Saturday, June 28, 2008

Licensed Organ Donor

I am that much closer to enjoying the open road with nothing between me and Mother Nature but a sophisticated machine on two wheels. Sensing my limits, I enrolled in a basic rider course at the
local Harley Davidson dealership. I know what I know and riding a motorcycle isn’t one of those things. I have been riding a bicycle for a long time. I even spent a good amount of time commuting to work and school on a road bike. So I like to think that I have an idea of what people mean when they say that motorcyclists are invisible to most drivers. I often felt that way riding my bike. It never failed to surprise me when a car would pull out in front of me or cut in front of me just to brake hard and make a turn. And it’s not as if I was trying to be chic with my gear. My bike is red and I routinely wear either a white or yellow jersey. I guess that car drivers are looking for other 2000+ lb killing machines such as themselves. No really. When driving your car you look for threats or obstacles in your path. In a large vehicle, this means cars or trucks and other big things like signs, trees, and buildings. Sure we are taught in drivers education to watch the shoulders for cyclists and sidewalks for pedestrians and animals, but they don’t pose an immediate ‘threat’ to a car driver. They are more of a nuisance and you’ll get in trouble if you come in contact with one them. It is this type of limited vision that fuels national motorcycle awareness campaigns like ‘Start Seeing Motorcycles’.

So I took this class. The class was limited to 9 participants, which was a bonus. After formal introductions, including the token get to know you games, we were ushered out of our classroom into the dealership. Now, I have to mention that as a student in the class you are given a lanyard that says ‘Riders Edge Student’. This is your golden ticket. Sales people leave you alone and you are free to browse the merchandise and motorcycles unmolested. We were given the 99 cent tour. No area of the dealership was left undiscovered (except the finance department because who wants to talk about having to pay for this stuff, it is just cool and remember that). We had two evenings of classroom learning. Flash back to drivers education but everyone is middle aged and we are talking about motorcycles. Yeah, that part was kind of lame. We had to learn where the handlebars are and what they do (I’m not kidding). On Saturday, we spent 9 hours out on a driving range set up behind their warehouse. We were provided 500cc motorcycles made by Harley Davidson’s sport brand Buell. We learned everything from clutch control and emergency braking to counter steering and figure eights. The only thing missing was parallel parking. On Sunday, we did more of the same for 8 hours but at higher speeds and with exercises aimed at combining several skills. The only flaw with the range training was the environmental conditions. The very same Mother Nature that we were trying to get closer to was not nice to us. The days were clear and the sky was a deep blue. However, it was 115 degrees on Saturday and 113 degrees on Sunday. To anyone of you out there who cannot imagine this, neither could I. Normally when it is that hot outside, I make every effort to limit my time outside. Not only did I spend a combined 17 hours out in that heat but I had to wear boots, long pants, a full face helmet, long sleeves, and gloves. Not to mention that waiting for your turn sitting on the black seat of a radiating engine is not the most comfortable thing one can do.

I learned a lot, passed my written and driving tests, and would recommend the class to anyone looking to learn the rules of motorcycling. Not to be naïve, the class is not without its pitfalls. Two people crashed during our range exercises. One of those did not continue with the class. Of the 9, only 5 of us qualified for a motorcycle endorsement on our drivers license. 3 others passed the written test but not the driving portion and qualified for motorcycle permits. This allows them to ride a motorcycle during the day only for 6 months at which time they can attempt the driving test again at a local MVD. The statistics speak for themselves. If you take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation sanctioned skills course, your chances of being in an accident are reduced. And you qualify for a discount on your insurance.

1 comment:

Varan said...

Hi fellow bikers. I did my bike training in the UK in November a few years back. Intense traffic nearly all the time and predictably crappy weather.
To begin with - in the UK - you have to do a day's compulsory basic training. That's even before you can apply for a license to ride any bike or scooter. It's only a day and pretty simple, just basic bike skills.
Pass that and you have to do a safety and road hazard awareness test on a computer in a test centre. Not much of a challenge if you're not a complete idiot.
Pass that and you can do a direct access course to ride a proper bike. Should take a week of fairly intensive training before you go in for your real test. And that, my friend, is it. Just to ride a bike over 500cc.
As an added hazard the man sticks in the way if you get over 6 points on your license in the next two years, and it's 3 points for most offences like speeding, you lose your damn licence and have to take the test over.