My dad lost his leg in a motorcycle crash — but that didn’t stop me

For as long as I can remember I have dreamed of owning a motorcycle. Motorcycles and motorcycle culture have always fascinated me. I remember as a child my dad told me a story about my mom and him riding his Honda 750 from New York to Virginia Beach. It sounded like the trip of a lifetime.


I spent the better part of my 20 ‘s dreaming of the open road but I never actually bought a bike. My dad lost his leg in a motorcycle crash before I was born and is an amputee. So, I have always been a bit nervous about getting on a motorcycle myself but recently he has gotten back into motorcycles. He has a Vulcan 900 now and rides just for fun now and then.

Three pieces of advice

When I told my dad that I was planning on getting a motorcycle of my own he had 3 pieces of advice for me:

  1. Take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation beginners course.
  2. Don’t take motorcycle advice from friends.
  3. Always wear protective gear.

I immediately signed up for the next available class and prepared all the gear that I would need including a new pair of boots, a leather jacket, HJC full face helmet and riding gloves. Once all that was in place I started researching motorcycles. I knew I wanted a cruiser, classic good looks, lots of chrome, and most importantly a low seat height.

Metric cruiser…

I looked at reviews of all the metric cruisers and decided that a Honda VLX 600 was the bike for me. I began searching Craigslist, local dealerships and Cycle Trader for a good bike. After a couple weeks I found one on Cycle Trader in my price range and nearby so my dad and I went and checked it out. It was beautiful, and my dad test drove it. It was worth what he was asking for it so that night at the tender age of 34 I became the proud owner of a brand newish 2001 Honda VLX 600.

Now I had the bike, I had the gear, I had the class locked down for the end of the month. The only puzzle piece still missing was knowledge. My dad was nice enough to make room in his garage for my Honda while I waited the month to take my MSF class. I knew it would be too great a temptation to keep the bike at my house. I decided it would be best to take the class before I started riding to keep from picking up bad habits.

Before I took the MSF class

I took that month of waiting and poured myself into learning everything I could about motorcycling, from what gear to get to what pitfalls to avoid and everything in between. The Internet is a powerful tool. I am also a big fan of Podcasting so I looked up all Podcasts pertaining to motorcycles. I came across the Motorcycle Mentor podcast and knew right away this was the one for me. The information is great, and unlike some of the other Podcasts I found on the subject, it is aimed toward beginners which is very helpful. I need the basics more than I need to know where the club treasurer is supposed to ride in formation.

In the month of April 2014 I learned and learned and by the time I took my class I was already ahead of the curve for a beginner. I understood some of the physics of turning and had looked at statistics. I understood that motorcycling is inherently dangerous. I took the class over the weekend. It was a 3 day class and well worth the cost. They teach the basics of low speed maneuvers, go over bike and helmet selection, and by the end of the 3rd day I was proficient enough at the basics to pass the class with flying colors.

After I passed the class

That Sunday I put 20 miles on my motorcycle just driving around my neighborhood. I’ve since been practicing low speed maneuvers on my bike as well as just cruising around town getting used to the feel of the bike. I can tell just from the few days I’ve been riding that this will be a learning experience. No matter how long I ride I will continue to practice maneuvers and strive to get better. I’ll never be done learning about this, and for me at least, the learning is half the fun.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far

If I can impart any advice from what I have learned in the very short time I have owned a motorcycle it would be this:

  1. Know what you’re getting into; motorcycle repairs are not cheap. Buy a good bike to start with and go through it thoroughly. Check the tires, oil, carbs if equipped, know the service records.
  2. Your friends really will give you horrible advice. Listen to the experts. I had one friend tell me not to use the rear brake ever, and another friend told me not to use the front brake ever.
  3. Find someone who really knows what they are doing and pair up and practice with them. Swerves and quick braking can save your life and need to be reflexes, and it’s embarrassing to fall over mid u-turn.
  4. Remember, motorcycling is supposed to be fun. Get out and ride, and be safe about it. Hospital trips are no fun.

Joe O’Handley