It's not what you think. It's Femmoto. Six years ago, Bonnie Strawser and husband Monte Lutz of Sportbike Track Time came up with an idea: a streetbike demo weekend just for girls. Go fast in the controlled environment of the racetrack, learn from some talented female coaches and generally have a blast. After turnout jumped from 53 to 150, Kawasaki showed up with a few dirtbikes in '06 for a half-day Motorcycle Safety Foundation Dirt Bike school, led by Pro motocrosser Mercedes Gonzales-Natvig. Last year, I decided to give it a try.
When I arrived at the Speedway on Saturday afternoon, Kawasaki's Melissa Moore introduced me to Mercedes and her fellow instructor, Charity. Welcome to Dirt Bike 101. Our first objective was to gear up: shin guards, knee guards, elbow pads, motocross pants and long-sleeve jerseys. Add boots, helmet, gloves, goggles and we were ready. Or at least we looked ready. After getting acquainted with the four ladies in our class, Mercedes told us what was coming next: your basic MSF Dirt Bike School curriculum.
The first thing you need to know about a dirtbike is how to get on-from the left side-and kick-start it in neutral. Then? Pull in the clutch and click it into first gear. Ease the clutch into the friction zone where it just starts creeping along and pull it in again. And again. Walking the bike slowly with the clutch pulled in about halfway, use the rear brake to slow down. You'll need both soon, but too much rear brake is less likely to put you on the ground than too much front.
MSF instructors are friendly and make the learning-to-ride process low-stress and fun.
Once we were able to control the clutch and stop well, we moved on to turning. One at a time, the instructors held each student's bike while we stood on the pegs and leaned into an imaginary turn. Doing it for real is tricky at first-weight the right peg to turn right; left to turn left-but once we got it, the practice track awaited, lined with bright orange cones.
After we got a handle on riding while sitting in the saddle, we learned to stand up on the straights and sit back down in the turns. Then we stood on the pegs for a whole lap. Each skill built on the next, giving us more confidence and comfort on the bike throughout the day. Soon we were shifting into second gear on the straights and back down to first for the turns, our skills increasing with each pass.
After a short break, we followed the instructors to a more challenging section of the course, complete with hills. Individual time with an instructor is priceless when you're putting it all together over real terrain, and Mercedes and Charity were terrific.
Sadly, the day came to an end much too quickly. On the bright side, there were diplomas to affirm all we'd learned. Both instructors also passed on information about how we could continue learning.
So? For women interested in learning more about riding motorcycles-on street or dirt-Femmoto (www.femmoto.com) is a great place to start.