Mid-Life Rider

rambling through mid-life on motorcycles

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Conversation with Carolina Fowler: 1098 Rider, JAG corp member, wise beyond her years

March 4th, 2008 · No Comments


I met Carolna through a new friend on the FJRForum. She’s younger than the standard “mid-life”profile, but hey, it’s my blog.

Carolina rides a big time bike, but she’s no squid. She gets the bike. She gets what it’s all about. She has a refreshing point of view. I wasn’t nearly that grown up when I was 24.

She also serves at the sharp end of the spear. I have nothing but regard for people who put on the uniform. So for any of those reasons, read and enjoy.

Tell me a little about yourself.

Well, at 24 I’m a youngster, at least as far as most of my friends in the motorcycling community are concerned. I’m a Staff Sergeant in the Texas Army National Guard. While I’m technically trained as both a Paralegal (JAG or 27D) and a Transporter (88N), I’m currently doing miscellaneous admin work on temporary active duty orders. I have a family - married 4 years this April, with two kids - a 2 y/o and a 4 m/o.

When I went to Iraq, I went as a paralegal. I do have quite a few stories to tell. One of the JAG lawyers I knew in Iraq was SPC Charles Graner’s (of Abu Ghraib infamy) military defense counsel. Not to mention you hear all sorts of stories through the JAG grapevine about the crazy things Soldiers do on deployment. Since it doesn’t relate directly to motorcycling, let me know if you’re interested in hearing about them… I could fill a page with those stories alone. *lol*

Military is the current focus of my professional life, mainly because my degree got put on the back burner after being deployed to Iraq in 2004. I do plan on going back some day (I was working on pre-med), but for the time being I’m doing a lot of full-time Army work.

When did you first ride a motorcycle?

I first rode a motorcycle at the MSF course I took in 2002.

What kind of bike was it?

A Honda 150, if I remember correctly… but I couldn’t tell you what model. Only that it was an old beater bike - but it got the job done!

What was the first bike you owned?

A Buell Blast. It was originally suggested to me by my brother, who also rides (he has a Ducati 900SS, an old Capriola he’s restoring, and a couple dirt bikes). My parents were both originally totally against it - but after they realized how determined I was to ride (I paid for the MSF and my gear myself), they started to support me in it.

My dad used to ride, but he decided to sell his two bikes (Kawi KZ350 and KZ550.. I think?) because he hated riding in the Austin traffic. In the end, he helped me by paying for half of the Buell. The cool part about it - when I moved on to a different bike, he kept the Blast and started riding again!

How many bikes have you owned?

Four - 2000 Buell Blast, 1993 Honda CBR600F2, 2004 Honda SuperHawk, and 2007 Ducati 1098.

A 1098! Very tasty.  I have a 2007 Aprilia RSV1000 Factory. I didn’t think I was brave enough / mature enough for a 1098.

Well, if you have an RSV1000 Factory, it’s not too much different from the 1098, IMO. If you can ride the Aprilia without getting yourself in trouble/killed, you’ll probably be okay. *lol* I KNOW it’s a lot of bike for me.

But in this day and age of advanced motorcycling technology, it’s hard to find bikes that AREN’T beyond most riders’ ability… so I look at it this way: as long as you ride within YOUR limitations, the bike won’t kill you. Maybe that mentality comes from starting on smaller bikes (so I have a great appreciation for just how much power the Ducati has).. but it hasn’t done me wrong yet.

I do need to get out on a track more though - to really use the bike as it was intended to be.

How many bikes have you ridden?

Oh wow, let’s see if I can remember them all… aside from those I’ve owned, I’ve also ridden a Yamaha R1, Buell Firebolt XB9R, Ducati Monster 900, Honda F4i, Kawasaki ZX-11, Ducati 999, a friend’s SuperHawk, Buell M1, a Yamaha 150 dirt bike… I think that’s it, though. So 9 bikes aside from the ones I’ve owned? In 5 years that’s not a lot, I guess… just what people offered me keys to.

What do you own now?

2007 Ducati 1098

How many miles do you expect to ride this year?
Ugh, not as many as I would like! Probably 5000, if I’m lucky.

Riding gear (street) of choice?

What I usually find myself riding with around town is my Arai helmet, Dainese leather jacket, Dainese gloves, Frank Thomas boots, and a pair of jeans. If I’m going on a real ride, though, I typically opt for full leathers. Though, given the hot summers we often get here in Texas, I’m looking into getting some textile or perforated leather so I don’t cook so much in the heat

Riding gear (track) of choice?

Like on real rides, I opt for full leathers (in addition to everything else).

Riding gear (dirt) of choice?

Since I’ve only ever ridden a dirt bike once, I don’t really have any dirt riding gear.

How would you describe your involvement with motorcycling now?

Not as much involvement as I would like, or as much as I used to have when I worked in the motorcycle industry (worked very briefly for Ducati Austin, then worked for CycleGear). I mainly live vicariously through others - like my friend Moira who last year started a track day business. I try to make it to bike nights as much as possible, try to do track days when I can, try to go on rides whenever I have a free weekend and the weather is nice… but with two small kids, it’s very hard to find the time to do those things.

