Monday, October 28, 2013

Motorcycle Class

I am excited to announce have crossed an item off my bucket list: attend and pass the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Basic Rider Course.  The Pirate's preferred mode of transportation is a hefty Burgman scooter with a 650cc engine and I want (and need) to be able to drive it, gosh darn it.

The Basic Rider Course is a two day, weekend course designed to take n00bs like me who have never driven a bike before and give a crash course in how to not crash a motorcycle.  There is book learning to make sure you know the theory, and then they take you out to the parking lot and sit you down on a 250cc motorcycle where you spend the rest of your time learning to safely control the bike around cones and corners and Oh-shit-STOP-NOW stops.  At the end of the weekend if you pass both the written and riding tests they give you a waiver to take down to the DMV and ta-da!  You are licensed to drive anything on two wheels with an engine over 50cc.

I was not entirely new to the world of motorcycles.  Before the Burgman the Pirate and I had a little 125cc scooter I would occasionally drive on the weekends when my motorcycle permit was current.  Since we have upgraded and my permit expired, my motorcycle experience has been relegated to the passenger seat of the Burgman, which is a lot more akin to riding an armchair down the highway than it is to driving a vehicle.

Given my background I was not expecting this course to be super hard.  I knew how to lean into turns, I could swerve if needed, I was (pretty) confident I would not drop the bike, and I had a kickass sparkly helmet.  But dudes!  I seriously earned that waiver they gave me at the end.  It was challenging both mentally and physically.   The information, though pretty basic, came fast and heavy.  The weather was hot and sitting on the bike all day made my hands, shoulder, and butt hurt.  (It always surprises me how much more physical riding a motorcycle is than driving a car.  My horse riding skills from childhood summer camps got put to good use on my practice bike.)  The obstacle courses we rode were challenging enough I had to focus on every. single. run.  It was not easy, but it was doable and if I paid attention, put in all my effort, and exorcised my bad attitude every time it reared its ugly head.

My biggest challenge was all motorcycles are manual, so that required I learn to squeeze the clutch and shift gears on cue.  I had only ever driven automatic cars and scooters up until this weekend.  Trying and failing for the umpteenth time to shift from first gear into neutral on an old and cranky bike when I knew the Burgman scooter I would be returning to was an automatic?  Not my best moment.  Fortunately the kind instructors took pity on me and switched me to a newer, easier shifting bike.  By the end of the weekend I was not a pro, but I was enjoying myself and most of the time I could get into second gear without any issue and only stalled the engine out occasionally.  (Dear practice bike, I am sorry if I hurt you by stalling you out so much.  Thanks for always turning back on!  I was always worried you wouldn't....)  Nevertheless, I am tremenously grateful we have an automatic bike so I can spend less time shifting gears and more time enjoying the scenery.

If anybody is interested in learning how to ride a motorcycle or looking for a way to get their license, I would definitely recommend whatever equivalent course you have in your area.  It provides you with a bike to learn on (Hooray for the practice bike that has already been dropped!!  I love you, practice bike.  <3), access to knowledgable, enthusiastic instructors, and structured exercises that will build your skills and muscle memory to keep you safe on the road.  It was an invaluable stepping stone to learning to safely ride the Pirate's prized Burgman.  By the end of the weekend I felt very comfortable on the practice bike both running through the basics and trying new skills.  I was riding!  I had fun hanging out with my fellow students.  I am proud I learned a new skill and persisted when I got really frustrated and was outside my comfort zone.

And as a bonus to getting my motorcycle license?  My instructor says that since I passed the tests I am totally allowed to get a biker tattoo now.

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