Hey, it’s good to see you again! This is the last part in my “How I Learned to Ride” series, in which I finally get a motorcycle of my own (finally!). If you’re just joining, you might want to read the Introduction and parts I and II.
I have a love-hate relationship with Craigslist. It’s a dangerous place! And it’s especially dangerous when you know you want a motorcycle but you’re not quite sure if you’re ready to commit… but OH MY GOD is that still available?
Or maybe that’s just me.
Anyway, during this past spring I’d been doing a lot of Craigslist cruising, and had had a lot of close calls ⎯ cursor hovering over “reply,” caught between desire to tear up the road and fear of learning to operate a manual transmission.
Up to this point, my moto-journey had had a very halting, jerky pattern: baby step forward, wait to get comfortable, another baby step forward, followed by another long period of acclimation. And, although it was a little frustrating, I was more or less okay with it.
You see, if you want to ride ⎯ if you know in your deepest soul that you want to be a badass on two wheels ⎯ but you’re scared to take the plunge, know that you don’t have to jump in headfirst. You can take as many baby steps as you want. Moped. Scooter. Dirt bike. Jet ski. I don’t care if all you do is go to arcades and play the simulations! Do what you need to do.
Because when you’re ready, you’ll know it.
And, a year after buying my scooter and a year and a half since taking my motorcycle training course, I was ready.
One morning at work, I’m shooting links to craigslist bike postings back and forth with my boyfriend. (Yes, this is something we do frequently.) And then I found it: a 1980 Kawasaki KZ440, frame already chopped, handlebars already lowered, all black. And I knew when I sent J the link that I wanted it.
Here’s what that conversation looked like:
As you can see, I was freaking out. And I kept freaking out. I got next to nothing done for the rest of the day, and insisted on showing the bike to all my coworkers. I emailed the seller and we decided to meet the following Saturday (which, serendipitously enough, turned out to be International Female Ride Day).
J and I arrived at the meet first on his CBR, and I have to admit, when I first saw the seller pull up on the kawi I was underwhelmed. It was dirty, its blinkers were electrical-taped to the raw chopped frame, and a bolted-on piece of scrap metal served as a makeshift back fender.
But when I sat on it, it was the perfect size. I had J ride it first to see what he thought, and it looked fun as hell. And it roared like a baby tiger: high-pitched and kind of adorable, but with powerful, growly undertones.
And what the hell, I did it. I had the cash, he had the title… done.
I owned a motorcycle.
After the seller left, J and I took a walk to get something to drink, partly because it was hot, but mostly because I needed to collect my wits. I hadn’t ridden a motorcycle for nearly a year, and yeah I was nervous, but I finally was doing it.
I rode around the parking lot for about forty-five minutes, testing the brakes, testing the gears, trying to remember what I had learned in the motorcycle safety course. Then, when I felt that I had gotten everything I could out of going in circles, J and I struck out on the most empowering ride of my life.
The first part of the ride was a straightaway, and I pushed the bike into fourth gear, grinning the whole time, downshifting like I’d done it all my life. Thanks to my year on the scooter, I felt comfortable balancing the bike, and had no qualms with being in traffic. I only stalled out once, and my only mistake was taking a turn a bit too wide and freaking out an elderly lady in a sedan waiting to make a left turn.
But it was fun as shit.
I couldn’t stay off the bike for the rest of the weekend, and on Sunday, I took my very first ride alone. I went just about 2 miles up the road to Joann Fabrics to get some velcro for the battery, which was only tenuously held on by a bungee cord (no joke). It was a bit of a shaky ride, but when I pulled into the parking lot and parked my bike, I wanted to yell “DID YOU SEE ME PULL UP ON A MOTORCYCLE???” at the elderly women picking out fabric samples.
I waited for a year and a half to learn to ride a motorcycle, and now that I was finally doing it without fear, almost gracefully, I felt incredible.
However, the exhilaration was short-lived. I quickly realized that I couldn’t ride the bike in its current condition. The battery was skidding around on a lightweight metal plate, and every time I went over a bump the back wheel shaved off a bit of the battery casing. It didn’t have blinkers, or a brake light, or a gas gauge. It stalled out at nearly every light, even after I had been riding for 30 minutes. The throttle seemed a bit laggy at low speeds.
So, I took the bike to a shop and told them my concerns, feeling confident that all the bike really needed was a good “tune up.” But when I came to pick it up a week later, the mechanic that had been working on it expressed serious concern that I was riding that bike, in that condition, as a beginner. And it was still stalling at lights.
Over the next few weeks, I really struggled with whether or not I should keep the little Rat (as I had started to call it). I knew by then that it didn’t just need to be “tuned up,” it needed to be rebuilt. And I was going to have to put up the money to do that, or sell it and put up the money to buy something more reliable.
Fortunately, through a friend, I had just met an amazing woman named Sofi who builds cafe-style bikes for charity, and who was starting her own company so she could rebuild bikes like mine full time. Sofi was kind enough to listen to my concerns in a few extremely long-winded and anxiety-ridden emails, and then she asked me if I could take the bike up to her house so she and her dad could take a look at it.
I admit, when I rode the Rat up to meet Sofi, I was almost positive that the bike would never be what I needed it to be, and I was about to give up on it. But her expertise, enthusiasm and vision for the bike completely changed my mind.
Sofi and her dad pulled the bike into the garage, and after just 15 minutes they found that the Rat had only been running on 1.5 cylinders, and the choke kept getting stuck, which is why it was always dying at stops. The mechanics I had taken it to didn’t mention either of those things!
I told Sofi that I would need a few days to think about it before making the commitment, but I have to admit that after that visit, I was sold. Sofi and her dad are such interesting, down-to-earth, honest people, and the other bikes they had built were truly stellar. Not to mention, I was thrilled to be able to help a fellow female rider start her own business building bikes.
That was two months ago. The Rat is supposed to be done at the end of this month, and I can hardly wait to see what magical things Sofi will have done to it ⎯ but more, I can’t wait to get back on a moto again and start my lifelong journey as a rider. It may have taken me nearly two years to get to this point, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.