"Safety" vs. "Fulfillment"
As you've probably noticed, I've written a fair amount in this blog about motorcycle safety. As you've also likely noticed, I've shared some of my feelings about risk. I'm one of those people who despises the thought of stagnation. For me it's all about the next step.
"If this step has proven possible, then is the next step now possible?"
This isn't true of everything I do, of course. It's definitely true to some extent in the few vocations I've engaged in. When it comes to my two wheeled avocation it's "take it to the bank" true!
What I find fascinating, yet puzzling, is the two distinct callings I'm drawn to. The calling I hear isn't just an interest. It's a sick and morbid compulsion to excel at two contrasting endeavours.
One calling is as an instructor. My burning desire was to give students the most effective learning experience possible. Most of these riders are going to have very limited contact with a professional instructor. With that in mind, the goal is to make that time have the most impact possible. I've studied learning styles, taken courses in communication skills, participated in verbal judo instruction, engaged in leadership training, and anything else I thought would help me reach my student's minds and hearts.
As if that obsession wasn't enough, I became a trainer of new instructors. My reasoning is that if I can make good instructors then even more riders will be able to benefit. My passion to share drives me ever forward in this calling.
The other calling is as a hard core rider. That means taking risks a lot of people consider crazy. Riding to work faithfully unless there is snow and ice. Sometimes I ride despite these things. My dear wife is sometimes a little upset by some of the weather I ride in. Like a true friend, though, she hangs up my wet gloves to dry when I get home! I do things on a bike that even some experienced riders consider impossible. Ever seen this police training exercise? An officer on a bike is parked perpendicular to a concrete wall. The bike's front wheel is resting within a couple of feet from this wall. The objective is to start from a dead stop and ride off without ever putting a foot down. Or hitting the wall, of course. The exercise has to be repeated in both directions. I can do this. Fortunately I didn't have to practice on my own bike. It's just one example of a skill that comes after a series of small steps. Why do I try these things? I don't know for sure. All I do know is that I have this sick craving for new challenges. Only by conquering do I find fulfillment. It's very satisfying. It's also become addictive.
The line to recklessness is never crossed. I do not have a death wish. I'm following another passion. It's an overwhelming need to experience life. I'm the guy doing back flips off a dock in a swimming hole with my boys. While the other fathers are sitting on lawn chairs with beer cans balanced on their pot bellies. I'm the guy grinning both cheerfully and wickedly as I dance to my own music. Most folks won't understand that part of me. I'm okay with that.
"Those who dance are considered insane by those who can't hear the music."
You can see the source of my puzzlement. Usually a person would be one thing or the other. Cop or outlaw. Master computer programmer or hacker. Motorcycle safety instructor or rogue rider. It might be staggering to discover that the line between them is often razor edge thin. Sometimes the best education comes from one who's "seen the other side".
Whatever the case, both callings came to a point in time where they nearly crashed into each other. I had to decide which calling would take point. The situation was caused by a student in a recent class I taught.
It was in one of our Basic Rider Training courses targeted to new riders. A man appeared in class. He had just purchased a used 750 cc cruiser. A little younger than me, this guy expressed a desire to ride to work as circumstances permitted. Riding experience was minimal to virtually none. Under normal conditions I would gladly take a rider like this under my wing and help them find the fun and fulfillment they seek. Conditions were not normal. Physical defects were evident that I felt would seriously compromise the ability to ride safely. In the interests of privacy, I won't go into more detail.
Little warning bells were going off in my head. I could think of numerous scenarios where these defects would cause problems. Since I hadn't seen the man ride, yet, I had no choice but to keep an open mind. One of the things I stress to new instructors is that our new rider training isn't about pass or fail. It's about providing a safe environment for the students to explore. It's about the discovery. If a student finds out that riding really isn't for them during our course I consider it to be a "win". I would have to live by my own words despite my misgivings.
Riding proved to be something of a struggle. One manifestation of the physical limits is that the clutch was either all the way in or all the way out. Anything in between was nearly impossible. Overall balance and smoothness was lacking. And so the weekend went. The man barely passed our skills evaluation, but pass he did. I held no prejudice one way or the other. The skills evaluation is a set of exercises with clearly defined and objectively measured criteria. At times a rider passes who should not have. Conversely, a rider who should have passed doesn't. A professional training organization defines the exercises, the scoring criteria, and the passing score. All parties involved have to live by the same rules. It's called credibility.
I now find myself obliged to give the man his completion card. Which means he can go the next day and add the endorsement to his license with no further testing. Our training bikes are small bikes with displacements less than 300 cc. While the principles the students learn directly translate to bigger bikes, the physicality required does not. My feeling is that if everything goes perfectly this guy can ride his cruiser. If anything out of the ordinary happens he could soon find himself in trouble. As you know, the chance of experiencing surprises on a bike is really high.
As I am handing him the card I am faced with the direct clash of my two callings. Dan the Safety Instructor knows the guy has a high chance of getting hurt or killed. Dan the Rogue Rider totally understands and supports the concept of risk versus fulfillment. One of us had to talk to this student. Which would it be?
Ethics win out. It is our duty as professionals to be honest with a student. This may be their only contact with a professional trainer. If a rider's not ready for the street we are obliged to tell them so. After all, if an instructor just pats a rider on the back and sends this student on their way, what is the student to think?
"I must be just fine since the instructor congratulated me and sent me on my way."
We might not be able to do anything about their getting the endorsement but we can surely send them away with a kind, but honest assessment. This doesn't mean just telling them they aren't ready for the street. We also offer helpful suggestions on what steps to take next. Everyone's responsible for themselves but we now have clear consciences.
In the end, both of my passions had a part in what I said to this man. I'm not going to share exactly what I said to him here. It's a pretty sure bet that some of you have a good idea of what I told my student. I'll reveal my advice later in the comments section.
What would you have told this student?
Miles and smiles,