The Girl Who Played With Ninja
and a CB175 and a DR200
Picture if you will, the average person you might meet with a masters in mathematics. Quickly you envision Archimedes, Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei or even Albert Einstein, but none of you would instantly draw a mental image of Jen Hill (Jen Tekawitha if you seek her Instagram or website), a vibrant young woman who at present has logged more than 20,000 miles on a Kawasaki Ninja 250 – her first bike!
Jen grew up in a house filled with love – and a Honda CB750 that her father owned. A life-long firefighter, he took all of his vacation at once each summer as a young man and set out to cover all 48 of the continental United States. He achieved his goal in two years, and a cover went over the bike and in the garage it stayed. Armed with riding inspiration and a penchant for a CB of her own, Jen finished grad school, signed up for an MSF class and jumped in with both feet.
Jen did some serious research and discovered a Ninja 250 was a great starter bike. She bought it and soon after started dropping it all over the place. Nothing serious, just minor tip-overs, but it happened enough to make her graduate-school-trained brain realize there was plenty more to learn about riding and wrenching. Isn’t it great when smart people ride motorcycles? They make the rest of us look better.
Jen committed to her education doing things like being a range assistant in MSF programs for two years, taking a Lee Parks Total Control ARC class, the MSF DirtBike School and most recently, the Cornerspin class. Education was second nature to Jen, but she also knew that getting out and riding would be the true transformation in her skill. So she rode, everywhere.
As a Chicago resident the riding season is limited, but that didn’t stop her from knocking out 7000 miles her first year on the Ninja, going as she put it, “nowhere.” As the riding season was drawing to a close, on impulse she bought her second bike. The nostalgic connection from her childhood led her to a CB175 that needed some TLC. With the help of a friend who is a master mechanic, Jen spent the winter giving the CB the attention it needed, learning more and more each step of the way. Additionally, filled with new rider spirit and the influence of a moto-mentor, Big Bob, Jen threw a leg over a bike prepped for ice-riding on the frozen lakes of Wisconsin and was totally hooked on it. A note on moto-mentors: do it. If you have the opportunity to guide a new rider into good choices instead of bad, education over dumb luck, invest the time – it’s rewarding.
Leading into year two of her riding career, Jen started out at a track day where she quickly learned how little of the Ninja’s potential she was tapping into, helping her settle her mind on keeping the Ninja for at least another year. A five-day tour of Germany on a Ninja 300 (keeping it in the family), a solo ride around Lake Michigan, and a blast from Milwaukee to Minneapolis in one day that was part of a 1700 mile, five-day trip were all part of putting another 7000 or so miles on the Ninja(s). While in tune-up mode on the Ninja, some parts delays led Jen to embark on a Chicago to Milwaukee run on the CB175. The trip saw Jen falling in love with the CB, and it started becoming her go-to ride, until a 300 mile day racing backroads with guys on much bigger bikes put a small hole in one of the ever-so-small pistons in the heart of the 175. It is still in the process of being rebuilt, but while the spring and summer riding seasons are on, mechanic stuff has to take a backseat.
That winter, Jen did what any enthused rider in the Midwest would do – she found a bike to convert for ice riding. Her ride of choice, a Suzuki DR200, equipped with studded tires and a whole lot of left turning. Bundled up with motocross gear under winter parka, Jen and friends slip and slide from sun up to sundown on the glorious lakes of Wisconsin.
Moving into year three – still on the Ninja 250 –is where Jen impressed me enough to contact MO about this story. A run from Chicago to the Cornerspin riding academy in Charlotte, North Carolina led to a few days running the Tail of the Dragon, US421 (The Snake), the Blue Ridge Parkway and a return trip to Chicago. On a 250, with riders on much bigger bikes. A ride like this probably would have been enough excitement for most people for a season of riding, but Jen, as we are starting to sense, isn’t like most of us that have ridden for a long time. So, as the little Ninja that could was crowding 19,000 miles on the clock, Jen decided to get it over 20K like any normal overly enthused rider would do, she signed on to ride an Iron Butt 1000-mile day with her uncle – on a much bigger Harley-Davidson Road King. The pair set out before daylight to circle Lakes Erie and Ontario, and before the time period was over, they knocked out the mileage required for Iron Butt Bragging rights. 1000 miles in 24 hours on a Ninja 250 – think about that next time you think your 600c bike is too small.
Jen and her boyfriend Bree, a happy riding couple, then decided to take on a loop of Lake Superior, 10 days taking in breath-taking scenery, adding mileage in the United States and Canada as part of the trip and setting up the end of summer ride to Lake Huron. Four days of riding around that scenic body of water gave Jen the likely unique distinction of being the only person any of us know to complete loops around all five Great Lakes – on a Ninja 250 in less than two years!
As the Midwest riding season was closing, Jen did a refresher class at the MSF Experienced Rider course, because, well, she really likes riding schools. Winter was looming, and while most of the riders in the area were getting stressed and unhappy, Jen was tucked away in the workshop prepping theDR200 for ice riding – the bonus to living close to hundreds of small lakes that freeze over in winter.
Jen buried her social media with action shots of ice riding/racing and rode right up until the thaw, all the while planning to get herself a bigger bike in the spring.
Heading into year four, Jen bought a Triumph Street Triple in Omaha, Neb., as soon as the roads between Chicago and Omaha were clear. Wearing all her riding gear on the airplane, she flew in from Chicago early in the day and set out to do the 500 miles back home in a day, on a bike she had never ridden before. Jen does nothing but exemplify commitment to her passion.
Once Jen bought her new bike, she was back in the shop converting her faithful Ninja 250 into a track bike. She went to the very first track day she could get to – and it rained the whole day. She says it was terrifying and enlightening, but the highlight was completing the day without tasting tarmac.
So, you are probably wondering how Jen and the new Speed Triple are getting on, the Ninja having left some awfully big shoes to fill. Well, this is a true story, not fantasy, and the ending is not that happy. Ever the student, Jen signed up for an Experienced Rider Course on the Triple and about halfway through the day used a bit too much brake and tumbled over on her foot, fracturing it in numerous places. Adding to the unhappy ending, it was two weeks before she and boyfriend Bree were to head to Italy for a two week tour – all via motorcycle. The doctor said she’s not well enough to make the trip, so it’s postponed and the fate of the Triple is undecided. Pending her full recovery, Jen is weighing out keeping the Triple or replacing it with a Ninja 300.
The ending isn’t all bad; Jen can’t wait to get back to riding as opposed to giving it up on her first crash. Jen is a role model for newer riders, proving that it is not the size of the bike but the size of the desire to ride. Many of us motorcycle industry dinosaurs remember spending years on 350cc-400cc bikes, anticipating our jump to the 550cc class. With the current crop of smaller, more affordable bikes hitting the market, perhaps a return to enjoying the ride, not the horsepower numbers, will bring a new level of excitement back to motorcycling – with Jen probably leading the way.
More by Howard Kelly