Thursday, May 25, 2006

Class report.

Last weekend brought 24 prospective new riders into my classroom. There weren't really any dramatic stories coming out of this class. Even so, 24 lives are affected one way or another through riding. Class members had varied experiences, backgrounds, and goals. Out of these I did find food for thought.

In the post about the Mercedes kit car, I wrote how you never really know about something until you figuratively "looked under the hood". This lesson was driven home to me this weekend by four young men.

Two of the young men looked a little rough. One looked like a white Mike Tyson. Tattoos and piercings ruled his young body. His head was shaved on both sides with a 2" mohawk type haircut. The other young man appeared to be the classic sullen youth pissed off at the world.

The other two young men appeared to be just the opposite. Their clothing was "preppy" and they were well groomed. All outward signs pointed to these young men being "all American boys" with a touch of "beach boy" thrown in.

If one were to believe in stereotypes it would be presumed that I had trouble with the rough looking boys. The same reasoning would lead one to believe that the "all Americans" were model students. One could believe that but it would be dead wrong.

I've learned long ago to look past the surface. My "modus operandi" is to let folks show me what they are made of and respond accordingly. There have been times when I've been both pleasantly surprised and disappointed by what I'm shown. In this case, the "rough" ones proved to be great students. "Mike Tyson" was a dirt rider who wanted to ride on the street. He was cheerful and coachable the whole weekend. The "sullen" one warmed up to me on Saturday. The kid rides a CBR600 and wanted to get legal. Somewhere on Saturday I showed him something he didn't know. After that, he participated in class, was very coachable, and kind of fun to be around. Both these guys proved to be good riders and students.

Flip back to the "beach boys". Turned out to be a case of "spoiled little rich boys". Insolent would be a good word to use. They were only there because the law says the course is mandatory for those under 21. A lot of the focus is on rider responsibility. We show them the proper skills and coach to success. It's up to the student to apply themselves or not. If the student choses to ignore me but isn't presenting a safety hazard I don't get all anal about it.

The safety factor got broken after the range portion was done. The morning group was clearing out and some of the afternoon students were arriving. Spoiled little rich kid number 1 went to get the very expensive black Lexus from the parking area. Spoiled little rich kid number 2 went to the shed to return helmets. Meanwhile, the Lexus driver proceeds to charge through the coned off area to pick up the second kid. Totally ignoring the cones and the other students in the supposedly "safe" area.

As you might imagine, I was there quickly and told the driver to get the car off the range and that I better not see it happen again.

"I didn't know I couldn't drive over here", is the reply I got back.

"What do you think the big cones are for that you dodged through?" I countered.

The boys started giving me lip. Now it's time to set the record straight.

"Let me share something with you boys that you might not have been aware of. Whether you pass or fail this course won't make any difference to me or the other instructor at all. If we're satisfied that we've done our job properly our consciences will be clean. It's your endorsement and tuition money that's on the line. On the other hand, I will not tolerate anything that threatens the safety of any of the students. Things such as this car being where it is right now. I WILL take you out of the class. The other instructors will back me. The Director of the program will back me. The head of the Department of Transportation will back me. The State Attorney General will back me. This program had been around for 20 years. If you think that after that many years this policy isn't enforceable then you better think again."

Let's just say that for the rest of the weekend the boys weren't models of cheerfulness. On the other hand, they behaved themselves.

You just never know. What's interesting is that people bring their attitudes to motorcycling, whatever they may be. Steve Williams had a post on his blog about personalities of both drivers and riders. Sorry to say, we can't hold up riders as being the example of the "good guys" in every situation. There's good and bad in both arenas. It's just that bad attitudes make bad things happen to the rider more easily. Natural selection?

Motorcycling is still a family affair. We had a mother and daughter combination. Typically we see fathers and sons. With the years I've spent teaching there's also been quite a few times when part of a family comes through. Later on, some other family members come through. I guess their experience with me wasn't too terrible because the new arrivals seem happy to have the same instructor. Tuesday night Katie and I were at Red Robin. A couple came in and passed us. The gal greeted me warmly. She took the class one year and her husband took it the next year. I had the pleasure of being the instructor in both cases. Happens all the time, anymore.

There's more females coming through classes these days. Quite often up to a fourth of my classes are comprised of women. It's a good trend, I think. Manufacturers are being forced to take women into consideration. Especially with clothing. Speaking of gear, I had an interesting experience regarding a young woman's helmet on Sunday.

This helmet is pretty distinct. It's an Arai. The color scheme is unique. The background color is sort of a purple or fuschia. All over the helmet are white orchids. A young gal took the class last summer. The helmet was so striking that I took a digital picture to show Katie. Now I see a helmet just like it. So I mention it to Shania ( pronounced shay-na ), the gal who's using it. I tell her I've only seen one other like it. Shania tells me it belongs to her girlfriend. I ask her if her girlfriend took the course last summer. Turns out she did. So I describe the girl and it turns out to be the same exact helmet. Of course, the women around accuse me of only remembering the helmet because of the girl. All in good fun.

