For some time now, Gwen has been planning to sell her car and replace it with a scooter (probably a Stella). But to even test-drive a scooter larger than 50 cc, you need to have a motorcycle-operator’s license. Since I’d want to be able to ride her scooter (even if, as she plans to, she puts pink flames on it), I’d need to be licensed as well. So this past weekend we took a motorcycle safety course.
That was interesting.
Gwen chose this place because they offer training on scooters, which she thought would be more relevant. In this case, perhaps not. It turns out the scooters they had were 50-cc automatics, and she’s planning on getting a 150-cc manual. So after the first couple of exercises, we asked to be switched to the bikes everyone else was riding (Kawasaki Eliminators–an intimidating name for a laid-back 125-cc bike–stripped of their turning signals and mirrors), and the instructors agreed. Gwen, the diminutive thing that she is, was put off by the size of even small motorcycles, but quickly decided that was the lesser of two evils, and once she was on it, she was comfortable enough with it–but she still plans on getting a scooter.
I think this was only the second time since college that I’ve had any type of formal instruction, and it was very different from the normal academic environment. The big difference is that we were all being treated like adults: we were being moved along quickly and we were expected to “get it”–to not need to be told every little thing. The instructors were telling us we needed to go faster a lot more frequently than they were telling us we needed to go slower. Although it’s not really possible to ingrain good habits in a weekend-long course, that’s really what they were trying to do–they wanted us to have the reflexes to do the right thing in real-world situations, rather than (or really, in addition to) showing that we intellectually understood a set of instructions. There’s a lot of stuff that’s equivalent to learning how to pat your head and rub your belly, and you really don’t nail that in two days.
It was interesting how my experience as a cyclist helped and hindered me on a motorcycle. For the most part, I think I had an advantage in terms of handling, but for low-speed maneuvers (especially the “U-turn box”) handling is sufficiently different that my instincts didn’t do me any good. Where cycling was really interfering was on the controls: On a bicycle, your left hand controls your front brake and front derailleur, your right the rear brake and rear derailleur. On a motorcycle, your left hand controls the clutch, your right hand the front brake, and hey, you’ve got to use your feet–left foot shifts, right foot works the rear brake. I’m accustomed to setting my right foot down at stops (my left foot is my good foot), but when you’re coming to a stop, you need your foot on the brake, so I was doing a little left-foot down, then left-foot up and right-foot down dance.
At the end of the course, we all underwent an evaluation that, if we passed, would allow us to dispense with taking the practical exam at DPS, get us lower insurance rates, and (perversely) allow us to disregard the helmet law. Now that we’re been conscientious enough to take a class to learn how to ride safely, we can be reckless. We all passed.