Jean waiting to hit Horse Thief Mile at Willow Springs
Jean waiting to hit Horse Thief Mile at Willow Springs

A Motorcycle (Re)Awakening

Story by Jean P.  Photos by Jim Foreman

The short but extraordinarily precise Haiku version:

Can I ride with you?

A GS can change your life.

So can fish tacos.

The longer version:

I’m a 60-year-old woman.  Now retired from a career in higher education, I work part-time in senior relocation services.  It’s project management work that also includes the physical action of packing our clients in preparation for their move. I love my role, and in no small measure because it consists of the physical work along with the mental and caring aspects.  I’m in great shape, and I’ve been pretty athletic most of my life (skiing, cycling, swimming, and a little running).  Driving has always been a passion.  I’m also happily married to a wonderful and understanding man who does not ride motorcycles.

In August of 2015, I asked a work colleague who usually arrived at our job sites on a motorcycle if he would take me for a ride.  I had never piloted a motorcycle, and it had been 30+ years since I’d even been a passenger.  Surprisingly, I didn’t think I was looking for a new adventure or even a new hobby.  By the second ride, a few months later, I was hooked (it was a ride to the top of Mt. Diablo in Northern California). Over the next year, we did a lot of riding all over the greater Bay Area with me riding pillion and paying for gas, tolls, and lunches. 

During those rides, something profound was taking hold in my head and heart.  I couldn’t explain it, but somehow things just started to matter in a way they hadn’t for a long time.  Being on a bike, even as pillion, demanded my full attention and care and it was changing me – calling forth things that seemed familiar but had been dormant for a long time.  This emotional echo hearkened back to one of my early passions and jobs.  My responsibilities included backpacking and providing wilderness logistics for Outward Bound programs.  Both of these actions demanded my full attention and a high degree of intelligent self-reliance in an exposed environment.  I was again living intensely in the question: “How little can I get by with and still be safe and thrive?” 

Eventually, my colleague said it was time for me to get training at a CMSP Training Course and get my own bike.  While I had not been planning this, it was evident that my pillion days were over.  Off to training I went, and then to the DMV for my California M1 endorsement. 

The minimalist question, as I came to think of it, began to affect all of my life, including my eating habits.  Like many of us, for most of my adult life, I had fought a losing battle to lose weight.  Unexpectedly but thankfully, something about riding gave me the focus and relentless determination to eat in the best way possible to keep healthy.   It’s important to be active and fit to ride.  This new determination allowed me to reach the weight I’ve always wanted to be.  One of my frequent go-to foods was fish tacos, particularly from the Siren Canteen in Stinson Beach.

During this time, my mom was approaching the end of her life.  I was her primary caregiver.  Given that responsibility and privilege, I chose not to pursue purchasing a bike or riding on streets.  Soon I discovered 2 Wheel Safety, a CMSP riding school that offered “Extra Ride Time,” which is small group coaching in a parking lot. I participated in several sessions and practiced on a variety of their bikes. 

Naturally, this led to shopping for a motorcycle. In reality, I spent hundreds of late night hours trolling the internet, making comparisons, reading endless reviews, and checking for-sale listings. 

A great deal of time was spent researching motorcycle touring and I learned about Alisa Clickenger.  To my amazement, she quickly replied to my e-mail and introduced me to a local woman who was looking for a touring partner!  Through all of this, my infinitely patient and supportive but sleepy husband wondered what has taken possession of his wife. 

In early 2017, my mom passed away peacefully. 

Honda GROM

Not long after, I resolved to move forward with getting a bike and riding. I’m pretty small, so I settled on a Honda GROM, which fit on a rack on the back of the car.  I still wasn’t ready for street riding, so I took it to Extra Ride Time sessions and got to feel reasonably comfortable in parking lots.  Getting started at home, however, was a little trickier:  Our driveway is very long, very steep, has two sharp U-turns, and is half gravel.  I finally got some excellent tips from one of the instructors and figured out how to get up and down it.

During the summer of 2017 I started making small forays around the neighborhood on my GROM.  Things went pretty well, so I took longer and longer trips.  What I didn’t recognize at the time was that I had begun to ride routes that were well beyond my skills.  This reality was painfully revealed to me when I failed to navigate a complicated turn on a road I probably should not have been riding.  I crashed.  A whopping 192 miles was on the GROM when that happened.  The bike was okay, but I had broken my right fibula.

I sat on the couch for weeks, with a cast on my ankle and my leg raised, unable to work or even drive.  I thought about the safety stats well-intentioned people say to me when they hear that I’ve taken up riding. The monetary costs, both direct (bikes, gear, etc.) and indirect (8+ weeks off work with this injury) were also trying to pull me away.  How much harder it had been to develop proper riding skills at age 59 versus being 20-something? Of course, I also thought about the burden this could become on my husband if something worse happened. In the end, I decided to write-off riding. 

A few months later I tearfully sold the GROM to Mike Ritter of MotoJava and tried to move on.

There was just one small problem: I couldn’t stop thinking about riding.

All. Of. The. Time. 

Despite this intense longing, I couldn’t work out the problem of risk, and of how to gradually learn to ride on the street. 

In March of 2018, I went back to Mike Ritter and asked for his advice.  Mike taught riding for many years.  He said, “You need to start over on a SCOOTER.”  A scooter???  I’m thinking “Not exactly high on the coolness factor.” Despite my initial misgivings, I remembered my crash, so I listened.  He said riding a scooter would allow me to get comfortable in traffic without having to deal so much with operating the bike at the same time. He further suggested I do about 1,000 miles and then consider returning to a bike with a clutch and gears. 

Honda PCX-150

Mike helped me find a good, used, Honda PCX 150 (a rather cool looking scooter) and we do a day of training.  He was 110% right: by the end of the training day, I had reasonable confidence thanks to his superb coaching.  Mike taught me how to approach riding, mentally.  He also included more than a few technical tips for life on a scooter. 

In June of 2018, I attended a dirt bike camp for women and girls hosted by racer Shelina Moreda.  Her dedication to getting girls and women on bikes is astonishing and the weekend was pure joy.  Her coaching was exceptional, and I gained more confidence in handling and turns and shifting – and I met some fellow new riders!

I rode about 1,700 miles on the scooter and in August of 2018 I found a lovely and lively used Honda CB300F. 

Michael getting Jean’s attention on the pad

2,100 miles later, in March of 2019, I purchased a remarkable red 2006 BMW F650GS.  During our few weeks together, we’ve covered over 1,300 miles.  The F 650 GS and I recently spent a day with the awesome folks from Streetmasters at their Precision Cornering Workshop.

My husband, despite the ups and downs, has remained unwaveringly supportive.

It all feels incredibly good.

Jean P.

(L-R)Jean, Laura, Doug, Pete, and Tom at Streetmasters
(L-R)Jean, Laura, Doug, Pete, and Tom at Streetmasters