Is "good enough" really enough? Part 1
"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go".
I was reading an article in Motorcycle Consumer News about long distance riding. In a sidebar was this quote. I had never come across it before and it intrigued me. What a great quote! It moved me to address a couple of things again.
One thing to come back to is to briefly touch on why some of us need to keep looking for "how far we can go". The other thing is to bring it back to commuting on a bike. There's been some discussion on Gary and Steve's blog about things like how much power do you need in a bike. How much skill do you need? Is 'enough" really enough these days? How wise is it to be "adequate" but have nothing in reserve? A rider can probably get by with "just enough" skills as long as nothing goes horribly wrong. Isn't it better to have "more than enough"? I prefer to have cards I'm not showing rather than be riding at the edge of my limits to just deal with normal traffic and small surprises.
Previous posts have touched upon why some of us do things on a bike that most folks might consider "extreme". I'm not going to go too far in that direction again. Suffice it to say that some of us have different reasons for finding out "how far we can go". In the process we sometimes find we're at that point where it's a fine line between "farther" and "too far". We accept that risk. Obviously we try to avoid falling over the edge but it's a constant factor to be contended with. Armed with our skills, resources, and with a little daring thrown in, we approach the edge one reasoned step at a time. In the end, I suppose, an accident is an accident. I just like to think if it happens that I "eased" over the line, rather than went over in a big, leaping bounce.
In the case of my Bro' Gary, he's found a great role with Baron Scooters. As near as I can tell Gary's job is to see if he can break them. It's like giving a kid a new toy and actually asking him to break it. I heard a story about how a father explained to his son how engineers knew the weight limit of a bridge. The father tells the son that workers keep driving heavier trucks over the bridge until it collapses. The weight of the last successful truck is recorded then the bridge is built back exactly how it was.
Gary's a test pilot for the Baron machines. When he finds the limit, the company determines if that limit is adequate for most of it's customers. If so, things are left alone. If not, changes are made and testing begins again. That explains the scooter thing. There's no explanation for the rest of what Gary does except that he's psycho crazy like me. We just don't like to be told we can't do something, I guess. Are we brats, or what? ( brats with skills, I'll have you know )
In my case I'm no test pilot except unto myself. There's this strong inner need to keep growing through meeting challenges. Specifically addressing motorcycling, I'm also looking for credibility as a trainer. The pursuit of increasingly stretched limits also gives me more of value to share with other riders. In my role as an "instructor" I meet a variety of skill levels both formally in classes and in my social interchanges.
Some of our advanced classes are attended by riders with more years in the saddle than me. I totally respect their desire for periodic tuneups. One of the challenges as an instructor is to establish both a rapport and credibility. To complicate matters we ride our own bikes for demonstrations. Our premier class is taught on a track and we're continually having students follow us or ride with us. For me, it's not enough to say I'm teaching a course designed by experts. To tell students that, despite the lack of my own skills, they need to just concentrate on what's in the course. For me to be satisfied with myself as an instructor I need to have the skill to be the shining example.
Isn't that the point of formal training? I've always thought the purpose was to sharpen the existing skills PLUS step up to a slightly higher level. For me, as well as for most dedicated instructors, I want to be in a place where I can reach out to the students and encourage them to stretch up a little to meet me. That's just not possible if my skill and experience aren't up there, too.
One of my prized experiences had to do with teaching an Experienced Rider Course a couple of years ago. We've replaced that course with something called Rider Skills Practice since we've split with the MSF. The morning was taken up by classroom and we'd go to the range after lunch. After my usual sandwich and V-8 juice I fired up the ST to warm it up. I was going to ride demonstrations which is harder to do with a cold engine. So I'm out in the parking lot running through the drills the students were going to be doing later. Ok, my riding had a little extra flair and swooping. Katie's watched me do this and can't belive the saddlebags almost scrape in the parking lot. I'm just having fun, thinking I'm pretty much out there by myself.
As I finally get tired of playing I ride off the lot. Much to my surprise, the whole class of twelve students have been standing and watching me. As I dismount, one of the students comes over to me and extends his hand.
"If that's what's called "E.C."; congratulations, you've done it. You've certainly Established Credibility with us!".
The other instructor said the students made the comment "Um, he rides real well, doesn't he?"
I don't mean it to sound like bragging. It just supports my philosophy that the Master should be a few steps ahead of the student. That's very serious to me. I'm literally giving riders tools to stay alive with. As long as I put myself in front of riders as an instructor my skills better be up there.
I always loved the old Kung Fu series with David Carradine.
"Snatch the pebble from my hand, Grasshopper".
Some of our classes are for motor cops. Life is more extreme in this kind of riding. Having explored "The Edge", I can pass on tips on how to handle these kind of extreme conditions. For example, did you know that in maximum braking for a quick stop there's actually two times you have a bigger danger of skidding the front tire out from under you? Once at the initial application and again right at the end when the weight starts to rebound off the front wheel? Nothing like doing maximum emergency braking from 75 MPH at a dragstrip to show you what that's like. That's plain scary with entirely too much time to think about it. These guys and gals face these kind of things on a regular basis.
As a "competent" rider I'd be in no position to offer any help to these everyday heroes. Thus the search to always "see how far I can go", among other reasons.
Stay tuned for Part 2. We'll talk about things specific to commuting by bike. It's a dangerous world out there and getting worse all the time. The good news is that the risk can be managed.
Miles and smiles,