Frustrated Beginner

by R. Anaya

I've been a passenger on motorcycles for 14 years. In 2000 I took and passed the MSF class but hadn't ridden alone since. Two weeks ago my boyfriend surprised me with a 2003 Sportster 883c. I couldn't believe it...I honestly didn't think my dream of owning and riding my own bike would come true. As a former single mom (kids grown now) it seemed like there was always something that was more important or necessary to get instead. Since I didn't have any trouble at all in the class I thought I would get on the bike and ride like I was born on it. Not the case...at all...in fact the first I rode it I was really surprised at how it seemed as if I had never been on a bike before. It totally bummed me out but the next day my boyfriend drove it to the parking lot and spent a couple of hours with me practicing everything and I did a whole lot better. Since then, I've gone out several more times and I've dropped the bike everytime. I feel so frustrated because I know what to do but for some reason I'm not doing it...not every time anyway. I'm having trouble making a right turn from a stop. I pull way out into the opposite lane (thank goodness we waited until all vehicles were clear)and when I try to correct down I go. I can't seem to turn tighter on the right. After two dumps today, my boyfriend had me practicing slow figure 8s and right hand turning. I was able to drive home with no problem and made it up our very steep driveway (the first time up the driveway I wasnt so lucky). Thank God for my patient boyfriend...I can see in his eyes that he is frustrated too but he is always so supportive. But man, I feel really imcompetent...I wanted to cry and just walk away but knew that would solve anything. So I got back on. I am so grateful for this website. The day I bought the bike I came upon this website and I've learned so much from all of you...I've read and re-read all the posts and I know that in time I will get better....

Comments for Frustrated Beginner

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Aug 21, 2011
Yeah Gum Works Again!
by: sassy2731

I am still not sure how or why it works but the chewing gum works wonders. I know when I forget mine I'm always more nervous and start looking for someone with some or I have to make a stop to buy some. Glad it worked for you too! Just keep sharing or paying forward.

Aug 21, 2011
Update: Frustrated Beginner
by: R. Anaya

I am happy to say that I went out on the bike again on Friday & things improved ten fold! My boyfriend followed me to the parking lot for practice. I was nervous even before I left the driveway but I popped a stick of gum in mouth and took off. Once at the parking lot, my boyfriend went over a few reminder, tips etc. & I don't know why or how but something clicked & it was a whole new experience. I did so much better during my practice & even more so when we went out on the side streets with me following him. He purposely had me doing many right hand turns and even he was surprised at the improvement. I was so happy to get home & not be so frustrated with myself. I am so comfortable on the bike & being able to have a successful practice confirms my desire to ride. I will definitely be chewing gum when I go out & continue to move at my own pace though trying to push myself at bit more each time. We live in a small community so I am able to ride without much traffic most days which is perfect for me right now.

Thanks again for all the comments...all of you have helped me so much and I appreciate you sharing your knowledge.

Aug 20, 2011
Feel your pain!
by: Zeta

Hi there,

WHen I first got on a bike I thought it wouldn't be too hard after being on a scooter for many months. Boy was I wrong!

It took me many months of practicing on the back streets near my house before i had the guts to go on main roads, then eventually ride to work.

It's always a work in progress so don't worry. DO it in your own time :D

P.S. Isn't it WAY better riding the bike yourself than being on the back? :D

Aug 18, 2011
by: Joan

I started out on a Honda Rebel 250, then bought a Yamaha VStar 650 and now I'm riding what I consider the best bike for me, a 2011 Sportster 883 Superlow. Before I bought my sportster, I was concerned about the comments that I had read regarding the sportster being top heavy, but I have not found that to be the case with my superlow. I think Harley re-designed for 2011 so that it doesn't have that top heavy feeling. My sportster is so much easier for me to ride than my VStar, but we each have to find the right bike that works for us. Your sportster just might not be the right one for you at this time. Don't give up!!

Aug 17, 2011
starting out
by: JP

Lots of good advice here already.

