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Monday, June 05, 2006



Flashes of lightning split the sky. The rain poured down so hard that visibilty often dropped to a few hundred feet. All this is bad enough in a car, but I was on my way to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Basic Rider Course. This wouldn't be a good day to be out on a motorcycle.

Much to my relief, we spent the first day in a classroom. Well, actually we spent the first hour of the first day in a hallway because the school staff had failed to unlock the doors to the classroom. When the school staff finally did get us a room, it was in a section of the building slated for demolition. Since the room was getting the wrecking ball anyway, the teachers had given the students some markers and spray paint on the last day of school and let them cover the room with graffiti. Combine the spray paint on the walls and the weather outside, and if felt like some sort of movie. An ominous one.

The people there looked the part for a movie, too. The instructors - there were two of them - both managed to look like stereotypical Harley riders - goatees, graying hair worn in a ponytail, that sort of look. One of them did ride a Harley to the class; the other one rode one of BWM's flat twin bikes. There was a third quasi-instructor who didn't fit the pattern and was mostly there as an observer - he was an avid motorcyclist but also researching safety instruction so as to write a book on hang gliding safety. The class itself was made up of twelve students. Most of the students were men in their 20's, but a few were older, one looked like a teenager, and there was one woman there. Their experience levels differed, too. One had been riding for ten years. I had only ridden on a motorcycle once, as a passenger.

On the first day, we covered some lessons from a textbook and watched a few videos. The instructors sometimes made games out of the lessons - for example, when we discussed motorcycle controls, they had us do charades to illustrate each control or indicator. I had to act out a tachometer.

It wasn't until the next day that we actually got on the bikes and rode them. Half the bikes were Honda CB125T's, small two cylinder motorcycles built specifically for training classes. The remainder consisted of three CB250 Nighthawks and three Suzuki GN125's. Since there were several people there who were taller than I am, I had to ride one of the CB125T's, which are pretty cramped for a tall rider.

The exercises were designed so that even someone who had never ridden a motorcycle could do them. They started with simple exercises like letting out the clutch and finding where it starts to pull the bike forward, then had us "power walk" the bikes in a straight line. After that, we got to let the clutch out all the way and ride them, again in a straight line. By time we went in for more written lessons and videos, we had covered the basics of stopping, shifting, and turning as well.

Sunday had more complicated lessons. They introduced the infamous Box - a painted box where we had to do figure 8's. The lesson that I was most surprised I could do was the obstacle avoidance. This one had two parts: Riding the bike over 2 x 4's while standing up, and swerving to avoid a set of cones. The turns were a bit faster than any of the previous exercises had required.

After a total of 16 riding lessons, they gave us the final exam. It included a repeat of the Box combined with the swerving exercise, a stopping test, and riding around a curve at a particular speed. I was actually dreading the stopping test more than the Box, as I'd been having trouble with locking the rear brake in the exercises. We then finished up with a lecture on alchohol and a written exam.

In the end, 11 of the students passed. The twelth, a psychiatrist, had a nervous breakdown during the riding test and did not even stay around for the written exam.

Well, I'm relieved that I passed. I still don't feel like I am anything like ready to ride on I-20 though, just ready to take my CX500 out on lightly traveled roads and practice.

The pyschiatrist had a nervous breakdown and left early...bwahaha!
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