Or, Missing the Certificate
In case you haven’t guessed from the title, I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Motorcycle Rider Course : Riding and Street Skills, and did not pass. Actually, I am not too surprised at the outcome. There are many things to learn and much has to go right to succeed. Sometimes things happen just right. Other times? Well, have you ever heard of Murphy?
The classroom portion went really well. Though not used to getting up at 6:00am and then having a fourty minute commute, I was able to maintain concentration through all of the modules, MSF speak for sections. Both video and course workbook were absorbed in due course. This part progressed quite smoothly. The result? I only missed one question on the written exam, though I have no idea which question that might have been.
The skills portion, however, went entirely different. Problems of one kind or another surfaced, quite reqularly, too. Blame, though, is a shared thing, and it can be all too easily distributed. In this case, I had quite a bit to go around.
Before I discuss the problems, let me set a little background. The course is designed to learn things in “building blocks.” Each new skill builds upon those previously learned. This makes sense. You don’t learn to run before first crawling and walking. Motorcycling is the same. Simple skills are learned that are then combined into more complex actions and at greater speeds.
Throughout all of the other problems, one that I could control kept recurring, more so than the others at any rate. For the better part of my life I have had a habit. This particular habit does not carry well into the world of motorcycles. The habit? Watching were I am going to put my feet. Yes, something as simple as looking down. What happens when you do this on a motorcycle? If you look down, you go down. I didn’t go down. Well, not because of this anyway. But, it does tend to make things unstable. This bit me a couple of times during the skills evaluation, along with some other things.
I’m getting ahead of myself here. So, I’ll backtrack to the first day of practice and start from there. Actually, it started rather well. Starting with the engine off, we straddle walked our motorcycles from one side of the course to the other and did the same thing coming back. Next, we were assigned to a partner and took turns pushing the other across the course and back, still with the engine off. Between each of the exercises, or at least most of them, there were twentyone in all, we would get off the bikes and meet with the instructors for a brief description of what came next. Once we got to the motorized exercieses, an instructor would demonstrate the exercise and the route we were to take through the course. It is rather difficult to do something if you don’t know what it is you are supposed to be doing. I had no problem understanding the instructions and … I’m getting ahead of myself again.
The motorcycle I first started on was a Nighthawk 250 of an unknown vintage. It was a functional motorcycle and did me well for a while. After one of the exercises, though, it decided it had had enough. After the motorized exercises, we rode back to a staging area. This is where we would park the motorcycles, dismount and go listen to the instructions for the next exercise or go take a break. The procedure for ending some of the earlier exercises went something like this. The riders would circle the permiter of the course, heading for the designated area to regroup, as it was called. Each rider is assigned a place to park as they come in. We hit the engine cut-off as soon as we are at our designated place and, when instructed, dismounted. All is going well.
After receiving the instruction for the next exercise, we each return to our motorcycles and prepare to begin the exercise. To begin the exercise, we are to start our motorcycles, wait for the neutral gear check, and then move out one by one as instructed. Well, I couldn’t do that. The Nighthawk had had enough. The transmission would not go into neutral, no matter how hard I tried. It would go into second, but not into neutral, even when the instructor tried. So, the range aid, a person assisting the instructor for the skills practice, took over with me while the instructor went back to the other riders who were out practicing without her. A quick check by the range aid revealed that a swap was in order. So, I straddle walk the motorcycle over to the large storage container the motorcycles are delivered to the course in and the range aid begins preparing another motorcycle. It was cold and needs a bit of warm up time with the choke before I depart. Eventually, I am able to rejoin the exercise in progress, though after missing most of it. Remember what I said about building blocks.
The next motorcycle I am assigned is a CB125, which is a bit smaller and more cramped than the Nighthawk had been. It also seemed a bit tempermental. It could be that I just wasn’t used to it, or to motorcycles in general, but the throttle seemed to me to be a bit off. Maybe it was just cold. Maybe I just did not control it delicately enough. In any case, I would let out the clutch and it would try to die on me. Rolling on the throttle a little didn’t seem to help, though letting out the clutch would send the rpm skyrocketing. The range aid mentioned something about needing to be very ginger with the throttle. In the meantime, I was fighting the throttle and the choke, but not for very long.
