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My First Street Motorcycle

2006 Kawasaki Vulcan 500 LTD 

I've always loved motorcycles. My first real memory of riding a motorcycle was when I was a little girl, around 3 years old, my mom used to take me to the YMCA for my swimming/gymnastic lessons on my fathers 1976 Kawasaki Enduro 250CC bike. I used to sit tucked in front of her holding on to the gas cap and resting my feet on her thighs. I had the biggest grin on my face every time we arrived at the YMCA. I also remember a lot of the other "mothers" at the YMCA used to yell at my mom for taking me there on the bike but I didn't care and tried to tell them how much fun it was. Alas, they didn't want to listen to my point of view for some reason.

We lived in an area where there were a lot of other children who all used to play together. I was one of the youngest kids on block  and when we all took out our bicycles I was the only one who had training wheels on mine. I didn't like the fact that none of the other kids had training wheels so why should I?  It didn't take me long to decide that I wanted them off and since my parents didn't act on expressed desire to remove the training wheels, I proceeded to bring up all the tools from my dads workshop and attempted to remove the training wheels on my own.  After seeing how determined I was to have them off, my father finally relented and helped me out.  I've always had an exceptional sense of balance and a slightly competitive nature so it didn't take me long to learn how to ride a bike properly and I was off playing with the other kids on my new two wheeled bicycle.

At age 4,  my parents took me to see if I would be able to ride a small Yamaha 50cc Y-Zinger shaft driven dirt bike and agreed to buy it for me provided I was able to upright the bike up on my own. I was a very tiny girl at the time and I swear the bike must have weighed at least twice as much as I did. I remember that the gentleman at the dealership was extremely dubious as to whether or not I was big enough/strong to handle a motorcycle, even one as tiny as the Y-zinger. This is also the day I discovered that sheer determination and willpower can move mountains. With a bit of struggle and a whole heck of a lot of determination I lifted the bike and was on top of the world. After seeing the look of triumph on my face there was no way my parents or the gentleman at the dealership was going to deny me that bike.

I rode that bike for many years, however, at age 15 when I started seriously thinking about getting my motorcycle license my father sold all the bikes without telling us about it. Both my mom and I were furious but alas the bikes were gone and there wasn't much we could do about it at the time.

Over the intervening years I have toyed with the idea of getting a motorcycle license but always put it off because of what other people have said their insurance cost for their bikes and as well has having other financial obligations such as paying back student loans.  Then I met Andy, who is a life long biker, who was more than happy to talk about his bike and the adventures he's had on it. Even little things like him going out to he store or for a jaunt over the moors made me a little jealous,

Then one year I went to an Outdoor Adventure show that had a booth set up for motorcycle safety courses.  So I started asking a lot of questions and found out that for the cruiser style bikes that I was interested in the insurance would be much more affordable than I previously imagined.  Shortly after that my manager at work announced that he had signed up for his motorcycle course and had already put a down-payment on a bike.  For me this was the last straw and I started looking into how I would be able to get a bike of my own.

I started out by going to some of the motorcycle shows and trying on gear, sitting on many different types of bikes and trying to figure out a budget that would allow me to get a bike. I knew that I wasn't going to be able to get everything all at once, but if I bought my jacket at one show, my helmet during my vacation to the UK, asked for my boots and gloves as birthday presents it made life much simpler.  Before I knew it I had spent nearly $1000 on motorcycle gear and didn't even have my license yet! 

Meanwhile, my interest in going for my motorcycle license peaked my mom's interest in bikes again as well and one day as she was driving home from work she noticed that someone had put a really nice Kawasaki Vulcan 800 out by the road with a "For sale" sign on it and before she knew it she was pulling into the driveway to look at the bike.  While she didn't buy that one because the asking price was too high and the owner wouldn't come down, she was hooked and it would only be a few more weeks before she found a bike in her price range.  She called me up one night to tell me the news and much to my shame I called her a bad name and nearly hung up on her.  After that it didn't take me very long to sign up for my course and write the test for the first part of the licensing requirements.

I took my safety course through Humber College, that consisted of one evening in class watching those typical driving video's designed to try and scare the hell out of people but which most of us forget the moment we step out the door, and two days of learning to riding culminating in the government basic skills test to upgrade our license from M1 (learners permit which we need for a minimum of 60 days and a maximum of 90 days with the restrictions of no passengers, no night riding, 0 blood alcohol count and no riding on the 400 series highway) to an M2 (probationary license that we need for a minimum of 22 months to a maximum of 5 years, the only restriction being 0 blood alcohol content while riding.  After the minimum time frame is up we need to take a road test to show proficiency riding in real life conditions to get our permanent M license which allows us to drink before we ride, go figure!) The bikes that we used at Humber were two year old 250CC Honda Rebels which were stripped down to their absolute basics meaning no mirrors, no tack, no speedometer, no lights, no signals, nothing but handle bars, clutch, breaks and a starter!

These courses really are amazing and a lot of fun.  They are designed so that anyone can learn to ride a bike very quickly and easily and you get to meet a lot of new people who have the same interest as you do.  It's amazing how much you can learn in in a couple days.  I was in a group of 25 students with 5 instructors teaching us.  As the first day progressed, I guess my riding progressed to the point where I stood out to all the instructors and most of my classmates. I had classmates vying to ride behind me so they could watch what I was doing and copy me. Not only that but each of my instructors took the time to tell me how well they thought I was doing and told me that I should consider coming back to the college after I had a few years riding experience in to become an instructor myself.  Needless to say I was extremely happy with the praise which also helped boost my confidence a great deal.  On the second day of the course, my riding instructors even called over the head instructor and pointed me out to him as someone to watch out for in the future.  He watched me ride for nearly half hour and then took me aside to one to ask me to ride through one of the courses designed for more advanced riders. It consisted of a couple tight "S" that turned back on itself so that I finished where I started but facing the opposite direction.  I completed this on my first attempt without any real difficulty, much to the head instructors approval and he also said that I should really consider becoming an instructor once I had more experience!

