8.11.2015

Supporting a Motorcycle Enthusiast



Greg, my husband, has a dirt bike. He told me about this on our first date. I later learned that he purposely brought it up early on because he knows it can be a deal-breaker for some people. Lucky for him, it didn't really phase me. My dad has a harley, we always had ATVs growing up, and I had dated two guys with motorcycles in the past.

A few months later in our courtship, I remember we had a long chat on a chilly summer evening in front of the fireplace at my apartment. We were talking about "what he wanted to do when he grew up" and I was shocked at how much he brought up motorcycles. I knew he enjoyed dirt biking every so often, but I didn't realize that he also wanted to do more motorcycle engineering in his future. I thought that was pretty cool. And I later learned that he thought it was really cool that I thought it was pretty cool.

After we got married, we had a free Saturday night. He said, "I'd like to watch a motorcycle race on TV tonight." Great. Sounded fun.
So I got some snacks prepped and we sat down right when it started and he explained everything that was going on in the world of Super Cross (indoor arena dirt bike racing) on Fox Sports. I got into it because he was into it. He taught me the names of all the riders, what their history is, etc. After about 2 hours and the completion of one of the races, I said, "Ok, is it over?"
Greg says, "Nope, still have at least an hour. That was just the preliminaries. We still have the main event."
Awesome. So we keep watching. By the end, I'm really into it. Cheering and getting really excited when there is a pass or a crash. When it was finally over (around 11 pm) I patted myself on the back for being such a supportive wife.

The next week, we're planning out our weekend, and Greg says, "And there is a motorcycle race I'd like to watch on Saturday."
"Huh? I thought the big race was last week."
"Yeah, it's every Saturday for the next 3 months and I want to watch as many as I can."

Jaw drop. 3 hours every Saturday?
I thought to myself, "Well at least it only lasts for 3 months in the winter, and then we'll be back to normal."
Nope. Then there is a break for a couple weeks and Moto cross (outdoor) begins and lasts all summer long. It felt like my Saturdays were slipping away in front of my eyes. I panicked.
I got over it, and later on just went with the flow. I now know about all the best riders, who just got married, what country the leader is from, who is injured and out for the season, and I'm even looking forward to when Utah hosts a Moto cross event here in Utah in 2 weeks.

My point is: dirt bikes and motorcycles are much important to Greg than I had ever realized. Something we had casually talked about in dating is actually a huge source of joy for Greg. And I feel like because he knows all the bloggers and fabric designers I talk about all the time, then I ought to step up to the plate and learn a few things about his hobby.

Which brings me to motorcycles and the few things I've learned in my day. I wanted to write this post for 3 reasons, or mainly 3 people I have recently talked with.

1- A friend who is young and single, owns a motorcycle. He's dating a lot, but several of his lady friends have issues with him riding.

2- A gal I recently met who has been married for 2 years. Her husband bought an adventure bike (which means it's street legal but it can also handle the off-roading), but she only allows him to ride it in the church parking lot.

3- A friend who is married with 2 kids. He just bought a Harley, but his wife panics every time he rides it.

Now I am certainly not the authority on being the wife of motorcycle rider, but I have the genetics of a worry-wart and the genetics of love for the road. My dad has a harley, my brother had a motorcycle, I drive a scooter,  I have a motorcycle license myself, my husband has a dirt bike and motorcycle, and I've ridden on the back for hundreds of miles. Hopefully my experience and my psychoanalysis of it all might help some of you out.


Here is my advice for the rider:

Patience. 

Recognize motorcycles are dangerous. The concept of a person balancing on two wheels with nothing to block his/her body from the road is scary. Just a little bump in the road can cause you to be thrown off from your bike. When you or the people around you are used to traveling by car with loads of metal as a buffer between other vehicles, it makes sense that they are going to have some insecurities about the idea of you riding a motorcycle. So don't dismiss other people's concerns about your safety. They are just worried about you and you need to listen to their fears about your safety.

Also, if you're in a marriage or have children, you have to listen to your wife's concerns even more. Someone at home is literally depending on you. If something happens to you, it happens to them too. It might be really fun for you to ride, but you have to be willing to work with them to calm their concerns as well. They want you to enjoy your life but not at the risk of their life as they know it.

Invest in proper gear.

Accidents happen, no matter how good of a rider you are. The fact is that a lot of drivers will not see you. Never ride without the following:
  • helmet, with face protection
  • gloves, full-fingered
  • boots, preferably over the ankle
  • jacket and long pants
If you're going to be brave enough to ride, be smart enough to protect yourself. The best riders out there don't try to act cool. They are aware enough of their surroundings that they know that the best gear will give them the best experience on the road/ trail.

For dirt biking, it's also wise to wear pants with padding in them to protect against a fall.

