of a bigger bike. Many of the women I see that start out on a big bike stay timid way too long.
I'm hoping to ride from Oregon to Florida in Spring of 2008 so if anyone is in the lower US, I would love to drive by! Cat
Fri Nov 23, 2007 at 7:51 PM

mjhodge says:

i took the course with two friends i was so scared but the teachers were so great loved the class anyone who wants to learn to ride this is the way
Thu Nov 8, 2007 at 12:05 PM

Feahere says:

I enjoyed your article, it reminded me of taking the class. I took the MSF class in August through the Illinois state course for a cost of only $20!! It was well worth the wait since classes fill up quickly and you have to wait for an opening. I now ride a HD Sportster 1200C and have already put 700 miles on it. I'm not ready to put it away for the winter!
Mon Oct 29, 2007 at 5:16 PM

melone says:

I enjoyed the article, I too have taken the MSF class (and passed! I coundn't believe it!) The entire course gave me much appreciation for my husband's skills. I still prefer to be the passenger and enjoy.

Anyone out there have a good route from California to Indianapolis?
Mon Oct 8, 2007 at 9:48 AM

lindsey says:

I took the beginner class in Arlington Tx.this last summer - my son who was soon to leave for college thought it would be fun, July in Texas is sometimes anything but fun, especially on a hot parking lot for hours on end. Have to give the instructor credit though , we had breaks every 15 minutes, chairs in the shade and he provided plenty of water! Our class cost $ 180.00. I hadn't been on a bike since I was a teenager ,49 now - my husband and I just got a Honda Spirit 750 6 weeks ago,mine looks better because it has flames! we have almost 1000 miles now and can't get enough. I think we'll take the advanced rider course next month, schedule permitting. - I told him we were just going to look!
Thu Oct 4, 2007 at 9:33 PM

byker907 says:

I turned 50 5yrs ago and my goal was to get my license and a bike, well I got my lic. took the full weekend course and passed, but brought my first bike savage 650, trade it in Sept 10 for a Shadow Aero, and I love riding. Just remember to take it at your pace, and practice, practice, practice. But enjoy your rides. Keep safe and Slow down, look and lean and ask the Lord to keep you safe!!!
Wed Oct 3, 2007 at 8:14 AM

rice0616 says:

Unfortunatly, I didn't pass the MSF course, but it wasn't the civilian class that one would have to pay for. I went on a military post where the riding was only for six hours (not enough for a complete...I mean complete beginner). The bike I had didn't match what was comfortable to me (would have loved to have a Rebel). On the military post it wasn't a complete with an endorsment for your lic., so I wasn't really all that bummed. I own a bike and am determined to learn. I learned great techniques, have a wrist that kills due to a very tight clutch unfitting for small hands, but am glad I took the class. I agree, look where you want to go because where the eyes look, the bike will follow. Great article! Plan on taking the MSF course off post where it runs from about $180-200. I will practice...practice first. Can't wait to hear more. Wish you much success.
Wed Sep 26, 2007 at 3:41 PM

Anonymous_Motorcyclist says:

Congratulations on passing your test! My husband decided he wanted to get a motorcycle so I told him if he was getting a bike so was I, so we both took the MSF Course but through a Harley Davidson dealer in Ohio at a cost of $300 each for the 5 day class on a Buell Blast, which was to big and heavy for me. I did not pass the test on the last day but I did learn alot and have purchased a 2008 Honda 250 Rebel which is just the right size for me. My feet touch flat on the ground on my bike and I feel confident with the weight and size. I have been riding all over and using what I learned in the class to build my skills with my bike and am now getting ready to take the test again, but on my bike. My children think I'm crazy but my grandson loves seeing his grandma on a motorcyle.
Wed Sep 26, 2007 at 10:47 AM

margaritaville says:

Great article. I recently took the MSF course and have been riding now a couple of months. In Maryland, we found the cost to be anywhere from 175$ to 300$. At Howard Community College it was around 275$. I have a Suzuki Boulevard C50T. Yes, it is heavy, but it rides great. The class was great. We learned on Suzuki 250's. The instructors were patient and everyone but one finished and passed our class. My favorite ride so far was this past weekend when we traveled down to Annapolis and back. There were some pretty back roads. My advice is take it at your pace and enjoy everything about it.
Mon Sep 17, 2007 at 10:01 AM

heidiflighty says:

Thanks for the information. I look forward to reading the other parts of your article. I too have been thinking about learning to ride a motorcycle. I like being a passenger, but girls just want to have fun too! I haven't decided if I am coordinated enough to do it. I am so glad that you told where and the cost of the course that you took. My Husband is in the ARMY stationed in Maryland and it is around $600 or even more for the course from what I have been told. My home of record is Ohio, so if I decide to go through it then Ohio will be the place! I saw a woman riding a Honda 250 Rebel and my Husband told me that would be a great bike for me because I worry about the bikes weight and being able to reach the ground. Thanks to the reader comments suggesting them. Well, it is a beautiful Saturday, we have a babysitter for the day, and my Husband is almost done washing our 2007 HD Sportster so I guess I better get myself ready for a great ride!
Sat Sep 8, 2007 at 7:30 AM

canabe says:

Beginner from a males point of veiw.
The MSF Course is the only way to go for skill levels beginner to experanced. A friend & I took the course in Virginia (50 or 75 dollars). Disney Land has nothing that can beat this experance. They provided Honda 250 Rebels, a great bike for the beginner. I held the position of the student most likely to fail but executed a near text book emergency stop. My foot touched a couple times in the U turns but that was within my stratigy, 2nd gear; smooth, strong & early. The entire class passed with no less than a 5 point margin of error. My friend has a Suziki C50 (800cc's). I looked around for somthing smaller but ended up deciding to gut out the first few months of having a bike to big for one I can ride for 10 hrs or more. I've graduated from rookie (skared silly making making dumb, clumsy mistakes)to novice (enjoying myself but still making dumb, clumsy mistakes). In the MSF Course after "look where you want to go" the 2nd most important bit of advise was the last thing my instructors said. "Your now qualifed to ride in a parking lot". It's not much fun but a large, empty parking lot is a good place to practice the excercises you've learned on you're larger/differant bike.
Sat Sep 8, 2007 at 7:04 AM

buggydee says:

im also a first time rider my husband picked up a used motorcycle for me to practice on i have fun riding in the back with my husband but after a while it hurts im not that young anymore.hope to read the rest of your story.
Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 10:44 AM

tjkeller1 says:

great article
Mon Aug 13, 2007 at 7:19 PM

kadillon says:

Loved the article! Can't wait to read parts 2 and 3.
Sat Aug 11, 2007 at 10:24 AM

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