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It Took a Community to Get Me Up to Speed

Friday, June 24, 2016   (4 Comments)
Posted by: Marcia McGuire, 206242

“You look terrified.”

We had barely started watching my video diary of the riding class portion of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) course, and my video self, driving to the class, hadn’t yet spoken. Trembling, I eventually said, “I’m really nervous.” I reiterated that several times, then asked, “Why did you convince me to do this?” He laughed. A couple videos later, I had a grin of incredulity: “I passed, apparently!”

My entry and continuing involvement in the world of motorcycling can both be attributed to the coaching and encouragement I‘ve received from men. Maybe I have just been lucky in whom I’ve met, but as a woman, I have not really come up against an “old boys’ club” mentality in the motorcycling community; if anything, men seem to be especially supportive of women riders. Even if men were facilitators and not barriers, there were plenty of other obstacles I had to get through to move from acquainted to intimate with motorcycles, such as being intimidated by the concept and dangers of riding, learning how to ride for the first time in my late 20s, and figuring out how to handle a large, heavy motorcycle.

The smell of pine and the feel of the crisp mountain air are what I remember of my first ride on the back of a friend’s bike. It was awesome, and more tangible and experiential than traveling by car. That experience inspired my notion of doing a motorbike road trip through Asia, but it didn’t cross my mind that maybe I could actually do it on my own bike. A few years later, a guy I was dating got his license for the first time after growing up on dirt bikes. He took me out on his motorcycle, and I could not stop smiling. It was he who suggested the MSF course. For a couple hundred dollars, I could try riding and see if I liked it, and if I passed, I could move on to getting my license.

During one of the breaks in the class, I found myself questioning whether this was a good idea. I spent the morning stalling my trainer bike because I had never really learned how to use a clutch before. The instructor came over to me and said he had heard I wanted to do a motorbike road trip through Asia one day. He gave me some tips on books and websites and suggested the BMW 650 GS. I wrote this all down, and so did he, on the back of the business card he gave me in case I had further questions.

After I got my motorcycle license, I started doing homework on motorcycles. I knew I wanted to do road trips and camping, and that I liked going down dirt roads. I knew products I liked best were designs that could do everything or at the very least, were multifunctional. That BMW 650 GS was on my radar, as were little 250cc enduros. Sitting on a few dual sports, I realized there was another challenge: I couldn’t touch the ground on a lot of them or even get the bike off of the kickstand. I am 5 foot, 6 inches, but am only a few pounds over 100. My mass isn’t enough to weigh a motorcycle down on its shocks, and I wanted to be able to stand mostly flat-footed on both feet at stoplights on my starter bike. While I deliberated on this, the stars aligned. I went in to a local BMW dealership for a second time to look at helmets. A salesman said a trade-in had arrived the night before, and it was exactly what I wanted: a G 650 GS with panniers, and it was one of the low seat versions. Lacking confidence in my skills, I slowly and awkwardly rode a couple of loops around the dealership’s parking lot, did some price comparisons and bought it. A friend rode it home for me.

I practiced riding around my neighborhood. I tipped over a lot, which made me quite impressed with the hardiness of the GS. I emailed my MSF instructor a photo of me with my new motorcycle, thanked him for his advice on the BMW and told him I had not yet graduated from the neighborhood. His response was that he was coming over the next day, and we were going to ride beyond my neighborhood. That weekend he led me onto freeways and through a winding canyon. I did just fine!

My ambitious self planned to go camping at Joshua Tree National Park, where I rock climbed fairly often. Being a newer rider, I was not aware of the different factors one needs to pay attention to when riding versus driving, and it had not at all crossed my mind that maybe I should look at the predicted wind speed through the section with the giant wind turbine farm. I was riding alone at night and despite leaning hard into the wind, the wind kept shoving me over half a lane. Scared, I pulled off of the highway onto a side street. I was too shaken to ride further, either forward or back. I called a guy who had seen my awkwardness on the GS, and he asked me if I intended on riding off-road; when I said yes, he offered to teach me some dirt bike technique. He had a vehicle that could pick up me and my motorcycle.

The next day he rode with me down some dirt forest roads. That was exactly the vision I had for myself and my GS! I was beaming—until I tipped over. He took that opportunity to teach me a skill I have had to use a few times since: how to pick up a motorcycle that weighs four times my weight unladen, and with gear, closer to five times my weight—by myself. Once we figured out the correct angles, I could lift the bike as long as there were panniers on the motorcycle to help raise it a few inches off of the ground.

I started riding more, both with others and alone. I did a four-night, five-day road trip with a guy who coached me through some of the tightest hairpin turns I had ever done. We went through the fairy tale-like golden hills and gnarled willows of the southern Sierra Nevada mountains. My riding experiences on that trip greatly increased my confidence and affirmed for me that I could indeed handle a motorbike road trip.

