The Motorcycle Safety Foundation course

I happened to sign up for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s course on the hottest day of the year. Fortunately, the instructor, Bettye Rae Lorenz, is way cool. She did her best to accommodate the class so that we wouldn’t be sweating bullets in the peak sun. Yesterday was the first day.

Since my boyfriend rides, I’ve had the joy of riding “bitch” with him on his bike. But I had never ridden a motorcycle by myself before. At least, I can ride a bicycle and drive a standard transmission automobile.

There were six people signed up for the class. Since this class is during the week, fewer people attend. On weekends, the class size gets up to 24 people. That’s nuts. Three students were already riders, two with off-road experience, one with street experience. The rest of us had none, except as a passenger.

The first couple hours of the course was in a classroom where we watched a video on motorcycle safety and read through a booklet with facts that was on the written test, which we took at the end of the hot day. (Air-conditioned classroom, thank God.)

On the course, in a parking lot of the Ulster County Community College in upstate New York, there were six bikes with 300cc engines, or less. The bike I rode was a Kawasaki Eliminator– 250cc. In fact, we three inexperienced students, who happen to be all women, rode Kawasakis while the experienced ones, guys, rode Honda Shadows.

First day, we sat on the bikes, walked them while sitting on them, then practiced using the wet clutch before being allowed to ride in first gear from cone to cone, about 50 yards apart. At this point, one person, who didn’t have experience or know how to drive a stick-shift, was counseled out of the class. So, then we were five in the class. After a break, we learned to press and lean to turn, shift to second gear, turn, shift down, stop short, and shift to third gear. At the end of the day, we took our written test, and all of us left passed. Yay.

Second day, Bettye Rae prepared us for the road test, which consisted of 4 parts: riding between lines in a curve, stopping short, two U-turns in a box the size of 7 parking spaces, and swerving to avoid an accident with a stopped vehicle or other obstacle. We also did a lot of snaking through cones, practiced lane changing, using front and rear brakes (on the test), made lots of right turns and left turns, practiced counterbalancing, and rode over a 2×4 several times. The curve and stop were both timed, and there were points against the tester for riding too slow. For the U-turns, points went against putting a foot down or crossing the boundary of the box. I lost a point taking a curve too slow, and 3 points for crossing the U-turn boundary.

In the end, the five of us that were left got our licenses. Easy, but scary, because I definitely didn’t feel ready to ride by myself, even though I did really well in class and felt equipped enough to avoid other vehicles by swerving. It was too easy.

Fact is, riding a motorcycle in the same streets and roads as cars, buses, trucks, and even bicycles, has to be one of the most dangerous things a person can do. And to ride, there’s nothing better for a rider than to have a healthy fear of it. So, why would i do it? Well, for one, it’s easy to park in the city. Two, motorcycle riding can be more fuel efficient to commute than today’s hybrid car. Three, there’s nothing like riding. I think I might be getting the bug.

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