New Bike, New Rider

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Not too long ago, Sue's older brother who had been riding for over 30 years (and who was a big influence on me when I first started riding) decided it was time to give it up. Confined to a wheelchair, it was just too hard to get on the bike anymore—even though his '98 Road King had been converted to a trike with hand controls several years ago.

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I had been hoping that when it was time to sell his bike we would be able to buy it, but Sue didn't think she was interested until we stopped by to take some pictures so he could list it for sale. I don't know if he knew what I was thinking, because I hadn't said anything, but he looked at Sue and said, "I sure wish you could buy my bike."

A test ride and a day or two later, she did it.

She had been on four-wheelers, wave runners, and other similar vehicles before, but she had never ridden a motorcycle. I think the fact that it was a trike and she didn't need to balance it to keep the rubber down was less intimidating, but she was still going to start from scratch to learn how to ride.

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I had forgotten what it was like to first learn how to ride. I had been on dirt bikes as a kid and on borrowed friend's bikes as a teenager, so I knew how everything worked and the mechanical side of riding when I got serious about it. But this was all new territory for Sue.

We started in a church parking lot doing circles in first gear. I sat behind her and talked to her as the circles got smoother and smoother. I didn't want her to get frustrated, so we took our time and as she would acquire a new skill, we would move on to another one. Pretty soon we were going around the parking lot, down the street, and through the neighborhood. She even started shifting into second and third gear, but hadn't done anything above 15 or 20 MPH yet.

After a week or two of doing that, we decided it was time to get used to driving at speed on a real road. We got on the bike and I took her out to the west side of Utah Lake. I pulled over, climbed off and moved to the back seat. She was now in control.

We started going through the gears and eventually were going 50, 55, and 65 MPH. We practiced accelerating and braking. She was getting more comfortable with her bike and I was getting more comfortable with her on the bike.

While we were practicing together I encouraged her to sign up for a new rider course the local Community College offered. She attended the weekend course and gained a lot of confidence. Her instructor allowed her to take the driver test on her bike so when she passed, her license would reflect the bigger motorcycle (in Utah there's a different license for bikes under 750). The next week she took the written test and was officially licensed to pilot a motorcycle.

We had a tour coming up on Labor Day Weekend with some friends and I was hopeful she'd feel confident enough to ride her own bike, but if not she would ride behind me like we had always done in the past. 

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I knew she had to get used to riding on the freeway, so on Sunday afternoons when there was less traffic on the Interstate, we would take a loop that included a few miles of highway at 70 MPH.

Our bluetooth headset/intercom came in handy since I wasn't on the bike with her anymore, but I could talk her through situations she was unfamiliar with. I knew we were making real progress when she wanted to do multiple laps of our 15-20 mile loop. It looked like she was going to be ready to ride to Jackson.

We had some ups and downs, for example since this was all new to her she wasn't thinking and burned her hand on a hot exhaust one evening, but for the most part she did really well. Taking the slow and methodical approach (and the rider course) really paid off.

In the months since she started riding, she's really grown to enjoy it. She's looking for opportunities to ride and did fantastic on our tour to Alpine, Wyoming. With seven or eight other bikes I felt like it was really important that she learn how to ride in a group so we practiced following distances along with acceleration and breaking in a group.

When I was first riding I liked to follow, but she likes me behind her so I can watch what she's doing and answer questions as we go down the road. The bluetooth communicators made this a lot easier for her than I think it would have been without them.

She claims the bike is hers when she's riding it, but when it's time to wash it or service it, the bike is mine—or at least my responsibility. That's OK with me. Over the years I've started servicing and repairing my own bike and feel like if I can't be riding, the next best thing is to be puttering on the bikes.

It's a little older than my '04 Road King and has the EVO engine rather than my Twin Cam, so I'm learning new stuff about the evolution of Harley's V-Twin motors which is very interesting. I'm having a good time getting my hands dirty with the regular maintenance and repairs associated with a couple of older bikes. Older doesn't mean bad and the bikes are running great with the 90,000 miles on hers and the 93,000 miles I've put on my bike. Who said Harleys aren't reliable?

After the first wash and wax I took some photos of the bike that I think turned out pretty nice. It's a one of a kind and kind of funny since both these bikes have been riding together for many years and now they live in the same garage.

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