“Squeeze in the clutch, find the friction zone and roll forward with the bike, letting the engine do all of the work. “ Seven out of eight beginning motorcycle riding class participants followed those instructions with success. The eighth? She ended up under a dropped motorcycle, trying to ease her bruised ego and rear end while the instructor pulled a slightly dented, 300 pound Honda Rebel off of her and back into a standing position. Thankful for the full-helmet that shielded the tears of frustration that threatened to overflow, rider number eight dusted off her new boots, gave a thumbs up to her classmate and took a deep breath, more determined than ever to get the motorcycle riding endorsement added to her driver’s license.
While I would like to claim that this anecdote was one I witnessed and was able to honestly retell in a third-person narrative, sadly, my still sore bum says that a first-person telling is really the more accurate one.
A few months ago, Erin was looking for someone to take a motorcycle riding class with her. Thad and I had just moved to the DC area and I was dying to get some of my own things going around here. When she mentioned the class, I thought it sounded like a fun little adventure. Heck, we are headed to Asia in the spring- the land of two-wheeled transportation! After finally getting ourselves organized, Erin and I signed up with NOVA to take the three-day course over Labor Day weekend. As September grew closer, I got a bit more nervous about this very out-of-my-comfort-zone undertaking, but the registration had been submitted and my payment processed, so I was all in!
The first night of the course was just classroom work. With teachers as parents, school has always been a second home to me. Early mornings, evenings, weekends and breaks were spent hanging out in their classrooms as they prepared lessons, graded papers, worked on union issues, helped students and any number of other things. (So much for the myth that teaching is an 8-3, nine-months of the year job, eh?) Starting this little adventure off behind a desk was perfectly fine by me! After reading the manual, watching the videos and answering seventy-five questions in preparation of the eventual written test, I came away from the evening with some very key information. First of all, I learned that dogs often like to run at motorcycles. The book was very clear on the fact that a rider should NEVER kick at the dog. I am going to chalk that one up in the “good rule for life in general” category. The other spectacular piece of knowledge that I walked away from class with Thursday night was that carrying a passenger on your bike is just like bobsledding. Perfect! As an avid bobsledder, this simile has cleared up all concerns I had about adding 175 pounds to the back of my bike.
With class done, questions answered and a series of acronyms memorized, it was time to get to the heart of the training- the motorcycle riding. Being raised in Idaho, one might assume that I have at least a bit of background knowledge when it comes to motorcycles, but one would be very, very wrong! Let’s just say that Saturday’s learning curve was less of a curve and more of a vertical line- headed straight up. My only saving grace was I did know how to drive a standard transmission, so the basics of shifting were already crammed in my cranium. Some of the points on my learning curve graph included the fact that you have to twists the throttle towards you to make the bike go (in my head, it should be a twist forward, as that IS the direction you want to go!) and while it is best to always use both brakes, the front brake is the stronger, go-to brake (exactly the opposite of riding a bike, where a front –brake only earns the rider a rather nice forehead road rash). Leaving Saturday’s session with a smile on my face counts as a success, as I had serious doubts about who this was all going to turn out within the first ten minutes of the day!
Sunday dawned and I rolled out of bed, much sorer than I had anticipated. Apparently, a 300-pound bike inflicts a bit more pain than my adrenaline-filled body had registered the day before. With long-sleeved shirt, gloves and boots donned, it was time to see this exploit through its end. First it was back to the classroom for the written part of the assessment process. The test consisted of fifty multiple choice questions. Luckily, I remembered that not kicking the dog was important riding advice, as it came up on the exam. Ten minutes later, Erin and I, having both glided through the questions, sat waiting for the real challenge of the day to begin.
Our riding day started with the dreaded box- basically a painted square in which the rider has to make a giant, tight turn in each direction. It was an evil way for the instructors to start the day, by far being the hardest skill we would work on all weekend long. After a few more hours of new techniques and practice and several gallons of fluid lost to the heat radiating of the pavement, the dreaded skills-test was upon us. The test consisted of four skill-sets that each had to be checked off, one rider at a time. The assessment works much like a golf game- at the end, you want to have the least number of points. A score of twenty-one is a failing score, so anything lower is considered acceptable. As luck would have it, the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad box-skill was the first on the list. Doing my best Michael Jordan impersonation, with tongue out and a look of total concentration, I nailed the box! With a bit more confidence going into the rest of the test, I successfully completed each skill section. Praying for a score of less than twenty-one, I was thrilled with my final total of five points! That’s right- five! Those were penalty points because I went to slowly through one of the sections of the test, but I am more than okay with that. Not only was this score lower than I had anticipated, but Erin and I both had some of the lowest scores in the class! (The one guy who had been riding for years and just decided to finally take the class so he could legally, who got a score of zero, doesn’t count!)
What does this all mean? It means that I am now officially allowed to ride motorcycles. I went to the Alexandria DMV today (that four-hour nightmare is the making of a whole new blog entry) and in seven to ten days will be the proud owner of my motorcycle-endorsed driver’s license from the Commonwealth of Virginia. While I won’t be hitting the freeways anytime soon, nor am I even sure I ever want to own a bike (scooters- now there is a possibility!), this was a really great opportunity for me. It has been a long time since I undertook something that was so far out of my comfort zone, but it was great to complete the course and feel like I had really met a huge challenge head-on.
What’s next? I’m thinking bobsledding!