The saying goes 'Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend'.
I found a new friend yesterday. And she has two wheels, a clutch, and a whole lot of attitude.
Meet my new friend, Piper.
Piper, if you haven't already guessed, is a motorcycle. And not just any motorcycle. She's a 2007 Sherpco 125 trials bike. Now some of you may be going "Trials bike? What the heck is that?"
Trials bikes are specialized bikes used in the sport of Observed Trials. And again you may be going 'What in the world are Observed Trials? I've never heard of that.'
Well up until six months ago, neither had I.
That was before I met Annmarie and Mike. They run the horse rescue I started volunteering at. But as I was helping out with the horses, I noticed this funny little section of their yard that was full of boulders and gigantic logs. Now, I'm not unfamiliar with junk piles on farms, the final resting place of all the stuff you've torn out but have no clue what to do with once you have. But this wasn't a pile, it was laid out like a course! Let's just say my curiosity was peaked.
So then one day soon after I came out to the rescue, and not only are they riding these funny little dirt bikes, but they are riding them OVER the boulders and logs and other things. Now most sane people would go: eh thats nice. Whatever.
My thought: I want to do that!
That was my first introduction to the sport of Observed Trials. Its a different form of motorcycle sport in that it is not about speed at all. Its all about precision, technique, and balance. The basics is that you have a course of obstacles of varying degrees of difficulty (depending on your riding level) and the goal is to traverse the obstacles in a certain way without touching the ground in a pattern called a section.
Oh, and did I mention that the bikes don't have seats?
That's right. Observed trials are done while standing on the pegs of the bike, using combinations of your body, clutch, and brake to make the bike do different techniques.
There's a lot more too it, but I'm such a complete noob I'm not even going to try to describe it, as I'd probably get it wrong. But at least you get the idea.
Now why would anyone in there right mind want to do this? I don't know but then I think I've firmly established that I'm not in my right mind.
So during the summer and into fall I would come out and watch Mike and Annmarie ride their course, every time wanting more and more to try it but never thinking that I would be able to. I mean, I have never even touched a motorcycle in my life let alone a dirt bike! I'd kill myself!
So imagine my surprise when one day Annmarie approached me and asked me if I would be interested in learning how to ride trials in exchange for helping them put on a Trial contest. Uh, yeah!!
And so my adventure began. It started simply enough, riding one of Annmarie's old bikes learning how to simply ride: clutch, throttle, gears, balance etc. But even with that simple lesson, I was hooked.
So the plan was to continue riding that bike for a while then eventually get my own. I was looking at some long months waiting for the right bike to come along for a price that I could afford. It wasn't an impossible feat, but it was pretty close considering my price range. I was somewhat worried it wouldn't happen at all.
But almost as fast as my search had begun, it ended. I'd only had one ride under my belt when Mike said he had heard about a bike someone was trying to sell. It was a 125 which is what I needed, it was in great condition, and it was in my price range.
The owner agreed to let me try out the bike. But I was sold before I even touched her. I fell in love the moment I saw her. I'd never seen anything more gorgeous in my life! But I still had to ride her. And that's when Mike and Annmarie invited me to come out and ride with them on Sunday.
So here I am, on my third ride EVER, I'm on an unfamiliar motorcycle that doesn't have a seat, and Mike's talking about teaching me how to shift gears and go faster.
Have I mentioned that normally I have no leg strength, no balance, and have issues thinking quickly?
I didn't need to worry, not with Piper to take care of me. Granted there were a few (ok a lot) of hiccups. I mean, you try coordinating throttle clutch and standing up on a bike while bouncing over a pasture! But Piper and I fit together perfectly, the day was warm with a clear sunny sky, and I was ready to rock.
So my first task was getting used to shifting gears and accelerating. Now I know some of you reading this understand shifting gears. Throttle up, pull in the clutch, shift the gear, dump the clutch and away you go. Easy. Except when you're bouncing across a pasture and trying to do it at the same time. Talk about multitasking! But after a few passes we got it down, and pretty soon Piper and I were flying across the pasture.
And that's how the day went, adding more and more skills. Up hills, down hills, across creeks and over bumpy terrain. Piper handled it like a pro, and I managed to not fall down so as far as I was concerned it was a win!
And then just when I was already at my adrenalin threshhold, they busted out the fun stuff. The sections!
At first I just had fun watching Mike and Annmarie running their lines, weaving in and out of trees, up and down steep slopes, up and over logs and hilltops. Unless you've watched or done it there's no way accurately describe just how incredibly difficult it is to weave around trees on a slope using your body, brake, and clutch to control the bike while trying to get through without touching the ground. (But if you're really interested I'm sure there's some online videos somewhere that could give you an idea).
Then they said it was my turn.
Oh no, don't worry, I wasn't ready for anything like they were doing. But I was ready to start going around an obstacle course of logs laid on the ground. It was going to be a test of my turning technique, because one of the most basic but needed skills for trials riding is being able to do a tight corner.
Now imagine you're on a bike and you have to turn. Sounds simple, turn the wheel and away you go. Oh no. Its an odd combination of turning the wheel, leaning the bike, focusing ahead, shifting your hips, using your clutch brake and throttle in varying degrees and yet keeping just enough momentum in the bike: not enough and you fall over, too much and you start shooting off in odd directions where there's a high probability of you running into something.
But again, Piper was a pro and soon enough we were doing circles, zig zags, and tight corners around the course, going every which direction. We even learned how to go over a baby log!
Now if you're already thinking I'm crazy, I'm sure you're wondering how in the world something like this could be fun.
Well all I can tell you is what I know. And that this is not only a test of athletic ability, but your mind as well. You're having to coordinate so many different things at the same time: body position, bike position, throttle, brake, clutch, gears. You have to think ahead, picking your line, figuring out the best outcome, thinking quickly when things go bad. And its also conquering that challenge, finally getting that turn clean that you couldn't do before without touching the ground, trying out new and increasingly challenging lines and doing them over and over till you have them perfect. And to take something that you've never done before, only ridden a bike three times, and now you're doing turns and twists and going over logs?!? I don't care if you think I'm insane. It was the greatest feeling in the world.
And even though at the end of the day I was exhausted, bruised, and plagued by twitching muscles, I was already envisioning my next ride. What I wanted to work on, what I had down but needed to keep practicing, what I wanted to challenge myself with next. Because each time I ride I learn more and more about Piper, her quirks and needs, and how to coordinate myself with her to accomplish the goal of running the line or getting over the next obstacle. It's a partnership, a friendship, learning how to get the bike to do what you want but listening to the bike to figure out what it can and can't do and how to overcome its particular issues to get where you want to go.
Now maybe having a motorcycle isn't your cup of tea. Maybe you'd rather have an inanimate piece of sparkly. That's fine.
But after Sunday's ride I can say one thing and mean it with 100% of my being.
The way to this girl's heart involves two wheels and an engine.