Little Red Ride

Or, My First Bike

Yes. I did get a bike. No. I have not yet passed the MRC:RSS.

Hmmm. How do I approach this? My original goal was to get decent gear, pass the MRC:RSS, get my license and then buy my first bike. I still want to do all those things. Only the order has changed. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it, though I can provide a bit more detail.

After several months of not being able to take the MRC:RSS, I was getting tired of waiting for a chance. I could just try to wait it out, but I didn’t want to wait another year. I had started waiting last year for this year. I didn’t want to put it off for another.

I still believe in the value of the education provided by the course. I am thankful for the knowledge I did receive from the portions of the course I was able to take. If I did not have at least some foundation, I wouldn’t have altered my path the way I did. But, I did and I’m not sorry either.

I had taken a look at a local bike that would fit me fairly well. It was a Suzuki Bandit 600S, and it was red. But, I didn’t get it. During the discussion with the owner and a friend of his, I became a bit apprehensive about it. It had been sitting for a while, several months in fact. I asked about what he did before storing it and he told me, but a specific piece of information I was looking for was missing. Later in the conversation, I asked if they ever put StaBil in the tank. The owner mentioned that the dealer might have done that. It was obvious that he didn’t know what it was for. His friend clued him in.

This was to be my first bike and I was looking at it, alone but for my wife. What did I know about evaluating a used bike? Nothing. That’s what. While it may have been minimal, I didn’t want to risk carmelization and a possible carburetor overhaul. There was quite a bit of fuel that could have carmelized, too. It sloshed quite a bit when I rocked the bike sideways. Also, I haven’t heard of a dealer doing something that wasn’t asked for. Since the owner hadn’t asked, I doubt it had been added.

Progress on finding the right bike was slow. As I didn’t know what type of riding I would be doing, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted. Reading various reviews and comments on web sites gave me a few more choices. I knew I wanted a standard. That would give me a good balance between a crotch rocket and a cruiser, neither of which really attracted me. My readings pointed me towards either a Kawasaki ZR-7, a Suzuki Bandit 600S or a Suzuki SV650. I went to look at another Suzuki, an SV650 this time, a new one.

I visited a couple of dealers, each of which had a new SV650 in stock. One was blue. The other was red. I didn’t get either one, though a slight change in pricing might have changed thing. It wasn’t the price actually that caused me not to get it. The difference in prices allowed the circumstances to play out. Both dealers had given me out the door prices over the phone. I won’t debate the value of that practice here. Suffice it to say that the red one was slight higher priced than the blue. Blue is my favorite color, too. But, I digress.

After speaking with the dealer selling the blue SV650, I managed to get some time off work and went for a visit. The sales person I had spoken with was busy with another customer, along with their significant other. During a quick break from them, he asked if I would wait a bit while he finished with them. No problem. I could wait a little while and went to look at the bikes. I found the blue SV650 parked outside around the corner. I sat on it and tried out the fit. I walked around some more and tried it out again. I had been there a little while now and went back to check on the sales person.

My salesman was still busy with the original customer; I could wait a little more. After a bit more waiting, I heard something a customer should never hear. The original customer had walked outside to look at the bikes again and my salesman was in a heated argument with someone that I guessed to be the sales manager. They were cussing up a storm, in the showroom no less, and in front of several customers. This complete lack of professionalism really turned me off. Then, to top it off, my salesman started talking to another customer right in front of me. They obviously didn’t want my business. So, I left. Besides, the lean angle on the SV650 bothered my back a bit. I wasn’t sure I could take that for a long period of time anyway. I needed to look at something different.

Earlier in the year, back when the motorcycle show was in town, I managed to attend it. I attended another one when I went to Minnesota to pick up my Aerostich. Of course, I’m going to sit on some bikes at the show. That’s what we go for. Right? There always seemed to be one brand that I was more attracted to than the others. They’re a class act for sure. Quite a few people think so anyway. I did too, though I wasn’t sure I could swing it.

As with many motorcycle manufacturers, there are larger models and smaller models. My preference was for a particular larger model. My long-term goals would have picked a different model, but for a first bike, this one might work ok. The smaller model was nice, too, but I liked the larger just a bit more. Though the motorcycle shows had been months earlier, I started thinking about these bikes again. I should go take another look.

After a perusal through the manufacturers’ web site, a search of the dealer locator page and a few phone calls, I found a local dealer who had the model I was interested in. Though late in the day, I arranged to go take a look at it and try it on again. This I did. I tried it on and had a good conversation with the salesman. Again I heard something I had not expected to hear at a dealership. The salesman told me that I should not buy this as a first bike, but should buy a smaller Japanese bike to learn on. Unexpected? Definitely. But, it made me want to give them my business just on principal. The dealer was Laurel BWM in Westmont, IL and they only sell BMWs. He was telling me to give my money to another dealer. That’s unheard of, to me anyway. Rafe said that the R1100RL was just a bit too large for me to start on. He had an F650, but wanted to keep that as a loaner. It was hard to believe that they would sacrifice a sale for the good of their customers. Needless to say, I was impressed.

