Thursday, April 25, 2013

Burgeoning Biker Chick

 It started with the DR650.

The BF finally caved to his yearly bout of bike fever and next thing I knew, we had a couple of shiny new 2012 Suzuki DR650SEs waiting to hit the open road with us.

Problem is, we were less ready to hit the open road on a  couple of 650cc dual sports than the dual sports themselves.

And we are both old enough to recognize this. So it was never our plan to buy a couple of bikes, throw on a backpack, and ride to glory.

The BF has slightly more motorcycle riding experience than I do. But only slightly.

I dated a guy who briefly owned some sort of street bike. It was blue. He taught me how to ride it, but I never left the parking lot. (I also never dropped it.) (It was a Kawasaki, 650cc, ummmm...errrrrr.... K-something.... maybe had an X in it? "naked street bike" is what he referred to it as. It was not a Ninja. It was blue. I am not a fan of all these models that consist of nothing but letters and numbers.)

So there we were, the current BF and I, he in his late 30's, me in my early 40's, with probably 6 hours of combined motorcycle riding experience between us, staring at brand spankin new DR650s.

Now what?

We had every intention of taking the motorcycle safety course ASAP. Looking back now, I'm not sure why we didn't do it before we bought bikes. But somehow the actual purchasing and taking possession part came before the safety course. Nevertheless, we were not fool enough to think all it takes is a helmet and a copy of "Born to be Wild" on the iPod to start racking up the miles.

So our plan was to spend a Saturday morning at the BF's place of employment, riding the bikes around the lot. (The BF is a mechanic, so his place of employment features a significant amount of parking lot and happens to be located directly next to the Suzuki dealership, which is how the bikes got to be in our possession to begin with. It turns out, a man cannot look at motorcycles all day without eventually owning one-- or two-- or....)

Then we would practice riding up and down the side street for awhile which would allow us some more space for working through gears and getting the feel of things at traffic speeds-- the side street, btw, totally deserted on a Saturday morning.

Things were going splendidly. My DR had been set in the "low" seat height for me, but it was still a couple of inches higher than I would have liked. But I could touch the ground with both feet at the same time and could get at least one foot stable, if not flat. This was the primary reason we ended up with the 650 as opposed to any other bike we considered. It was the only one that was low enough from the git-go that I could even touch the ground!

We'd opted not to consider a 200-250cc bike because they just don't have the gusto to do the 70mph+ speeds of the local freeways... we don't want to do a lot of freeway riding, but if we need to, we need to be able to keep up and get out of the way!

But back to our Saturday morning practice ride: After making several successful tours of the parking lot in all of up to 2nd gear, we decided to hit that side street.

All I had to was pull out of the driveway and make a sweeping left turn onto the side street. I pulled in the clutch, shifted into 1st, let off the brake, let out slowly on the clutch and twisted slightly on the throttle-- riding motorcycles takes a lot of coordination-- and took off smooth and easy.

About halfway across the street it occurred to me that I was not going to complete the turn in the space remaining. What I really needed was to be going slightly faster and leaning a little more. You can't really turn a bike, motor or otherwise, by just turning the handlebars. There's this whole leaning, counter steering, gyroscopic stabilization thing that has to happen.

Since I was not comfortable with the notion of gassing and leaning, I decided I would simply stop, duck walk a tad, start over.

I pulled in the clutch, missed the rear brake pedal with my right foot (not too big a deal, I'd already come to the conclusion that the stock brake pedal was going to need some modification as my foot consistently missed it,) and then my gloved fingers slipped right off the front brake lever.

Now I was enjoying that slow-motion phenomenon while I assessed all that had just happened and gone wrong, what was happening, what was going to happen and what my options for dealing with it all were, as I coasted toward the opposite curb at-- yes I looked at the speedometer-- about 3 miles an hour.

I didn't have time to grab for the brake again. I still had the clutch in. I doubt hitting the kill switch was going to help.

After ORIF surgery. You can still see the crack in the Ulna.
I hit the curb with the front wheel. The bike came to an abrupt halt. I let go of the clutch and the engine stalled. The front wheel had hit the curb exactly parallel, so the force of the stop threw the bike's weight sideways.

That's 360 pounds of hot bike that's leaning a little too far a little too fast and is threatening to land on my right leg. I don't think so!

So I jumped off.
The bike went down. I landed on the sidewalk, on my feet, clear and safe.... uh uh uh.... step, step, TRIP! FALL!!!

Yup. That's the story of not just my first bike crash and my worst injury to date.

I tripped and fell! DOH!

I had my left wrist tucked underneath me and broke 3 bones: Snapped my radius, busted the ulna, and cracked a carpal. I have never broken a bone before!

The BF picked up my bike, eventually realized that I was not ok and took me to the urgent care.

yes, the scar has smoothed out
A week later he had the bent front brake lever replaced, the rear brake pedal replaced and modified, and the seat replaced with a gel seat that brought the seat height down another inch...
and I had a fancy surgery to bolt my radius back together.

I missed two months of work from a job that I dearly LOVE, at a small business that I own, in an industry where I can't really just call a temp agency. I found out how my health insurance worked, I found out how my accident insurance worked. I thanked my lucky stars for having both of them, and went through some melancholy times, missing my job, and not being able to do jack shit with my time off, since I happen to be left-handed.