Take a training course.

If you live in Utah, the Salt Lake Community College offers a fabulous course. You can choose from all sorts of schedules. My brother took one that was held on different evenings for a month. My husband chose one that was 2 back-to-back Saturdays for a full day.

You spend the first half of the class studying for the test or having a chalkboard instruction. A teacher will walk you through the motorcycle handbook. You will have the chance to take some practice tests and access to practice tests for the written exam to obtain your motorcycle license.

The last half of the class is on the bike. They provide a motorcycle and helmet. They set up a course for you to ride on so you can practice turns, breaking, and they'll even throw pieces of debris in the course so that you have to learn how to swerve. (I know from experience, you'll want to learn this in advance when you aren't going fast.)

By the end of the course, you will have taken the official driving test. You can then take the paperwork to the DMV, take the written test, and you will have your license!

You definitely don't HAVE to take the class to get your license. I just took the exams and driving test at the DMV when I obtained mine. But after I heard about the course, I think it's a really good way to learn how to do the basic maneuvers and make sure that you're riding in a way that you can be seen. I especially recommend it for new time riders who may not be familiar with the different ways you ought to drive on a motorcycle vs. a car. Plus, it is a security for your loved one. They want to know that you have done all your homework and that you know exactly what to expect out there.

Only ride when it's safe to do so. 

Learn about your machine. Your motorcycle engine is smaller than your car. It sits outside and is dormant all winter long and your battery can be temperamental. Learn the basics of your machine so that you can troubleshoot issues when you're on the road. It's also important to watch for warning signs that it might not be safe to ride.

Obviously, weather affects a rider more than someone driving in a car. A really hot day in bad traffic on a hot machine can lead to heat exhaustion or dehydration. Snow is risky. Depending on how old your machine is, it may have a hard time starting and your fingers might get so cold that it's hard to react with the break. Rain is also worrisome. The road becomes very slick and it's hard to see when the rain is beating your windshield (if you have one). My helmet has a visor without face protection. So when I get caught in the rain, I have to squint to protect my eyes from the rain beating down. Makes for a not so fun ride.

Watch the weather. Observe your bike. Only ride when the elements can be tolerated. You are only as protected as the gear you have invested in.

Speaking of safety, follow the rules. A lot of riders think that the rules shouldn't apply to them because they can go fast and they are small. You are liable to follow all of the rules that apply to a car. You shouldn't pass someone just because you can fit into that little space. You have to stay in your lane. The speed limit definitely still applies to you. If you are a reckless driver and you are treating the freeway as your race track, then you should never ride a motorcycle because you are only putting your self and the others on the road in danger.

Baby steps. 

You're pumped. You've got the license! Now time to buy a bike, and ride it everyday for 2 hours!
But if you don't want your wife to have an anxiety attack, slow it down. Everyone is trying to get used to this new situation, so don't push your luck. Take it slow. Start with a rental. Buy something used, until you figure out what is going to be the best fit bike for you to really invest in. Start with short rides. Take the side roads and avoid freeways or high-traffic areas. Always allow plenty of extra time, even if you know the way. You don't want to feel like you have to go fast or keep up with traffic. I've been riding my scooter for 9 years now and I still choose to take whatever roads has the lowest speed limit. Sometimes it takes some trip planning before I go, which can be tricky if you don't have a GPS on your handlebars, but I always prefer to feel calm and enjoy the ride. I would rather ride that way than having to get passed in the slow lane. Never, never drive faster than you are comfortable with. The best way to stay comfortable is to choose a road with a low speed limit or multiple lanes so people can easily pass if need be.

Once you are comfortable, you should still be 10x more defensive that you would usually be. If you're typically a fast driver who weaves in and out of lanes, forget your past driving patterns. Your main goal when riding a motorcycle is to stay visible and share the road. Always be extra cautious of your surroundings.


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Here is my advice and guidance for the loved one of a rider.

Trust. 

Most of the stories you hear about the crazy accidents are from crazy riders, who are on an adrenaline rush pushing it to the edge. You know the type. They might have a bullet bike, they're not wearing a helmet, they have on a thin white T-shirt that blows in the wind so much that their entire back is exposed. Actually you might not have even noticed that much about them because they weaved through your lane so fast that you only saw a blur.

Trust that your loved one is smart enough to not be that guy. Trust that they are going to be safe. And if you feel like they might be that guy, make sure they know that you won't allow them to ride while being unsafe. But most of the riders on the road, and most likely your loved one as well, is not this guy. They are going to be obey the rules. They are not the type of person who wants to throw everything away. They are going to be defensive and they will never drive faster than they ought. You've trusted them with a lot of other things in life, trust that they're in control on a bike and won't ride if they aren't.

Be prepared. 

