Sunday, 27 January 2013

Motorcycle Training Course - Day One

The best way to get back on the road safely was to take a refresher course. You needed a learner's license to take the course but since I had kept the "M" endorsement on my driver's license all the years I wasn't riding, I did not have to rewrite the learner's exam. I just had to show up with my helmet, jeans, gloves, boots and jacket to the training range.

On the first day of registration - March 1 - I signed myself and my son up for the three day course. He had expressed an interest in riding so I made a deal with him: you go with me for the course and then you could buy a bike and we will practice together. Of course, I was very nervous as a mother to have my child out on a bike in the world of traffic that doesn't always give a hoot whether you need part of the road too, but I felt that I was giving him his best chance to stay safe by taking this course and becoming aware of the dangers.

This happened two years ago on April 30. The first day started at 6:00 pm with a meet in a cold trailer with 18 other riders. The trailer heater was broken the whole weekend, temp hovered about -3 to 3 C (26F to 37F) it was not warm, and it was very windy. I overheard one of the wives say to her husband, "You had to be in the very first class of the year didn't you!" She wasn't mad, just bugging him as she was just as frozen as me.

It was cold that weekend, but I was just as impatient to get going on the whole biking experience impatient that I almost foolishly didn't wait to take the course before picking up my bike from the dealership. The thing that stopped me was the dead battery. I had arrived mid April all ready to ride it home and the bike would not start. I had called ahead to say I was coming down but for some reason they hadn't checked it. So they would call me later after it was recharged. When I arrived back home disappointed, I got to was sign that I really should wait, take the course and then go back and get the bike to bring home. That day I listened to my intuition, but I really, really wanted to get the bike. If I had not listened, I may have crashed the bike in my haste by thinking it would be so easy to just hop on and go. I was not thinking clearly that day and the universe let me know. A life lesson learned that day...

Back to the training range...there were 6 instructors - one of them being a woman who had been riding for years and pulled up in a huge Ducati, she was a neat gal and inspiring.There were 20 students comprised of a mixture of genders and ages: 

--A married couple where the guy was getting back into riding and his wife wanted to try it too. He rode the little Honda 250 Rebel cruiser and was fun to watch because he was like 6 foot 4 and you can imagine him wrapping those long legs around that bike. By Sunday morning his wife confided to me that she was not going to ride her own, she'd be more than happy to be the pillion rider. I respected her decision as I knew she had tried really hard but just was not having any fun. She wasn't bad though, but you just know, don't you? 

 --Another married couple had two brand new Harley Sportsters and a new baby. She was very petite and I could not imagine a Harley being small enough for her! She did just fine, enjoyed it and was looking forward to lots of parking lot practice at the end of the course with her new bike. 

--Next was a mom and her daughter (early twenties) who were going to give it a go...and another young women who I never spoke with...there was always so much going on!

--A lady in her mid-fifties - who was told she couldn't do that by an uncle, so she was going to do it anyway just to show him. At one point I thought I might have to use my rusty first-aid training as I saw her going toward a steep ditch and narrowly miss it... I don't know if she passed the course, but I do know she had fun and had passed her goal to try it! 

--a couple of young guys in their late twenties who had not had a good day on the only 20 minutes they had spent on a bike. They had split the cost of the bike and knew at that point they had to get some training. They got really good once they got going!

--a mom with two teenage sons - they had ridden off-road as she had and she wanted them safe on the streets now too. 

--a police officer who had one of those gorgeous Yamaha Vstar 900s and felt he was now past his "going too fast days" in his late 30s. He told me he liked my jacket and asked how it worked for me in the women's version of his Joe Rocket

--the rest of the students were guys of various ages - a couple asked me what I ride and some others were just there because they had heard that you had to take the training course to get your full endorsement; otherwise they would not have bothered at all. (Yikes!) It is not a requirement at this time, although the instructors would like to make it that way to keep riders safer. As it stands right now, you can write your learner's exam and go riding out in traffic without any training whatsoever...scary concept eh?

