Saturday, March 15, 2014

Easing On Down the Road: Basic Riding Class, Day Three

Today was the first day of the range work for the Basic (Motorcycle) Riding Class I'm taking. Was it tough? Parts of it. Was it fun? All of it.

I did have some trouble with bits and pieces but mostly, I feel like a bad-ass. :)

We started by getting in touch with where things are and worked the process of starting the motorcycle. Did I get everything right? Nope. The first time I tried to start the bike, I was a little nervous and forgot to engage the clutch. The bike stayed nice and dead, and I felt like an idiot. Once I engaged the clutch, all was well. 

Having driven a manual transmission car for many years, I am familiar with the idea of clutch and gas and how the two work together. So, it wasn't too tough to get the hang of starting off from standstill. Engage the clutch and there's power to the back wheel. You start moving. Roll on the throttle a little and you are good to go. My trouble came when I tried to roll on the throttle without using the clutch to mitigate. I would jerk forward.

Here's the thing. As I suspected, I am fine with foot first, hand second for a car. But, hand first, foot second, and rolling the throttle instead of pressing on the gas gave my brain a good shake. It will be a while before I'm completely used to it, for sure. Figuring out the way you do clutch and throttle is an art form. They should give PhD's on exactly what needs to happen. After a while, I finally started to get a real inkling. Actually, starting was easy. I got how to release the clutch and get into what they call the friction zone, pretty easily. But in moments where you're breaking and you need to clutch and release the throttle at the same time and moments when you are accelerating and you need to use the throttle? They can be very tough.

I liked that the instructors said that the bike would tell you when you were doing things right because everything would feel smooth. And conversely, you'd know you were doing something wrong if things felt rough or jerky. Once I got the hang of the transitions, things got a lot more silky. 

One of the biggest things I had trouble with was maintaining good control while going slowly. Consequently, I also had trouble knowing exactly what to press or lift or squeeze once the trouble started. So, if the bike started shaking, I sometimes didn't know what to do. I ended up drilling into my head that I need to engage the clutch and it helped. The biggest trouble I had was when I came up on the people in front of me, too quickly. If they were going slowly, and I got to them, I had trouble getting my brain and body to engage and do what needed to be done to fix the problem. That will need to be something I learn from practicing, but I think it's vitally important. I didn't necessarily need to stop in the moment, you see. I needed to slow down and I needed to know how to do that right when it needed to be done. Thinking quickly when you are unfamiliar with the controls can be a challenge. Big time.

The parts I loved. 

First, I feel like a bad-ass. And here's why. When I was borrowing gear from Yermo, he showed me a pair of riding boots that had big plastic tabs on the sides. "These are for when you lean over far enough that you scrape along the ground," he said. "Cool," I thought at the time. "But I'll never need those because I don't ever plan on leaning far enough over to scrape anything on the ground." I couldn't be more wrong. Today, I leaned over on some of the turns to such an extent that I did indeed scrape my boots. And now, of course, I know I'm going to need those very cool boots. As a side note, both instructors commented on how well and how far I leaned to take some of the turns.

Second, Riding at speed. Yermo and Duncan have both told me that once you get some speed, the bike rides straight pretty much by itself. And yep. That's absolutely true. And I love riding at speed. Everything was tons easier - maneuvering, shifting, turning, pressing, etc. Moving around the cones in slalom style felt easy, natural, just a joy. And I was able to press into the handlebars pretty easily to get around those babies. What great fun. And a side note pressing into the handlebars. It sounds completely counter-intuitive to press the handlebars in the direction you want to go, but it is absolutely what you need to do. And you don't turn the handlebars when you press. You just press out and a little down against the grip. That was confusing to me until I figured it out, and it got lots easier.

Third, looking at where you are going and pressing into a turn (I have the feeling lots of people don't really believe that pressing into a turn [counter steering] will turn you at speed, but boy is it an accurate description of what happens.) I love this. Also, you don't look where you are. You look where you want to go/turn. Doing that somehow automagically makes the bike go towards where you want to turn.
One of the exercises was to ride the perimeter of the range and shift from second to third and back again multiple times. This exercise really helped get me used to shifting. I had been trepidatious about shifting and my ability to shift up or down or whatever, but some time spent riding while doing it over and over again helped tremendously.

Getting used to how to break properly was a challenge. All four limbs need to be doing something and doing it in the proper order. Yikes. And then, you have to remember to first engage the front brake (right hand) and then once you feel the forward momentum, you need to squeeze progressively more. 

Seeing other people fall. One of the women in the class locked up her front wheel on one of the quick stops we were required to do. The bike went sideways, and she flew through the air. She said she was okay but wow, it looked scary. 

Final thoughts:
Now, all I need to know is can I pass? Will I pass? And how long before I get my own motorcycle? I can definitely see how the right one is incredibly important. I know for myself, the Suzukis we are using in class will not do for me. I'm going to need to lean forward more because the straight up and down sitting, absolutely doesn't work. It makes me slouch and more than an hour doing that will kill my back. 

As I gain experience riding, I will get a better idea of what I want in a bike. Do I want speed? Do I want comfort? Do I want maneuverability? And what trade-offs will I make for any of these? I'll answer these questions much later, but they are already flitting around in my brain. Luckily, I have experts in my corner who will help me find and nurture my motorcycle and my motorcycling habit. :)

All in all, though, I wouldn't trade today for the world (and big thanks to Dayle for dropping by and taking pics). There's a freedom to riding that I didn't realize I was missing. Various friends have said, "You're going to feel free when you are on the bike." "Sure," I thought. But boy, I didn't really know until I leaned into a turn. Freedom isn't quite it, though. It's more like soaring. 

Tomorrow, we finish the range work and do our test for getting the waiver to get our M Class license. With luck, my next post will start with the words, "I did it!"

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