Safety First

This weekend was very long, but definitely a lot of fun. I attended my motorcycle safety course from 8-5pm on both Saturday and Sunday. The course is necessary to obtain your motorcycle endorsement on your driver’s license, but I planned on taking it anyway so that I would learn how to ride the correct way.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, so I put on my motorcycle boots and jeans and went into the class with an open mind. Not surprisingly, I was the only female in the class and was regarded with open curiosity when I walked into the classroom. The class was a mix of experienced and new riders with ages ranging from 19 to 65. Although the course is intended for beginning riders, the others had to take the course in order to get their motorcycle endorsement since a new law in Florida states that anyone caught riding a motorcycle without it has to surrender their license for 3 months.

The first part of the course was conducted in the classroom. We learned the technical aspects of operating a motorcycle along with information about riding safely and wearing the appropriate gear. After a break for lunch, we headed out to the riding range and were assigned the motorcycle that we would be learning on. I ended up with a Suzuki GZ250, which weighed about 300 lbs. I would be lying if I didn’t say that a was a little bit nervous. I felt compelled to be competent right off the bat because of the stereotypes that these guys associated with women who ride. Fortunately, it became apparent pretty quickly that one of the guys had already been designated as the worst rider out there (he almost ran over one of the instructors in the first hour).

We started off very slowly. Motorcycles have manual transmissions so a lot of the beginning lessons were learning to use the “friction zone” (letting the clutch out just far enough that power is transferred to the rear tire) while keeping our feet hovering just above the ground. At this point, I was very grateful that I’ve been driving manual cars for over a decade. The concept of easing off of the clutch and rolling on the throttle came easily to me while the individuals who had never driven a stick were having a really hard time remembering to do so many things at once.

Once we got everyone up to speed with that, it was time to ride the motorcycles. The most nerve wracking moment for me was the first time that I lifted my feet completely off of the ground and put them onto the pegs. Since I didn’t grow up with bikes around, there was a lot of trust involved with me assuming that the bike would stay upright. Not surprisingly, the faster we went, the more solid the bike felt. And then I noticed something else. This was a blast! It kind of felt like riding a roller coaster that I could control. Don’t worry though, above all else, I was completely aware of the fact that the only thing between me and the pavement was staying focused on what I was doing and using my head. It was both an exhilarating as well as a sobering moment.

The technical part of the course was meant to simulate real riding conditions, so we learned how to negotiate tight turns (the hardest thing to do), swerve around obstacles, shifting through the gears and braking quickly. I have to say that staying completely focused on learning a new skill for 5 hours is exhausting! Add in the fact that we were in 90 degree sunny weather wearing boots, jeans, long sleeve shirts and helmets standing on a huge asphalt slab – yeah, let’s just say that I was pretty tired at the end of the day. I definitely felt a sense of accomplishment driving home from the first day. Riding a motorcycle is something that I have always wanted to do and it’s a good feeling to overcome your fears while reaching your goal.

When I arrived the second day, everyone was really friendly as I had earned my place in the class by riding well and being a good sport about being the only woman there. During the second day, we spent the classroom time learning how to avoid accidents. I learned a lot of valuable information and one very important statistic that should make my mom feel much better. 90% of the people who are in motorcycle accidents were either self taught or taught by a friend. In other words, they never learned how to ride properly and safely. Also, the vast majority of motorcycle accidents happen when someone pulls out in front of you. By keeping a 4 second margin of safety around you and anticipating which cars have the potential to pull out, most accidents can be avoided.

The technical skills part of class also focused on street scenarios. The day got off to an exciting start as the aforementioned worst student in the class confused his throttle for his break and went flying off the side of the course, down a ditch and into a swamp. After we saw that both he and the bike were ok, we made fun of him for the rest of the day. I’m just so glad that it wasn’t me! After the excitement was over, we learned how to change lanes, jump obstacles (they literally threw 2x4s on the range that we had to jump), and lean into curves (which was my favorite thing to do). Going fast through a curve is a lot of fun once you realize that your bike will not fall over. Modern motorcycles are engineered in such a way that it is virtually impossible to over lean on them in dry conditions.

At the end of the class, we had to take our skills test. I won’t lie, I was really worried about failing. You can only miss a certain number of points and they take off points for going too slow, crossing a line, hitting a cone, etc… Plus, all of the other students are lined up watching you perform. Blessedly, I only crossed the line once and it was during the tight figure eights that were giving me problems all day. So, I passed with a 94% (anything below a 78% is failing), which means that I can go down to the DMV tomorrow morning and get my motorcycle endorsement on my license! Hopefully, this is the beginning of a long and happy riding relationship.

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