By Paul Berglund
I learned to ride a street bike in a vacuum. I didn’t know any riders, I was self taught. I came to off road riding late in life, and by then I had some friends. Several of my riding friends took notice and started riding off road too. Of those I “infected” some grew to love it and others got their fill and moved on to other things. I was never an evangelist for motorcycle riding. I don’t try to recruit non-riders into the fold. I feel that motorcycling can’t be imposed on someone. They have to really want to ride a motorcycle.
Motorcycle riders only make up 2 to 3 percent of the American population. We are a rare bread. Not everyone is cut out to be a rider. Most people can easily be talked out of riding a motorcycle. It’s dangerous, you get rained on, etc. I know it’s better for the “sport” if the motorcycling industry is healthy and growing. The plain fact is, most people shouldn’t be out on the road riding motorcycles. If you see how badly the average car is driven, you may agree.
And yet from time to time a person comes along that really wants to ride a motorcycle. They have a passion for something that I can take for granted. It wakes me up when someone asks me questions about riding and I have to think about what I’m doing. I have to get my head back into the game. I try to help the new rider when I can and usually it helps me be a better rider.
If that passionate person wants to learn to be a street rider I hand them off to one of the many excellent classes like the state run MSF program, (http://www.msf-usa.org/brc.aspx). I can help refine a rider’s skill set, but teaching the fundamentals is beyond my abillities. We all have to be aware of the new rider and help them. We often form loose riding groups to hit the twisty roads of Wisconsin or to buzz up to Duluth to check out the latest product at Aerostich. Some new riders won’t blend well with the group, others will. For the sake of the sport of motorcycling we should keep an open mind.
I’ve complained in the past about the riders that didn’t fit in to the mix in past articles, but I’d like to dedicate this to someone that has. Her name is Sarah Mae. My Friend Sev and I had been riding various places together for years. He had ridden his dual sport bike to a coffee shop and was sitting outside having a cup of coffee. When a rider pulled up on her vintage Honda street bike. She had just read an article about off road motorcycles in a glossy Over Landing magazine. She recognized that Sev’s motorcycle was one of those kind of motorcycles and was intrigued to learn more about it. Sev and Sarah Mae had several conversations about off road riding before I was dragged in by the gravitational pull of Sarah Mae’s passion.
We helped her find an off road bike. She picked a used Yamaha XT225, and we were very proud. She took an MSF off road class and as fate would have it Sev and I were leaving for Moab, Utah right after that. The trails out there are epic, not the place for a new rider, but Sarah Mae despite struggling from time to time, became a huge fan of the adventure lifestyle. And the three of us became great friends. We took our new friend on several on and off road motorcycle rides in the following years. She improved both on and off road but seamed to hit a plateau in her street riding. We all agreed that it was the Vintage Honda 360 that was holding her back. It was time for a new street bike.
Sarah Mae is very practical and insisted on selling her current bike before buying her next bike. So Sev and I waited patiently for that process to take place. Finally last fall we waved goodbye to the Honda. The next step was for Sarah Mae to set up a motorcycle slush fund and narrow down her options. There are so many great choices for a modern road bike that narrowing down the hunt can be very intimidating. The one thing the bike had to do was be capable of riding to Montana to see her grandmother. That didn’t narrow down her options much. There are dozens and dozens of bikes that would do that. So we kept adding features to the dream bike to eliminate potential candidates.
The bike had to be comfortable for long distant travel. It had to be able to haul some luggage, ether hard or soft, and finally it should be able to handle a dirt road or two because the adventure bug had bit her hard. Now I could harness my Craig’s List skills and use them for good. Over the course of the winter I sent her links to bikes for sale and she would examine them and those that showed promise, she researched further.
As 2017 began to tick buy, I began to wonder if Sarah Mae had brain lock from looking at so many motorcycles online. Each week I’d send a new batch and once a month or so we’d meet for breakfast and discuss the merits of each bike while I stuffed myself with blueberry pancakes and coffee. (Another favorite pastime of mine.) Still no results on finding that perfect bike. Then one day in April I sent her a bike that she had never seen before. It was a 2010 KTM 990 SMT. Lots of avid motorcyclists have never heard of it. It got fantastic reviews and sold reasonably well, but was eventually dropped from the KTM line up. Instantly, that was the bike she wanted.
She had found her dream bike. By the time we coordinated our attack, the bike was sold. We broadened our search and found several sprinkled all around the continental US. The winner turned out to be in Madison Wisconsin. The three amigos jumped into Sarah Mae’s car and we drove off. It met every one’s expectations. Money changed hands and Sarah Mae saddled up. As Sev and I followed in the chase vehicle we were amazed to see Sarah Mae’s riding style transformed from stodgy and hesitant to fluid and dynamic. It was that old bike holding her back! Like a butterfly, a new rider had emerged. All across Wisconsin we celebrated at every gas stop, lunch stop and Ice cream stop.
I’m both humbled and proud to have been a part of this match making. The best is yet to come, for tomorrow, we ride!.