Small Rider, Big Bike

by Karen Willis
(Las Vegas, NV)

I had never ridden a motorcycle until I was 40. You'd think by that age I'd have enough sense to remain on 4 wheels, but, nope; I have a "hmm, why not?" gene that kicks in.


My late husband rode an 1100 Shadow. A gal he worked with needed cheap transportation. He bought a 250 Rebel and began teaching her to ride. He set the bike up on a stand in the garage and began basic training. She was having some difficulties learning the gears. Gee, it seemed simple enough. Then, there I was, on the Rebel, running through the gears like I'd ridden forever.

The rest is history. I caught the bug. Within one year I had my own Goldwing. I rode several progressively bigger bikes during that year, but, once I rode a Wing, I never looked back.

My career was highly stressful and required long hours. Riding my Wing was the only way I could clear my mind. My boss was in a panic. I ran a large bi-weekly payroll, so I compromised: I'd only ride on the "off week" between payroll cycles. I promised if I got hurt, I could still run things from a hospital bed!

I kinda lied. I rode anywhere, everywhere every chance I got.

I rode with a couple of different Goldwing clubs over the years. I wore out a set of tires with parking lot practice, watched every training video I could find. I'm a small rider. 5'4" and 130 lbs. In 1990 there weren't as many female riders as there are in 2012 and even fewer of the females were riding big bikes.

I met one other at a regional in Ventura, CA. I'm a good rider, she was AWESOME! She commented, "I love my Wing and I'd like to think when other people see that small riders can ride big bikes, maybe more will join in."

All riders need skills. No one can throw strength or weight around to compensate for skill on a 900 lb bike. The basic idea that you have to be able to plant both feet on the ground really applies to big bikes. I've had to hold on to my bike at a dead stop in high winds, in snow, rain and other conditions.

These are some of the things I've done to ride more safely: (1)bought good riding boots and had a shoe repair shop add another thicker, non-skid sole to the boots for better contact. (2)leave air suspension at zero if possible. (3) removed the seat cover and trimmed excess foam on sides to allow me to keep legs closer to bike. (4) had handle bars adjusted back towards me. (5) Traditional loading of baggage weight MAY NOT APPLY! My 1995 Wing was not easy to lean, period. When I loaded heavier weight HIGH, the bike leaned more naturally. (5) The 2007 Wing I now ride is the exact opposite, I added a brick to each of the side compartments to balance the slightly higher top weight of this model. It smoothed out my stops.

All of my compensation's are needed for low speed or stops. That's when the big bike gets BIGGER! I'm not a fan of using reverse. I avoid putting my bike in places where it becomes necessary. It feels awkward and I have less control where I need it most. I'm strong for my size and have great thigh muscles!

Shiny side up!

Editor's Reply: Karen, what an awesome article. Thanks so much for sharing. And I'm amazed that you're currently single if I interpreted that correctly. A small gal that can ride a big bike with great thigh muscles.....hmmmmmm....put me on the list please....lol. All kidding aside, thanks for a truly wonderful article. And personally, I think we would all like to see a picture of you either on your bike or with it. Any chance of that? I know I would......Best....Richard

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