By September 24, 2005

Motorcycle Safety Foundation Beginner's Course notes, days 1 and 2

I’ve been really looking forward to my Motorcycle Safety Foundation course that I signed up for on the 1st. Last night was our three hour classroom session, with the first day of riding this morning.

There are twenty four people in our class, and they cover a wide range of experience, backgrounds, and personalities. There was a college-aged couple who joined together — a birthday gift to the gal — and unbeknownst to them had registered in the same class as one of their best friends. They were definitely the youngest. There was an older American man with his younger Japanese wife: they’d both ridden, although she more recently than he, in Japan. Two ladyfriends were down from NoVA, since they were unable to register for any classes up there until June of next year. Gay, one of the ladies, was a Harley rider back before it was Coolâ„¢ to be a biker chick. Marylou, the other lady, just bought a 249cc Vespa scooter.

So, one of the things that surprised me the most about the course was how much it contradicted the information presented in the VA DMV manual and evil test. For example, the VA manual states that the ideal riding position behind a car is directly behind it, so you’re in the rear view mirror. Makes sense. The MSF course noted that it’s best to stay in the left part of the lane, so that you show up in a driver’s left side mirror.

I think the MSF advice is pretty poor, except for one special case (which I’ll get into in a moment). There are very very few people who actually use their side mirrors. Also, if you’re in the left hand part of a lane, you’re limiting your ability to maneuver without changing lanes. What if there’s a 2×4 in the left and center side of your lane? Lastly, by moving to the left you open up the right hand side for cars to encroach into your lane. Stay in the middle at all times, and maintain the maximum amount of visibility and maneuverability.

The only time I agree with the MSF’s advice is when you’re dealing with vehicles that don’t have rear view mirrors, or their rear viewing area is obstructed. Say, by a trailer, filled in/blackened rear windows like on a cargo van, or a SUV full of balloons headed to a kindercare party with Maternal Unit on her cell phone. Then it makes sense to be on the left hand side, but only long enough to get away from them.

There were a few more examples of how the classroom part could have been done differently. It’s not very interesting, at least not as interesting as today’s riding activities, but I’ll lodge one more complaint. The four instructors (two to each riding group) hurried through the material. They gave us a cheat sheet for the written test that’s given out at the end of the 3rd day’s training, and then had us find the answers in our coursebooks. Quite frankly, some of the questions weren’t answered properly. One question was, “why is the first lead time [between you and another vehicle] 2 seconds?” The answer should be, “because anything closer is not enough time for the brain to process the threat and react accordingly.” Furthermore, it should be 3 seconds, but whatever. The answer accepted by the instructors and in the coursebook? “It is considered to be a minimum distance when conditional are ideal.” No, no, NO you fucktards, you just responded to a WHY question with a WHAT answer!

Anyway, on to the good stuff. Until today, I’d only sat on two motorcycles in my life. One of them being the Yamaha FZ6 I sat on yesterday :). I’ve never piloted a motorcycle. I am a complete newbie, other than the potentially obsessive research I conduct on every aspect of motorcycle riding, from crash statistics to equipment to bikes to training programs. So, today had me a bit nervous. I knew that we’d be on “little” bikes — bikes with either 150cc engines or 250cc engines. My bike, and most of the bikes, really, had 250cc engines. In comparison, the FZ6 I’m looking at is a 600cc bike. It’s popular opinion that a 250cc bike is fine for putzing around town, but anything less than 600 is questionable for highway use.

If I had doubts about the MSF course last night, today made everything worth it. Every exercise built on the previous ones. Our very first drill was super easy but still had a lot of gems: it was how to properly mount a motorcycle. First, grab the front brake. Put your right leg over the bike, then take the weight off the side stand. Retract the side stand. Easy!! It was exactly what I needed, as I was definitely nervous last night.

Next drill? Same as the first one, but now we were going to start our bikes up. Complete drill one. Turn the ignition on, enable the engine starter switch, hold in the clutch, and then fire the electric starter. Wait until the instructor isn’t looking, then rev your 250cc engine like you’re motherfucking James Dean. Grin like an idiot.

The drills progressed naturally from there — partially engage the clutch and “power walk” the bike forward 20 yards. Put it in neutral and push the bike around (that part sucked, my manhood was all smashed against the tank) and go back the way you came. Repeat. Then ride 20 yards instead of doing the power walk. Then turn in an easy loop instead of pushing it. By the end of the day, we were going from a dead stop to two U-turns then an S turn, then a tight left hand turn, then crossing a figure 8 to do it again on the other side of the course.

My favorite drill was the slalom. It had some parts that I wasn’t so good at — the clutch pedal on the left side of the bike has a teeny tiny knob that you use to shift up or down. I wore my Doc Martens today and I had a very hard time putting my toe box underneath the gear shift knob in order to go up gears. So, we started out from a dead stop, went to second gear in a straightaway, and then circled around the course in an oval shape. Starting with the next pass, we would slalom between about eight cones on the first straightaway. Long sweeping left turn, then another eight or so cones in a tighter formation on the next straightaway, then another long sweeping left turn. Repeat. It was a little shaky at first, but by the end of the drill I was leaning forward and tucking my knees in to blast into the turns faster than the time before. Fun stuff.

All in all, we put about seven miles on our bikes today over a five hour period of time. That’s a lot of course time, especially considering that we were moving 20 yards at a time at first. I was totally exhausted by the end of the day. The instructors congratulated us — no collisions, no one dumped their bike or fell, and no one was asked to leave the course. It was a perfect day to ride — overcast, slightly warm, with a breeze. I hope that tomorrow is as great.

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1 Comment on "Motorcycle Safety Foundation Beginner's Course notes, days 1 and 2"

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  1. configuratrix says:

    Glad the exercise/drill day was so great.

    Totally different note, intriguing review of this weekend’s Battlestar Galactica, but I take it y’all had stopped watching it altogether?
    Though it might not mean as much if you hadn’t seen / don’t remember the original ep.