Sunday, March 16, 2014

Easing On Down the Road: Basic Riding Course Day Four

I did it! I passed the course. After four days of classwork and range work, I have my waiver from the State of Maryland and I can go to the MVA at any time (for the next six months) and get my M Class license. Did it go perfectly? Nope. Was it enough to get me there? You bet.

So, here's how the day started. I showed up and was called a Motorcycle Mama by the instructors, as in "Oh look. Here's the Motorcycle Mama." I've never been sure on the exact difference between "Motorcycle Mama" and "Biker Chick," so I asked. "Well, a Biker Chick is stereotypical, bikini top and tight leather and not generally much of a rider," said Rick the instructor. "A Motorcycle Mama knows what's she's doing." I was flattered but uncertain I deserved the compliment. I was rather nervous about my ability to pull this off.

We started the day with more cornering exercises. I did pretty well and felt comfortable on almost all of them (the 90° turn, the 135° turn, etc.), except, The Box. The Box requires that you do tight, slow turns in a sort of figure eight. You aren't allowed to ride out over the lines or put your foot down to steady yourself. And it was going to be on the test. Yikes! The thing to remember with this exercise is to counterweight. Did I remember to do it? Nope. Not the first or second time through. Instead, I rolled the throttle (the exact wrong thing to do) and went traipsing way out of the box. The third time, I remembered to counterweight and lo' and behold, I did fine.

Then, we learned riding over obstacles (easy peasy as long as you remember to lift off the seat, roll on the throttle for the front tire but roll off the throttle for the rear tire). When I get my own motorcycle, I will need one that sits me farther forward than the GZ250. It was hard to pull myself up out of the seat at speed.

Next came stopping. The exercise was, "get into second gear as quickly as possible, go until your front wheel runs across these cones and then stop as quickly and safely as you can." Here's where they dubbed me a speed demon. "Slow down," Rich said. "You have plenty of speed. You'll meet the 15 mile an hour requirement, no problem. Don't make it harder on yourself than you have to." He was right, but I still sped up too much. I can already tell that throttle control will be one of my life lessons when it comes to riding.

Before the test, Rick gave me a few words of encouragement. "You like cornering. You lean great and you press perfectly. You're going to be just fine." Amazingly, very few of those words would have meant much before this past Monday, but today, they filled me with hope and a wee bit of confidence.

After more practicing and more riding, it was time to take the test. The first part of the test was the box, followed by a swerve, followed immediately by the full stop (quickly and safely). I went into the box pretty well and mostly remembered to counterweight. I did put my foot down once but then I tried to follow Rick and Les' advice. Don't let one mistake mess up the rest of your test. If you screw something up, just keep going. So, after I put my foot down, I made very sure that I didn't run out of the boundaries of the box (you'd fail the exercise if you did both of these things as part of your test) and then went on to the swerve. That part went great. Then, I rode over and did the stop. Rick told me that I was still coming in too fast and didn't need to be, but that I did fine.

The last part of the test was the 90° turn followed immediately by the 135° turn. They were looking for a slow going up to the turn, a look to the end of the turn, and under power for the whole of the tight turn. Then, we needed to roll on the throttle and come to a controlled stop at the end of the course.

At the end of my ride, Les gave me a thumb's up and I parked my bike next to Matt's (I tested second). As I rode by, Les called out, "Yep, Izolda. You wimped out." I asked him what he meant, and he said that the entire weekend, I'd been taking turns at speed and leaning and pressing really well, but then when it came time to test, I took the turn the slowest I had ever taken it. And, it lost me points. I did it pretty well, but not quite fast enough for what the State requires. Still, it was enough to get me there. Two out of the class did not pass, and I admit I am happy not to be among their number. They will have opportunities to re-test, which is great, but I'm sure they are not happy to have to come back and do it again.

In the end, I lost eight out of a fifteen possible lost points. So, I passed, but I admit that I would have felt better if I hadn't put my foot down (I don't think I really needed to; I just got nervous in the moment) and if I had sped up just a wee bit in that turn. I knew I had the turn. I was going to be able to do it, but I let the nervousness get the better of me and that bums me out. But then again, Rick's last bit of wisdom was, "Better a little slow, than a lot dead." Words to live by. Now, all I have to do is practice, practice, practice. And oh, did I mention, practice? Looking very forward to that. :)

In the end, I'd say the class is a really helpful to a beginner rider. You learn some really good lessons. If you don't have a qualified someone to work with you, then taking the class is a must. Plus, you get this card that tells your insurance company that you've taken a Motorcycle Safety Course, and sometimes that can lower your liability insurance.

Tomorrow, I go to the MVA and trade in my certificate for a new license. On it, I will have a C for car driver and an M for Motorcycle rider. Never has one little letter made me so proud.

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