One of my students is an engineer. His understanding of things seems to be tied to physics. I was explaining the path of travel through a corner. I ask the class if everyone understands which way is "outside" and which is "inside" in a corner. My engineer states that the outside is opposite the "direction of lateral acceleration". This is how the guy relates to the world.

As an interesting aside, I actually argued that the outside is the same direction as lateral acceleration. Not the opposite. If one is turning right, the direction of lateral acceleration, as dictated by centrifugal force, is towards the left. After he thought about it, the engineer agreed with me. I may not be an engineer, but I understand motorcycle dynamics pretty well!!

What I'm getting at is that sometimes I feel people think too much when it comes to riding. I see this all the time when I try to get students to understand how countersteering works. No matter how much intellectual effort goes into it, the only way to really understand it is to "feel" it. Obviously, managing risk is 80 percent mental. But the physical act of riding has to come from deeper inside, in my opinion. I think the truly great riders are expressing something far more visceral then mental. What do you think?

Motorcycling still has an international appeal. We tend to look at the big picture based on how it is in America. Here, the majority of riders are in it for recreational and social purposes. It's not the same in other parts of the world. As great as America is to us, there's a bigger world out there. We're all God's creatures on the green planet.

One of the men in my class is from Nigeria. As a student he rode in London 15 years ago. Now he wants to get back on a bike. He was a very good student. Very polite while concentrating on his success. He attended with his girlfriend. She had never been on a bike. She came a long ways but ultimately proved too timid to pass the class. It's ok because I think she was doing it for him, anyway. He never put pressure on her. He accomplished his goal of getting endorsed. She got to explore in a safe place and discovered that maybe this wasn't for her. Win-win.

Sunday morning saw the arrival of a visitor. Thada is a college professor from Thailand. She spent some time with me on the range. It seems the plan is to set up a motorcycle safety training program through the university she is associated with. Since our program was rated number one in the nation by NTSHA, it was determined that ours would be the model.

Thada is very tiny. Also very intelligent. Her English is good. Her English is much better than my Spanish. I always respect those who are fluent in two or more languages. In Thailand it is a totally different situation. The vast majority of the bikes are small. Scooters abound. Most of the riding is commuting. Some of the principles will be the same. Some will need adapting to their unique circumstances. Thada had a meeting with the Director of the program on Monday. I wish her and her staff success.

I prize one thing she said to me.

"You are a very encouraging person".

The big bad motorcycle guy can be your best friend in my class.

Speaking of big bad motorcycle guy, I visited the school where Katie works yesterday to have lunch with her. I've been off work starting Wednesday. There's vacation time that needs to be used so I have a really long holiday weekend. Getting a little riding and spending some time with my sweetie.

Katie works at an elementary school. I ride up on the ST and park on the street. Talk about creating a sensation! The kids in the cafeteria were in awe. A lot of the teachers came by to see who the "motorcycle guy" was. I think Katie was pleased to be the wife of this rogue that caused such a stir!! Kids are great. The bike is always such a bridge to friendship.

The vacation will be my excuse for spotty postings this week. I might write one more post. This blogging thing is still so much fun!

Miles and smiles,


Mad said...

Great post Irondad.
I love the way kids react to bikes, I waved to a little un the other day nad he nearly fell over he was so enamoured of the bike and me.

Number one in the nation huh? That makes sense going by your writing and attitude Irondad. You write so well about people and bikes.

Oh and you should see the streets of any Thai city at rush hour, those little bikes in the melee of it all will make your toes curl! If any area of the world needs MSF courses it's SE Asia!

Gary said...

Another great post, Dan.

I envy your ability to teach, and your patience with those who are "uncoachable".

That's probably the main thing that keeps me from going for the MSF Instructor credential.

I would want to go all Marine D.I. on them, and that is just not acceptable these days.

I'm really enjoying your blog, bro. Keep it up, and...

Ride well,

Steve Williams said...

I think Thada's characterization of you as "...a very encouraging person" is accurate and comes through in all your writings about classes. And Gary points out your patience---you seem to have a boatload.

I had a kid experience yesterday. Rode into a parking area ajoining a house and this kid about 6 years old comes running at breakneck speed and stops in front of the scooter and just looks it over like I'm not even there. I could just see the wheels turning in his head...


irondad said...

the little folks are our future partners in riding. I wonder how many are riding because of some experience when they were a kid.

I've seen videos of places like Singapore. What a madhouse!

I really enjoy the teaching. Like you, I have to curb my first instinct. My students are paying customers, not draftees like when I had to "do what I was told". It's a fact that most people learn better in an environment with a little humor, encouragement, and advice on how to fix something.

There's times when I have to be the "authority", though, to keep a safe place to learn. It's always a fine line. I'm always amazed at how much personal growth I've experienced by working to be a better instructor.

you're always so encouraging in your comments that I suspect you either are, or have the ability to be, a great instructor yourself. You didn't have candy bars in your pocket did you?

The kids always seem to have that capacity for total concentration on one thing, don't they?