• Sarah Merrell

Getting Your Spouse or Girlfriend on a Motorcycle

Today my husband and I are celebrating 11 years of marriage which also means I'm celebrating 11 years of being a motorcyclist--so it's made me reflect on the role my husband has played in my journey as a rider. I wouldn't be a motorcyclist if it weren't for him. I used to ride on the back of his sportbike, and let me tell you, for a woman who's 5'8" tall, the back seat of a sportbike is very uncomfortable. At that time we were living in Asheville and he had just taken me to The Dragon for the first time and my knees and back were killing me. He turned me and said, "you know you can get your own bike, right?" And it was like a light went off! I couldn't wait to get a bike. Jud helped get me signed up for an MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) course and I was on my way.

Although I now feel very confident on motorcycles, it wasn't always that way. I spent the first month of my life as a motorcyclist in a parking lot with Jud trying to coach me. I had a horrible time learning clutch and throttle control and it took forever for me to stop stalling out. And then once I mastered that, I had a tough time with corners. If it were up to me I probably would have stayed in the comfort zone the parking lot provided forever, but Jud (who has always been good about helping me push outside my comfort zones) gave me the stern push I needed to finally get on the road. And I'm so glad he did.

For the first year or so of riding, Jud had to wait on me a lot. He could practically finish a book while waiting. But he never complained and was patient. He gave me a lot of instruction and encouraged me to get into track days which really helped. Over the years, his guidance, patience and encouragement is what has made me the rider I am today. Now when we ride I'm right behind him. And I finally beat him in a pit bike race! (I mean, he had a flat tire but a win is a win, right?!)

Most importantly though, riding has become a huge part of both of our lives. We're equally passionate about it and it's something we've been able to share and has brought us closer together. This summer, we had the chance to ride together in California working with Yamaha on social media for Women's Sportbike Rally and then had the chance a couple weeks ago to attend Yamaha Champions Riding School together. And in November we'll be making our way to a track day. We joke that when we retire we're going to sell our house and buy an RV and just travel around to track days for the rest of our lives. Well, maybe we're dead serious about that!

That's how I got to where I am today, but I have quite a few men ask for advice who are interested in getting their wife, partner or girlfriend into riding. Or perhaps their significant other has expressed interest. From my experience getting into riding myself, and having a husband who introduced me to it, this is some insight that may be helpful:

1. Don't Force It

Although your significant other has expressed interest in becoming a motorcyclist, it's important not to force it. She needs to want it, play an active role in pursuing it and needs to do it in her own time. I've met some women in this predicament, and it can kill the desire if they feel like the process is being pushed on them too quickly. For some women, the decision process may take some time and there's nothing wrong with having time to mull it over before making the leap into motorcycle riding. It's a big decision and process, so just be patient as she thinks it through.

2. Get Her Geared Up

When learning to ride a bike, fall downs happen. I probably fell over on the bike about three or four times while learning to ride. I didn't get hurt, but that's because I had on proper gear--protective pants, boots, gloves, helmet and riding jacket. As we say, ATGATT (All the Gear All the Time).

3. Third-Party Learning

For some couples, it's challenging for one to play the teacher and the other the student. If this becomes the case, it may be helpful to receive instruction from a third-party such as a signing up for a class or work shop or receiving instruction and coaching at a track day. The takes the pressure off you as a teacher, but it also enables your significant other to learn from a knowledgeable and experienced outside source. I highly recommend Yamaha Champions Riding School. It's great to do as a new riders since it prevents learning bad habits and you have the opportunity to only start out practicing good habits. I wish I had done is much earlier on in my riding!

4. Get the Right Bike

If I started out on a 600cc sportbike, I seriously don't think I would be a motorcyclist today. It would have been too much power for me to handle at first in addition to the aggressive body positioning. We went to an IMS show and I had the chance to sit on a lot of different motorcycles. I felt most comfortable starting out on something smaller and bought a DRZ supermoto. It was a great first bike for me. But, there are some women who have started out just fine on a 600cc sportbike (or even larger). It all comes down to what she's going to feel most comfortable on. You can always sell it and get a different bike later on.

5. Listen

Being uncomfortable or scared can lead many women to give it up--and sometimes there's an easy fix. For example, is she scared because she can't touch the ground on the bike? Or is she uncomfortable because her fingers can't reach the brake lever or clutch very well? Does she lack tire grip? For new motorcyclists, it's often difficult for them to effectively communicate what might be making them uncomfortable and lack confidence. So if she seems to be having a hard time, try asking some questions to determine what the issue may be. Most of the time, it's something easily fixable like lowering the bike, adjusting the levers or different tires or suspension settings.

6. Stay Positive

Learning to ride isn't always easy for everyone. I certainly struggled, and I know other women have too. There will be times when she just gets so frustrated she wants to cry. Or maybe she starts losing hope. When those dark times happen, it's easy to get frustrated. But try to stay positive and provide some encouragement. Heck, even after 10 years of riding I have frustrating days at the track and I text my husband for a confidence boost.

7. Meet Other Women Riders

I'm forever grateful that Jud encouraged me to attend Women's Sportbike Rally and meet other women riders. For women who are new to the sport, riding with men can be intimidating. I really enjoyed getting to ride with other women and to just ride at a comfortable pace. Plus, I found they provided inspiration. I felt like if they can become experienced, confident motorcyclists, then I can too! It provided a total "girl power" moment and gave me something to work towards. Even now, as I work on getting faster at track days and improving my lap times, I still have women that I look up to and strive to ride like them.

8. Celebrate Her Uniqueness

Every rider is different. We all have different levels of confidence, comfort and skill. It takes people different amounts of time to become a good, solid, safe rider. Your significant other may be a total phenom when it comes to riding and be comfortable and blazing around in a matter of weeks--or it may take years. You may love sport touring bikes but she prefers a sportbike or a supermoto. You may like riding on the road but she prefers the track. There are a myriad of ways motorcyclists can differ in their interests, so let her discover what makes her most happy.

I geared this post towards men who are looking to get their significant other into riding since it's an area where I have personal experience and I'm asked about this a lot when I'm out riding. However, it can go both ways. There are also women who may looking to get their husband or boyfriend into riding. Either way, sharing a passion like motorcycling is incredibly rewarding. When I look back on the last 11 years of marriage, I think of all the amazing times and memories we've had on our bikes. Some of the most wonderful times have involved motorcycles. No matter what the journey looks like for you and your loved one, I can guarantee one thing: It will be worth it.

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