After 20 years of just getting by with an occasional learner’s permit, or sub-50cc scooter, I decided to get my motorcycle endorsement. To be clear, I haven’t been driving for 20 years without the correct license; I drove a motorcycle in Missouri, legally, with a string of learner’s permits, 20 years ago, then a 15 year gap, after which I’ve been driving, legally, my sub-50cc-class electric motor scooter. What I was lacking was any sort of formal training in how to properly and safely operate a real bike.
I’d done some reading on the subject, back when I first got a bike, but have never been really sure if how I interpreted the written word, matched up with what I was supposed to be doing, in the real world. When I made the decision on which course to take, I went for the true intro course, rather than the experienced rider course, for that reason. I had a vision of getting out to the intermediate course, and having them say ‘no, that’s completely not how you do that’, and wasting my enrollment. I figured better safe than sorry, start at the start and work your way up, as all the practice you can get, the better.
I went to a two day session at South Seattle Community College, which by the way, has a really nice little free arboretum, and some sort of chinese garden (not free) that I didn’t have a chance to check out because it was only open during the class, whereas the arboretum was (I got there very early the first day, because I had to leave early to avoid the Rock’n’Roll marathon, and came back early the second day to take pictures…). The first half of both days was classroom instruction, some lecture, some videos, and the written test. It is a very easy test, that covers stuff specific to a motorcycle; it doesn’t repeat general rules of the road stuff you should have demonstrated knowledge of when you got your primary license. The second half of each day was on-the-bike practice and instruction.
And they were two very full days, 9am to 6:30pm, with an hour lunch in the middle (and reasonably regular bathroom breaks). When it started pouring rain on the first day, it change nothing, we kept standing and talking or riding, which I really liked, since riding in the rain has always been one of my nervousness points. Turns out my rain pants work very well; so glad I picked them up the day before class. The people who had just worn jeans and non-waterproof jackets were miserably cold by the time the rain stopped. Really, if you wore the right clothes, it was perfect. The rain to give you experience and familiarity with it, without the worry of being on the street, and just enough sun to dry everything out later in the day. Day two, there were a few sprinkles before we went into the classroom, but by the time we were on the range, it was sun and light clouds. I didn’t remember to slather my neck with sunblock, and I do have a fair bit of red there today. d’ohwell.
The class started out with 9 people, 4 women and 4 other men, but by Sunday, one of the guys had dropped out. I dunno why, since he wasn’t one of the people having a harder time. In one of those odd co-inky-dinks, two students and the instructor, were all from the same general area in Hawaii. Two of the guys knew each other before the class, and would come together in one car. One of the women was a Physicians Assistant, who does some sort of back related work, pestering me to lift with my legs, so she wouldn’t have to operate on my back some day, when we were cleaning up after it was all over (nicely and with appropriate humor). One woman was there to learn on a scooter.
Given my initial fears of incompetence, it was interesting to see how much difficulty some of the others were having with stuff that I don’t remember ever having problems with, and in contrast, the parts I had difficulty with that others mastered to perfection. One of the pair of guys guys had a devil of a time getting started in first gear, and would often stall out multiple times before starting a practice run, and a devil of a time trying to find neutral from first (he seemed quite grateful when I showed him how to more easily find it coming down from 2nd). The slow speed u-turn was my most problematic maneuver, with me having a hard timing fully committing to leaning against the turns. That and keeping my eyes up, instead of looking for all the marking on the pavement we had to follow. If they had nice floating hologram tech, it would have been easier =p
I definitely seemed to impress my classmates, who would often ask me for advice when the instructors were otherwise engaged, and during the breaks. I pointed out to those getting discouraged by my seeming ease at some things, that I had been driving a scooter for many years, and did have some experience on a full bike as well. In the end, several of the most timid riders at the start, ended up getting perfect scores on both written and practical tests, whereas I only got 100 on the written (94% on the practical).
If anything was truly annoying about the class, it was how the instructor would keep bugging me to not cover my brakes. While I understand the value of preventing nervous people from over-reacting during their initial learning period, it’s considered a valuable habit for driving in the real world.
This morning, I’m still feeling the effects of 10 hours driving over 2 days. It makes me wonder at how someone must feel after driving a bike on the trip to Sturgis, that spans multiple full days of driving. Now I just have to get my pass card down to the DMV and get a new photo, and I’ll be good to ride. When the weather improves =p