Growing up, Brandi Behling heard too many unnerving stories about motorcycles and never thought she would ride. Little did she know, fate had other plans for her. Read on to see how Brandi’s journey led her to become program manager for the New York State Motorcycle Safety Program.
By Brandi Behling
Program manager, New York State Motorcycle Safety Program
I can tell you in all honesty that I never thought I would be riding a motorcycle, much less be in the position I am in now. Growing up, I had never had the urge to ride. You might say I was an overly cautious person. My parents didn’t ride. But I had distant cousins who rode, and that is where my story begins.
I was around 10 when I heard that my cousin was pinned between a cab and the trailer of a truck that ran a stop sign. A couple years later, I remember visiting my mom’s friend who was also hurt after an accident. Those accidents made very scary impressions on me at a young age.
I was 16 when my boyfriend’s friend offered to take me for a ride on his Harley-Davidson. It was a dare. I got on and closed my eyes the entire time. We probably went less than a mile and didn’t go faster than 30 mph. Fear of motorcycles was still in me. In my early 20s, again someone offered to take me on a ride, this time on a Honda Goldwing. I was intrigued, and it looked more comfortable, and so I tried again, but it still just didn’t feel right.
I bartended my way through college. I had met a lot of bikers during that time. I remember a particular couple that came in all the time and were always so nice. They rode bikes and worked as prison guards. To me, they seemed to be leading risky lives. But one day, the man walked to his mailbox and was killed by a careless driver. The driver dropped her cigarette and her eyes weren’t on the road. My thinking then changed, it doesn’t matter what you do, when it’s your time, it’s your time. I had to start living.
A few years after that, I met my husband, Ken, a soldier. He grew up riding dirt bikes and had his motorcycle license. He didn’t have a bike when we married, but we had talked about it. My deal was that he could get a motorcycle or we could have a baby. While he was in Iraq in 2006, he bought a Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic by emailing a dealership in Kansas. I went to the dealership to sign the papers for a black one. Once I was done with the paperwork, I was the owner of a cobalt blue Softail.
When my husband got home from that deployment, I started riding as a passenger with him. Because I knew he was a really safe driver, I felt safe riding with him, too. His safe riding habits really helped change my perspective. I had a blast going on poker runs and dice runs with him — especially after winning a couple 50/50 raffles. But a few months later, I was pregnant, and in 2007 we had a baby girl. So much for one or the other. I had to stop riding with my husband, but my son, who was 11 and could easily reach the passenger foot pegs, then became his riding buddy for a few years.
In 2009, we moved to Fort Drum, New York. My husband found some friends in a riding club. My son was now a teenager and our daughter was no longer in diapers, so I could go riding with him again.
I started noticing that there were more and more women riders in the area, which really got me thinking, “I can do this!” One lady, Maggie, encouraged me to learn to ride. I still was a bit nervous, but on Fort Drum they had motorcycle simulators. They looked like real motorcycles, operated like real motorcycles, but they didn’t crash like a motorcycle. I learned to shift and turn and balance on the fake motorcycle.
In the fall of 2010, Ken went on his 5th deployment. Maggie and her husband, Al, would come over and take me for rides with them. Maggie still said I should learn to ride by taking a course, so by spring of 2011, I got my motorcycle permit.
As soon as my friends at the riding club found out that I had my permit, they wanted me on a bike. I was with Tom, who was then a Motorcycle Safety Foundation-certified RiderCoach, my friend Maggie, and another soldier. I borrowed Maggie’s helmet and she let me ride her bike. I went as far as just getting my feet off the ground. I decided it was time to sign up for the MSF Basic RiderCourse so I could really learn to ride.
I took a course at Go Motorcycling in Watertown. The first time I took the class, I didn’t pass the riding skills test. I was disappointed, but I also didn’t want to just give up, and I knew that failing doesn’t mean I couldn’t do it. My riding certainly improved in that first class, so I signed right up to try again. And instead of just retaking the test, I signed up to retake the entire course. The second time around, I passed! The class also taught me a lot about good riding behavior, how to lower my risks, and self-awareness. I truly got over my nervousness about motorcycles in that class because I realized that I was always in control.
I bought my first bike, a 2007 Honda Rebel, from Tom, the RiderCoach. I rode every Thursday that summer with Mountain Warrior Riding Club to different ice cream shops. I also joined the Patriot Guard and did a lot of welcome home missions with them at Fort Drum. When my husband came home in the fall of 2011, I was fully licensed and ready to ride with him. Unfortunately, I hadn’t quite paid attention to T-CLOCS during my class and the engine blew in my Rebel after riding 3,000 miles. Apparently, bikes need oil, too.
That Christmas, Ken bought me a 2012 Sportster 883 Low. Since then, I have ridden it in Wisconsin for the 115th Anniversary of Harley-Davidson and at Daytona during Bike Week. I rode it to Washington, D.C., in 2019 for the last Rolling Thunder. Riding became a family thing. Our daughter rides as a passenger with my husband and our son now rides along with us on his own bike. I have over 25,000 miles on my motorcycle. We have ridden to bike events in New York such as Americade in Lake George and Thousand Islands River Run in Alexandria Bay.
One of my best memories was taking my 97-year-old grandma for a ride on a Can-Am Spyder. I picked her up from the nursing home and we rode around Lime Lake. She said, “They have gotten a lot more comfortable in the last 80 years.”
In 2017, I wanted to show my daughter that she could do anything she wanted to when she grew up, so I signed up for training to become a RiderCoach. I remember when I was discussing the training, I also decided right then and there that I wanted to go further than to just be a RiderCoach, but I had no idea my path would lead me to where I am. When I graduated from my RiderCoach training, my husband said it was his proudest moment for me because he knew the journey I had with motorcycling.
I loved teaching and riding, and so embraced the importance of proper training, gearing up for every ride, and safe, smart riding strategies that I am now Program Manager for the New York State Motorcycle Safety Program. Motorcycles have changed my life in a huge, positive way.