Marlena Govaars

Adventure Rider

If Marlena Govaars, a 45-year-old, single mom to an elementary-school-aged daughter, could convey one thing to women who are thinking about learning how to ride, it would be to stop making excuses.

When her boyfriend, an avid motorcyclist, introduced her to the concept of adventure motorcycling, she soon realized she wanted to stop riding two-up and get her own bike. But she always had an excuse: the cost of classes...was she coordinated enough... Finally, he called her out on it and the next day she signed up for a rider training class.

Today, she rides a BMW G650GS and enjoys adventure-style riding.

American Motorcyclist: What got you started riding motorcycles?

Marlena Govaars: I’m a 45-year-old, 100-percent single mom to one lovely elementary-school-aged daughter. My boyfriend is an avid motorcyclist who introduced me to the concept of adventure motorcycling. Very quickly, I started feeling the tug — riding pillion just didn’t seem nearly as fun as getting my own bike! But I always had an excuse. Bob, my boyfriend, asked me one day: “What’s stopping you from getting your license?” I started making noises about the cost of classes ... and wondered if I was coordinated enough.

Bob crossed his arms, looked at me, smiling, and systematically let me negate every one of my own objections. He let me come to my own conclusion — and literally the next day I enrolled in classes!

AM: What is your favorite ride?

MG:Anything paved, if it’s twisty; and anything dirt, so long as it has lots of whoops!

AM: What is the best memory you associate with motorcycling?

MG: As a kid, my dad rode a Honda 350, often with me or my brother riding pillion. He was a staid engineer, and didn’t fit the image of a guy who rides motorcycles. We wore safety yellow, open-faced Bell helmets, and I can still remember how I loved the smell of it while I strapped it on. As a kid, riding pillion was the closest I could imagine coming to flying, and I really loved the feel of the wind in my hair, even if it led to painful tangles! I learned to shift gears riding in front of my dad, wearing flip-flops in the ’70s—skinned the top of my left foot! He did all his own mechanical work, and sometimes we worked together, like bleeding brakes or changing oil. I didn’t always get along with my father, so these are some of my only warm memories of him.

AM: What is the image of motorcyclists among the general public?

MG: I think the old stereotype is that a motorcyclist is a rebel. I believe this has softened into people who ride bikes are “adventurous.” But definitely there is a streak of prejudice, that bikers can be reckless.

AM: How can motorcyclists improve their image?

MG: In the relatively short time I’ve been riding, I’ve been impressed with the caliber of people who choose to ride bikes. It’s a great community.

AM: What practical benefits do you personally get from riding?

MG: My bike gets roughly 60 mpg, so I can argue I’m being ecologically correct. But, to be perfectly candid, I just enjoy feeling fully connected to my environment and the movement of riding. It’s a different set of skills than driving a car, for sure. I also love that my daughter sees me taking part in an activity that currently still leans toward being male dominated. She sees me being strong, skilled, taking time for something that genuinely gives me pleasure, bucking the idea that someone told me I couldn’t do something—and am doing it anyway!

AM: Have you ever taught someone else how to ride? What did you learn from that experience?

MG: No! I took a fabulous course, and learned too much from it. I highly recommend taking the time, effort and expending the money on a real class.

AM: How can we get more people on motorcycles?

MG: My perception is that the trend is growing already. I see bikers all over Silicon Valley—fuel efficiency, the ability to ride in carpool lanes, and the fun are all obvious influencing factors locally. I’d never heard of adventure riding before I met my boyfriend, and now that I’m in tune to enduro bikes, I’m seeing them everywhere. Another thing I’ve noticed at the OHV parks is a large number of parents taking their kids out in the dirt. This is solid, high-quality time for parents to spend with their kids, imparting skills and knowledge, and giving those kids confidence that will serve them the rest of their lives.

AM: Talk about a time when you encountered pre-conceived notions because you ride.

MG: I work in human resources at a tech company and generally show up in a skirt, heels and manicured nails. Folks are really surprised when they see my dusty adventure boots and enduro helmet in my cubicle. I had one fairly senior level manager get very excited having seen my riding gear at the office. He was tickled when I showed him pictures of me riding in the Rockies. He’s always been cordial with me, but I actually think he’s more interested in me as a person now that he has a fuller idea of who I am.

Marlena Govaars is an AMA member from San Jose, California, who was featured in the September 2014 street and dirt/competition edition of American Motorcyclist.