What’s more fun than learning to ride a motorcycle? A Lot.
What’s more fun than learning to ride a motorcycle? A Lot.
By Susan Anspach / Illustration by Matt Mignanelli
Adventuresome’s one of those shifty, don’t-turn-your-back-on-it modifiers, in the same family as funny or thoughtful. We know all of those words have meaning. On the books, we know what all of those words mean.
Off the books, every pigeon on a barstool thinks his sense of humor is the best in the room. On a dating website, Darth Vader could make a case for his soft side, in the same breath he tells you how outgoing he is, and upbeat! It’s not so much lying as it is the impulse to think the best of ourselves.
That gives you an idea of the thrift-store psychology that lately landed me in a basic rider course for motorcycles, which I thought would be adventuresome (I can be adventuresome!)—also badass and mildly pimp (I can be that! I own a green coat)—neatly sidestepping the small but book-confirmed truth that I’m nowhere close to truly identifying as any one of those things.
Here’s why I thought I had what it takes to sign up for a basic rider course for motorcycles:
I know (two) people who ride motorcycles.
One time I accidentally walked into a biker bar, where I focused on sitting still, pinning down the corners of my mouth, and making myself stay for seven-and-a-half minutes.
Obviously no part of me’s cool enough for riding motorcycles. Still, the website promised “no experience necessary” and “serious fun,” and I ask you: Since when has serious fun sprung from anything other than 600 pounds of engine-operated metal.
Things got underway on a Friday night, and that was the desk-and-chair portion of the class, where the first thing the teachers told us to do was fill out name cards and introduce ourselves. (They gave us their names, Bo and Cy, both pronounced the same way you spit out a tooth.) By then I’d already non-verbally acquainted myself with everyone in the room, sizing them up on a scale of one to pimp, and color me surprised: Not counting the one guy with a cheek scar and neck tattoos, everyone else looked plucked from the cast of a movie, if the movie was set at a suburban bus stop. That room saw a lot of khakis. You could have swapped us for a room of accounting majors. That night we took a few notes and watched a few video clips. Bo and Cy assured us that the next day we would be ready to go.
Funny enough, I felt ready to go. My note-taking’s always been bar-none. I watched those videos from my desk like a champ. And anyway, there were lawyers in this class. There were students in dental school. Those guys were nothing like Cheek Scar and me. Earlier that night I’d noticed he and I were both wearing blue pants—a sure sign, I took it, of a shared aptitude for twin engines.
What I was about to learn is the rest of the class runs a little differently. For the rest of the time, the teachers have all day Saturday and Sunday to show you everything you need to know, and at the end of Sunday you take a test to show you do, in fact, know. There’s a rider’s course, and cones, and the whole time Cy’s watching you like a mouse in sight of a hawk, if the mouse is learning to ride a motorcycle for the first time.
Saturday morning we had a 6:30 show time. We lined up in a parking lot and picked our bikes, and here’s what you need to know about the bikes. There were 12 of them altogether. Eleven had fully functioning clutch levers; one did not. Eleven had been manufactured in the last decade; one had been salvaged from the early years of the Reagan administration. Eleven had been designed for adults between 5- and 7-feet tall; one had been built—I can only assume—with a very rebellious 12-year-old child or carnival midget in mind.
And you think you know where I’m going with this, don’t you? You think I went with midget bike, but joke’s on you because I did not. For once in my life, I picked bike one through eleven, or whatever bike one through eleven’s a metaphor for. The right color lunchbox. The best hairdo for prom. The college major with the coolest professors and highest post-graduate starting salary. My bike was the fullest-functioning, most designed-for-an-adult-with-legs on the block. It looked just like Cheek Scar’s. Black. Chrome-plated.
That was before one of the lawyers tricked me into trading, with his “weak knees” and “being 6-foot-4,” and yeah, I got stuck with midget bike.
Skip three hours to bathroom break, I couldn’t look Cheek Scar in the eye, but I overheard him at the water cooler extolling the virtues of veganism while I gnawed on the beef jerky I’d brought because I thought it would help me fit in.
On the course, too, things could have been going better. My 90-degree turn was less 90 degrees and more of a literal, straight line. I was terrified of the figure-8. The Shetland pony I was riding didn’t downshift. It wasn’t the stunt of a lifetime when Bo sidled up to me wearing rider goggles and a pasted-on grin, gave my hunched-to-the-ear shoulder a shake and asked me if we weren’t “having fun yet,” code for you’re within a hair of flunking this class and more than your $350, this is mouth-muscle energy I can’t get back.
Any hope I had of sharing a platter of beef jerky with Cheek Scar in unconventionally hued coats was out the window; the only thing on my mind by this point was passing that test. Sunday was a hot, seize-y mess consisting of more scrutiny, more cured meats, and more 90-degree “turns” (they weren’t getting better). Also, in the night, some unbeknownst witching hour had passed, and now trading bikes was strictly prohibited. There was only one way out, and that was on the pleather bicycle seat plopped atop an engine sized for a flea circus.
Then the test was upon us, both too late and much, much too soon. Cy lined us up in what he claimed was no particular order. However, I came last.
Cheek Scar, naturally, was assigned to go first (later we lauded him as class valedictorian for earning the only perfect score). Then nine other people went. Then came me.
Because I’m not monosyllabic or cruel, I’ll tell you outright that I did pass, by a literal single point, which I know because Bo and Cy made me guess. I wasn’t the class flunkie; I was second to flunkie: One guy had fallen and broken his arm. And that wasn’t funny, but I was funny. Apparently. Bo and Cy and I shared a good laugh, then abruptly stopped laughing and had a serious talk about how no part of me should be on the road on a motor-run bike for the foreseeable future, or for a minimum 25 hours’ practice in parking lots.
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