Propel Your Passion: The Magic of Going to a Motorcycle Show Print
Written by Elisa Southard   

elisaWhat do an industry leader, a second-grade teacher, a biologist, and a coach entrepreneur have in common? Come with me to a motorcycle show to find out. The answer lies in the cavernous halls of California’s San Mateo County Expo Center, hosting the Cycle World International Motorcycle Show.

This fall, I spent opening night on Friday and all day Sunday there.  

In our time together in this article, we will navigate the show, check out an education session, and along the way meet mentors conversant in how to get the most out of one of the coolest ways to spend a weekend.

For a new rider, going to a moto show feels like going to the Emerald City… You can throw your leg over bikes of all types (see sidebar) — cruisers, sport, sport-touring, enduros, dual purpose — all with gleaming gauges, solid feels, yet minus the sales pitches.

Not sure where to ride? You will find maps, with routes test-ridden, ranked, too.

Curious about long-distance? The Women’s Center oozes information. Check out one of Sunday’s seminars: “First Time Tourers: Best Bang for Your Space.”

In a corner of the Exhibition Hall, subscribe to magazines. In the MarketPlace, check out new Bluetooths, or get a better grip with new gloves.

Wait up! Before surrendering to a spending spree, realize you can walk into a motorcycle show a newbie, and exit an educated rider, an informed buyer, an inspired woman. “When I decided to ride,” says Sarah Schilke, the first woman on the Board of Directors of the Motorcycle Industry Council, “I didn’t know there were different styles of riding.” A personal friend got her rolling on a Honda Rebel; her personality led her to a Ducati Super Sport.

Sarah, who runs the Women’s Center for the season’s Cycle World shows, urges participation.

“A show is great for new riders. You find out about Motorcycle Safety Foundation classes, organizations, gear, and…” You will find her final purpose most compelling: “…It gives you the space to talk to mentors.” Riders often need to build support for new endeavors; mentors offer answers along with insights that build confidence.

womens center bannerFind the Women’s Center at a show; just walk up and talk. No questions required. Tell your story — you may have a significant other or child who gasped, “Motorcycling? You’re crazy!” You may have trouble taming your throttle, or you may want a new bike without obsessing about your inseam.

For pioneer riders like African American Bessie Stringfield, whose image stands tall at the Women’s Center, concern about inseam is absent. She straddled both race and gender when she rode, breaking down barriers for women and African American motorcyclists. During WWII, she rode across the country eight times as a civilian courier, carrying documents between domestic army bases. Imbibe Bessie’s spirit as you attend such sessions as “The Right Gear for the Ride - What to Look for in Protective Motorcycle Apparel.” Pick up a copy of the Women’s Gear Guide, a colorful booklet with lines for notes at the bottom of every page.

The best part? Sarah says, “No selling goes on. It’s all about the information.”

Information is Nancy Foote’s forte. A partner in Streetmasters Motorcycle Workshops, Nancy offers a simple pearl that defines the difference between riding and wasting hard-earned dollars. “When you get a bike, you want to walk into your garage, look at your bike and think, ‘I want to ride that,’ not look for reasons not to ride.”

This translates into feeling your way around the controls before you buy, into feeling safe on the seat.boot Listen to her goal. You hear her as a mentor: “I want people to ride well and competently.”

This brings up an interesting question. Should new riders take demo rides? “If you are a beginner not at ease with your bike, I don’t suggest demo rides,” says Mina Chatterjee, comfortable doing demo rides “…thanks to all the training I’ve had.” Her training includes a local County Sheriff Civilian Rider Course, something you might want to investigate in your city.

As we chat in the Demo Ride area, bikers line up, engines warm up, and riders in single-line groups take left turns out of the massive parking lot. Mina, who rides a Honda Rebel 450, points out “most of the demo bikes are big bikes.” In fact, a Vulcan cruiser 900 reigns as the smallest cruiser Kawasaki offers for a test run. Yamaha opens up with a V-Star 650 cruiser.

In lieu of demo rides, Mina suggests visiting the booths. She adds, “Having all these manufacturers under one roof gives people, especially novices, a good sense of what is out there.”

Think of all the photos you can ask your squeeze to take of you sitting on the bike of your dreams.

Head over to the Hub — the seminar area where bike-setup and on-road skills await.

My husband and I grab a few seats for “Advance Riding Techniques” and notice a tip-card entitled “10 Steps to Proper Cornering” sits on every chair. In the middle of the presentation, I find myself on stage with four others, each of us kneeling at a wheel, leaning the bike over as speaker Lee Parks takes the audience through each of the ten steps. For an up-close personal education, nothing beats a show seminar.

Sue Ostrom, a rider coach since the early 1990’s, echoes sentiments of up-close education sessions along with hands-on equipment demonstrations. “At a show, you can enjoy the tactile experience. You reach out to feel the gear, instead of just ordering off the Internet.” As a rider coach, Sue looks for ways to mentor new riders. She recalls how her riding evolved: first, weekend fun on her Honda Hawk, next, commuting. Now, its track days on a Honda CBR 400 trail bike. She stresses training to know your bike and your gear so well you can mitigate risky situations. “I know I can’t control others. I can control me.” Sue’s husband Kevin, also a rider coach, adds, “A lot about motorcycling is talking with other people.”

This brings us back to the opening question. We talked with an industry leader (Sarah), a second-grade teacher (Mina), a biologist (Sue), and a coach entrepreneur (Nancy). What do they have in common?

As riders, they reach for ongoing learning to take a better turn, to ride farther safer — regardless of their current skill. As mentors, they educate with stories, inspire with smiles. As women, they share the heritage of motorcycle pioneers, then pass on this heritage to each new rider they meet at a rally, a seminar or a show. So take your passion up a notch. The next time a show comes to your area (check out, show up!


Types of Bikes. Which one is for you?

Cruisers: an update of the standard American motorcycle, designed for street riding

Sport: a street bike built to be fast, modeled on racing track motorcycles

Sport-touring: a motorcycle that blends the high-performance features of sport bikes with comfort for long-distance travel

Enduros: an off-road motorcycle designed for long-distance competition

Dual purpose: a bike designed for both street and off-road riding


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