So here’s my confession for the week: despite being a type-A gearhead, I have never ever actually driven a motorcycle. It’s true. Oh, I’ve admired their lustrous black and chrome curves from afar, and even had a few adventures riding on the back. But somehow, never made it to the driver position.
An offer came one day that I couldn’t refuse, not just because it was free, but because it came from one of my favourite PR chicks*. What the heck, I figured? Worst case scenario, I’d wipe out in grand style. But being the gearhead that I am, I secretly assumed that I’d soon be popping wheelies over flames like the famous British dare-divas, the Motobirds.
The day of the lesson arrived with a blast of the winter we’d managed to miss in November. Never mind, it was clear and dry, and a little cold wouldn’t keep me from my date. And there, on a square patch of asphalt in the parking lot, a group of tall orange pylons stood guard over five Honda motorcycles. They were neatly lined up, angled rakishly to the left, beckoning seductively. I was introduced to my instructor, George Williams, from Learning Curves.
Right away, I was suited up in a thick motorcycle jacket made of goretex and possibly gyproc, as well as a helmet. These folks were not leaving anything to chance!
A diminutive black Honda GROM caught my eye, with its raw, exposed innards and chubby small wheels. I couldn’t wait to get started, hopping astride and grasping the handlebars. But wait, wait! George insisted on first giving me a full description of the bike, showing me where things were, from the kickstand to the fuel tank. He even demonstrated how the kickstand worked, from at rest to ride.
The GROM boasted 125 cc and 10 horsepower. George quipped that there were lawnmowers with more power. I believe that my late mother’s sewing machine was capable of more power. But that, in turn, made the GROM ideal for novices like me, especially those who were hankering to be overnight badass bikerinas.
It turns out the bike, tiny putt putt that it was, had more to it than I’d thought. The setup was completely different from my car – the clutch was on the handlebars, and the shifter was at my left foot. The ignition was at the centre, above the fuel tank, but the starter was just under the right handlebar. Oh, and there was no reverse – and no syncromesh. Never mind that the throttle (accelerator) was on the right handlebar and the front brake was attached to the right handlebar. Got it? Got it!
Before I could even turn on the ignition, George ran me through exercises designed to keep my head up, look where I was going, feel for the friction point (where the clutch starts to grab).
As the lesson unfolded, George was a welcome font of knowledge. I learned “KNIFE,” an acronym for preparing to ride. K was for kickstand, which should be up. N was for neutral, the gear in which the bike should be. I was for ignition, which should be on. F was for fuel, which should be enough to get you where you’re going. And E was for engine kill switch, which could stop the bike at any time.
In fact, we spent a good 30 minutes learning what features were on the bike, where they were, how they worked, what was legal and what was not. And what to do in case of an emergency (kill switch!), but more importantly, how to avoid getting into emergencies.
A few more minutes of sitting on the bike, turning things on and off, moving backwards and forwards, and I was finally ready to roll! I crawled forwards, in a straight line towards George, brave soul that he was. I drove around in a large, wobbly circle, steadily more secure until I felt almost, downright brash. It was like slow sorcery, this kinship with a magical machine.
Teasing the throttle, I felt the engine throb under me, and the bike surged forward. Leaning down, I kept my eyes up and tried not to think about the fuel tank just north of my kidneys. The sturdy wheels gobbled up the pavement, and I gripped the body with my knees. Leaning into the curve, I pulsed the throttle and a quick shiver rushed through my arms as the bike rumbled in response, gently tilting to the left.
As encased in protective plastic as I was, I could still feel the wind buffeting against me, lifting my spirit as I soared through the laps on my imp of a motorcycle.
Then, all too soon, it was all over.
Sadly, I de-clad myself of jacketing and helmet, and returned to earth.
Would I ever take this up seriously? That is, get a motorcycle license and a motorcycle?
I don’t know. If I got on a serious motorcycle, it’s just possible, I might just keep on going and never, ever come back to reality again.
*Note all photography by the delightful Kim Lizmore-Campbell of Calador Communications.