Motorcycle lessons and adventures

Georgia, my 1975 Honda CL360

Ain't she a beaut?
Ain't she a beaut?
Georgia is a scrambler (with high pipes)
Georgia is a scrambler (with high pipes)

Learning to Ride

In August 2009, my boyfriend bought me a 1975 Honda CL360. So, I signed up for a motorcycle safety course and started riding.

First weekend with a license :-/

Motorcycle license :)

Ready to ride! The day after passing the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course, I took my MSF waiver to the New York DMV and got my license.

I named the bike Georgia. She's a reddish orange color with black and chrome pipes. Unfortunately, on this first beautiful weekend after getting my license, Georgia was in the shop. :(

Finally get to ride!

Georgia came back from the motorcycle shop, but the guy forgot to inspect it. So, Jason has to take her back on Monday.

At least I got to ride her a little bit around the neighborhood. I practiced slow turns and rode her down Belgian block streets while Jason walked nearby. (I went slow!) I took her to a quiet two-way street to practice U-turns and shifting. Then, she passed out and wouldn't start. Apparently, the battery is too small and didn't hold enough charge for me to ride in second gear.

Tonight, we're using a trickle charger on the battery so that Jason can take Georgia to the shop tomorrow.

I'm eager to ride again. In the meantime, Jason changed the seat on his bike to a single seat. No more rides on the back of his bike. :(

My first 3-mile ride

Since Jason went straight to the shop to get Georgia, I went to meet him and ride home with him. But the shop's location is on a busy street, and I wasn't ready to ride a four-lane street. So, Jason took Georgia to Williamsburg, a familiar neighborhood about 3 miles from home. Then he took a car service to the shop to get his bike.

We met up just before the sun went down. I wore a 3/4 helmet with sunglasses. I don't own my own helmet, yet. According to Jason and my MSF instructor, I'm a natural. So, he didn't worry about me wearing that helmet on these slower streets.

I made a couple mistakes in turns. One was starting into a turn, the other was taking a turn too fast and going wide. But we made it home safely. It was my first real ride. We took the most quiet streets, avoiding lane changes and rough pavement. I got up to 35 miles per hour in 4th gear.

Practice Practice Practice

Jason has been reminding me every day to practice riding. Work has been slow, so I've had plenty of time during daylight hours to get on the bike and ride. I've been staying in the neighborhood, though, practicing slow turns, counterbalancing, and gunning it to third gear. I only missed one day this week since getting Georgia back from the shop.

We took a ride out to Red Hook, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, a few miles from home. There's one street where there are no traffic lights for about a 3/4-mile. I took advantage of this and accelerated as much as comfortable. Got up to 45 MPH in fifth gear.

We stopped at a bar called Bait and Tackle on Van Brunt Street and played Buck Hunter. I won.

Jason tells me that I lug the engine.

First ride into the city

New York City is a scary place to ride a motorcycle. The notorious cab drivers, Chinese delivery guys riding the wrong way on bicycles, mini-vans full of religious people, people on their cell phones who should get their licenses revoked, drivers from New Jersey (haha), etc.

We rode across the Manhattan Bridge from our little neighborhood in Brooklyn to the East Village in Manhattan. There was a bit of wind as we crossed the bridge. Jason, the great coach he is, tells me not to be afraid, but just hold the handlebars steady and straight. We get up to 45 MPH on the bridge. It wasn't too scary.

Sundays are a good day to practice riding, or driving, in the city. There's less traffic, and more room to see ahead and watch out for potholes.

We parked our bikes on Avenue A and 6th Street, since we planned to watch a girl we met the night before perform music at the Sidewalk Cafe at the same corner. We went to a divey bar, played pool, went to another place, played Buck Hunter (beat Jason again), drank terrible Margaritas, went to the Sidewalk Cafe to see Meg Cavanaugh sing and play guitar, then went to Karaoke across the street and down a block. Needless to say, we were too drunk by the end of the night to ride home. So, we got in a cab.

The next day was Labor Day, so we didn't have to worry about parking regulations. It's like having another Sunday. In the afternoon, after recovering from a bad margarita headache, we took the subway back into the city to get the bikes.

Wet ride

This weekend, I had my first ride on wet pavement. I took it slow and carefully. I don't think I'd enjoy riding in the rain. At the same time, I've got the bug. I'm sure once I feel I have enough experience, I'll ride in the rain anyway.

I still have a healthy fear of riding. And rightly so. That's why motorcyclists are called "organ donors."

First solo ride into the city

I reached a hallmark in my motorcycle riding experience: I rode solo into Manhattan, aka "The City." It's been a month since getting my license.

