Day 3. I figure it’s time for you to meet my bike–well, not my bike, but the one supplied by the motorcycle safety course. It’s a Kawasaki Eliminator 125 (EL 125). Wikipedia tells me it’s an entry-level cruiser that’s been in production for a few decades. Pretty, isn’t it? The other bikes are Hondas or Suzukis that look much more like dirt bikes with street tires on them. I think I was assigned this one because it’s not very tall, and neither am I. I’m convinced it weighs more than the others, and I definitely know I wouldn’t want a heavier two-wheeled bike. It’s quite zippy and not difficult at all to shift. Though sometimes the shift lever (at the left foot) goes down ALL the way, nearly to the ground, when it’s in first and I struggle to get my boot down low enough to shift up to second. What’s up with that?
Here’s the driver’s view: (Plus my baseball driving gloves.)
I’m happy to report that I didn’t lay the bike down today! My only real mishap came about fifteen minutes in when I was attempting a wide turn. The procedure for turning is: brake, turn your head so you’re looking where you want to be when you (presumably) finish the turn, and give it some throttle. Now it may seem intuitively obvious to most people that you should brake going into a turn, but somehow it never got through to me that this would be a good thing to do. There I was, zipping right along, turning the handlebars and not braking. The throttle kept going up, and suddenly I was accelerating right for the woods–which of course were in the exact opposite direction of where I was supposed to be headed. CHAOS! Only this time, I didn’t panic and pulled both the clutch and the brake in and THEN shuddered to a stop. Facing the woods. *sigh*
“What did you do there?” asked the nice young man. “I didn’t turn my head toward where I wanted to go.” “Right,” he said. “Don’t do that again.” I confess I left out the whole not braking thing. I decided that was my own private issue. After that, I used the brakes much more liberally.
Today’s exercises: Sudden stops, pausing stops, weaving in and out of cones, driving in great, big ovals, friction zone slow-driving, cooooooorners. Ugh. Corners are my bête noire. How I detest tight corners. I’m much better making right-hand turns than left. Is that because I’m right-handed? During some of the more complicated exercises, I didn’t worry about the incidental corners if I messed them up. But I practiced as much as possible.
Here’s one of the evil things (sans cones):
I hope we have lots and lots of corner practice tomorrow.
The high point of my morning was when I made one awesome turn and the coach gave me big kudos, telling me that I was, indeed, doing it.
The exercise I liked the most today was the one where we practiced shifting from first to second to third gear, and down to second again. Once I get the damn bike off the T and rolling, I can keep it going quite well. As long as I’m paying attention.
It seems that muscle memory is just as important in motorcycle riding as it is in golf. And thank goodness it happens, or I would be totally screwed. After five or six loops around the lot, I tend to get distracted. What’s for lunch? Am I sitting up straight enough? Why is the person behind me following so closely? Is the coach making notes on me? All of a sudden there’s a TURN, or a cone or a line of bikes stopped directly ahead of me, and I have to remind myself to go through the steps I’ve practiced so I don’t end up on the ground again. Or in the woods. Or the garage. Focus is always a challenge for me–but on a bike, particularly at this point in my learning curve, it’s one of the only things standing between me and utter disaster.
I confess that there were at least two moments today where it all felt just too difficult, too intense. It’s not like I have anything beyond $20 and three days of Laura-billable time in it. I’ve nothing to prove. My desire to have a motorcycle has waned in the past decade. I blame hormones, or lack thereof. But the feeling that I should just go home was of the passing sort. I’ll see this through, even if I get a Big Fat F at the end. I will have come by it honestly and still learned a lot–enough even to buy a bike and spend a hell of a lot of time in my neighborhood and parking lots, practicing, like any other kind of driver.
Anyway, here are all the other bikes. Yes, that’s a scooter in the foreground. A rider can use her or his own scooter, but they have to use it every day of the program. If it has a mechanical failure on any one of the days, the person has to stop attending and sign up for another entire session.
The scuttlebutt around the classroom is that during the weekend course, if you lay your bike down at any time, you automatically fail. I don’t know if that’s true. After yesterday, I’m glad it isn’t true for our class. I can’t imagine doing this class in a weekend. I expect it would start to feel hallucinatory around the middle of day 2, like a trip to a sweat lodge fueled by engine fumes.
Tomorrow is another day. I foresee lots of corners and cones and maybe even fourth gear.
Wait! Here’s the shirt I wore today. I’m convinced it made me more badass than usual. : )