29 November 2006

Learning to Ride

This Veterans’ Day Weekend, 10-12 November 2006, during the run-up to my 54th birthday, I signed up for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Rider Course. Woo-hoo! They say that as you age, you have to keep shaking things up—keeps your brain and body engaged and slows the aging process. Well this is one heckuva shake-up.

I was nervous going into the class. For one thing, it’s been a long time since I was the student and not the teacher, and I hoped I would remember how to be a good student. For another thing, I haven’t ridden on two motorized wheels since the 80s, when I had a scooter while I was in college in South Carolina, and I occasionally rode on the back of Earl’s motorcycle. But since then, it’s been only cars and bicycles. I was hoping that some of my bicycle experience would help, but not sure.

As it turned out, I did fine, but not without some challenges. How nice to find that 7 of the 9 students were women and one of the two instructors was a woman! That helped to ease my tension somewhat. And the “ground school” portion of the class, which was all of Friday evening, was a snap. But on Saturday, when the helmets went onto our heads and our butts went onto the bikes (Buell 500s), I was a nervous Nelly all over again. I had a little trouble with getting the bike into neutral—kept going past it into second gear—but I finally got the hang of it, and did great with the “power-walk” across the course (riding the bike slowly in first gear, with feet walking along on the ground), then feet-up and riding. I had to shrug off the tiniest feeling of superiority when some of my classmates struggled with this first, most elementary of exercises. Then, when we got off the bikes to talk about the next exercise, I didn’t put the kickstand down properly and my bike fell over on me! No injury, but that little experience DID restore some of my flagging humility.

The remainder of Saturday’s exercises involved learning to turn and to weave around a series of cones (this was one of the most fun parts of the course), getting up into second gear, proper braking technique, and tighter weaving. Whew! We did that from 7 a.m. until about 4 p.m., with an hour for lunch. I was worn out when it was over, as I think most of my classmates were.

We resumed the exercises on Sunday morning, warming up with some weaving, then progressing to figure-8s in a tiny, tiny box (VERY hard!), quick stops, swerving to avoid an obstacle, jumping a small obstacle (1x6 board), lane changes, and tight curves. Finally, we were ready for the TEST. Yikes! Why did they have to say the T-word? I was reminded of that butterfly-infused feeling with which many of my students are so familiar. It’s a good thing, though, this test, because if you pass it, you don’t have to take the state’s motorcycle test to get the motorcycle-rider endorsement on your driver’s license (at least this is true in Florida—I don’t know about other states).

I struggled with the figure 8s in the tiny, tiny box, got my speed up a little too fast for the quick-stop, took a slightly-too-wide line through one of the curves, and generally felt nervous the whole time. But my classmates had their difficulties too. Only one of us did the figure 8s really well, and some of us had to repeat some of the exercises. In fact, three of the students never even made it to the test. One couldn't come on Sunday because she was sick, and two women never could get themselves to go past first gear. This was quite sad, as they'd been so excited about the Harley Davidson motorcycles they planned to buy after they passed the course. We said good-bye to them after about an hour on the course on Sunday morning. I hope they come back to finish another time, because they really were excited about it. One of them even hoped to get a Harley Sportster for Christmas. :(

But I passed, and I only lost 5 points for my lousy figure 8s! Woo-hoo!!! The following Monday, I got my motorcycle endorsement on my license, and now I'm ready...

Let the motorcycle shopping begin!