Soon after, I moved to the Pacific Northwest. The motorcycle was great for exploring my new area—the forests, the farmland, and the Northern Cascades with their teal blue lakes. To gain a better understanding of the Northwest, I decided to learn more about the logging industry. I rode my GS to tree farms and clear-cuts where I could smell the freshness before I was even upon them. I also rode through national forest land and to the Olympic Peninsula to do a logging and lumber mill tour in Forks. During autumn as the leaves were changing colors, I discovered a state park with narrow, wandering roads where the tree canopy overhead filtered the sunlight.

I am drawn to the open road, but my lack of confidence on dirt roads put limits on which roads I would go down with my motorcycle. I still found my big GS intimidating, so to alleviate some of my concerns, I signed up for the RawHyde introductory course and trip. Once again my coaches were male, but there were a few other women as students. Even though I felt like I spent a good portion of my time sprawled on the ground next to my rented 700 GS, my body started learning how to balance and move with the heavy BMW. I achieved flow in the trail riding trip. Most importantly, I left with confidence, skills and increased comfort on my motorcycle.

Two years after learning how to ride a motorcycle, I embarked on a solo 23-day, 4,000-plus-mile motorbike camping road trip. I launched from Seattle, ran up to the mining ghost town of Barkerville, British Columbia, and then over to Jasper, Alberta. The Canadian Rockies were a humbling experience, riding down the narrow corridor of tall, rugged mountains walling me in on both sides. I felt the chill of the Columbia ice fields before I saw them. It was there I paused for a few days, to do a mountaineering course with Yamnuska Mountain Adventures guides, where we trekked and climbed with ice axes and crampons across the glaciers and among the incredible blue crevasses, streams and other unique glacial formations.

It was at that base camp where I met a BMW MOA member who happened to set up his tent at the site adjacent to mine. When we were chatting, I realized the one thing I forgot to pack was chain lube! He pulled some out of his bag and helped me lube my chain. I had not been aware of the BMW MOA, but here he was, helping me out, and the next day he served as my tour guide as we rode together for a couple of hours.

I continued on through Banff, and to see the contrast of how humans use nature, I went from recreating in the mountains to an open-pit coal mine tour in the mountains of southeastern British Columbia. The huge trucks there looked like miniature toys moving across the landscape, but their tires were twice as tall as me. I continued on to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, where a First Nations elder who worked at the UNESCO World Heritage Site took me aside and said a prayer over me in his native Blackfoot language. He closed by looking at me, and positioning his hands as if riding a motorcycle, he solemnly said, “You are making your own path.”

I headed south through Waterton Lakes National Park and rode the winding Beartooth Highway 212 on the border of Montana and Wyoming into Yellowstone National Park. I made my way back to Seattle via the Northern Cascades.

Most of my time leading up to the trip, I had tapped the knowledge of others, benefiting from the advice of those I randomly met and from the (usually male) folks who worked at my local BMW shop (South Sound Motorcycles), Touratech, and Puget Sound Safety through their motorcycle maintenance course. Right around the midpoint of my motorcycle road trip, there was a shift in reliances. Other motorcyclists, some of whom had been on the road a long time, started asking me for advice, and after seeing the equipment and creative camping meals I had, inquired and took notes. I transitioned to a position where I could now offer tips, ideas or even solutions. Women observed me and considered that it might actually be possible for them to ride, too. That friend who first introduced me to motorcycles is now asking my advice as he packs and plans for his big trip. Me, the newbie female rider.

Maybe it’s my academic background that makes me think it is important to remember and try to cite the sources of the information I utilize. Maybe giving credit is my expression of gratitude. Regardless, I think there are a fair number of men out there who help women realize their potential on motorcycles. You may not always know the progress of those you encourage or coach, but I am one of those. We do take off—and we make our own paths.

Marcia Mcguire is a BMW motorcycle rider and MOA member. If you haven't discovered the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America, take the organization for a 90 day test ride. Visit to start your trial membership, including three free issues of the BMW Owners News.


Roger R. Mullins Vice President says...
Posted Thursday, February 2, 2017
Marcia, you really knocked this one out of the park. Well written, well photographed. I hope you can find your way to these positive comments. I would also hope that you would become a long time MOA member and continue to share your clear talent for photojournalism, and passion for riding, camping and natural beauty.
Jon Hansen says...
Posted Friday, January 13, 2017
Great article and inspirational; no matter what gender you are. Well done.
Nicholas J. Gloyd says...
Posted Tuesday, August 9, 2016
What a great read, thank you for sharing your perspective and experiences. I will be sharing this with my wife. We are both getting into motorcycling and have had our f650gs for three months now. Hope to see you around! Nick And Sam Gloyd
Bud Meade says...
Posted Monday, July 4, 2016
Fantastic to see an article by a woman author. Wish there were more submissions so we could read them on a regular basis.

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