What attracted you to motorcycling? Why do you ride?

What originally got me started was a friend of mine that I went to basic training/AIT with in 2001/2002. She was VERY into bikes, and her enthusiasm for the sport intrigued me. So on my flight home after training, I picked up a couple of motorcycle magazines to read on the plane. I don’t know what it was about those magazines, but something just got me.. hook, line, and sinker. Within 3 months, I was licensed, geared, and already had my Buell.

The reason I stuck with it (and still ride to this day) is .. freedom. Freedom from the cages. A getaway from everyday life. There is nothing like the man-machine interface that you experience when you ride a motorcycle. There just isn’t anything like the feeling of being in tune with the bike as you carve sweepers, tight corners, or the exhilaration (and respect) you feel for the power of the beast beneath you. It’s exciting. The only other time I’ve felt like that was horseback riding… in many ways it’s similar, I suppose.

I know you’re married. Did you make some sort of “deal” with your husband about riding?

Luckily, we’re both avid motorcyclists. He’s more into Harleys, though he gets a kick out of riding the Ducati, too!

Does he ride with you?

He LOVES riding with me… And he keeps up pretty well, considering he’s on a cruiser.

What do your kids think about you and your bike?

They’re still too young to ride. Though my oldest likes the bikes… she places her tricycle squarely between our two motorcycles and says, “Mommy’s bike, Daddy’s bike, MY bike!”

This feels like a dopey question, but say some things about how you experience owning and riding a bike as a woman? Do you feel like you’re making a statement? Do people respond to you differently when they find out you ride (or find out the person under the helmet is a woman)?

I don’t really think I’m making a statement by being a female rider… it’s simply something I really enjoy doing.

I always used to say before I got married and had kids that bikes were the love of my life. They are still my little love affair. I have noticed that people are often surprised/shocked to find out I ride motorcycles - especially people who ride themselves. Usually it’s a pleasant surprise - I don’t think I’ve ever received negative reactions from people because I ride. Most people are very surprised about my bike - I guess they don’t expect to see a woman riding a 1098. It probably is too much bike for me. But then, realistically speaking, unless you’re Valentino Rossi, that bike is probably too much for anybody!

What do you think about when you ride?

I guess it depends on where I’m riding.

If I’m commuting, I’m usually thinking about traffic (because drivers are insane!). But I try not to *think* too much when I ride… if I do, I’m too distracted. Unless I’m actively trying to learn a new technique, thinking about it too much actually makes me make mistakes. So I focus mainly on being smooth, not necessarily fast. A good friend always says, “Focus on being smooth first, and the speed will come.” Wise words, in my opinion, and it’s worked for me thus far.

This is perhaps an indelicate question, but how do you think about the “dangerous” part about riding?

I think it’s an inherent part of the sport. But I think the danger (provided you’re an alert and safe rider who wears the appropriate gear) is no more than driving a car. I’ve wrecked on my bike before. And I’ve been in car wrecks before. Either one can happen to anyone, even the safest rider/driver. Both can kill you. But I don’t let that deter me from doing what I love.

People have chided me before, telling me, “what about your kids?” Well… I could die walking across the street. Or from cancer. Should I stop enjoying life because I’m always afraid? I don’t believe so… If anything, my kids have taught me this as much as anyone. They fall down and get bumps and bruises.. but you can’t always prevent it - you just have to get back up (or in their case, help them get back up), brush off, and keep going. I’ve found I’m a happier, less stressed person when I get to ride.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone coming to motorcycles for the first time? I’m thinking about the “mid-life” rider now?

MSF course. One: to find out if it’s really something you like. Two: it will teach you the RIGHT way to ride. That’s my advice to any new rider, young or old. It hasn’t done me wrong yet…

What bike would you recommend (and why)?

Something with smaller displacement (600 or less, generally), depending on the type of bike. And something used, because all new riders will eventually drop their bike at a stoplight or something. Better to not worry so much about scratching the paint and focus on learning riding skills instead.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve done on/with a motorcycle?

Track days, for sure. And riding in Germany. I miss doing both (except for the German weather).

If you could pick one place you’d recommend as a riding destination / experience, what/where would that be?

Probably the Alps. Especially near the German/Austrian border. Garmisch holds a yearly BMW rally that I briefly witnessed on my way through to Italy in 2006. Beemers as far as the eye can see! That, or races. Any race, anywhere, really. I’m a big fan of Laguna Seca.

If someone handed you a blank check and said “go buy a motorcycle you’d enjoy riding (not just collecting), what would you pick?

Oh, that’s a tough one!! I like so many different kinds of bikes. The 1098 is my dream bike, but if I were to get another bike, it would probably be the Hypermotard or something along those lines. A hooligan bike, if you will. They’re just so much fun.

But I’d probably set aside a little more money from that blank check to cover any trouble I might get into. Other than that.. maybe something to comfortably ride long distances. I would love to do some touring, perhaps in the future when my kids are older.

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