I took the Brooklyn Bridge this time, since it's easier to get to the west side from there than the Manhattan Bridge. I decided to take the west side streets, because I'm more familiar with them than the east side. I had to get to 37th Street for an audition. The audition was for a promotion of a game show TV network. Of course, I hope to get the job, especially because I hadn't worked much for months and badly needed the income.

Unfortunately, I hadn't listened to the radio before leaving to find out what traffic would be like. Also, I forgot that the route I took had no access to Hudson Street on which I planned to ride uptown and park. So, first, I had to turn around and back track in order to get to Hudson Street. Then when I finally get there, I only get to ride a few blocks, because the street was barricaded. Something was going on. Back track again, and then take Sixth Avenue instead only to find that it's also barricaded.

Obama is in town.

At this point, traffic looks like a parking lot. Lane splitting is not legal in New York State. It should be, especially for air-cooled engines like mine. Somehow I inch my way to the front of traffic, ready to strike across Houston Street into a side road where I could park and grab a subway. But...

Georgia stalls. And she doesn't start. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, when I left, I had to kick start the engine. That was my first kick start. The poor bike overheated in all the standing traffic. And it was 80 degrees outside. I walked the bike across the street when the light turned green. Then I pushed it to a legal parking spot. At this point, I was running late for my audition.

I didn't bother locking my helmet to the bike. I just grabbed it and ran to the subway. I was late to the audition, and I bombed it. Nice.

When I got back to the bike, Georgia had cooled down. I had to kick start her again, but she started. I met up with Jason where he parked his bike and we rode home together. We took the Manhattan Bridge home, but while on the bridge, Georgia started losing power in fifth gear. She lurched and I downshifted to maintain speed. But I lost speed from 50 to 45 to 40. Fortunately, when we hit 40, we were on a downward hill. So, I kept the gears at 3rd gear until we got to our street.

Poor Georgia. She's sick.

I made a pretty bad riding error today. I saw a van pulling into my lane. Instead of settling back and letting the guy take the lane, I claimed my space and sped ahead of him, seeing at the very last second that there was a red light just a few dozen feet ahead. I squeezed the brakes hard and felt the rear tire come out of line. I let go of the brakes slightly, realigned and slowed to a stop, just 3 feet from the car ahead of me. Phew! That was close.

Fixing the bike

After Jason tested Georgia and agreed she had a problem, he went online and figured out that the screen in the petcock had buildup. So, I grabbed a bucket and some tools, disconnected the fuel lines from the carburetors, drained the gas tank and removed the petcock. Sure enough, there were rust flakes from inside the gas tank on the screen.

Unfortunately, we also discovered that the reserve fuel feed that went into the petcock was broken off. So whatever had collected at the very bottom of the tank went into the petcock. The first time Jason had brought Georgia back from the shop after her carbs were cleaned, he was running out of fuel and switched to reserve. That was weeks ago. So for the past few weeks, I'd been riding with a flake of rusted metal hanging on in the petcock. It made it to the screen while speeding to 55 MPH on the bridge home. No amount of flooding the fuel lines allowed the gasoline to flow cleanly.

The part that really sucks is that we just had the carburetors cleaned. Then after one day of riding on reserve, the fuel lines were once again clogged. Rather than replace the entire petcock, we decide to go the less expensive route and get inline fuel filters to keep more rust flakes from getting into the carbs.

More practice, a braking mistake, and others

I ride with Jason as much as possible. This past weekend we took 2 trips to Queens, most dangerous borough to drive in in New York City. I highly recommend that inexperienced riders avoid Queens at all costs-- except for Review Avenue, which runs alongside Newton Creek, a body of water between Brooklyn and Queens.

On Review Avenue, we got up to about 45mph. There are a few recesses and bumps in the road to avoid, but overall, a smooth ride. The street is lined with industrial lots, which on a Saturday are pretty quiet. Then to cross back over to Brooklyn, we took a bridge that connected Grand Street, Queens, and Grand Street, Brooklyn. At the bridge, we stopped behind a truck. I thought the truck was waiting for another car to cross the bridge from the other side. I didn't get a chance to really see if that was the case, because just as I peeked around the truck to see what was ahead, a woman in a mini-van cut me off.

People in cars are out to kill motorcyclists. Beware!

On Sunday, we went to Queens again. On the way, I made a braking mistake. There's a nice long stretch of newly paved road in Brooklyn called Flushing Avenue, connecting the Vinegar Hill neighborhood with Williamsburg. On this stretch, I like to take advantage of the fact that there are only cross streets on one side, making that part of Flushing Avenue a relatively safe ride. But this day, I took too much of a risk.

