Monday, August 06, 2007
This was a recent training class my pal Dusti and I taught. We call it an IRT ( Intermediate Rider Training ). It was designed for people who know the basics of riding but want to get an endorsement. We figured we'd offer a class that lasted a day, offered some classroom training in mental strategies, and taught some vital street survival skills. Up until the beginning of last year we required students to bring their own bikes. You notice in the picture that there's a really sharp looking 'Busa and a Harley. The rest of the bikes are our training bikes. Some day I should share the story of the man riding the "Busa. Talk about having your eyes opened and being pleased with the results!
The student count never got up to the level we thought it should. We're not hurting for paying students. Classes are so full as it is that we're struggling to keep up. No, the worrisome thing is that we know how many unendorsed riders are out there. Not very many were showing up on our class rosters. Unendorsed riders are over-represented in accidents. I won't go any further with that subject. It could be a long post all by itself! Our goal is altruistic. Getting more of these riders in to see us will increase their chances of survival on the streets. How could we accomplish that objective?
Making the class easier was never an option. We pride ourselves on actually requiring students to exhibit skills in order to pass. Long story short, we found that one big obstacle was the fact that students had to use their own bikes. One reason was that they felt they'd be embarrassed by trying to manuever their own bikes around the parking lot. The other reason was fear of dropping their bikes during the class. We changed things so students could use our training bikes. The numbers of students in this particular class has more than tripled. That's good news in one way. It means that more riders are getting valuable training where they wouldn't before. The bad news is that these aren't brand new riders. They've been on the streets on larger bikes. I feel like they should be training on what they're actually riding.
Back in Spring of 2006 I wrote a post about riding one bike and learning to ride it well. In the jungle we call "commuting" we need to have our bike's reactions mesh to ours. Things should be second nature. We can't always take time to think which bike we're on and then ponder which reactions are appropriate to that particular bike. You can read the post if you click here. Scroll down a little when you get there.
It's an interesting situation. Most of us have more than one bike. That's part of the fun, isn't it? I'm not saying that we should get rid of all but one. What I am suggesting is that we pick one to commute on regularly. Then get proficient with that bike. Train until the bike and rider act with one accord. Commuting on a bike has so many rewards but it's also arguably the most dangerous riding activity we engage in. Except for the CB900 my bikes are all of a sporting bent. On the other hand, I know a lot of folks with quite different steeds. Sometimes that big difference bites us.
I just visited a friend in the hospital. This guy is a regular rider. He's a firefighter / paramedic. A responsible guy who knows the value of training. His only bike for a long time was a big Harley with floorboards. Then he adopted a Kawasaki Concours. It wasn't long before the Connie became the commuter of choice. On this particular day he'd decided to clean the spiders out of the Harley's pipes. On the way home, as many of us do, he had work related things on his mind. There's some nice corners on his chosen route home. As most of us try to find. Coming up to the first corner, he set his entry speed based on reactions honed by riding the Connie. His mind was sort of distracted so his body took over. It would have been a great entry speed for the Connie. Unfortunately, he was on the Harley.
Ground clearance is a lot less when you're on a cruiser with floorboards. Something hard on the bike smacked the blacktop, lifted the rear tire off the road, and shot rider and bike off into the landscape. The bike was totalled. My friend has a nearly torn off knee cap among other injuries. Yes, he was wearing really good gear. Abrasions were minor but the twisting and tumbling got to him.
This is an extreme example, granted. What about all the little things, though? How a bike reacts to brake pressure, how much force does it take to swerve this bike, how does the throttle respond? The difference between a bike like the BMW R1150 RT twin and a Honda ST1300 four are dramatic to throttle response. Just the kind of "goose" you'd give it to quickly move out of someone's errant path.
I don't mean to sound like I'm getting conservative. I'm still an avid student of the "go for the gusto!" school. Two hundred miles a day on the freeway is really lowering my opinion of the average car driver, though. It's getting worse all the time. My commute also gives me a lot of time to think about things. Maybe too much! Until we get more people converted to two wheels we're going to have to keep riding upstream, so to speak. I'm just passing along something that I think worth's thinking about in helping to take care of ourselves out there. Oh yeah, don't forget to have fun!!!
Miles and smiles,