A couple of exercise passed without much of a change. I was learning some new things; still having some problems looking where I shouldn’t, though starting to get the hang of it. I was starting to look where I was supposed to, fighting the habit, and winning on occassion. We received instructions for the next exercise and were sent back to the motorcycles. The instructions came. “Mount up.” “Start your engines.” But, mine wouldn’t start. A check by the instructor confirmed I was doing the FINE-C (Fuel, Ignition, Neutral, Engine cut-off and Choke/Clutch) procedure properly. Either the battery or the electric start had died. It was time for a swap. The motorcycle was walked back to the storage containers, a task that was not rapidly accomplished due to starting from the far corner of the practice range. Once there, warm up of the replacement began. With my new mount prepared, I was ready to reenter the fray, again missing most of the practice. Do you see a pattern here?
The new motorcycle was again a CB125 and sported a similar temperment. Remember the problem with throttle control? It was back and as bad as before. Throughout all of this, I had been able to listen to the instruction, but unable to execute sufficiently on what I had heard. This motorcycle was the same. No, it wasn’t swapped out again. Not yet anyway. The exercise we were beginning was the figure eight. Each rider was supposed to time the gaps and use their throttle to control crossing the path of the other traffic. If you cannot control the throttle, that gets downright scary. I did make one gap, though, but pulled off course to get the throttle checked. This is not getting any easier. I am also missing much practice.
The first day had many changes, many missed or mostly missed practice sessions. A dead gearbox, two dead starters or batteries and recurring throttle problems hindered progress, combined with the direction of looking problem, of course. All together, I missed most of three exercise on the first day of practice. Would it have helped to have had the practice? I know it wouldn’t have hurt. That came the second day.
Maybe it was a missed building block. Maybe I didn’t use fine enough control. Well, it was definitely that. On the second day, I again got a CB125, though, after a bit of familiarization between us, me and my new mount got along just fine. Or, we did until I did something I shouldn’t have done. It happened during a braking exercise, the emergency stop exercise to be precise. Just before this we had practiced locking the rear wheel and riding out the skid. I had it down pat. Well, mostly anyway. This was a bit different. Instead of using just the rear brake, we were supposed to use both front and rear brakes to stop in the shortest distance possible. I did three tries at this, the second going pretty well. I thought it went well. The instructor thought I could do just a little better and told me to be a little more aggressive next time. I was more agressive, too aggressive in fact. There is a fine line between not enough and too much. I crossed it. The front brake locked. The handlebars were not perfectly square. The motorcycle stopped quickly. I didn’t. As the motorcycle went horizontal, I took a nice little tumble over the top. It didn’t land on me and I didn’t land on it.
According to one of the spectators, the other riders waiting their turn, I acted like I did it on purpose. The motorcycle hit the pavement. I hit the ground, rolled a couple of times and was back on my feet before I stopped moving. I guess it would have looked good from a distance. I could have skipped the close up view. Thanks to my Aerostitch, I wasn’t really injured either, though my arm and elbow were a bit sore. At the next break, I went to my truck and took an Ibuprofen to ease the ache that remained. At lunch, I took another. For the most part, the remaining exercises went ok. This one would haunt me later.
An evaluation test scores you on how well you perform various skills tests, skills similar to those that were practiced that morning and the day before. The looking problem resurfaced a couple of times. The slow portion had a foot down on the cone weave and again on one of the sharp turns. With the quick stop, I wasn’t so quick. Remembering the morning tumble, I stopped. I stopped straight, with the left foot down. I didn’t stop quick enough. There were some problems on a couple of other areas also. There was nothing really major, but the points are cumulative. I accumulated enough that I didn’t pass.
The weekend is over and it is back to work again. I learned a lot. I had some practice time, but not enough. Not having missed so much practice would have helped. That what I missed was built on later without my having the proper foundation did not help my situation. Not having an aching arm and elbow might have helped as much or more. Though it happened in the morning and I am writing this at night, the elbow still aches. I should get it looked at.