The bike I rode all weekend was the Yamaha TRW 200. My son preferred the Honda CBR 125.  

That first night there was about an hour and a half   of in-class instruction and then as much riding time we could get in before it got dark. We learned to "rock and roll" which was helpful to remember how far to let that clutch out before you killed the engine, and then stopping instructions before we were allowed out in the giant parking lot to practice in first gear. Then like magic, I just popped it into second gear when the engine needed it without even thinking about it - that's a long buried muscle memory that just came back on its own. More practice going around and around and I was feeling somewhat okay with the experience but still quite nervous. The head instructor warned us again and again that what we were doing was a dangerous sport and that kept ringing in my ears as I rode around. I was dealing with an unfamiliar claustrophobic-feeling helmet that kept fogging up until I opened the visor one notch. 

The bikes all had duct-tape all over them and you could tell they had been dropped many times. By the end of that first evening, I dropped one myself when I went to swing my leg off and forgot to put down the kickstand...oww. One of the older guys ran over to pull the bike off me before I even got out from under it. I thanked him but was mad and embarrassed at doing something so stupid. Bruises on knee and calf but did not break anything on the bike thankfully. It was at 9:00 pm, dark, cold, I was very tired and it was raining. My first doubts about what the heck I had signed up for began to creep into my consciousness...Perhaps this was not something I should be doing?  

As I drove home with my son (who was having a blast and doing well for someone without any experience with riding), I told him I had to give it my best shot that weekend. If at the end of it, the instructors told me that I really should not be on the streets, and I was not feeling competent, I would not carry on with this journey. But with the knowledge that I had tried, I would not regret it.

Day Two next...

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Getting Back in the Saddle

Wow, the sun is coming up, the snow is sparkling and temperature is hovering at -27 C (-16 F) with the windchill at -42 C (-43 F). Funny that the temperatures are the same in Celsius and Fahrenheit once it gets so low. It's like someone said, "Oh whatever, it's just freaking cold!" 

If you live long enough in Saskatchewan, you begin to realize that every conversation in the winter starts with "How are you? How was your drive/walk to work?" It sets the tone for the day and for my postings. 

It is too cold today to do anything outside, and I will have to plug in my car for two hours if I want to go anywhere. What I would really like to do today is hop on my Suzuki with a bottle of water and some granola bars and ride for a few hours - but that is not going to happen for obvious reasons...

I was going to do some sewing yesterday but noticed that my machine does not want to do reverse sewing anymore. Will be going to a machine repair shop I guess that leaves painting indoors. Our son has recently moved out and his room needs new paint, new carpet and a new function. I am going to make it our motorcycle gear/guest bedroom/seasonal clothes/Christmas stuff/books storage room. I bet you all have a room like that in your home. We have not had the space until now to have a dedicated room for all of that. It's always just been stashed all over the house wherever it fit.  

So, this will keep me busy until May when riding season will startMy riding skills will be rusty again by then - there will be lots of trips around the neighbourhood until I feel like my muscle memories have kicked inOnly then will I head out into the city and then the highway.

Riding season goes to about October 15 here. I've been out on the bike most weekends for the last two seasons. In those two seasons, I realized I am a lot more cautious than I was at 20 when I thought I was invincible. I never worried then about riding in the rain, riding at night, or riding with a passenger, and yes, I used to do all three of those at the same time - a lot!

For one thing, I did not have a car and I liked to go see movies with my friends so off on the Kawasaki I'd go. When the movie was finished, it would be raining, it would be dark and a friend would want a ride, so I would ride them home. I did this for two years before I saved enough money to buy a car and then got my driver's license. 

So anyway, it is off to do wall preparation for painting for me until all the snow goes away and the roads are clear once more - to ride to our heart's content.



Thursday, 17 January 2013

Armoured Gear

It's been a little while...been busy shoveling snow after another storm. It warmed up to 2 degrees Celsius the other day and our roof was actually melting for a few hours. Today it is back down to -18 C and will have to warm the car a bit before leaving - will be ice to scrape off the car windows too. All that shoveling and scraping keeps those Suzuki muscles in condition...

