It was a few days before my New Rider Course. My 17-year-old daughter was giving me a lecture at the dinner table. “Riding a motorcycle is dangerous. I don’t support this decision at all.”
In a single moment, I felt awash with warmth from her concern, but also stunned into speechlessness. I stared back at her with no ability to form words or respond. I’d been talking about learning how to ride a motorcycle for months. Not once had she shown any signs of worry before now.
After a few moments of silence, I assured her that I would be a careful, defensive driver. She hrmphed and said, “It’s not you I’m worried about; it’s all the other people. If you get in an accident, there’s nothing between you and another car or you and the pavement. If you weren’t so into it, I’d do something about it.”
(What would she do? I wondered.)
“Mother guilt” washed over me, that universal emotion that persuades every mother worldwide to put her own pursuits on the back burner and make sure everyone else is taken care of before she takes care of herself. It’s what we do. It’s what we know. It’s how we’re wired.
…I wasn’t ready to give up this pursuit either. I’d spent close to two decades putting my children’s interests first. Now I still wanted to learn to ride, despite my daughter’s concerns.
The situation reminded of a friend whose mother once told her (when she was young): “You are the most important thing, but you’re not the only thing.” In other words, Yes, of course you’re at the top of the list, but I’ve got things I want to explore too. For me, riding was one of precious few.
How risky is riding a motorcycle? “Skewed statistics and media paint a scary picture of motorcyclists and blur the actual risks involved,” says Jesse Kiser in The Risk of Not Riding a Motorcycle. Kiser points out one-third of accidents involved alcohol, and a large portion of deaths come from riders who don’t wear helmets. He advises not to fear a motorcycle, but to respect it: advice his dad imparted to him when he was a kid.
As a mother, I believe I have a fundamental responsibility to pursue my riding interest with the utmost diligence toward safety. I have two children who are dependent on me for stability and security: emotionally, financially, logistically, and intellectually. It is my duty to keep myself safe because it is my duty (and desire) to keep them safe.
But I don’t happen to believe that learning to ride a motorcycle should be mutually exclusive of being a good mother. So as I dip my toe into the wading pool of riding experiences, I also intend to do everything I can to keep myself safe.
Here are my plans:
1. Take a class every year from the MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation), which offers both beginner and advanced classes. Although I’ve already taken the New Rider’s Course this year, I’m already thinking of taking more training this summer. There’s something about reinforcing what I’m learning on my own that brings me a lot of comfort.
2. Read and review the MSF Basic Rider Course Handbook. I read the handbook before I took my class. My instructors covered it during class. I reviewed it before my test. I recently read over it again, after having acquired a better sense of what riding a motorcycle entails (as opposed to just reading about it).
3. Respect the motorcycle. I have no intentions of pushing myself outside my comfort zone. If my heart begins to leap and jump fervently, I know I’m not comfortable and either need to slow down, let someone pass, get out of traffic, or stop for the day. I am not interested in pushing myself too far to fast.
4. Follow the safety advice of the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). This is the governmental agency that (among other things) studies motorcycle accidents and tracks statistics. Why would I argue with their advice? They’ve done all the work. They know the data better than I do.
5. Never drink and ride. This one just seems like a no-brainer.
As a new rider, I certainly don’t have all the answers, I’m figuring this out as I go. So if you have suggestions on how you keep yourself safe, please chime in with a comment below!