After I completed the course, it was time to start looking for a bike.  About the only thing I knew was that I really loved the looks and style of the cruisers so that is where I spent most of my time searching.  I did sit on a few sports bikes but I didn't like the feel or the seating positioning.  The first bike I really considered was the Honda Rebel 250CC, which was the same bike we used during the course.  I found it very comfortable and easy to use, but I wanted to try sitting on some more bikes before making up my mind.  I sat on a small Hyosung cruiser  and when I tried to take it off the stand I felt like I was lifting a building and even when I had it off the stand I didn't like the weight balance.  The Suzuki Boulevard S40 was OK, but I still felt that the bike was a little too big for me considering I would be doing most of my riding in the city.

Another bike I was encouraged to try was the Yamaha Viargo 535CC.  When I first saw the bike in real life, I fell in love with the looks of them and was really eager to see if it would be the right fit for me.  Then I sat on one and tried to stand it up.  Boy was I in for a shock. Those bikes are very heavy and I could barely budge it.  Now in comparison to the dry weight of other bikes in the low to mid range, it doesn't look much heavier on paper, but the balance of the bike makes it hard, for me at least, to lift off the stand.  I couldn't imagine lifting the bike should I drop it without someone else to help out.  I must say I was disappointed that this bike didn't fit me as I still really love the looks of it.

Andy had recommended that I try out a Kawasaki Vulcan 500CC as well.  So I set out on a mission to find one to be able to sit on it.  When I went to the local Kawasaki dealership they didn't have one on display and were sold out of the machines for the season.  They recommended that I wait until the winter motorcycle show where they hoped to have the next years model in stock.  Since it was already near the end of the riding season I figured I wasn't going to be getting a bike anytime soon so waiting for the show wasn't that big a deal.  In the meantime I kept my eye out for a used one to come on sale locally with the idea of at least going to see it in person. 

The December motorcycle show came around and unfortunately, there wasn't any on display.  Apparently stock was late coming in so they couldn't have one on display.  However the show did have a huge number of bikes on display, all of which people could sit on so I made the most of it and sat on bike after bike.  I was surprised at how different each model felt in terms of ergonomics and weight.  Some of the bikes that I thought I might like such as the Honda Shadow 650 felt too long for my reach and I was surprised at how comfortable a couple of the larger bikes were such as the Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic. It did open up the possibility that there may be a larger bike out there for me if I ever did decide to upgrade, however I knew that I wanted a smaller bike to start with.

Unfortunately another year pasted and I wasn't able to find a bike for me in the price range I was looking for.  I was beginning to loose hope that I would ever get a decent used Kawasaki Vulcan 500 and was seriously considering looking into financing a brand new bike instead of going used.  However, one day in February, mom sent me a link to a used bike listed on Kijiji.  We both looked the bike over and decided to at least contact the seller to ask some questions.  I got mom to make the call since she knew more about bikes than I did and would be able to ask some more relevant questions.  We were both getting a little excited because the bike was in the price range I was looking for, it had low mileage and looked like it was in good condition in the photos.  The owner did mention that there was a ding on one side of the tank where something fell on it while it was being stored in his garage.  The only downside to this sale was that it is extremely hard to test ride a motorcycle in the middle of winter in Canada and to make matters worse, it was being stored outside the city so it would be nearly impossible for me to go see it and even if I did go look it over, I didn't have anyone who knew much about bikes around who could come and look it over with me as all the people I know who ride live a fair distance away.

So we both kept an eye on the listing and after a few weeks it was still there, mom called the seller back to ask some more questions and explained that we were very interested in the bike, however it was going to be very difficult for us to see the bike anytime soon.  She asked to see if there was any way that he would be willing to hold on to the bike for another month or so when the weather cleared up.  He mentioned that while he did have a few people call about the bike, they didn't seem really interested in it and that he was willing to take a small risk and pull it off the market if we would agree to put down a small deposit on the bike.  The deposit was basically enough for him to get a new battery for the bike and to have a safety check done on the bike before we went to see/buy it.

So we set up a meeting for early in the morning on Saturday April 10, 2010. Mom was coming down anyway because of the spring bike show and because she was flying out to Victoria BC for a weeks vacation with her sister on the Tuesday afterwards!  We didn't know what the weather was going to be like on the date as it was still early spring so we checked out what it would cast to rent a trailer for the day in case we had to trailer the bike home and I made arrangements with my landlord for parking. All that was left was to wait for April to come along.

So mom arrived at my house the night before and I don't think either one of us slept a wink that night.  It was one of the few occasions when I naturally woke up before the crack of dawn.  Fortunately we had a very good spring and all the snow had melted in the area and April 10th looked to be a nice warm spring day.  I gathered all my bike gear that I had accumulated during the past couple years and made sure that mom had hers as we didn't know who would be riding the bike back to my place, after all it was being stored nearly 100kms from my home.

Finally we arrived at the location where the bike was stored and as we were about to get out of the truck, I had a nice little panic attack.  I wondered if I was doing the right thing


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