Val, let me tell you about women…Walt Fulton
That was Walt Fulton’s response when I queried him about the challenges women face in motorcycling. He didn’t get to finish that sentence, though. What cut him off after those first seven words was several minutes of raucous laughter of the “Oh hell no, he did not just say that!” variety from me and several others involved in the discussion.
But hear me out. Because when Walt Fulton is willing to share his insight, I will always listen. If that statement had come from almost any other man, he would likely have been verbally disemboweled that evening. But Walt is an expert. He’s a phenomenal rider with a lengthy list of motorcycling accomplishments on his resume.
More importantly for my purposes in sitting down with him that evening though, is that he has trained countless women riders—with respect. Walt also has a strong partner in the indomitable Nancy Foote, who is an amazing rider in her own right. Walt gets it. He understands women, women on motorcycles, and the challenges they face.
So after we had a good laugh at Walt’s first few words, we all listened intently.
Women in motorcycling
In a volley of spirited chat at the BMW Riders of Oregon’s Chief Joseph rally, here is an overview of what I took away from my time with Walt Fulton and his assessment of what he sees in women riders through his vast experience.
- Start small and work your way up. Motorcycling is a big skill that requires patience to evolve. Don’t expect, or be pressured, to jump right in like you’ve been riding for years.
- A lot of women don’t know what they want starting out. Leave space to discover what you want out of motorcycling. Be open to different styles.
- Be realistic about where you are with your skills and where you want to take them.
- Be methodical about building your skills. Take a variety of classes as you work your way up.
- Never succumb to the hubris of thinking you know it all or have seen it all. Even if you’ve been riding for years, there’s always something new to learn or surprises just around the corner.
- The learning process never ends. Even Valentino Rossi has a coach. Walt himself had already taken three courses this year when I spoke with him in June. This is a man who races fiercely and has ridden over a million miles. Yes, he still trains.
- Don’t learn from a loved one. Take courses offered by outfits with trained instructors. They have proven coursework and training skills that will elevate your riding—things your loved one probably doesn’t have. Plus, you’ll be focused on learning, not carrying your relationship baggage into your training.
- Don’t let someone else choose your bike. Your partner or friend may have good intentions, but that person is not built like you and can’t feel how a bike feels to you. Only you can decide what fits and what feels right.
- Earning your license endorsement doesn’t qualify you to buy a big bike. Know that your first bike will not be your final bike. Start at an appropriate size, especially with regard to engine power, and know you will grow out of it as you train and gain experience.
This is where the women in motorcycling conversation gets a bit sticky because it’s where riding spills over into other parts of life. Relationship advice is way outside the scope of this blog yet it impacts women in riding in a big way. Because one of the biggest obstacles for women is often male partners, the subject can’t be ignored or glossed over.
Walt’s message? Get out from under the male thumb.
That may sound harsh but it’s all too common to see women riders being held back, undermined, and dominated by their male partners. Your riding can’t thrive in that setting. Walt has seen vast impacts of the male partner dominating women riders. As have I and almost every other woman rider I know.
If your partner is a man and he’s running the show on your riding, it’s time for an evaluation of that dynamic, to see where changes can be made. The first step is to be honest with yourself and acknowledge the problem. Again, how you handle that depends on your particular situation and I’m not a relationship counselor. But if you truly want to ride, you’ll need to address it in some way.
Remember that your greatest success in riding will be from you owning your ride. Some things to think about and consider on that path are:
- Seek out women’s riding groups. Having experienced women riders who can help you build your confidence and understand the challenges of motorcycling from a woman’s perspective is invaluable. If those don’t exist where you are, mixed-gender clubs with the right attitude work as well.
- Take training classes without your partner present. Nope, not even watching from the sidelines. If it needs to be a women-only class to achieve that, then embrace it.
- Patronize dealerships and shops that treat you well as a woman rider. Don’t spend your time and money in places that don’t. There’s no need to support businesses that don’t support you.
- Trust your gut. If you’re feeling pushed into a ride or equipment that doesn’t feel right for you, trust your feelings! And do what you need to do to make changes. Motorcycling is amazing. It’s also high risk. It’s your life at stake if you are put in a bad position by someone else’s decisions that aren’t right for you.
Helping women riders
Ladies, if the relationship dynamic issue doesn’t apply to you, that’s fantastic! You’re in a position to take a struggling woman rider under your wing and help her on her way. You’ll be doing that woman and the riding community a great service.
And if you are one of the many tremendously supportive male riders out there, you can help too. Help a woman rider get what she needs. Or help her male partner realize his impact on her riding and show him how to be a better partner.
Go forth and ride
So ladies, embrace your position as a growing force in the motorcycling industry. Get out there and ride. Ride your way. And be smart about it.