The worst part? The BF's mom did not know we had bought motorcycles!

Having to explain how I broke my wrist did not go over well. And it turns out she might like motorcycles a little less than her son originally expected.

I got back to work at the first of the year (2013) and a few weeks later, despite the grief my orthopedic surgeon plainly expressed, I got back on the horse that threw me.

I think the hi-viz jacket gives me super powers.
Up and down the cul de sac.Up and down. U-turns in the cul de sac. Up and Down.

This is scary now.

We ordered a lowering link and dropped the bike another inch and a half. I can almost flat foot with both feet now.

I finally ventured out of the cul de sac. Rode all around the neighborhood. Remembered to turn on and off the turn signals. I was doing pretty good.

But when all was said and done, I still came back to our garage and put the bike away feeling more relieved to have lived through it than stoked that I was riding.

Meanwhile, the BF was getting better and better, and gaining more confidence with his riding.

I started worrying that the BF was going to lose patience with me. That he'd be ready to get out of our neighborhood and onto "real" roads soon while I was still trying to avoid hyperventilating every time I put it in gear.

I considered the possibility that riding a motorcycle might not be my "thing." That, as much as I like bikes, and like the concept of riding, maybe I was destined to read other peoples' ride reports on ADV while I went about my adventuring on 4 wheels.

I worried a little how that would affect our relationship? We're talking dual sports here. Not cushy Gold Wings with cup holders and air conditioning... this is not a two up sort of motorcycle relationship.

Meanwhile... while I was still grounded with the busted wrist, the BF came across the opportunity to purchase a Honda Fat Cat.

In case you are unfamiliar, it's sort of a 2 wheel ATV. Or a 200cc motorcycle with really fat tires.

Somehow, the Fat Cat does not register in the MIL's mind as a motorcycle. When the BF and his dad brought it home, she was pretty excited about "putting a track in the field" like when the BF and his sister were young and they had a quad.

So, since somehow it was totally cool if the teenage grandkids rode a motorcycle, but the middle aged adults were fools for such nonsense-- we taught the teenagers to ride the FatCat.

Once I was cleared to ride again, I was reluctant to get on the Fat Cat myself. I can't quite say why. Just sort of a "I already have a motorcycle" sort of thing. But eventually, I got on the contraption...


The Fat Cat is different than the DR650. I mean, DUH, right? But what's different about riding the Fat Cat is that when you kick it into 1st gear, it doesn't do anything. It just sort of idles. You don't actually start moving until you rev the throttle a tad. And once you are underway, you are moving so slowly that it's perfectly feasible to keep your feet down in case you misjudge the balance thing. So slow that you can putter along in a straight line and have plenty of time to get the feel for the controls.

I really liked riding the Fat Cat.

Suddenly, I had a better understanding of why so many riders suggest starting on a "small" bike. I think "small" might not be the best way to describe what you want in a starter bike. It's not about displacement alone-- a Ninja 250 is faster than our DRs. There's all this other stuff about gearing and engine efficiency and stuff that determines how bikes work.
Jake didn't need teaching, he grew up racing.

Ultimately, it's not weight or displacement-- or even speed, exactly-- that determines why you want a "small" bike to start off with.

I think I have it boiled down to muscle memory. With the DR650, once I put it in 1st gear and let off that clutch, I am going! About 10 miles and hour once the clutch is all the way out. Which doesn't seem fast, until you're going 10 miles an hour on a 360 pound bike and you don't instinctively know where the clutch is, where the brake levers and pedals are, where the turn signals are, where the kill switch and the horn are. At 10 mph, you are going fast enough that you need to be paying attention to where you are going. You need to get your feet on the pegs so you don't rip them off. You don't have time to look down at your instrument panel, you need to pay attention to where you're going and what's in front of you.

You don't have time to develop the muscle memory so that you will know where everything is and instinctively be able to determine what needs to be grabbed and where it is.

I suddenly understand how you can build that muscle memory on a smaller-- slower-- bike, and then move up to a bigger bike and that muscle memory will translate fairly smoothly.

Like learning to drive stick shift-- once you know, you can drive another car with a manual transmission, it might take some getting used to, but you still know what you're doing.

So I shared my revelation with the BF and we had a discussion.

Then we started looking at options in the dual sport world for low displacement bikes that are geared low enough to putter in 1st.

Then I happened across a ride report on ADV about a guy who took his TW for a 3600 mile ride...towing a trailer.

A Yamaha TW200 is a 200cc dual sport bike with fat tires-- but not as fat as the Fat Cat. They are slow as heck and everyone I've heard say anything about them says they are hella fun to ride.

Some research, some shopping, and the realization that a new TW cost the same as my health insurance deductible and I became the proud owner of what I've affectionately dubbed "the Tipsy Wombat" (get it? It's a "TW")

The Wombat has turned out to, indeed, be a great starter bike for me. It's small and light weight with no modifications required. The controls are very intuitive for me so I haven't had to spend much time looking for levers and pedals, they are just where I think they ought to be.

We're finally scheduled for our MSF course-- by the time my wrist was healed, our local dates were filling up fast.

I still have the DR650 and have every intention of growing into her...but for the time being, me and the Wombat are having a blast going slow and enjoying the view.