Jenn Keys

Women Who Ride: Motorcyclist Jenn Keys with her Honda CB-1

Name: Jenn Keys
Motorcycles: 2000 Honda CBR 600F4, 1989 Honda CB-1, 2000 Honda XR-100
Country: USA
Twitter: @keysacupuncture


Describe your path into motorcycling. I started riding because a guy I had a huge crush on was into riding – totally cliche I know.  His name was Bob Clark and he ended up dying suddenly – not in a crash but by his own hand. Anyway, his best friend Poll Brown and I became really close as a result of his death and Poll taught me how to ride.  He got me a little Yamaha dirt bike with a kickstart and I rode it up and down my alley in San Francisco for a few weeks.  I was afraid to get it into traffic because I had a really hard time getting it started after I stalled it – which happens a lot when you’re first starting.

After that I got a Honda CM450 and rode it around for a while.  It was a great little starter bike because I could touch flat-footed on the ground.  I started to improve and once I was grinding the foot pegs around turns I knew I needed a different bike. So I moved up to a Honda Nighthawk 700s.  This bike had a really small front wheel and it used to just lift off the ground for no reason!  This was the bike I should have been riding when I got hit by a drunk driver.  But my friend was selling his Honda CBR F2 so we switched for the ride so I could try it out. While I was recuperating from the crash I sold my Nighthawk and got the Honda CB-1 which changed my life forever.  That little bike is so cool and fast and nimble!  My riding improved so much on that thing that I bought another as a parts bike.  It is small and really able to hit the twisties hard. It made it easy to push my limits while still feeling safe.  I still have one of them and I still love it.  I also bought a Honda CBR 600 which is the fastest bike I’ve ever owned.  I really like it but I haven’t ridden much since I had my daughter.

Can you tell us about the crash and your subsequent recovery? I started riding around the same time I started Acupuncture school in 2000. In my second year of school I was on a Memorial Ride for a friend who had died. I missed a turn-off so I pulled over. Before I could even get the bike in gear to turn around I was hit by a drunk driver. His bumper hit my ankle and the rest of the car brushed the side of my leg and torso as he sped by. I immediately fell into the road and my bike pinned me down. As I looked up I saw his brake lights flash, and then he took off around the bend. I felt so sick seeing that. How could he just leave me there? Then my awesome friend Robb McElroy took off after him to chase him down. After 45 minutes and the driver throwing a case of beer bottles at him, he caught the driver and had him arrested.

I could hear my other friend Poll Brown running towards me and then he just picked the bike off me and tossed it aside like it weighed nothing. My foot was twisted around backward, my bones were popping out and a little pool of blood was forming around me. At that point I knew it was bad so I just tried to stay calm. Poll waved down a car and luckily remembered that we had passed a cop a few miles back, so he had the driver go get him. Eventually I got air-lifted to a nearby hospital and after surgery was told that I had a 50% chance of keeping my foot. Then an amazing thing happened.

All my classmates, people in the riding community, people I didn’t even know very well, all offered to help in my recovery. They walked my dog, cooked me food, brought me books and videos, and offered advice. It was really touching to me that people would just offer help even if they weren’t close to me. My teachers at school also stepped up and did a ton of acupuncture on me.

My Western medicine doctor wanted to perform a bone graft surgery on me because my bones weren’t knitting together. But after one month of taking Chinese Herbs they healed by 40%, after two months 80%. This was really a turning point for me in terms of developing my style in Chinese Medicine. I became really drawn to treating people in pain or people who had suffered a traumatic injury. It was helpful for me to know what it felt like being in the patient’s shoes, and to be able to relate to them on that level. Being a healer started to take on a much deeper meaning and purpose for me.

What is your best motorcycling achievement? Getting back on my bike after my crash and riding again. I was laid up from my accident for nine months. When I was finally able to walk without crutches, I wanted to try to get on my bike again. Poll Brown suggested we ride out to Petaluma to watch the Stock Car Races – it’s about a 45 minute ride. I thought that sounded fun so we set out at dusk. I purchased my CB-1 while I’d been healing, so this was the first time I was riding it, and my first ride since the accident.

As we got on the Golden Gate Bridge, it was dark and the fog had rolled in. Visibility was low and I was starting to realize that I had some fear about riding. Just then a Harley rider passed us and Poll took off after him to race. That’s when I really started to have a mini panic attack in my helmet. I tried to calm myself down but the fears of crashing kept surfacing. I couldn’t stop the images of me sprawled across the freeway from popping into my head. Around the 30 minute mark I was seriously considering flagging Poll down and pulling over. I just had to get off the bike! Just as I was about to do it I thought “And then what? What am I supposed to do with my bike? I’d still have to ride it home.” I realized I was trapped. There was no way around it, I’d just have to keep riding. And that realization broke the spell I was under. The fear just released and I knew I could do it. I could ride again!

What was the last great ride that made you happy? Riding up to Hwy 36 in Northern California. I had only really been commuting on my motorcycle since my daughter was born in 2011. No real fun riding for a long time. So in 2013 my husband Paolo and I took a weekend off and rode up North for a camping trip. We had to do a lengthy boring freeway route to get to the twisties and the kind of fun riding that I like to do. It was August and as we rode inland it just got hotter and hotter. We had to keep stopping to try to cool down, and we kept on peeling off more and more of our protective gear to cope with the heat. We finally decided to pull over and wait out the sun. Both of us were dizzy and having trouble concentrating. We found some popcicles and some shade and just hung out for an hour or so until the sun wasn’t so oppressive.

It was still hot when we got back on the road but soon we made it to the redwood forest on Hwy 36 and it cooled down a lot. That’s when the road got better too. There were long sweepers and short, tight twisties, all spaced perfectly apart – it was such an awesome stretch of road! All the excitement about riding came flooding back to me as I passed Paolo on his slow cruiser so I could really do this road right. I had sort of forgotten how exciting riding could be after it had became so low on my priority list. How free it could make you feel, how great you felt doing a turn faster than you thought you could. This was another triumphant return to riding for me.

Women Who Ride: Motorcyclist Jenn Keys with her daughter and Honda CB-1

Motorcyclist Jenn Keys with her daughter and Honda CB-1

You have a young daughter. Would you teach her or encourage her to get into riding? Yes, as strange as that probably sounds, I would absolutely encourage her to ride if she wanted to.  The reason is that riding has been such a powerful and wonderful addition to my life and I’ve met so many great people because of it. Plus, my daughter is a lot like me in that she is very cautious and only takes calculated risks so I think she would be a safe rider.  I would also teach her about safety as much as I could.  favicon