Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Who are these people?

The first weekend of December saw the last training class of the year being presented. Who would be crazy enough to take a motorcycle class in December? On second thought, who would be crazy enough to teach a class then? To the second question I proudly raise my hand. My partner was new to this teaching thing so he didn't know any better. Besides that, he's a fireman. They're almost as crazy as cops but more well loved!

As you can see, we got some snow on Saturday. Sunday brought gusty winds and a lot of rain. Sunday was the first day of the two day storming that brought so much flooding and damage to the Northwest. We didn't have flooding in our parking lot. With all the rain, though, I did catch myself a couple of times looking over my shoulder for Noah's ark!

I like teaching class in conditions like this. That probably sounds weird when it's unquestionably more pleasant to teach in dry conditions and comfortable weather. I won't let a group ride if I deem it dangerous to them, of course. Sometimes I have to remind myself that most of these are beginners. Where I personally would keep riding these folks aren't at that point, yet. It's good for the students to be exposed to difficult conditions right off the bat. Here's why.

The classes we teach, especially the basic classes, aren't about pass or fail as far as I'm concerned. It's about the discovery. People come to us for a lot of reasons. Some want to join others in the social aspect. They've never ridden before. We provide a safe place for them to explore. Some find that motorcycling isn't for them. If they have the wisdom to accept that fact, then Score! Much better than buying a bike and crashing in an intersection.

Other folks want to ride to work, are coming back to riding after a long absence, as well as a variety of other reasons. I prefer not to make it too easy for them. Not that I'm harsh with them. I just want my students to get a realistic picture of riding. When the weather conditions are difficult a lot more of this kind of learning goes on. This group learned a lot about themselves this weekend! Some prospered while some quickly found their limits.

This idea of a realistic picture is why we made a change a few years ago to the requirements for new instructors. As a first step they need to come and watch two complete classes. That includes standing on the pavement beside the range for the entire weekend. They experience what it's like to be in the sun, the rain, and on their feet. When they take the next step they have a better idea of what they're getting into.

The same applies to the students. They're going to ride in the rain. Especially where we live. They're going to be cold. Sometimes it will be hot. That happens here like on July 27th. Students discover their limits. Can they be cold and wet and still concentrate on riding skills? Most find that they can't really handle the adverse conditions well. I'm great with that. A person who declares themself a "fair weather rider" based on experience is being honest about their limits and desires. I respect that. My goal is to give them a chance to make those kind of personal discoveries in a safe environment.

Wet pavement delivers another kind of bonus. Despite a rider's best efforts, we're going to get caught in occasional rain storms. Having been exposed to riding in the rain, a new rider isn't going to get as freaked out as one who's never faced it before. Sometimes in our classes a rider makes mistakes with braking in the rain. They fall down, we pick them up and brush them off, then send them back out. No harm, no foul. Next time be smooth on that front brake. Precious learning moments in a safe environment made possible by difficult conditions.

I'm suddenly feeling the urge to share something in the Father / Son category. While students have a chance to learn about themselves, I have the chance to learn about the students. Mostly it doesn't affect me once the students leave class. In some cases it does. Katie took a class that I was teaching. She's not actively pursuing riding. Her preference is to snuggle behind me. A couple of my boys, however,are eager riders. I've shared Clinton's adventures in his bike purchases in the recent past. I also had the privilege of having him as a student. Or maybe he had the privilege of having me as an instructor!

Anyway, Clinton took a class about four years ago, I'm thinking. Things blend together, you know. I do remember it was very cold and rainy all weekend. At one point I thought all my students had died. To a person they were laying forward on the gas tanks. Turns out they were holding their hands next to the motors desperately trying to eke out some warmth! It was a perfect example of difficult conditions. At the risk of it seeming like bragging, I have to say Clinton handled things well. Despite the cold and rain he maintained concentration both during practice and for the skill evaluation. If I remember correctly, he was one of the very few, if not the only one, who actually stopped within standard on the braking chute. Of course, it's really my doings, you know. I lent him my Aerostich Darien lite riding pants for the weekend. By the way, I never realized the waist on those could be adjusted for "slim"!

The point is that I feel better about his riding having seem him under these conditions. I can hardly tell my boys that being on a bike is too dangerous for them. How could I ride for so many years and then tell them I don't want them to do the same? Being a father, I naturally worry some when either one of them is on a bike. Yet, I've seen how both of them react to adverse conditions. I'm reassured by what I've observed. Insights that would never be possible if all the riding was done in "perfect" conditions.

Hey, I'm know I'm rambling somewhat. If you haven't noticed the title of this blog, yet, that's not my fault. The word "musings" is there. Don't say you weren't warned! Besides, sometimes the best insights come, not from scripts, but conversation. Once the conversation's allowed to go where it wants to, real communication starts to take place. All right. Now that I've marked my territory in the best Alpha Male tradition, I'll get back on track.

