Salvaging success

Rough Start Opens Path To Adventure

By Susan Balthasar

None of the exciting rides and adventures I’ve experienced would have happened if I had not passed the Motorcycle Safety Foundation BasicRider Course.
And, as I look back on my participation, it appears that my passing was a fluke. Just exactly how and why this is true, I will reveal to you now.
No member of my family before me ever rode a motorcycle. No aunt or uncle, parent or grandparent. We are all owners of stodgy economy cars, drive at the speed limits and take curvy roads with care.

So, when I told the relatives I wanted to ride a motorcycle, they were unanimously horrified and threatened to disown me. They were picturing an outlaw rider.
Since I had no wish to antagonize them, and because my desire to ride had no feminist or in-your-face motivations, I backed off and tried to forget my desire. But not before I visited a Honda shop with my then 12-year-old son. The array of shiny bikes and the cheery salesman who gave us both rides were enough to create a lasting impression on our minds.
I did not get a motorcycle for another 20 years. By that time, the 12-year-old boy had grown up, was living in San Francisco, had been riding for two years and loved it.
One day, in the course of a phone conversation, he suggested I would enjoy riding a motorbike very much and it would greatly enhance my life. Since all good parents follow their children’s advice, I began to look into it.

When my son came down from San Francisco to help me pick out the bike I would buy, a salesman suggested a Suzuki SV650 and offered his very own to try out. My son rode it and was very impressed. The bike was ordered, and I took possession of it on Dec. 31, 2001. I was 58 years old.
Having bought the bike, I wanted to take the California Motorcycle Safety Program course and get licensed.
This may seem to be a backward way of doing things, but I was advised that it might help to pass the course if I had some prior riding experience.
The course did not go so well for me. The lecture and written parts were easy, but when we got to the part where we were given 125cc bikes to ride and drills and skills to learn, I was sidelined.

At the very beginning, while we were paddle walking, the instructor pulled me over and told me that motorcycling was not something that I should try.
At the time, I was too horrified to respond. He didn’t give me a chance to flunk.
Later, I was advised that the CMSP course had a number of instructors who take turns and I was entitled to retake the course on the same $200. So I signed up again, with some reluctance.

When I showed up, we were told to choose a bike, walk it to the edge of the parking lot and gather around the instructor for a brief lecture. After the talk, we went back to our bikes. But someone had taken mine. The only bike available was a rather thrashed one.
I got on and started to ride. It stalled. I managed to get it to the appointed place, and then the drills began. The bike stalled frequently and sometimes was hard to restart. I talked to the instructor, but he was unsympathetic. He told me he worked on that bike himself.
So, I continued to participate as best I could under the circumstances.

When test time arrived, the bike was behaving somewhat more reliably, not having stalled for 10 minutes or so, and I felt confident that I could perform the required skills.
I was weaving around some cones—and actually enjoying it—until, at the apex of one curve, the bike stalled.
This could have been the end of my motorcycle experience. But, miraculously, it wasn’t.
I extended my index finger and pressed the ignition button while invoking the gods and goddesses of motorcycling, and the little engine that mostly couldn’t fired up and continued its cone weaving. I successfully completed the drill, which completed the testing.
“It wasn’t pretty, but you passed,” the instructor told me. He said he was going to flunk me until he saw the bike stall and watched as I simply hit the ignition button and continued the drill.

I felt triumphant.
I have been a rider now for 16 years and have logged more than 200,000 miles—157,000 on the original SV650.
In 2008, I bought a slightly used SV and rode it a year later in a “Run What You Brung” event on the Bonneville Salt Flats at a speed of 115.9 mph on the measured course.
And I hope to have many more good years of riding. All of them licensed and legal.

Susan Balthasar is an AMA member from Los Osos, Calif.