I took the MSF course twice even though I passed the first time, just to get it down right. At 53 my reflexes were down and my fear was up.

Wish I'd had a supportive boyfriend. He sounds like a jewel. Make sure he knows he's doing good. Making friends to ride with was a big boost, especially the experienced ones who took me under their wing.

My nickname was 'crash' the first few months.

Don't forget to 'look into the turn'. Look where you want to go. Don't look where you don't want to go. Don't look at the road or your handlebars etc. when turning...only where you want to go and you'll get there. Use that wet clutch to help manage your speed.

I feel for you. I've been there. It's been 12 active riding years with over 100K under my belt and I still enjoy riding with and helping new riders. Ride your own ride. You'll get more comfortable with time.

Keep it up. It will get better. Make sure a Sportster is really the best bike for you. As someone else already said, it's got a high center of gravity and isn't always a good ride for a gal.

Aug 17, 2011
Frustrated Beginner
by: R. Anaya

Thank you so much for all the comments. I will definitely be keeping them all in mind next time I ride. I'm very interested to see how the suggestions work for me. I agree that I should be taking my time at my own comfort level which is what I've been doing. At first, I thought I was being a sissy but now realize doing so will only help me be a more confident & safe rider. I do believe I am intimidated by the weight of the bike but it really is good fit. The guy who owned it previously had lowered it and it feels right. Can't wait to try chewing gum!! What a simple remedy! I'll keep in touch thanks agains

Aug 17, 2011
This was me
by: Dawn

I feel your pain. I've got a Honda Shadow 600 that I couldn't keep upright the first year for nothing. Something about this style that is just top heavy. I hopped on and went down within 2 blocks on the first turn. Spent the next several weeks riding 2-3 miles per day around the block, literally. 1 block turn, 1 block turn. Still couldn't figure it out.

Then one day I was on the back of hubbys and made him talk out loud about what he did on every corner. Look, accelerate and lean at the same time. I wasn't going fast enough if that makes sense, and I wasn't leaning enough.

Also, COUNTER STEERING !!! They cover that in the MSF but it doesn't really make sense till you ride more. You only turn your bars a little to the right and LEAN all while you push on the right side to keep the handlebars from flopping too far and dumping you. They say my Shadow is notoriously floppy. Lucky me :)

Sounds more complicated than it really is, and before long you will do it without thinking. But it's a challenge at first and the weight is intimidating.

If a lighter bike with a different center of gravity is not an option, go on the back roads and find somewhere that when you fall or overshoot the turn you aren't going to get hurt- I had a residential area with grass and no curbs-and practice. Also, get engine guards, it makes it easier to pick the bike up and keeps your legs from getting pinned.

I also agree with the gum, it keeps me from grinding my teeth to nubs.

Good luck, we've all bee there and it really does get more fun.

Aug 17, 2011
I feel for you!
by: Sandra

MSF offers courses for beginners - you could take a refresher - and also for intermediate and advanced levels. I personally want to take the advanced course, because it allows you to take the course on YOUR OWN RIDE. Learning how to shift, brake and accelerate through a curve are all basic skills we all learn on 250cc bikes in the course. But when I went home to my 800+ cc Suzuki Boulevard, I was afraid to "firmly" apply brakes, and much more unsure of basic maneuvers on the bigger cruiser. Now, though, I've gained much confidence on the Suzuki.

1. Chewing gum WILL force your facial muscles to stay more relaxed; you need to be relaxed, not all tense and with a death grip on your bike.
2. Apologies up front to all those who love their Sportsters - they are a great bike!! - but a dealer once told me that although they are aimed at the lady riders, their higher center of gravity may not be a lady's best friend. Higher center of gravity means more upper body strength required or you drop the bike...sound familiar?
3. When turning, what is your body stance? You should be upright and comfortably relaxed (NO tense muscles/gripping!!), chin and eyes up and looking where you want to GO (not at your front tire making the tight turn or watching the curb/ditch), and your knees should have a firm, but comfortable grip on the tank. The hardest part for me is keeping my gaze ahead and down the street where I plan to be in a few seconds (chin up helps); the best help for me in class was when I kept my knees pressed (gently - still not a death grip LOL) into the bike.
4. Figure 8's till your arms ache! I still like to start or end my ride with about 20 figure 8 maneuvers in a nearby parking lot, which quickly tires my upper body out, but mastering slow speed control, especially while turning that bike, will do so much more to improve your overall biking skills...

