A Golden Ticket To Ride: Harley-Davidson Riding Academy

By Shawna May

I want to start this article with a disclaimer.  I have never written an article or had any desire to write one.  I’m a Registered Nurse (RN), I have been an emergency and operating room nurse for years. Nursing is what I know.  Writing is for people who know what they are doing with paper and pen, or on a computer.  I hope you will bear with me on this new endeavor and that you at least enjoy it a little.

As a fifty-year-old female nurse who has seen multiple motorcycle crash victims not only in the emergency room but the operating room as well, to say it has made me more scared of riding is an understatement.  I’ve seen the worst that can happen, but in the end it has been a lifetime dream to get on a Harley and ride it!  After my weekend at the Harley-Davidson Riding Academy, this dream has come true.

Growing up in the Midwest, I rode small dirt bikes and four-wheelers.  As a girl, I always wanted to ride a street bike. My brothers had Harleys, as did my male cousins. Not a single women owned her own bike though. It was not something that was done.  Women only rode on the back of motorcycles, hence riding “bitch.”  Later in my adult life, when I moved to California, I soon realized it wasn’t unheard of for women to ride solo and it was much more accepted. Being a little intimidated and scared, I purchased a scooter thinking that I would start small and slow.

I quickly realized that it wasn’t enough.  I wanted that big bike and power under me.  I wasn’t sure what and how to go about riding a motorcycle on the street.  So I researched and found multiple different classes available. Seeing that Riverside Harley-Davidson offered a class where you could learn on a Harley, I made up my mind. Who wouldn’t want to learn on one of the most iconic motorcycles of all time?  So my boyfriend and I signed up.  I remember being so excited– until the adrenaline of signing up wore off and my nerves kicked in.  That’s when all the worries started.  First, can a fifty-year-old woman really do this? Am I going to be the only woman there?  Are my boyfriend and I going to be the oldest people there?  Can I actually hold a bike up?  Will I kill myself just trying to take off in first gear?  And after getting into first gear, will I be able to change gears, keep the bike up and then make a turn?  Needless to say, I was freaking out!

On the first evening of class, Riverside H-D offers a tour of the dealership.  We arrived early for the tour, checked in for the class and waited for the tour to begin.  The tour was given by Alec M, one of the salesmen there.  He was very knowledgeable about the dealership and the product lineup.  He explained the different types of bikes that Harley offers, took us through the service center and finally into shirts and accessories.  We were offered a 15% discount on select merchandise and we picked up a few last-minute items, as did others.  There were also incentives for anyone interested in purchasing a bike over the weekend. I won’t go into the insanely awesome boots and apparel I got for a great price, but just know it was one of the highlights for me.

We then went into the first of three classroom sections of the course.  They are small classes consisting of twelve students or less.  Immediately some of my fears were put to rest.  I was one of three women attending.  There was also others our age.  I soon realized that the level of experience was wide.  There were people who had never sat on a bike all the way to one guy that had ridden most of his life and wanted to get “legal.” The class focused on safety, the laws and how to avoid situations that lead to accidents.  During the middle of the class we got to have a bonding moment when the largest California earthquake in the last twenty years happened.  It was one of those experiences that make you realize how short life is, and not to waste a day not doing what you want.

Day two started bright and early at 6:45am on the riding range.  More fears were chased away when we started with baby steps.  Sitting on the bike, starting the bike, using the clutch and finding neutral.  By the time the riding part came around, I felt at ease and confident that I wouldn’t kill myself and would probably have the time of my life.  The instructors, Brian and Paul, were so amazing.  They explained everything, were encouraging when we messed up and their knowledge showed.  By the end of the first riding day, I felt like I had wasted so many years on only wishing to ride, because it was much easier than I imagined.  This class was a game changer.  One of the few things in life I wish I’d have done sooner.  We returned to the classroom and went over the rest of the book work for the second half of the day (earthquake free this time).

Saturday night made me question my sanity as my legs and arms were sore.  I wasn’t sure I would make it after the second day, let alone pass the riding test.  I will say that seeing all the different skill levels gave me hope at passing the test, since I ranked myself in the middle of the pack.  I took some acetaminophen and went to bed excited for what day three would hold.

Day three started early back at the riding range.  No time was wasted.  It was straight onto the bikes and a quick refresher of what we learned the previous day.  Then we progressed to learning new skills.  The last half of the riding course that day was set aside for the riding skills test.  All my nerves came back!  Even after succeeding on the skills we had learned, I was scared I wouldn’t pass.  I knew riding through the cones was going to be a challenge and of course it was.  But after an emotional few minutes, I got my s#it together, finished the remaining tests and passed the riding portion of the course!

We returned to the dealership to wrap up the classroom lessons and take the written test.  It went quickly, and we were all pretty excited at this point.  The tests were graded and the questions that were missed were written on the whiteboard and reviewed one more time.  The instructors really want to make sure that the students understand the material.  Finally we were all presented with our “golden tickets”  (Form DL389 in California) as well as funny awards based on our performance in the class.  One guy left his kick stand down during multiple drills, so his award was for that.  My award was “Oh, so that’s how it’s supposed to be done” because I asked a lot of questions and evidently said this phrase back to the instructors multiple times. My boyfriend “the speed demon” received the “Most Likely to Accelerate” award.

In conclusion, if you have any desire to ride, I would highly recommend the Harley-Davidson Riding Academy, and the staff at Riverside H-D knocks it out of the park!

Rider profiles

Sophie Uplinger

Sophie’s motorcycle experience was very similar to my own, although she has ridden dirt bikes most of her life.  She showed up on the first day of riding academy on her own Harley (legally, since she had her permit).  An empty-nester who will now fill her time with riding alongside her boyfriend instead of behind him.

Jackson & Samantha Flagtwet

A younger married couple.  When Jackson asked his wife about purchasing a bike.  She said fine, as long as I get one too (even though she had never ridden).  They purchased a pair of H-D Iron 883 bikes from Riverside H-D and then signed up for the course together.  Jackson has ridden most of his life, and was the guy who wanted to get “legal.”

Francisco Lares

Little to no riding experience before the class, and after a party-hard lifestyle lead him to treatment and recovery, he wanted to do this for himself. Emilio entered the riding class with the intention of buying a motorcycle before the class was complete and riding it home to Los Angeles.  He did purchase the bike of his dreams (a Harley-Davidson Deluxe), but decided to have it shipped to his house instead of riding it home.