I forgot that I wasn't driving a car. And when we approached a changing traffic light at 50mph, I decided to stop-- except there wasn't enough room. Though I was careful not to squeeze the brake too fast, I did squeeze all the way. The bike didn't have enough room. I skidded, leaving about ten feet of rubber on the pavement, crossed the intersection, and stopped on the other side. Thank God there were no cars driving into the intersection from the cross street.

Amazingly, I wasn't afraid. I just thanked God and went on.

This day, to cross into Queens, we took McGuinness Boulevard to Long Island City, the nice part of Queens (in the eyes of a Brooklynite). On the bridge, I sped up to 50mph. We were in the left lane, since there were cars to our right. But there was a concrete median, which made it more scary to ride there. On an uphill curve, I tried to maintain my speed, remembering to look toward the spot I want to go to complete the curve and lean. To me, this was a perfect opportunity to practice taking fast curves. But when I looked ahead, there in the distance was something going much slower than me. I had to slow down. Since I was on a curve, the bike was unstable. Jason saw that the bike wobbled as I slowed on the curve, and I tried to keep the speed up as much as possible. I should have used my rear brake on the curve, but I was too shocked to see something ahead that I could potentially crash into to remember to use the rear brake.

Unfortunately, I couldn't tell what was ahead of me. It looked like a bicycle! In the passing lane! So, I had to slow down. When I reached the slow vehicle and looked, it was a Chinese guy on a scooter, riding at about 20mph.

Now, I have to mention that the guy is Chinese, because there is a huge problem in New York City with immigrants who arrive uneducated about how things work in the United States. Guys on vehicles is one group of people that needs education. I don't care at this point if they're legal or illegal. In fact, I'm happy that someone is there to deliver my dinner if I'm too busy to go to the store myself. Fact is, uneducated bicycle and scooter riders on the street is a true danger. Several months ago, a Chinese delivery man was killed on the street while riding a bicycle. As a community, I think that each ethnic group must collaborate to teach immigrants about safety on the streets in a language they will understand. They must learn safe practices, such as riding a scooter on the far right of the street, and learn how to obey traffic rules.

It made me teeming mad that this uneducated scooter rider was in my path on a fast, curving street-- a bridge! (I didn't feel mad until we had parked and sat down for lunch.) In addition, when we got to Queens, a part of the street we rode on was unmarked, and for almost 2 blocks, I rode on the wrong side of the street! Fortunately, because I practice SEE (Search Examine Execute) I saw far enough ahead that a car was driving towards me, and I managed to get back on the right side of the street.

The rest of the day I thought about the three mistakes in my head: Braking with not enough room; not gently using the rear brake to slow down on a curve; not seeing for 2 blocks that the street I was on was two-way. (There were cars facing the other direction on those 2 blocks.) All three were potentially fatal mistakes. Again, I thank God that there were no other obstacles present that could have made them fatal.

After lunch, we went to Roosevelt Island, a strange community reminiscent of Northern European high-rise communities, with its own school and one supermarket. Then we headed to my brother's place in Sunnyside. To get there we took one of those dangerous streets, Queens Boulevard. A minivan driver was nice enough to let us get in front of him, but then he went towards another direction.

Queens Boulevard was probably the scariest street I've ridden on so far. The pavement was uneven. Cars switched lanes without signaling and fast. Jason almost got clipped by a passing vehicle. And a bicyclist, ignoring or not seeing my right turn signal on as a red light turned green, nearly rode straight into my side. I yelled at him. We avoided that street after stopping at a market to pick up food for my brother. I had an opportunity to practice riding with some weight on my back, carrying the food from the market. (Jason offered to put the groceries on his rack, but I wanted the practice.)

This weekend was definitely good practice for me. Dangerous, but good. So, today, I took my lessons with me and rode solo into Manhattan to go to a job. Remembering it all, I had a safer ride. Yelled at a guy who made me go into another lane, but was safer. (Oh yeah, I was yelling, cause my horn stopped working a couple weeks ago.)

Motorcycle riding is never safe. It can be safer, but never safe.

Motorcycle helmets

The first time I put on a full-face motorcycle helmet some months ago, I could barely get it on my head. I thought it was too tight, because it squished my cheeks in, and I could barely speak clearly. Thinking back, barely able to speak clearly was a sign that the helmet was in fact not too small at all. (Not being able to speak clearly is a good indication that the pads of the helmet fit snugly enough around one's face to keep the jaw from caving in in the possible event of crashing face down.) Now when I put the helmet on, I can feel the helmet move as I shake my head. Not good at all.