Like I wrote earlier ( was it that long ago?) the students learned much about themselves. This group was really like any other group. Maybe a little hardier but pretty much the same as all the others. Each had different reasons for being here.

I won't give you a rundown on everyone. This post is getting too long as it is. Here's some highlights.

A couple of the guys in class were coming back after thirty some years away. Both found out that if things were "just right" they could ride. Riding conditions are seldom like that, are they? It's a particular quirk among humans that our hearts and spirits never seem to age as fast as our bodies. As a result, they write checks our bodies can't quite cash. I see it so often. As a man, I deeply feel their disappointment. As a professional trainer I sleep well knowing I helped them discover the truth. I only pray they can accept it gracefully. It's sad, but safer. We experience the same type of discoveries in many aspects of life as we age. Ignoring the truth won't harm us in a lot of things. In riding there's very little forgiveness for mistakes.

One man was in class because he'd gone to DMV and couldn't pass the riding test. After watching him for a while, I could see why. He ended up passing our skill evaluation but never really made any big gains. We only managed to knock off some of the really rough edges. I'm afraid he'll always be what he is. A rider who is basically competent but with no ambition to progress further. He'll have a lot of company out there, unfortunately.

Another man was more of a success story even though it didn't look like it at first. He was there because his daughter was taking the class. He made no secret of the fact that he'd been riding a long time, didn't expect to learn anything, and was just there to support her. I love these kind of guys! You might as well slap my cheek with a glove and challenge me to a duel!!

I let him alone for the first day. Towards the end of that session some glaring deficiencies in his riding surfaced. Day Two brings more complex exercises based upon the basics covered in Day One. As I would coach this guy he had a million excuses. Sometimes it's risky to get into someone's face. At least from an instructor and student viewpoint. Ok, maybe anytime. I'm really good at reading people and decided to take a chance. I got on his case hard. I told him I wasn't buying his excuses anymore and he had better apply himself. He was cold to me until break when he came to see me. He apologized for his attitude. I told him I was sorry to have been so direct but we didn't have time to sit over tea and have a cozy chat about things. Sometimes I just have to cut to the chase right away. He was a changed man after that.

The rest of the day saw tremendous improvements in his riding. Years of bad habits were crumbling under what he was learning. As he experienced success he was even more eager to be coached. It's a perfect example of what I tell my new instructors. If you can teach someone one thing they didn't know you've captured them. What's really cool is that if this man takes what he showed us to the streets, he'll be leaps and bounds ahead of where he came in. I find that really satisfying!

Another student went from enthused to whiny and pouty when her socks got wet. Chalk up one more discovery moment!

One last story was the biggest surprise to me. During the first night's classroom session this woman seemed to be timid. She'd only ridden as a passenger with her husband. Her neighbor across the street happens to be a dear female friend of mine who's also an instructor. That might have influenced this woman somewhat to explore riding for herself.

I didn't know at the time that this woman knew this other instructor. I simply took the time needed to make her comfortable like I would for any student. There's this thing we call the Circle of Success. A new rider needs confidence to succeed. The only way they can get this is to trust the instructor in the beginning. That trust allows us to show them success. That success, in turn, builds their confidence and makes them trust us more. The goal is to keep that circle moving all the time and not break it.

It worked perfectly with this woman. She trusted, succeeded, gained confidence, and had a ton of fun. Despite the bad weather I literally had to talk her into taking breaks. She didn't want to get off the bike! I love seeing my own enthusiasm reflected in some of the students. On Monday night I got a call from my instructor friend. She told me how her neighbor came over and gave her a big hug. My student had all kinds of wonderful things to say about the course and how much fun she'd had. That call was the first time I'd heard about the neighbor thing. Doesn't hurt my reputation much, either!

So crazy as it seems, when you have a passion there's rewards to be reaped no matter the weather. It applies to both training and riding. Which I did both of that weekend. That's one of the reasons I commute and ride all year. Besides, the worst weather conditions make the best war stories, don't they?

Miles and smiles,



Jeff In NY said...

Hi Dan - It was raining the morning of my second day of class (MSF). I got into riding to commute so I knew I'd be riding in the rain, but was anxious about it. So, it came as a pleasant suprise to be able to have my first ride in the rain closely supervised. We all quickly learned that there is still plenty of traction but a wet surface needs respect. Ever since I've enjoyed riding in the wet and have subsequently learned that there all sorts of other issues related to rain like visibility and very cold water unexpectedly going where it should not in downpours :-)

Bryce said...

Who Are These People?
Yor reason to exist on certain weekends, that's wo. And these people are also like many of us, wanting to change something in their lives. I see Oregon classes don't supply snow
shovels or brooms on the course route; however it does come to mind!

Given my surgery a year ago and then most of 2007 undergoing
chemotherapy, and then being advised more chemo, once very three
months for a four-year period is next have decided to maybe start all over again.