So anyway, back to buying armoured gear...

After I put down the money on my bike, I proceeded to the gear department. I needed a jacket, helmet, gloves and boots...all I had left from my previous riding days was the bright yellow fisherman's rain gear that was standard covering for any adventure back in the day because it was usually always raining there on the North Island. 

When I had ridden many years ago, all we had that was specifically for the motorcycle was the helmet, everything else was borrowed from other activities. I seem to remember a bright orange open face helmet.
I always wore a clear visor with that which helped to keep the rain off the face...

Okay, so now that you have that image in your head, add that to my mint (yes, mint) green Suzuki that I used to ride off-road...what a style Diva I was then! On the upside though, we were way ahead of our time with the hi-viz gear!

We would wear that gear over top of a parka, jeans and throw on some hiking boots. I do not believe there was motorcycle gear for kids then, but we didn't care, we were warm and fairly dry except for the trickle down the neck and up the sleeves. The day Dad bought us gauntlet gloves was a happy day!

So, back to 2011...the range of possible jackets and helmets was daunting to say the least. First the jacket - the choice went from an all black, short, body hugging style to accentuate your feminine shape, to a jacket with many pockets that would zipper onto pants if you wanted. Then throw in the leather versus textile variable. What to choose? 

I read that leather was the best protection but hot and more expensive. Textile has come a long way in protection, not so hot and sometimes not as expensive. I tried on a few brands of the available styles in the store and decided to order a Joe Rocket Ballistic 11.00 Ladies textile jacket. The choice was with panels in black and Pink, Grey, or hi-viz. I chose the grey one as it almost looked white in the picture and thought it would match the bike more. When the jacket arrived a week and a half later, it turned out to be more silver - the sales guy saw the look on my face, knew I was a bit disappointed and said "Well, you don't want to look like a Power Ranger". We had a laugh at that and he was right, what really mattered was that it fit me well enough that I could move freely and safely.

It came with a quilted vest and wind/rain layer that proved to be too warm for regular summer wear for me. I just ride with all the layers out and the vents open. The only time I rode with all the layers in was on the three days of the motorcycle safety course, and I was still cold. (April 30 to May 2) Just too early to be outside...I'm going to be looking for a mesh jacket this spring, something much cooler for our hot summers. It's either freeze or fry here on the prairies!

Next the helmet: I was on the fence about an open faced, or a full face or a modular. I especially felt that a full face would be too limiting for my field of vision and also claustrophobic. Another woman rider told me that long ago, an older male had told her to always wear a full face because in case of an accident, guys could grow a beard to cover the scars, but women cannot do that...that was all I needed to hear.

After talking with the salespeople, they offered me a Zox modular helmet to try on. It had a fairly wide eye port (still felt claustrophobic though), and it was a little difficult to lift up the moveable jaw part. I am glad it was difficult because after seeing pictures of full face helmets that had been involved in accidents, it was always the front part where your chin lives which always (ALWAYS) takes the brunt of a crash. If the helmet was too easy to open, it would be useless to save your chin and head in a crash. What was easy though was to put my glasses on with the lower part up, and that was the one. (Google Photo)
Of course I had to order this as well, they just had black in stock...I wanted something that might catch a cager's eyes to give me a little more edge to stay safe, so white was the one.

Now lastly, gloves...I tried on some light leather ones which fit comfortably and bought those. Not until I was actually out riding did I know I had made a wrong choice as they tended to bunch up under my palm whenever I wanted to use either the throttle or clutch lever. But the next year, I was talking with another woman rider and she recommended I try these. They are a pair of BMW AirFlow2 gloves - wow, great fit and much cooler hands - as much as any glove can do when it is 30 C out.