You may not need a new bike - MANY ladies LOVE their HD Sporty's. But perhaps reading Proficient Motorcycling by David Hough(ton?) - sorry, I keep forgetting - teaches you some of the science of why a motorcycle stays upright. Knowing the specific science to your Sporty situation may give you clues how to better handle your machine. The fine art of accelerating through a turn (not gunning it, not flopping into a turn at too high speeds!) "pulls" the bike through the turn and back into its upright position. TOO slow, TOO little acceleration, and TOO much focus on the ground right in front of you will cause that bike to drop like a rock - where the Sporty's top-heavy build will work against a female rider. I suspect those ladies who love their Sportsters naturally mastered some of these techniques while others of us struggle with our fear of going too fast, which works against the mechanics of keeping the bike on its tires.

I hope somewhere in this ramble is a pebble of advice that will encourage you and help you become comfortable as a Lady Biker!!

Aug 17, 2011
by: Anonymous

Good Morning, I know how you feel. As far as the right hand turns from a stop; I found that for me, I will be in the far left side of the right lane to make the turn from a stop. This really helped me.
Please take Sassy's advice about chewing gum. It is wonderful advice; she posted that when I was having trouble on the interstate, so I tried it. I don't leave home without it. We have all been there; you are not alone. I am wondering if the bike is too much for you though. Does it sit lower?? I am kawaski vulcan 500. It is perfect for me, but I am 5'7". As the other ladies have said, ride your own ride. My husband is patient with me, and I am glad to hear that your boyfriend is also. Go around the neigborhood for awhile practicing the turns. It is alot more quite then the main roads. You can get a better feel for how you need to handle your bike. When there is not that added pressure from all the traffic, you will find that you will be able to handle the bike out on the main roads. That is where I started and slowly (baby steps) made it out in heavier traffic. Don't forget the gum.
Good Luck and be safe.

Aug 17, 2011
Keep doing what you are doing
by: Anonymous

Lord knows I am no expert as I just started riding also but I can identify with your post as I have been there. All I can say is continue to practice with perseverance and commitment. It does get easier, you get more comfortable and less intimidated, ride your own ride and I cannot emphasize that enough, don't do more than you feel ready to tackle.

Learning to ride has been one of the most intense, scary, intimidating, time consuming things I have ever done but the feeling I get when I am on my bike are amazing and worth every knee knock, all the shakey hands, and every case of nerves. Hang in there, it took me awhile to decide I had the right bike and to decide to decide to learn to ride the bike I had, the bike, I wanted. Good luck to you and work through the discouragement, it does get better.


Aug 17, 2011
wrong bike
by: Anonymous

could be you got the wrong bike. Not everyone can ride a sportster. Maybe you should have tried a different make. V-star's are lower and set up better for smaller people. I've ridden over 47K now and I just can't get to like the sportster, seems to sit tall for me and I'm 5'9".

Aug 17, 2011
Trying too Hard!
by: sassy2731

Sounds to me like you are maybe trying too hard at thinking. I say try my little trick. Try chewing apiece of gum when you are riding. It helped me in the beginning and I still find it helps me now after I've been riding for over 5 years. I'm still not sure how it works but it does. Try it and see for yourself what I'm talking about. Maybe we try to think too hard about how to do specific things and the chewing of the gum helps us not to think about it so hard. It helps me to relax. Just try it. My instructor at BRC told me this little secret and wow it worked for me. I've shared this little secret with others and they have agreed that it works for them also.

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