Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Learning to ride a motorcycle

During the motorcycle class conducted by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), I resolved to retain a heightened sense of awareness every moment. I wanted to test my hypothesis that awareness would result in maximum learning.

Here are some tips that emerged from my experience:

  • Do not blame the motorcycle. If the class you signed up for provides a motorcycle, it may not be the right size, more than likely the clutch will not be smooth and the engine will falter at the wrong time. It does not matter, you have a certain number of hours to learn how to ride and pass the test, you have to find a way to master the motorcycle quickly. I found this attitude led me to be "in the moment" and seek solutions, not excuses.
  • Do not blame the instructor. Thankfully, the instructors were top notch. They were experienced, patience, and funny. From time to time, they used words that were strange to me, and not every explanation was understood by me. When you don't understand, speak up! They would not hesitate to correct me on the spot, and a person with a lesser ego would have felt bruised by all that direct coaching. And they held firmly to their standards of skill and safety. I found it very productive to keep trying to change and adapt to their feedback.
  • Do not blame the weather. The second day of riding lessons was wet and gloomy. It was freezing cold when the wind picked up. When riding, even though the highest gear was two, we could feel the bite of lower temperatures. The first thought that came to mind was, "Should have prepared better." I shrugged and returned to being in the moment. I somehow survived the day, and resolved to buy clothing that would protect me from the elements. Without that experience, I might have overlooked certain things when buying clothing for motorcycles. I realized that I could not have purchased this experience, I had to be in it to learn how to protect myself against the weather.
  • Be prepared. Prepare before the course by reading the educational material on the MSF web site. Use their checklist to pack water and snacks. If the instructor does not have to correct you for small things, he or she will have more time to give you valuable and hard to find advice to make riding a motorcycle safer and more enjoyable.
  • Discover your weaknesses. Some exercises and maneuvers were easier than others. Even though I was coached, cajoled, and coaxed to improve, some exercises and maneuvers continued to be challenging. I made a note to practice, practice, practice until my skill and confidence grew. This is not a matter of, "I got only a couple of answers wrong in the riding test." Out there in the real world, everything has to work in harmony, all the time, if one safety check is out of place, or one maneuver is flawed, the result will not be pretty.
  • Discover your strengths. This is important, because when you are displaying your strength, your guard will be lowered, and that is when you are the most vulnerable. Hubris is very obvious after the fact when analyzing a motorcyclist incident.
Thus, awareness is crucial. It is how you determine if you are in the right gear, whether you are entering a curve at the right speed, and whether you need to stop or swerve. Danger lurks all around, and it will take you by surprise when you least expect it. It was clear to me that enjoying a motorcycle ride is not the same as relaxing in a hot bath. You can't drift away and hope the world will still be the same when your attention returns.

On a more happier note, fond memories of riding a motorcycle came rushing back to me. I was reminded of the thrill and joy of riding in my days of youth. At the end of the class, I knew that my desire to ride had not diminished.