Thursday, March 13, 2014

Easing On Down The Road: Basic Motorcycle Riding Course, Day 2

Last night, I had the last class session for the Basic Riding Course. (To see the post on the first class, go here)

The relaxed vibe continued. Les, the instructor talked us through the rest of the concepts in our MSF booklet. We talked everything from blood alcohol levels to skids, to swerving. And again, we watched videos on how to do what needs to be done for the various topics.

In order to get the most out of the class, I volunteered to do everything Les asked us to try. No one else was standing up and I figured that I might as well try it now. So, when I asked about the feeling of shifting the clutch from first gear up into neutral or from second gear down into neutral, he asked me to get on the bike (a Suzuki GZ250. See below for a similar bike) and try it. I did, and it was relatively easy to feel the shift from second into first, but not so much from the other way around. See, the thing is that to switch from second down to neutral or first, you press down with your foot on the shifter. In fact, to go down to any lower gear, you press down, like you do with a manual transmission clutch. To go up in gears, you press the clutch with your left hand, and then you place your left foot under the shifter and lift up to either get into neutral from first, or go up any of the gears from there on in.

Here's my problem: I owned a manual transmission car for years. So, I know exactly how to use my feet and hands to press the clutch, place the car into the gear I want and then use the friction zone to engage the gear and ease on the clutch. So, that "split your feet and hands" thing is not hard for me at all. What I think will be hard? I'll need to split them into doing different actions from those in a car. See, while in a car, the clutch is what you first press with your foot (and always down, never up). On a motorcycle, the clutch is on the left side of the handlebars. It looks just like a left hand brake on a bicycle. So, my brain will need to adjust to thinking of the thing that looks like bicycle brake actually being the clutch. And I will need to start thinking of engaging the clutch as something I do with my hand rather than with my foot. And the exact opposite thing happens with the shifter. On most manual cars, the gear shifting is done with the hand. On a motorcycle, the shifting is done with the left foot. So, while I know exactly how to shift the clutch on a car (left foot first), and change gears (right hand second, here in the USA), my brain might rebel at the thought of clutching by using my left hand and then shifting with my left foot. About the only thing similar to a car is that braking (rear brake) is done with the right foot (while the front brake is similar to a bicycle in that it looks like a bike brake on the right hand side of the handlebars). Likely, I will need to start thinking of this as a whole new animal, and myself as a complete newbie in order to make heads or tails on how to do this. I'll keep you posted on how I do.

The other thing I tried were the beer goggles. No, really, they had them. They are these bizarre goggles that simulate how you see when you are drunk. Les asked for volunteers, and I tried it. He put blue tape on the floor and first he had me walk it without the goggles like I would if I were being tested by the police. Without the goggles, I did fine. Then, I put on the goggles and it was like being in a disturbing classroom-looking Fun House. Everything was weaving and woozy-ing. I walked the line and was told I did pretty well, but while the line I walked was pretty straight, I wasn't terribly near the actual tape. And the thing is that the goggles only give you impaired vision. They don't impair your judgment or your physical movements. So, add those in because of actually drinking alcohol, and it's a recipe for some bad times.
In the end though, I did what I came to do. Les administered the 50-question multiple guess test (only three guesses per question) and we all took it. How did I do? I passed. 100%!

I feel proud. On Saturday, we start the range work. We'll be on the GZ250s and we'll be practicing starting, stopping, turning, swerving, and whatever else they need to throw at us to make us street legal. Luckily, I have friends who are willing to coach me on how to progress as a rider and one friend in particular has been gracious enough to line up a motorcycle for me to use to practice and improve. So grateful to Yermo Lamers of Miles By Motorcycle for this.

The coursework itself? Pretty easy. The range? I'll let you know Saturday.


  1. Four Basic Riding Skills:
    1. GO
    For this you need clutch and throttle control. And "eyes up!" (Level with the horizon.)
    2. SHIFT
    3. TURN
    "Slow - Look - Press - Roll"
    4. STOP
    Always and forever, stop in first gear. Downshift AS you're stopping, not afterward.

    1. Very cool. Thank you, Kai. It looks like both comments showed up, btw.

  2. Aw crap, where did my first comment go? Why didn't it publish? AGAIN:
    Unlike in your car where "riding the clutch" is discouraged, most motorcycles have (only a few makes/models don't) wet clutches that are designed to slip. "The Friction Zone is your FRIEND!" Use the Friction Zone of your clutch to control your speed when you're going slow -- walking speed. You will do this in several range exercises both going straight and in various turning maneuvers. At slow speeds, your clutch controls your speed. Once it's fully released, your throttle does.
    (Yermo's FB buddy)

  3. Congratulations on this! I'm a woman who got my license when I turned 50, almost 6 years ago. It's the most fun I've ever had! I bought a used GZ 250 to start and moved up to a larger bike after about a year, and have put 20,000 miles on it in the last 5 years. The difference between shifting a bike and a manual car was no problem at all. I'm looking forward to hearing how you do on the riding course.

    1. Thank you! You're an inspiration. How did you find riding the GZ? What made you want a larger bike? I'm hoping you're right that I'll adapt to the difference. And I'll definitely post about how things go. In fact, I'm thinking I'm going to blog all about how I learn and how my friends Duncan and Yermo coach me as I go. :)