So, I had that part sorted. I bought armoured pants later that summer when I finally found a pair that fit. Another Joe Rocket offering, men's Alter-Ego that had zip-off panels when the temperature rose. Also came with a wind/rain inner layer too. Not bad, but I never wear the inner layer either. A bit warm on a really hot day even with the panels zipped out, but the armour saved my leg from a scraping one day when I dropped the bike. I was left with a very pretty bruise but I was good to go because of the armour. The bike was left with a slightly bent shifter but me sticking my leg out protected the tank and side panel. Quick thinking saved my bike from more damage.

Boots! Can't forget those...didn't like anything I saw, the heels seemed too high for proper riding or not enough grip when you needed it, so out came the hiking boots again. Although a newer pair, I'd been using them all winter to walk my dog (and still do).

They keep me upright on many icy walks with my rescued Sheltie and my feet are never too hot or cold in them. So, that's what I've been wearing when I swing a leg over my Suzuki. The year round boot... 

Well, that's long enough for today...check out the snowblower which is closest to the outside door...guess which machine is being used more right now?? 

Stay warm and take care!


Tuesday, 8 January 2013

My Bike Buying Experience

Just to see what I was up against in the male-dominated world of motorcycles, I visited three shops by myself, checking out the initial reaction of the sales and parts staff. I was going to go with the shop that seemed the most open to helping me out. I had not ridden in many years and needed their opinion in which bike would work for me. 

I need not have worried as they all had people who were more than willing to help me out. (One of the shops even had young woman on their sales staff whose eyes lit up when she saw me.) All of the shops had comparable gear inventories, and sold an array of used bikes along with their new brands. This was not going to be an easy decision... 

The first place sold Honda and Suzuki - the young guy was more than happy to show me around, let me try on some jackets, helmets, and sit on a few bikes. This was most useful to see how they "fit". The Honda CBR 125 (small but easily maneuverable); Suzuki V-Strom (I could not touch the ground on that one); Suzuki 500 GSX-R (too much leaning over the tank); and a brand new '09 Suzuki Gladius in a maroon/white combo (perfect fit but a little too pricey for my budget).  I discovered that by August of the same year, they had not sold the "pink" bike yet, and had knocked the price down considerably to a something that I would have paid for, but it was too late by then.

(Google Photo)

The next shop sold Yamaha and Kawasaki - where even though the power in the shop had gone out, the guy hauled out a used Ninja 250 for me to sit on. Again, too much leaning over/narrow handlebars. The rest of the bikes were either huge Yamaha cruisers (beautiful though), or gnarly off-road bikes (would be fun but there are no logging roads in Southern Saskatchewan and we don't live on a farm where you can ride around on your property).

The last sold Ducati and Kawasaki. The Ducatis were quite expensive so they were off the list. They had a Ninja 250 and and a KLR 650 (way too tall even for me). 

After some more thinking and looking, I happened to see another Suzuki Gladius on one of these same dealers' websites. Since I had already sat on one and the price was more reasonable (had 2200 kilometres on it) I went back and asked to see it. Again, it was the perfect fit. I could lean it over a ways in a stationary position and roll it forwards and backwards comfortably without too much straining even though it weighs 450 pounds. Since there was no way to test ride it - it was February 8 and you've already heard enough about the snow on the roads here - that had to suffice.

I just knew that was it, this was the one. I wrote out my cheque for the full amount and proceeded to decide on a jacket and helmet before I left the shop with a box of the stock tail section, muffler and turn signals. My bike had had a tail eliminator kit put on, different mirrors added which also housed the new turn signals, and an IXIL muffler. Someone had also peeled off the Gladius sticker on the side, and cut away some of frame covering to change the look of the bike.

 (Have to say that I thought the tail eliminator kit was quite cool, but not until I got a rooster streak up the back of my jacket and helmet one wet, rainy day did I consider that maybe the original tail would have worked better.)

For the next three months, all I could do was watch videos of other people riding my brand of bike and listen to the engine noise while I waited for the day I started my motorcycle safety course.

I was smitten and just hoped that the ride in May would be everything I had hoped it was going to be - and it was!

Have a good one...