Thursday, March 05, 2009

the details [LONG]


Summary: passed the California motorcyle safety course, very tired and sore, rained on second day and bike slid out from under me, survived to ride another day.

Now for the longer version:

Many years back, I took the motorcycle safety course...I passed it, but for a lot of reasons [budget for a bike being the biggest], I didn't turn it into a license. It's a decision I've regretted over the years [as my friends know from hearing me talk about it <grin>], and I finally nutted up and made it happen.

The class itself was different from the one I'd taken before: classroom time was much less interactive and being taught, and much more "split into groups, use the book to answer this list of questions". More efficient, definitely, and the questions were ones that showed up later on the written test, so in that sense, it prepared us for passing. For actually internalizing and understanding the "why" behind the techniques, though, it wasn't as good. The range time was much better than the earlier curriculum, though. The exercises were well paced, and they built on each other had time to ease into a skill, practice it, then you moved on to something slightly more difficult. The coaches were patient and really paid attention, so you got a chance to put book learning into action, see the hows and whys, and get a real-world feel for things.

I did the "all three days in a row" option: Friday night in classroom from 6:30p to 10p; Saturday morning on the range from 7a [gack] to 12:30p, then classroom from 1:30p to 3:30p; and Sunday morning on the range from 7a to about 12p [first 4 hours or so of new exercises and riding, then the final riding test].

Friday night:

I met other riders-to-be from both my group [the morning group] and the afternoon group [they would be in class while we were riding, and riding in the afternoons after we finished]. Some annoying rah-rah participation stuff: "Now we are going to go around the have to tell us the name of someone else at your table, and one thing about them." Then we started in on reading a list of questions, then flipping back and forth in the book to answer them. Once we did that, each group answered a set of questions and we talked about them. Pretty standard classroom stuff. Only odd bit is that our session was part of a 'coach refresh/peer review' thing, so instead of the more normal 2-3 coaches, we had 10-12 of them, all trading off. A little weird, but interesting to see the different styles and personalities.

Saturday morning:

Seven frickin' o'clock in the there early, hung out watching the coaches inspect the course for debris and bring out the bikes. Hung out with some of the coaches, chatting, waiting for others to arrive. I had my own gear [helmet, jacket, gloves], so I kind of stood around while the others were picking out theirs from the stuff provided. Finally we were ready, and we picked a bike...I went for the Suzuki GZ250 [dark green, of course <grin>].

And away we went. I won't detail each exercise...we learned clutch control, throttle, braking, leaning to turn, making slow sharp turns by counter-leaning, all the good stuff. One guy laid his bike down [braked too hard on a quick-stop exercise, the bike went squirrelly under him, then it fell and he fell], but that was pretty much the only thing to happen that day. We lost 3 of our original 12 somewhere along the way...they just didn't come back from a break, not sure why they left.

Ye gods, what a looooong day...sore, tired, brain constantly on, body doing things it wasn't used to. Survived it, had a rushed lunch with a couple friends [who rode their bikes, so I hopped on the back in my gear...whee! Even better, I ran into a former co-worker just as I was taking off my helmet...surprised him a bit, I think. :^) ], then back for a few hours in the classroom. Somehow stayed awake and alert, and even passed the written test with 100%.

[A very flattering thing: one of the coaches caught me as I was leaving. They gave me their card, asked me to keep in touch and let them know about what bike I get, my rides and experience. They said that in another year or two, after I got some experience and if I found I liked riding, they would be happy to recommend me for the coaching program. Very, very cool...]

Sunday morning:

Soooo sore, sooo tired. And even better: rain. Steady rain, more than a drizzle, less than a downpour. Class went on. Slightly more advanced exercises: "the box" [a miserable figure-eight, very tight, very slow turns...even the coach had troubles making it in the rain], quick stops, riding over obstacles, getting into third gear then downshifting and braking before turns, decreasing radius turns, and other fun stuff.

I frickin' *nailed* the box my first time through. Second time, not so much: the bike slid out from under me, whacking my leg as it [and I] went down. Got up, the coach righted the bike...I asked him what I'd done wrong. "It's wet," he said. "Not a lot you can do about that." A few others went down during the day because of the guy bounced his head on the pavement [helmets in action, boys and you see why you wear them]. No major injuries, though...and all things considered, I would much rather my first time riding in the rain be on a controlled range, with 10 experienced coaches around.

[An aside: the obstacles were FUN. Four 2x4s were set up around the range, and we rode in a large oval, kerbumping over them, focusing on technique [throttle up a bit just before going over, stand on your pegs and shift weight back, then throttle back down immediately after front tire is over and sit down]. Fun. Fun fun fun. Fun to ride over things, and fun to finally just *ride*...big ovals, enjoying the feel, no pylons, no stopping, no watching for cross traffic, just riding for a while. Nice.]

After hours of riding and exercises and nerves jangling and rain not stopping, we all lined up for the final riding test [or as the coaches called it, the "skills celebration" <eyeroll>]. Four tests: the box, swerve, quick-stop, and 135 degree diminishing radius curve. Judged on technique mostly, with points off for going outside the lines of the box, not coming up to speed and/or hitting pylons in the swerve, going too far beyond a certain line in the stop, and going too slowly through the curve.

Blew the box...but knew it was tricky, so didn't let it get to me. A little too slow coming into the swerve, but nailed it on the second try. Only went 4 feet over on the quick-stop, which was good considering the wet pavement. Nailed the curve on technique [getting up to speed, shifting up, judging the approach and slowing while still in 2nd, getting the right outside-inside-outside line], but was 0.24 seconds too slow. The coach who gave me my scores said that if it were up to them, I wouldn't have lost points for the stop or the curve, because I made the exact right decisions for the conditions...but the test doesn't care if it's wet, dry, or covered in peanut butter. She said to hang on to what I did and why I did it, that those were the skills that would serve me on the road...that due caution and being aware were far more important.

And with that, I passed. Not the best in the class, not the worst. Showed myself I could do it, got validation that the instincts are there and the skills just need to be honed with practice, and had fun. Next step is taking the DMV written exam once my course certificate comes, and then I'll be a licensed motorcycle rider.

Now to buy a bike...


Anonymous said...



stacey said...

<grin> Thanks!!