Monday, March 10, 2014

Ease On Down the Road: Basic (Motorcycle) Riding Course Day One

I have recently become good friends with people who ride. They infected me with motorcycle fever, and I decided to get my M Class license and become one of the lucky few who travel the world on two wheels (and a motor).

One of these "instigators," sent me the link to the Howard Community College's Riding School's Basic Riding Course with a "Not that I'm pushing or anything" included in the text. So I signed up to take the class, and as part of my process, I've decided to blog about it. In fact, I might just blog about the entire process from soup to eventual nuts.

First, a little history.

Many moons ago (read more than twenty-five years ago), I rode a few times. And more recently, I have ridden scooters. But, I haven't been on a motorcycle for a long time. And like my friend Yermo of Miles By Motorcycle says, even a few months or weeks off the bike will make a rider somewhat rusty. So, I'm considering myself a complete beginner. And I signed up for the Basic Riding Course.

The cool thing about the course (here in Maryland) is that if you take it and pass it, it's like going to the MVA and taking the test there. If you pass this class (both classwork and range work), you get a waiver and can go get your M Class license from the MVA. Pretty cool, right? So, how could I not?

Things to know about the class: One, be there on time. If you are late, you don't get to take the class and there are no refunds. Two, they have gear if you need it, but it's better to have borrowed some from someone else, if you can. Three, they require that you have good, sturdy, over the ankle boots, which they don't provide. Four, the instructors are knowledgeable and super friendly (at least Les is, and that's fabulous).

The students in the class come from various backgrounds. A few are currently students at the college. One is a retired fighter pilot. A few others are also retired military. Several are like I am. We all have the bug to varying degrees. And at least one is already riding but needs to get legal. At first, I thought I might be the only woman in the 12 person class but at the last second two other women came in. It makes the class more well-rounded and that feels pretty good.

One of the coolest things about the classroom? There's a Suzuki GZ250 sitting in the middle of the room. And we were encouraged to get on it and see how it feels. It felt great! When we walked in, there was the usual paperwork to fill out. Part of it is the release form that says something like, "I promise not to sue anyone if some kind of horrible thing happens to me while I am on one of the school's motorcycles." It makes sense. Pretty much everyone has you sign something to make sure you won't sue so this was par for the course.

The class itself was broken up into discussion and videos. Les had us broken up into groups of three and we each took a section of the book to discuss and then present to the class, depending on which topic we were talking about. So, for example, when we were going over gear, I presented on the different types of helmets, what they are made of the DOT and Snell seals of approval, and why you want to have one to begin with. Other people took jackets, boots, gloves, etc. When we were talking about turning, stopping, accelerating, etc., each group took a section, discussed it and then presented it to the rest of the class. It was an easy format in which to learn, although I do believe the stuff I presented will be the stuff I most retain.

The videos are informative but not overly exciting. They do give you information you need to know and that is of great benefit. They also outline the various acronyms you need to know. There are things like SEE (Search, Evaluate, Execute),  TCLOCS (Tires and Wheels, Controls, Lights and Electrics, Oil, Chassis, Stands) and FINEC (Fuel, Ignition, Neutral, Engine cut-off switch [or as Les calls it, "the Red Thing"], and Choke/Clutch).

I'm hoping that in the moment, I'll know what all these things are because I'm sure a bunch of them will be on the test. Right now, though, they are sort of swimming in my head. I'll know on Wednesday if I pass and the test is 50 multiple guess questions so hopefully, my brain will get out of its own way, and I'll do okay.

In the end, the class has a chill vibe and it's easy to relax and focus on picking up the information we need to know as well as the bits of wisdom Les doles out as we go. "Just something to think about" is his code for, "this is practical knowledge that will likely save your butt." And when we come across a concept that will be on the test? He has us stomp our feet. So, when I presented the main differences between a motorcycle and a car, he had me stomp my feet for emphasis. "This," he said, "is something you'll definitely need to know."

I'm looking forward to Wednesday. We'll be taking the test in preparation for riding on Saturday and Sunday. If we don't pass the test, we get a do-over within 30 days. Here's hoping I won't need that.

I'll let you know how Wednesday goes.

In the meantime, a big thanks to Duncan and Yermo for starting me down this road. It's going to be a helluva ride.


  1. information learned in a relaxed state is the most likely to be retained. relax!

    1. Absolutely. And I even got some sleep last night so hopefully, that will help in the relaxation department. :)

  2. I had to do the do-over test a week after the original test I took. Many people in my class did. During the week between tests, Yermo took me out to practice some parking lot exercises. Just basic clutch control, and trusting that the bike would pull me out of the tight, slow turns, instead of having to put my foot down, made all the difference.

    1. I can easily see myself having to re-take the text. I hope I don't. With how much traveling I'm doing over the next few weekends, I might miss the 30 day window. Yikes!

      I'm psyched, though, that Yermo has offered to help train me up. He is awesome kind.

  3. In 1980, I had exactly the same experience as Audrey. Trust the bike and the throttle.
    After my MSF in 1993, I learned to trust the bike and it made all the difference.

    You're gonna do great. Can't wait to ride with you. (I rode to poker Monday, and it was marvelous!!)

    1. Yay! I'll try to do that. I've ridden before, although a looong time ago (and only a few times) so hopefully some of that will come back to me. Honestly, I'm more worried about the written exam. I'm so tired right now that information is leaking out of my ears.

      Can't wait to ride with you, too!

  4. Those acronyms are "nice to know" but the really important stuff is on pages 20-23. I hope your instructor gave you good buzz phrases for each of those 4-5 things. They are your Basic Riding Skills. The idea is to make riding a conscious effort. Know what you're going to do (buzz phrases) and why -- before you do it. On EVERY shift, EVERY turn, EVERY stop and EVERY ride.
    ~Yermo's FB friend, Kai
    (no option for FB so I picked anonymous)

    1. Kai, you are absolutely right. And we talked about those a *lot*. According to Les, we are also going to be practicing those a lot on the range both Saturday and Sunday. Hopefully, I'll start getting those into my head (and body) before too long.