I did end up buying a BMW, but the smaller one. I am now the proud owner of a 1998 BMW F650, red, of course. Chicago Cycle had it in on consignment. The prior owner was moving to the West Coast, riding his GS, and couldn’t take the second bike. His loss is my gain. This will be the bike I learn to ride on. With less than 2000 miles on the odometer, a year left on the warranty and a price to match the SV650 I had looked at previously, it looked like a winner. That it was a dual-purpose and could handle whatever type of riding I might decide to try was a bonus I couldn’t pass up. The salesman, Mike Abt, made the purchase a very pleasant experience. Have you heard of low pressure? This was no pressure. He made me feel totally comfortable and I thank him for that. I can look back on the experience with fondness instead of regret.

My wife is not what I would call enthused about the idea of me riding a motorcycle. She is, however, supportive of my endeavors, even this one. I had called many of the dealers listed on the BMW dealer locator page, asking about what they had in or might be expecting, but found nothing. I was ready to call it quits and wait some more, when my wife suggested I try a few more. My call to Mike yielded the winner. He had received it just two days before I called. Thanks to my wife, my Little Red Ride is now parked in our garage.

To come full circle, I do still intend to pass the MRC:RSS. In the mean time, I will learn to ride and get my license. Either this year or the next, I will take the course again and fully expect to pass, even if I do get more bad bikes. Following that with the ERC will get my motorcycles adventures off to a good start.

A Long Time to Nowhere

Or, Still Missing the MRC:RSS

It has been several months now, but yes, I am still missing the MRC:RSS course. However, that is not to say that I didn’t pass the course. Well, I haven’t done that either. The thing is, I still haven’t retaken it. I know. I know. I wanted to take the course before doing anything else, before getting the motorcycle or my license. It’s just not working out that way.

I did have confirmed reservations in two courses in addition to the one I had first taken. But, circumstances conspired against me. That seems to be happening a lot lately. I hope it is not a sign of how most things related to motorcycle experience are going to go.

The first course I was scheduled to take was the single weekend version, Friday night and all day Saturday and Sunday. Well, I had something else that needed to be done that Sunday. Don’t you hate it when that happens? Yes. Yes. I know. Where are my priorities? Anyway, I didn’t bother to show for Friday night to check in. It wouldn’t be fair really. Someone else might be able to use the spot to actually pass the course. The most I would get is some more practice. Besides, my elbow wasn’t quite healed yet.

The second course was of the two-weekend variety, with afternoon sessions on Saturday and Sunday two weekends in a row. I really wanted to take the course. After all, I had missed the previous one and I did still want to pass the course before proceeding. But, then I did have something that needed to be done the following Sunday afternoon. You know. It was the Sunday afternoon when I would be taking the exam.

Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to make the following Sunday for the exam, I tried a different tack. I showed up as a walk-in for the morning session. The next four weekend mornings were open, no conflicts. Getting the registration would mean I wouldn’t have to worry about attending the afternoon session. I would be able to take the course and keep to my original plan of passing the MRC:RSS before taking the next step. Can you guess what happened?

The morning session wasn’t quite full. At least, not all of the confirmed registrants showed up. I was the second person there that morning, which gave me a good chance of getting in, or so I thought at the time. Then a few other people showed up. No, they were not confirmed registrants. But, for me, the effect was the same. They were confirmed walk-ins. And there were more of them than spaces available. No morning sessions for me.

While waiting for the instructors to arrive for the first session, I talked a bit with the person ahead of me in the queue. He was a young guy. Well, younger than me anyway. I think he was in his late teens, still a kid. His father had just bought a local motorcycle dealership and he wanted to help out around the shop. In order for him to do that, he needed to get his license. The best way to learn to ride and get your license at the same time, at least in Illinois, is to pass the MRC:RSS course.

I felt sorry for him, actually. He really needed the license, more than I did anyway. He needed it to work. I wanted to ride for the fun and enjoyment of it and to commute to work, though for my three-quarter mile commute, my truck did suffice. Besides, I did have a conflict that would prevent me from taking the exam.

Sometimes, I wonder if I’m too nice. I gave the kid my registration card and told him I wouldn’t bother showing up for the afternoon session. And, I had a confirmed registration, too, not a confirmed walk-in, but an actual registration. But, I still wouldn’t have passed the course. And, he did need it more than I did.

