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Sierra Bein is a content editor at The Globe and Mail and author of the Globe Climate newsletter.
Something about looking back at the past three years of my life gave me the final push to sign up for a motorcycle class. Before working at The Globe, I was freelancing, solo-traveling and did not make plans more than a month into the future. But being alone and indoors so much during the pandemic nudged me to seek out a new and challenging experience. Enter motorcycle lessons: the right mix of scary and thrilling.
My cousin and I had been talking about doing it for years. And while I’d ridden on a motorcycle as a passenger, I’d never driven one myself. We finally signed up for the very last class of the season, at the end of October. Before the class, we’d have to successfully complete a written test. Then, we’d need to finish the weekend class with a passing score to get our M2 motorcycle licences (similar to driving licences in Ontario, an M2 gives permission to ride with some limitations, such as not riding after consuming any alcohol).
I was bursting to share my news. But to my surprise, I didn’t always receive the reaction I was expecting.
While some shared my elation, most of my family, some friends and my boyfriend were concerned I would get hurt and expressed shock, confusion and frustration when I wouldn’t change my mind. Jokingly, someone offered to refund whatever I paid for the course and more, on the condition I drop out.
“Can you actually move the bike? You’re just so little,” a family friend said.
“Your cousin is crazy, but you’re more crazy because you’re a girl,” one aunt said.
In a way, I found their concern endearing and entertaining. But it evolved into annoyance. I couldn’t imagine any man being pestered like this. I understood the risks. I’m aware of my size. And I was taking the class because first and foremost, it’s a course in safety, and I want to be as responsible as possible on a bike.
October finally arrived. After a virtual theory segment, we were ready for the on-bike lessons. It was rainy and windy, and we were outdoors for more than nine hours each day. I wore three (three!) pairs of pants.
We stood in a circle to talk about why we were there and what kind of bike we wanted. Some needed to re-up expired licenses, some simply wanted to get out of the city to ride off-road.
A wave of embarrassment washed over me. I didn’t know much about bikes or what kind I wanted. But I explained that when I was travelling in countries where motorcycles are common, I felt stuck because I didn’t know how to ride.
“I just don’t want to rely on random men to drive me around. If I ever need to ride a bike, I want to be able to do it myself,” I said, feeling as though I was outing myself as the least experienced and educated one there.
“That is actually my favourite reason,” one instructor responded. He came to me after class with positive feedback and reiterated how happy it makes them to teach women who have never ridden before.
There were two other women in my class of 16, and both were there after being encouraged by their husbands, so that they could ride together. I have to admit, I was a little envious these women had their spouses’ support and someone they could turn to for help.
I began to panic when we were asked to do the very first thing: pushing the bikes to the practice lot. I’m 110 pounds, these bikes were 300-500 pounds. I did my best to hide how hard I was working, even though my muscles were sore halfway through the day. It wasn’t until we turned on the ignition that I understood why my instructors say they are in love with “the two wheel lifestyle.”
The first time we took off, I was prepared to feel overwhelmed by the power. Instead, I was relieved to feel the weight of the bike didn’t matter anymore, I was in total control with the help of the clutch and throttle. I could sense the vibration of the engine when I needed to change gears, and soon my body instinctively knew how far to lean into a turn. After more and more practice obstacles, I felt a friendly dialogue forming between me and my bike, and my anxiety melted into exhilaration.
This thing I was so nervous about, that so many people were scared of me doing, was liberating. Compared to a car, you’re much more connected to the air around you, the earth beneath you and the machine that carries you. You need to trust yourself, and you need to invest all your attention in every move you make.
At the end of the weekend came our final practical test. As our examiners told us, they weren’t grading us only on technical skills.
They were looking for confidence over perfection. Can you manage the power in your hands? Are you alert and aware of your surroundings? Can you recover if you make a mistake? You might not know how to ride expertly, but a little grit is something that will help if you’re nervous. For me, I had to clear my mind of the voices that weren’t my own.
I ended the class with a perfect exam score. Now, I’m on the hunt for a used, starter motorcycle, if anyone has any leads.
What else we’re thinking about:
My mind has been haunted by a video I saw recently. It’s of Nina Gualinga, an environmental and Indigenous rights activist in Ecuador – she speaks about the connection of women to land. “Any violation of our land is a violation of our bodies,” she says. “As Indigenous women, we are more exposed to the violence of extractive industries, of governments, of climate change.” While some might not believe her message, it is factually accurate. And so, as we watch the Gidimt’en eviction of Coastal GasLink, I think of not just the land defenders, but also of so many missing, murdered, assaulted Indigenous women and girls who have been affected by pipelines on the land we call home.
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