I went to the Ducati-Triumph dealer on Sixth Avenue (Ave. of the Americas) off Spring Street to try on a new helmet. The extra helmets Jason has are all second hand, which means someone else's head shaped the inside cushions. Quite possibly, the foam might have disintegrated over time, or a helmet might have been dropped, destroying the integrity of its protective abilities. Basically, if I have an accident wearing one of these used helmets, particularly while traveling at a high speed, there's a chance I could suffer brain trauma, or some other head injury.

In 80% of motorcycle fatalities, helmets were an issue. Most head injuries happen on the face. 19% of head injuries happen on one side of the jaw. So, even though open face helmets look cool and allow the wnd to blow against your face, a full face helmet will protect your jaw.

Though helmet discussions are one of the most debated issues among the motorcyle community, I think I'll choose safety over the wind. Besides, if you're caught in the rain with an open face helmet at highway speed, it's like getting shot in the face by a dozen BB guns.

Parked it and left

Two whole days and nights went by of not riding. For me, that sucks. Problem is that I got a freelance job with an ad agency and the hours have been grueling. I get home when it's dark, and Jason doesn't want me riding at night by myself until I have more experience. So, I've been riding the subway to work. Tonight, I had to move the bike because of alternate side parking rules. (The streets get cleaned in the morning, so the bike has to be moved to the other side.) I decided to ride down to Superfine, one of my favorite restaurants, and get some dinner.

When I sat down for dinner, I realized how tired I was. And I rode there tired. Dinner was amazing-- steak au poivre medium rare. But I decided to leave the bike there across the street from the restaurant and walk home.

Safety measures. Take them.

Getting comfortable

It's October 1. I had my first solo ride to Queens today to see my brother on his birthday. I avoided Queens Boulevard as much as possible, taking Greenpoint Avenue all the way from Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to 48th Avenue in Queens. On the way, it rained a bit, but just spit. The pavement stayed relatively dry.

My new motorcycle jacket

I wore my brand new white leather motorcycle jacket, bought on

The leather is nice and thick. It has back protection made with dual density foam, elbow and forearm pads, and shoulder guards with foam and PVC armor. It also has vents on the front and back that can be unzipped.

The best thing about this jacket is that drivers see me. It was a marked improvement between what I wore before and this white jacket. Before, wearing an earthy orange leather jacket, I had to constantly watch how cars crawled at an intersection, then slow down to make sure they didn't just pull out. With the white jacket on, drivers saw me right away and stopped-- no crawling.

People on the side of the streets see me too. Two guys today in different locations said something to the effect of, "Wow, you look hot on that bike." Never happened before, except from my boyfriend. I guess they could tell I was a girl, cause I wore a pink hoodie.

I was excited and nervous before getting on the bike today. But after riding for several miles and seeing how much better traffic responds to the white jacket, I feel much more comfortable. One guy, though, still didn't stop, however. And that was one block from home. The guy pulled out, didn't stop at the stop sign, didn't see me, even with the jacket on. I might have been camouflaged against a white van or truck. I gunned the throttle and escaped the possible accident.

Unfortunately, there's no nighttime reflective material on the jacket. So, I ordered some glass reflective beads, used on traffic signs and streets. I'll glue them on the jacket, on the stripes on the sleeves and make a star emblem on my back. Then, I'll feel a bit safer riding at night.

Be thoughtful about what you wear on your motorcycle!

Be safer with a bright jacket

Parking safely

Living in a town or city without a garage has an obvious danger for classic bikes on the streets: public exposure.

I parked my bike at the end of my street a couple days ago, close to where my car was parked, because I had an appointment to show my car to a prospective buyer. The next day, I went to the bike to ride, and someone had messed with her. The handle bar bag was moved, the kill switch on, the lights turned off, and the kick start lever pulled out. When I started the bike, the turn signals didn't work properly and the headlight would not turn on. I didn't have time to check the lamp to make sure it was connected, or check the battery, so I left Georgia for the day and went to my appointment by subway. It was depressing.

That night, I went back to the bike. Someone had messed with her again! Once again, the kill switch was on, and this time the seat had been bent back. This loser probably tried to remove my helmet from the helmet hook under the seat to get it kick started. Fortunately, this time the high beam on the headlamp worked (wires were loose), so I rode Georgia to a regular spot in front of our local watering hole and parked her there.

