It’s Not What You Don’t Know

Thanks to old age and bad genetics, I’m stuck on a bicycle so far this summer. Double-vision and myasthenia gravis have pretty much taken me off of the motorcycle for an undetermined period; maybe for the rest of my life. Luckily, my generous and adventurous grandson donated his beat up electric bicycle to my cause this winter and, after repairing all of the damage done to that vehicle that he and city salt in 1 1/2 winters of Minneapolis commuting, I started riding it around my current hometown in January and have put about 750 miles on it, as of July. My wife became interested when she saw how much fun I was having on the eBike and I bought her one for Mother’s Day. She’s almost put 250 miles on the eBike since then. Riding with her today was an experience that made me think of something that might fit the August issue’s editor request for “a women-related article that would fit in with our August women rider issue.”

It’s never fair or realistic to stereotype people for sex, race, formal education, or any other major category we humans use to jump to easy conclusions. However, in my experience there are often some significant differences in men and women, outside of biology, and my experience is all I have to go on.

For example, my wife, like every other woman I know seems to be completely uninterested in how things work. I know a few guys like that, but not many. I realize that my acquaintances and friends are self-selected and I don’t have much in common with men who are disinterested in how things work, but I also don’t run into a lot of men like that. Every woman in my life is exactly like that; “Don’t bother me with how it works, just show me how to use it.” Even something as simple as an electric bicycle, my wife is disinterested in how the Pedal Assist System (PAS), derailleur shifter, battery status, brakes, or even the basic handling characteristics of a bicycle that will easily go 20mph; more than fast enough to create some major road rash. She just wants to know the minimum to get the bike in motion and get on with it. No chance she will ever read the 20-page manual, regardless of what might go wrong or what she might learn about her eBike that would enhance her enjoyment and confidence in riding the thing. I have known exactly two women in my life and career who were significantly different from my wife and her and our women friends.

Not knowing how a motorcycle works is a really limiting deficiency. For one, you’re pretty much stuck going any decent distance with other people; probably men who can fix stuff for you. Motorcycles are solo vehicles, by design, regardless of what the pirate parade nitwits may tell you, and clinging to those rolling bowling pin processions is a formula for ending up dead or wounded. Dead is no big deal, but seriously wounded is freakin’ awful. Another flaw in having to rely on someone else to be your technical resource is that the odds on finding a competent person who will take that job are slim-to-none. For the last 40 years, I have always said that if I ever won the lottery, the first thing I would do would be to hire an IT person for my wife. Likewise, I have found a mechanic to mess with her cars, so I don’t have to look at the neglect and abuse those pitiful vehicles suffer.

When it comes to riding skills, tactics, and techniques, motorcycle brand and model choices, and especially the clothes you wear on a motorcycle, if you are not actively making those choices on your own or, worse, basing those decisions on peer pressure, you are not really a motorcyclist (However, you might be a “biker.”). Peer pressure is for high school kids or worse. Style-over-function in a transportation or life-support equipment decision is just dumb. In my years teaching the MSF Basic and Experienced Rider Courses, I was too often asked questions about these things by people who had already made up their minds from poor advice and ignorant observation. In my touristy hometown, for example, about one-out-of-every-two-dozen bikers are wearing helmets and way fewer are wearing decent protective gear or even boots and gloves. I can tell by their posing that they imagine themselves to be such great riders that crashing is just not going to happen. Having been stuck trying to teach a lot of those exact characters how to make evasive maneuvers, use both brakes, keep their eyes ahead looking for hazards and escape routes, safe distances, and arguing with them about “dangerous helmets” and loud pipes saving lives, I’m here to tell you that those folks suck as motorcyclists. (They are state-of-the-art “bikers,” though.)

So, my suggestion for women who want to become motorcyclists is learn how to ride, learn how to maintain your motorcycle (busted fingernails and all), wear motorcycle gear (not Village People costumes), and remember “It ain’t what you don’t know that hurts you. It’s what you do know that ain’t right.” (Will Rogers) The problem with most of the people who want to give biker-advice is that almost everything they know is wrong.

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