Whatever I Grow Up to Be, a Motorcycle Will Be Involved

By Vong Lee
Senior Enlisted Leader, U.S. Air Force, and MSF RiderCoach

Vong Lee

I was 6 years old when I saw my first motorcycle on the road. My mom and I were walking to the store down the road from our house when a cruiser roared by in all of its glory. I cannot recall what brand the motorcycle was, but I do recall it being completely black, and it was the loudest thing I had ever heard in my young life. The rider was covered in all black leather and it made me think of something I saw in a comic book.

I tugged on my mom’s sleeve and asked her, “What was that car just now?” She replied, “That was a motorcycle.” I still remember my next words to her as if I were still six: “I want to be a motorcycle rider when I grow up.” 

Growing up in a first-generation Asian family in the United States presented a number of unique challenges, but the one that affected me most was identity. It was already hard enough belonging to an ethnicity that doesn’t have its own country, forced to flee our lands due to cultural persecution, but now I had to grow up in a new country and choose who I wanted to be as well. After my first encounter with a motorcycle, I knew whatever I grew up to be, it would include a motorcycle. My family was not supportive at all, but that only fueled my desire to be different. 

Lee coaches every weekend he can.

I bought my first motorcycle when I turned 18. It was a brand new 2005 Honda Rebel 250. I had some prior experience riding on a friend’s 100cc dirt bike, but nothing substantial like an MSF Basic RiderCourse. The experience on my friend’s bike was enough to get me from the dealership back to my apartment, but I stalled at every light. That night, I took my new motorcycle out to the neighborhood behind my apartment, slid on some gravel coming into a turn too fast, and broke everything on the right side. After that night, I resolved to take an actual course to properly learn how to ride a motorcycle.

I took the BRC about a month later, and not only did I learn how to ride, I made a lifelong friend from that course. Two years after that first accident, I joined the Air Force and was shipped off across the country to Langley Air Force Base. I was not able to take my motorcycle, but I thought about it every day. I wasn’t able to go home and pick it up until six years, two deployments, and one divorce later.

Once I had it back in my possession, riding it reminded me of everything I wanted to be when I was younger. I also learned that a 250cc motorcycle does not do too well climbing Montana’s mountains. I ended up trading my Rebel for a 750cc Honda Shadow Phantom since it reminded me of the very first motorcycle I saw.

Lee stays in touch with many of his BRC students and occasionally leads a group ride.

I had always wanted to become a RiderCoach since my initial BRC in 2005 and got my chance when the Air Force Base I was at put out a call for volunteer RiderCoaches to teach on base. The RiderCoach Prep Course was grueling in the 100 degree Texas heat, but all ten of us RiderCoach candidates made it through. Now, I teach every weekend that I can.

My favorite moment as a RiderCoach is when a student overcomes their initial fear or reluctance to trust the motorcycle. The best thing is that I get to experience that moment every weekend. Whatever I am doing next, whether it’s continuing my career in the military or retiring in a few years and moving on to other things, I know my life will always include a motorcycle.