While I was out, I stopped at the Vespa store on Crosby Street in Manhattan and bought a 3.5 foot (110cm) OnGuard chain (the Mastiff 5019) to keep people from taking the bike. This length just fits around the front wheel and frame of my CL360.

After parking, I removed the headlamp from the fixture to check the wires and pushed tight any that were loose. The lamp itself was loose. Since I didn't have the proper hardware to fix it right, I used what I could find to at least keep the lamp from moving within its fixture. I got the low beam to work as well, then straightened the seat.

Whoever messes with someone else's bike simply is not cool. Respect, people.

Lane splitting

Lane splitting is not legal in New York State, but I think it should be, especially because air-cooled engines need to be in motion to prevent from overheating. Did that once before. Riders split lanes anyway, passing slow or stopped traffic to get ahead. I haven't ridden between lanes yet, but today I passed traffic on the right-hand side, as if making a right turn (which I made).

On the Manhattan Bridge, traffic traveled at 5-10 miles per hour. I watched 2 other bikes go by splitting lanes, and thought about following, but I didn't feel confident enough. Geez, I've only been riding less than 2 months. But when getting off the bridge, traffic was backed up 2 blocks. So, I passed traffic as if about to make a right turn.

Passing traffic on the right is not safe, because in the right lane, drivers are not looking to their right, and because people in parked cars could open their doors unexpectedly. So, I rode slowly in the friction zone in first gear watching to make sure nobody opened their doors or tried to pull over to the right.

(The friction zone is when the bike is in gear and the wet clutch is ridden. So, the clutch is pressed halfway allowing for engine control, particularly when riding slow.)

I'm sure one day I'll be confident enough to split lanes. Who wants to sit in slow traffic?

The Shoei RF-1000

I spent the last 2 and a half months looking for the right helmet for me. When I first started shopping, I had no idea what to look for and didn't know how a helmet should fit. I also had no idea about different brands: Arai, Bieffe, Shoei, Bell, HJC, etc. I kept hearing about different brands from different people, but the one brand that seemed to get the most discussion was Shoei ("show-ee"). Turns out that was the brand that fit me best when trying them on at a store.

A few weeks of research on the Internet reading descriptions and comparing prices, I decided I would stick with Shoei, since I know what size I wear in that brand. Also, reviews talk about how the Shoei helmet stays put while riding. The helmet I had been wearing felt like it lifted up when riding at higher speeds. I finally settled on the RF-1000 and ordered it in light silver. This helmet also has vents located in places that allow air to flow, minimizing sweat.

The helmet came yesterday, just hours before a 70 mile highway trip to Pennsylvania. It was supposed to be my first highway ride on a motorcycle. Jason and I were planning to leave yesterday, but because of the chance of showers, we decided to leave the next day. I'm glad we waited, or else I'd be riding with an old helmet-- the one that feels like it comes off in high speeds.

I put the helmet on and read the guide. It says it should fit snugly around my whole head and i should be able to feel the cushion against the top of my head. I do. With the helmet on, while moving the helmet around left and right and up and down, my skin should move with the helmet. It does. With the chin pads in, the pads should be pressing in on my cheeks. They do. They press in so much that I practically bite the inside of my mouth, and I can barely speak. Supposedly, over time, the helmet will take the shape of my head and will feel less like making funny faces. Basically, this helmet fits snugly enough that if I fall at a high speed, it won't come off until I take it off.

I had only ridden on a motorcycle once at a speed of 70mph, and it was scary with a helmet that didn't fit me well. But today, while riding on the highway, the helmet was secure. It didn't feel like it was trying to come off my head in high speed. It was comfortable and comforting. Didn't even seem like we were going 70.

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Comments 3 comments

Rob 6 years ago

This is great, Kim. I just bought the exact same bike (a '75 CL360) recently and I have very little experience riding, so hearing about your adventures helps me overcome some of the fear. You're lucky to have someone to ride with. Please continue to post!

Kiai 6 years ago

Thanks, Rob, for your comment. I'm glad to share :) I'm sure you'll find someone to ride with. Motorcycle forums are full of open people who love their communities.

Brian Balzer 2 years ago

My mom would have been thrilled if I'd been that cautious when I first learned to ride. My first bike was a 7? Honda 350 Enduro. I was about 16 when Dad got it for me and if I laid it over I had to do a squat lift to pick it back up.

About an hour after I got it I was across the road in an open field jumping the dirt mounds for directing water and blasting down the dirt road at 70+mph. About two weeks later I ended up riding the same bike into Wichita (about 30 miles) and then all over Wichita, even though I didn't have a license. Whoops!

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