I rode exactly four times this last
year, none of which was enjoyable. Different yes, but not enjoyable.
I have never taken a motorcycle class, received my license to drive a motorcycle by the grandfather clause method in 1967. Those who then road automatically had the M
designation added to their vehicle operator's license.

So am seriously contemplating doing
the beginner's course, all over again. They may not have a machine
large enough however am thinking
-I need to learn to ride
a motorcycle, again and best do it as a rank beginner!-

If I don't pass or there are concerns by the instructors well then shall additional fodder
for my decision to continue riding.

My current machine will be 26 years old next year, it has to have a
total complete physical check before insurance renewal will be issued. None of any of the new
machines are large enough for me
so it could be game over, if either
the instructors have their doubts
or the machine is not considered
roadworthy. $20,000 plus
for a new machine of any type
is too much money,
for someone on a small pension.

Your thoughts Dan would be appreciated, who and its raining
here on Tuesday evening December 11. No snow, but freezingrain is forecast

Tinker said...

In 1980, I graduated college, moved back to Austin, and my only transportation was a Yamaha XS750.

1980 was a VERY bad year for Freezing rain, sleet, ice storms and SNOW in Austin. Having no choice, I made the trip, planted my feet in the snowcovered corners and skied, around them. At work, I parked it and found that my muscles were so stiff, I could not lift my leg to get it over the seat. I had to work it to get off the motorcycle. I suffered an attack of the vapors, was I able to apply the brakes, on the way in?

I tried on the way home (about 10 am, because people in Austin are such pansies) Yes, even though the major muscles were stiff, my ankle was still working, and I went safely through The winter from Dante's Hell.

Rick said...

I can relate to the part about your kids riding. Jonathan has ridden with me for about 2 years and I still worry when he rides alone. Ethan is just begining, he know the mechanics but has yet to gain the experience. I certainly desire them to experience the joy riding has given to me, but as you said, I still worry! Guess that is part of the experience for everyone!

Krysta in Milwaukee said...

"They're almost as crazy as cops but more well loved!"

The people I despise are meter maids. Most cops are decent people doing things that help. Meter maids are just revenue generators.

After meeting someone at the local BMW shop one afternoon, and finding out he's a motor cop here in Milwaukee, I've adopted his unit. They were most surprised when I showed up with goodie packages for each of them a week erso ago.

"At one point I thought all my students had died."

There was a thread recently on the Airhead list about warm hands, and someone sensibly pointed out that we have these lovely warm engine bits right down there by our toes... (One advantage of an opposed twin over a vertical V twin.)

"didn't expect to learn anything, and was just there to support her"

Then set a good example, fer goshsakes! When I arrived at one range session on the sidecar, one instructor asked why I was in a basic class. To learn, of course. I'd never had a formal training class.

I think knowing I was more experienced might have made them nervous that I'd be a problem child. Other than noting (to myself) the errors made by the other instructor during classroom times*, I behaved myself & did learn some things.

"went from enthused to whiny and pouty when her socks got wet"

It's amazing what I can put up with if my feet are warm & dry. I've asked Santa for Seal Skinz socks this year.

* Things like "when you follow 2 seconds behind someone, you're at the same distance no matter what speed."

Bill Sommers said...

Thats IT!! "War stories" is the perfect way to put it. When I had read earlier that you ran a class in those conditions, I wanted details, I wanted to hear the story. This was a good one.

I like the "Circle of Success" reference. As a trainer/mentor in my job, I love watching as the newbies gain confidence, and light up when completing a task that is simple for me, yet a steep, tall hurdle for them. It's a great reminder that the first rungs on this ladder are pretty far apart, and their success in climbing higher is my success as well.

Have fun,

irondad said...

Proves my point exactly. Thank you for sharing that!

There are classes that aren't strictly beginner classes. They are more like refresher courses. There you can use your own bike. Use that outing to evaluate where you are and help make the decisions you need to make. That would be my suggestion, at least.

I had a cranky SX850 triple. It had a kickstart and I needed it a lot. I finally sold it off. You see, the Winter of Dante was rough but look at how good a story it is, now!

It's too bad that some parents react by shutting the door to riding firmly. I've know kids to sneak out to ride with no training and get really hurt. Better to let them try and give them the best start possible. Tough being a parent, isn't it?

How would you like to adopt a slighty scruffy trainer of motor cops? Bet they love you!

I had an old R90. Never could get past having the carbs making my ankles smell of gasoline.

Isn't that the whole idea of the two second rule? The distance is supposed to increase with speed? Those kind of slips of the tongue can be pretty bad in a beginner's class.

I really like the human interest stories. I should do more of them.

The other thing I like to remember with the ladder illustration is to make sure each rung is firmly secured before they move up. The weight of the next step depends upon it.

Take care,