This will take some extra communication. Know when they are riding. Know where they are going. Set up a system so that you are always alerted when they're going to be on the road and when they expect to be home.

Consider GPS tracking. 

My husband loves to dirt bike, sometimes alone. He wanted to go to a new area in southern Utah where neither of us had ever been. I wasn't comfortable letting him be there by himself in case he fell and didn't have a way to get ahold of me. So the rule was that the had to stay in an area where he had cellphone service and had to text me a thumbs up sign every 30 minutes. The next time he went, I felt more comfortable and asked him to check every 45 minutes instead.

Then we discovered the Find Your Friends app. You add a phone number to your contact list and give another person permission for GPS tracking. We felt a little weird about this since it's kind of like "big brother is watching all the time." But we set it up anyway, and now we only use it when he is on a ride. If he is taking an extra long time getting home from work, I can see where he is on the map and know that he's still on his way home.

This process works great if you always have cell service. But now he wants to do a ride where he won't have cell service. He planned out the route he wanted and we double checked it against Verizon's cell coverage. Unfortunately it was in a spot where there was no service, so I put my foot down about letting him ride alone. The next week, we bought the Spot Gen 3, which is awesome. It's for outdoorsmen who have someone at home nervous for their safety. It's a GPS tracker that uses a satellite. He can set up different phone numbers that will automatically send a text every so often (you can choose the time increment) that says exactly where they are. Or you can send a custom message. There is also an SOS option you can click (It's involved, you have to lift a flap and then hold the button for a couple seconds. This ensures you don't click it on accident.) and it will send an SOS message to your designated person along with the GPS coordinates. It's fairly spendy. You have to first buy the device, and then pay for the annual service plan. But if you ride enough or you have enough anxiety (like me!) then it's DEFINITELY worth the peace of mind. I'm happy because I know there is an emergency plan, and he's happy that I'll let him go wherever he wants.

Hop on the back! 

When my husband was shopping around for his motorcycle, he was really hoping for an adventure bike. But I wanted him to get a cruiser that had room for two. My philosophy was that if he got a bike that accommodated both of us then it could be something we did together. There are a lot of solo adventure hobbies out there and for most motorists, being on the bike is one of those. But I knew it would be fun to do together. Luckily, he agreed, and now we get to ride together. I get to appreciate our investment and it helps me understand how much he enjoys riding. And hopefully it will calm your nerves to feel the wind in your hair and experience the joy of the ride!

Embrace the positives.

Motorcycles and scooters get incredible mileage! The scooter I drive gets 100 miles to the gallon. I literally fill up once a month. It's amazing. By riding regularly, you are producing less emissions and saving at the pump. That's good for the planet and your wallet.

As my co-worker said, "It's therapy." A lot of people like to run or take walks, a time for them to meditate during the day without just sitting still and calling it meditation. When you're on a motorcycle, you don't have radio, you can't talk on the phone, you can't eat or drink anything. Your mind can wander as you ride. We all need a little space and a time to decompress. If your loved one needs a little breather, they can take a quick little joy ride in the middle of real life. No fancy equipment is needed, it's not a distant vacation, but just a quick ride around the block and they'll come back refreshed.

Now that you are aware of your own motorist out there, you will notice them a lot more. You will probably be more alert when you see them driving around. The more that people are exposed to riders, they will be more cognizant of them on the road, which leads to safer driving conditions for all riders.

The sooner, the better. 

Of course letting go and allowing your loved one to ride is much easier said than done. It will take time to compromise and find the right balance of where motorcycling can fit into your life. But I would recommend taking the time to figure it out sooner than later. The riding season in Utah is fairly short and you don't want to miss the opportunity to enjoy the warm months. I also think that if children are in your future, it's probably going to be easier to figure all this out before you have that added stress in your life.

Their happiness is worth setting aside your fears. 

When someone you love has something they love, you want to let them do it. When it comes to riding, their happiness and joy that comes from the thrill of the ride is worth setting aside your fears and letting go. You don't want them to resent you or feel trapped that they can't experience all that they want to experience in life. If they go through the proper training and preparation then the only thing left for you to do is let go of control and trust that they'll be as safe as they can possibly be. It brings them joy and you don't want to get in the way of that. Life is too short to obsess over all the things that could go wrong. Part of the joy of living life is embracing the experiences that bring us fear or push us out of our comfort zones. And hey, added benefit. Your loved one is probably keenly aware of the anxiety their rides bring you, and so when you let go and choose to trust them, they will be all the more appreciative that you were willing to compromise.

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So there it is. All my motoring advice! It certainly takes time but it's worth the struggle because it certainly is a fun way to ride around.
Feel free to comment with any questions or other ideas you have. I'd love to have this as a resource for friends who are going through something similar.

Be careful out there and have fun!
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