Girls on wheels: Brooklyn motorcycle school empowers women
Mastering big bikes
The ladies are shredding: The number of female motorcyclists has doubled since 2003, with women now accounting for 14 percent of all motorcycle owners, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.
One of the biggest and most prestigious motorcycle schools in the state, Motorcycle Safety School (MSS), is owned by Brooklyn Heights resident Diane Howells.
“I grew up ski racing,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle. “I love speed, so it was an easy sell for me.”
Howells obtained her motorcycle license when she was 25 years old, and started her school in 1999.
“We started with 5 percent women, and now we’re closing in on 20 percent, she said. “It’s become more mainstream, and it’s really fun.”
The two-hour introductory class is an easy way to try out motorcycle riding, she said, without having to make the commitment of buying a motorcycle.
Howells urges women to grab life by the handlebars.
“It’s always worth trying stuff out, like anything in life,” she said. “As an adult, it’s very stimulating to learn new activities and use your mind in a new way.
“That’s how I started my business,” Howells added. “I took this course in Vermont and now I’m running the largest motorcycle school in New York State. It really impacted my life on a larger level.”
Just do it
When MSS reached out to this reporter with an offer of an introductory lesson, I couldn’t resist. Despite not knowing the difference between a choke and a clutch, nor having ridden a bicycle for actual decades, I signed up for the Oct. 4 Introductory Motorcycle Experience class at MSS’ Brooklyn location, at 704 Fountain Ave. in Spring Creek.
I was told to wear boots and bring gloves, and the school would supply the helmet. When I arrived, two other riders (a young man who wished to be unnamed and Brooklyn resident Regina Myers) were already sitting on their motorcycles, with instructor Dana Macri enthusiastically going over the functions of the magnificent machines students were allowed to ride. I was pointed to a Harley Street 500 and instructed how to throw my leg over the seat while squeezing the hand brake.
“Is the motorcycle heavier than you thought?” Macri asked us.
Yes, it was.
After we got a feel for the big machines, Macri taught us how to start them, shift gears, use the clutch, feel the friction zone and brake. He also taught us the acronym “FINE-C” for the pre-start checklist: Fuel, Ignition, Neutral, Engine Cut-Off Switch and Clutch. He had us rock forward and back in neutral, then in first gear.
Macri was thorough, patient and exceedingly calm in the face of three beginner riders, and expressed confidence that we could do it. The learning sequence was arranged in such a way that we mastered the preliminary steps before moving on to the next stage, so nothing was utterly terrifying.
Finally the time came to ride across the asphalt range with our feet up on the pegs.
“Stay in the friction zone,” Macri said. “When your feet can come up on the pegs and you’re rolling along, you can let go of that clutch lever without the fear of your motorcycle stalling on you.”
The feeling of riding atop a powerful motorcycle on my own across the range was totally exhilarating. Like Macri advised, I sat up straight, represented my pride to be riding, looked where I wanted to go and went there. From that moment, I was hooked.
When we all successfully finished without wiping out, Macri said he was proud of us.
“Everyone here was able to walk confidently, get their feet up confidently, ride the range confidently. A lot of times I don’t have students that progress that fast. I think you guys did great,” he said. “I can’t wait till you guys come back again.”
Myers, who said she rides a Vespa, thought she might move up to a full motorcycle.
“You’ll have options available to you. You’re already used to riding a scooter, the only difference is shifting the gears and the clutch and a little bit more power — or a lot more power, depending on the motorcycle you choose,” Macri said.
After the class, Macri told the Eagle, “We’re trying to empower women to ride out there with the guys. It’s equal and fair game and women should be riding and be out there on the road with the rest of us. That’s how I genuinely feel. That’s why I brought my wife here. She graduated in April and she’s happily and safely riding amongst the rest of us right now.”
Besides the Brooklyn classes, the school offers a women-only course up at Lehman College on a couple of weekends in October, a 50 percent discount on the introductory course for women this month and a number of options for taking the basic rider course, advanced course and introductory courses. Visit ridemss.com for more information or call 718-599-1079.