During the seven years of crashes, mechanical miscalculations, questionable route choices, breakdowns, and other misadventures, the thought of giving up riding has never occurred to me… except for one time. It had nothing to do with a bad accident or a scare, financial trouble, or an identity crisis; it had to do with something much more insidious – a complete loss of confidence.
After spending two years pottering around South America on a 150cc Chinese motorcycle – a fine, capable machine, if you ask me – I faced the pesky little issue of running out of funds, which prompted me to return to Europe and get a job. The plan was simple: I’d get back, work for a couple of years, save up, buy another bike, and set off on a round the world journey.
The catch, of course, was that I had no idea about bikes as such: while my magnificent 150cc steed worked wonders in South America, back in Europe, I decided I wanted a Real Motorcycle – something around 650 or 850cc, at least. Something bigger and more powerful. Except I had no clue about brands, what difference was there between an adventure and a street bike, and what I needed in the first place. Back then, a Honda Goldwing and a Honda Africa Twin meant about the same thing for me.
Worse still, I had no motorcycle friends back home; I learned to ride in Peru, and my tribe back home were mostly bicycle and car people, an odd electric scooter here or there notwithstanding. And so, after much worry and confusion, I decided to take the path of least resistance and simply buy a bike that was within my budget.
After a brief stint aboard an ancient Yamaha XJ900 I had no business riding, I ended up with a used and abused Yamaha TDM850, overall not a bad machine for someone who’s into Alpine twisties, but a bad, bad choice for someone who was used to a little 150cc Honda GL ripoff. The TDM leaked and creaked, broke down and refused to start, and I had no idea what to do; eventually, I figured I’d shoot two birds with one stone. I’d get a job at a motorcycle dealership, thus saving some money for my upcoming RTW; and, in the process, I’d learn a ton from the dealership’s mechanics, study their mysterious ways, and figure out how to fix the unwieldy TDM on my own.
The Flawless Plan Goes Wrong
I moved to England for the mission (Lithuania is so tiny the main dealership sells two bikes a year, so I figured I needed to swim in bigger waters) and got a job at a Honda dealership in the Midlands as a saleswoman. While I had all sorts of grand visions about the job, it mainly involved filling out finance forms for college-age kids wanting a brand new CBR and not being able to afford one, or selling scooters to local kebab shop owners expanding their delivery fleet. As for the mechanics, they were busy and unamused by me pestering them about the alchemy of spark plugs or chain tension; and, mostly, they were doing maintenance work rather than building bikes from scratch, restoring vintage motorcycles, or solving old bike mysteries like I had imagined. Most of the time, it was routine oil changes and an odd coolant top up here and there.
This dampened my spirits, but the worst came later when I began riding with the local guys. All of them owned the newest, shiniest street or sportbike models, and the point was to go fast. I couldn’t. Leaky TDM aside, I simply didn’t have the skills to go as fast; I’d just gotten off my little 150cc pony, I still struggled to control the big Yamaha, and keeping up with a bunch of leather onesie-wearing sport bike guys was hopeless. I tried joining other riders, but with the same result – I just couldn’t keep up. So I began riding alone, except the bike kept breaking down, and at one point, I began walking to work because my old, rusty TDM got so many eye rolls and sniggers I felt like I was showing up at a horse race aboard an asthmatic, cross-eyed donkey lame in the left leg. Which, in essence, I was.
And somewhere along the way, I realized I wasn’t sure this motorcycling thing was for me, after all. Back in South America, my little Chinese bike brought me joy and endless miles across Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile… Out here, the shiny Honda dealership with dozens of brand new bikes, my very own Big Motorcycle, and colleagues who were all riders, on the other hand, brought me nothing but crushing self-doubt.
What saved me back then was a Horizons Unlimited motorcycle meet at the Baskerville Hall. I took a weekend off to attend Horizons in the last ditch attempt to figure out whether bikes were for me or not; on a rainy, overcast day, I rode to Baskerville filled with anxiety – would it be the same? Was I just too school for all the cool people out there, was I a shitty rider, would I be better off going back to backpacking?
Three days of motorcycle camping, excellent presentations by people like Dylan Wickrama, and an array of the craziest riders on the craziest bikes later, I rode back to the Midlands grinning from ear to ear.
True, I still didn’t know squat about bikes or bike mechanics. True, I was still a crappy rider. But it wasn’t about any of that – it was about the adventure.
I quit my job the next week and left, and five years later, I’m still on the road (though still unable to clean my own carb).