It turns out that the registration card didn’t help any, though my not showing up did. He was able to attend as a walk-in and managed to pass the course. I found this out from an interesting source. I received an email the Monday morning after that first weekend. A fellow worker had attended the same course, heard my name called, and wondered if they were referring to me. They were. Oh, and she passed it, too.

The end of the season is nearing. Soon, there will be no more courses until next year. I still have a goal of passing the MRC:RSS and eventually the ERC also. If I find some courses scheduled that I might be able to attend, I’ll try for another walk-in. In any case, there is always next year.

How Not to Pass the MRC:RSS-Follow Up

This is a follow up to How Not to Pass the MRC:RSS

I went to the doctor yesterday to get my personal inspection. After a couple of consultations and several x-rays, I learned that I have a hairline fracture in the radial head, the end of the radius bone of the forearm where it connects at the elbow. I am surprised I was able to ride at all after it happened. I must have been running on adrenaline for the next several hours. It makes me even less surprised that I did not do as well as I would have liked on the evaluation. It was slightly painful.

Does this change anything? No. It doesn’t, at least not much. It increases the hardness of that school of hard knocks. I am now even more aware than before of the need to not lock the front brakes. But, I still want to learn to ride. I know I still need the practice. No matter how long you have been riding, there is always something more to learn. In my case, the learning just got delayed a little more. According to the doctor, I should wear a sling for a couple of weeks and resume normal use. Within a month, it should be fully healed. Bummer. My next class was in less than two weeks. Looks like I will miss it. I have another class already registered for June and maybe I can do a walk-in before then. I have not yet begun to ride. But, I will soon.

How Not to Pass the MRC:RSS

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.

Why Arai?

Instead of … ?

With a simple stroke of the pen and a click of the Send button, Arai Helmet can shake their customer base. The recent legal action is, unfortunately, not unique in the world of business, especially given our litigious society. Several other companies have committed similar errors of judgement. Some of them learn. Some do not. One comment I heard referred to an action by Harley Davidson. Someone who was giving away motorcycles, Harley Davidson motorcycles, but were using bar and shield without permission. Another mentioned an action by BMW against dealers and clubs using the BMW roundel without explicit permission. I don’t know if these really happened or what the facts surrounding the issues may have been. However, I also don’t doubt the possibility that they might have.

There are a couple of main reasons why I wrote about this action and not others. The first is about timing. The second is about the internet. Each reason has relatives to lend support.

As for timing, I am new to the world of motorcyles and did not know first hand of the other actions. Maybe I would have been equally incensed if I had been around when the news of them was first heard. But, maybe not. I was around for this one. As mentioned in the previous article, Arai Gone Awry?, there was also a book involved, The Cluetrain Manifesto. More precisely, it was the idea of communication the book discussed. I had just finished reading it, within the hour in fact. And, this action seemed so counter productive that the clash between the two could not be ignored, at least by me anyway.

That leads us to the second main reason for my response, the internet. Global communication between individuals is possible like never before. Email, mailing lists and newsgroups allow for so many people to communicate so easily and to so many others at once, that the foundation of traditional marketing is being shaken. Marketing used to be a top down exercise in authority with company PR feeding everything to the consumer. Now, consumers themselves are affecting the intended results, adding their own slants and viewpoints to the corporate message. An action by a company is no longer hidden, visible only to the few directly affected. The click of the Send button that can start an action can now also start a reaction.

The internet, the vast web that it is, is made up of links from one site to another, one page to another. In fact, that is how you came to be reading this article now. Yet, running against the grain, this action by Arai Helmet claims linking to be unacceptable and even illegal. A link that takes you to the site in question is a good thing, a credit to the internet web it helps to create. Some companies, like Amazon.com for example, have specific programs where they encourage you to be a part of their organization, to link to areas within their site from yours. As with most things, there are some real infringements. Some of these may come with deep linking, which may bypass some required validation controls. More commonly, there may be the use of content generated by another site, but appearing on an unrelated page. An example of this may be the use of stock market information or map generation without the appropriate credit or permission being given. In the example given in the prior article, this does not seem to be the case here.

Legal action to protect a trademark is something I believe should be done. Without appropriate effort, the trademark may lose its value, becoming another phrase commonly used by many. It might even end up as a dictionary entry. However, it is all too easy to become overzealous in that protection. “Just in case we can win” is an insufficient reason to try.

The internet is a new territory. It does not fit exactly into the mold of the prior era. While the differences may not be readily apparant to all, they do exist. Many companies need to change their approach to the new markets, learn how their consumers are now communicating. Those that can respond may find that it is not so bad after all. It might even give them an edge.

(IANAL, “I am not a lawyer.” Any positions taken in this article are based on opinion and do not stem from a legal background or familiarity with the applicable laws. If you have specific legal questions, please consult with your attorney.)

(All trademarks mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners.)