It’s not like learning how to ride a bicycle

Aug 31, 2023
Written by: Senior Airman Caleb S. Kimmell, Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. —
I pulled up to the house just before the sun started to set. I climbed out of my truck and I saw it, like a dream come to life: my new motorcycle. Parked on the driveway, freshly washed and sparkling in the sun. I was eager to hop on and ride into the horizon, but I was also terrified.


I spent weeks, even months of research on YouTube, blogs, help guides, on how to pick the perfect bike. Then, once I had found one and was just one day away from purchasing it, I realized something: I had never rode a motorcycle on the road.
After the purchase had been made and all of the paperwork had been filled out, I was done. Chris, the gentleman I bought the bike from, sold me the bike that he bought brand new in 2015. I felt like I was taking something precious from him and I was feeling guilty; however, those feelings were finally drowned out as I started the bike. It let out a commanding roar, just loud enough to make it difficult to hold a conversation over. As I rolled out of the driveway, I looked back over my shoulder and saw my girlfriend, Cassie, with her arms crossed, and Chris with a giant smile on his face.


My mind was racing. My heart was pounding. I didn’t have time to think about how much fun I was having; instead, I was focusing on not dying. I came to a stop and had my first challenge ahead of me: moving forward from a stop without letting the bike die. I remembered last nights YouTube lesson: Slowly release the clutch, roll the throttle slightly back, begin to pick my feet up, and…


There I go. I’ve successfully stopped, and then proceeded. I understand that this sounds silly; and admittedly, it does, but in that moment I was so proud of myself.

Senior Airman Caleb S. Kimmell, 5th Bomb Wing Public Affairs photojournalist, poses for a photo with his dog Cleo in Minot, North Dakota, May 20, 2023. Kimmell purchased the motorcycle and learned how to ride safely over the course of the summer.


It was a steady improvement from there. Over the next weeks and months I kept riding and was becoming more comfortable riding down the road. At this point I only had my motorcycle permit, not my full license. After doing research with the North Dakota DMV, it looked like there would be several hoops to jump through to get licensed. After a conversation with some friends of mine, I learned all I had to do was sign up for an in-person class on base, pass that, then I’m good to go. I had been riding for a while, and was becoming pretty comfortable on my bike, so how hard could it be?


Looking back, it wasn’t right to think that I would just breeze through the two day course. I was resting on my laurels and thought I didn’t have much to improve on. I learned a hard lesson. There is always more to learn, and always more to improve on.


The first half of day one was all classroom portions with a small test. It was straightforward, as I had done the online option the night before, so the content was fresh on my mind. After that, the instructors and all of us students went north of the base to the 91st Missile Wing Security Forces skid pad, were there was a giant square concrete pad to practice on. The second half of the day was showing us very basic skills like how to find the brake on our bikes, how to change gears, how to start it. The simplicity threw me off. I thought: “It can’t be this easy.”


The next day my way to the base I kept thinking about how basic the first day was, and how easily I breezed through it. I was expecting today to be the same. The very first lesson of the day was a U-turn, to be executed within specific boundaries. After a demonstration we were instructed to proceed. I was first in line. I approached the starting position, and the instructor’s lesson played back in my head. “Turn your head, look where you want to end up. Trust your bike and it will do what you want it to without any extra effort.” So that’s what I did. I readied myself for the turn, cranked the handlebars, torqued my head over my shoulder and eyed up my target. I started slow and steady, things were looking good, and before I knew it, I was laid out flat on the asphalt, pinned under my bike. The handlebars landed directly on my hand, smashing a few fingers, and I tore open my elbow on the asphalt. 550 pounds, right on top of me.


The instructors did a great job of calmly lifting the bike off of me and giving me a look over. I was a bloody mess, but nothing was broken and I didn’t need to get stitches. I just wanted to finish the course and get my license.


Unfortunately, that is not how the rest of my day went. I never got the hang of the U-turn, as I lack the balance (And experience) to successfully make the turn within the required radius. I was even provided some grace by the instructors and was asked if I wanted another shot. Of course I did. I made my second attempt, and yet again, no luck. I thought this class would be a pushover. I made friends with the trainees and instructors, and built an excellent rapport. They were all very skilled, and I wanted to be like them, so I didn’t take the class as seriously as I should have. And I paid the price for it.


Luckily the class was free, and I signed up for the next one in September, through the 5th Bomb Wing Safety office. I learned plenty of things from the previous class, and I’m excited to see the benefits in the next training session. I now know not to rush things because I think I know how to do them. I know to take my time and ask questions about the simple things. I realize nothing in life can beat real hands-on experience.

I’ve been doing U-turns in the parking lot behind my house every night for a month now, so I know once it’s time to step up to the challenge, I will treat it seriously and prove to myself that I can do what I put my mind to. Just because I got knocked down, physically and mentally, doesn’t mean I have to stay on the ground.

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