“The whole world opens up when you can u-turn on a motorcycle.”



The whole world opens up when you can u-turn on a motorcycle.

Someone who coached me on a dirt bike a few times after watching me hesitatingly ride away on my heavy dual sport motorcycle told me if I could get to the point where I could make a u-turn in the middle of a two lane road and not use the shoulder – that that would make heads turn. (The caveat being, because I am a female.) I do not know if the attention part is accurate, but I do know that after two years, I have finally made a tight u-turn on a two lane road, without using the shoulder, and without tipping over. Well, actually there was no shoulder, so it was make it or not. That time I was with someone, but recently when wandering, I got myself in one of those situations that previously made me nervous and wonder how I was going to undo what I just got into. In the past, that meant walking my bike up and back, essentially doing an eight point turn, and hoping I was on a level surface, because moving that thing that is four times my weight up any slight incline under my own muscle has an unlikely chance of success. But in this recent moment, I had space and a bit of confidence, and did just fine. And that is when I realized: the whole world opens up when you can u-turn on a motorcycle. There are so many situations and opportunities for photos that I wanted to stop for in the past, but lacking confidence and finer skill, I would often park my motorcycle in a safe spot a ways away and walk to where I actually had wanted to be. Now, I probably will not have to do that as much. I am making progress.

After getting my motorcycle and being completely novice except for the MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) course, the guy I was dating (who has a tendency to underestimates me) told me I should not leave the neighborhood on the motorcycle, should not go through any traffic light intersections. I did loops in the neighborhood. I tipped over so many times from stop to start that I lost count very early on, and was impressed with the seeming invincibility of BMW GS. I emailed an update to my MSF instructor and he said it was time to leave the neighborhood, what was I doing tomorrow? He took me past intersections with traffic lights. A couple of days after that, he led me onto three freeways and a winding canyon road. I saw what I was capable of. My concept of a motorbike road trip through Asia finally had potential to be actualized. Progress.

Eager to actually do a little road trip, I packed up my panniers for an overnight camping trip in Joshua Tree National Park. I left after dark; I knew the roads well from many rock climbing trips, so was not concerned about the route. One starts to pay attention to the world differently when transitioning from driving a car to riding a motorcycle, and because what to pay attention to was something I was still learning, it had not crossed my mind to check the wind speed forecast through the section of wind turbine farms. That night probably is one of the top two times I have been terrified in my life. The wind was blasting, in gusts, perpendicular to me. I leaned hard into the wind, and it was shoving me over half of a lane. Which depending on the options of lane positions I had to choose from, could mean being shoved just into empty lane space to my right; or it could mean being shoved into another vehicle; or it could mean being shoved off the edge of the road into the ditch that ran along parallel to the road. I was scared to continue, scared to turn around, because both would mean I would be spending some harrowing time in the perpendicular wind to get out of it. I turned off of the highway, parked, and convinced someone to come and pick me up; when he did, he commented that the wind was actually quite strong, and something he (who has a long history with motorcycles, including racing) would not like to ride in, and something a new rider probably did not want to take on yet. Fast forwarding to now, on a trip in which I borrowed a slightly bigger motorcycle than mine, we had a portion of the day in 22 mph wind. I was still terrified, but this time around felt stronger, like I had a likely chance of handling it. I did. Progress. And, I have now lost count of the solo and pair motorcycle camping trips I have been on. More progress.

I can ride mountain roads with turns so hairpin that the posted speed limit is 10 mph. I can ride side by side or in staggered formation at low speed on side streets or high speeds on the freeway. I can coast at almost no speed at all in bad traffic and maintain balance to where I rarely have to put a foot down. One thing I am still not the fastest at, however, is taking off when the light turns green, but mostly because I do not see the urgency. But considering where I have come from – where the green light would turn red on me after I barely just got started, hardly passing through the first crosswalk to finally enter the intersection – I have come a long way. Progress.

And now, I can execute tight u-turns on command on a motorcycle. Now the whole world is opened up to me.


See the rest of the Motorcycle Diaries