Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bending the rules.

I'd like to introduce you to Nancy and her pretty blue Yamaha Vino. I met Nancy and her scooter when she came to retest on the skills test. Nancy had not passed the first time. Students under a certain score threshold are given the opportunity to try it again. Nancy was joining our group as they took their skill test for the first time.

The scooter arrived at the range on the back of a pickup. Busy coaching my students, I didn't watch the unloading process closely. I did notice it was odd that the ramp being used was a long 2 X 4. The pickup was quite tall. Unloading the scooter went well. Later on, when it was being reloaded, there were a couple of hairy moments. So much so that Jeff, who was auditing the class and whom you met here a few posts ago, felt compelled to run over and help to steady the scooter.

We send the students for a 15 minute break prior to conducting the skills test. During this time we run a warm-up exercise for students joining us for the retest. I introduced myself to Nancy. I could tell she was quite nervous. Most of them are. Understandably, of course. My first self-imposed task is to try to put the students more at ease.

In the last three years or so I've noticed something interesting about my rapport with students. It seems I've developed this ability to quickly and easily bond with middle-aged and older women. It's both satisfying and scary. Being able to bond with students is useful. An increasing number of students fall into the above named category. I feel more effective with these students. On the other hand, what does it say about me? That gray in my sideburns only happens because my helmet rubs and damages the hair follicles. Really.

Nancy bought the scooter to be, in her words, "A garage sale Mama."

Students often have this huge mental struggle with the offset cone weave. Nancy was no exception. She claimed to have failed the test because of it. What's interesting is that nobody can fail on one given exercise. A student can have up to 20 points and pass. The most points a student can get in one exercise, short of outright dropping the bike, is 10. I've seen a couple of 8 point scores but even the weak students usually only score about 6. Even at 8 points in the cone weave, there's still 12 to burn in other places.

If a student fails the evaluation it's because there's a demonstrated general lack of control. It might be just nerves or a lack of ability. The evaluation and scoring discussion and its relevance can take up several posts. The important part for this post is that the cone weave gets most of the blame. Maybe it's the reputation floating around there from failed DMV tests. Whatever the reason, it's become the "Dreaded Cone Weave"!

So we finish the warmup for Nancy. Her scooter is parked in staging at the back of the group. Now Nancy tells me that she never successfully completed the cone weave when she took the class. She also stated that she really wished the instructors would have ridden her scooter in the weave so she could see it. I don't know if what she said about not being successful was true or not. I was not there. That's all I can say about that.

There's a few minutes left in the break. So I put on helmet and gloves. Nancy gives me permission to ride the weave on the Vino. Which I do. Quite successfully, I might add. I put the bike back in line. Here's where the bending the rules part comes in. I know some instructors are reading this. I'm probably busted. It was nice teaching while it lasted!

We're told that retests are there to do exactly that, not to retrain. However, I'm faced with a woman who is going to be on the streets legally the next day if she passes. Does she really have the low speed control she'll need for riding a 150cc scooter? Does she have the confidence that she can control the scooter? Confidence counts for a lot when a rider faces making a critical decision. Do I follow policy to the letter or do I satisfy myself as a professional that this woman leaves with a very important skill? I can't take long but I decide to give it a quick shot. My coaching can't be nearly as long as my blog posts!

Nancy is still geared up. I tell her to ride the weave and let me watch. I observe that she is doing two things detrimental to her success. She's waiting too long to initiate the next lean. All the while she's also rolling on the throttle and gaining too much speed. I give her two pieces of coaching. Short and sweet. Maybe my long blog posts are a release from having to give two or three word coaching tips on the range!

I tell Nancy to start thinking about the next lean as soon as the front tire clears the cone. I also show her how to roll a little bit of throttle then plant her thumb on a flat spot to keep it steady. I had watched two runs. I coached her after that. Her next run was successful. That's all the time we had. By the way, that same advice works really well for big cruisers. More on that in the next post.

When the students were leaving staging to get in line, I patted Nancy on the shoulder. I told her, "don't accelerate, just lean". She nailed a perfect offset cone weave in the eval. Nancy also passed the whole test with a decent score. The picture above was taken after I told Nancy she passed. Can you see her beaming?

I think all Nancy needed was confidence. Conquering a personal demon does a lot for that. It's amazing how a mental block can screw up everything else. I decided helping her face the challenge was a worthwhile pursuit. What I observed about her other skills during the eval confirmed that. She had a good foundation. We just needed to shore up a corner of it some.

On a side note, I'd urge anyone teaching motorcycle safety classes to spend some time on a scooter. I know that quite a number of readers here ride scooters. Reading your blogs and your comments has helped me tremendously. Let me offer my sincere thanks for what you have shared. I feel I have a much better awareness of the validity and value of scooters in the riding world because of it. I take them and their riders very seriously. So much so that I have gone and ridden several different models on my own. Begging, borrowing, and stealing all along the way! More people are bringing scooters to classes. Instructors owe it to their students to learn the quirks and differences. In some ways they're more twitchy. In other ways, they seem to take longer to respond. Having a good understanding is part of being truly professional, in my humble opinion. Ok, maybe not so humble. Whatever.

All in all, it was a win-win situation. Both Nancy and I came away with positive experiences. I wish her all the joy in the world as she enters the two wheeled world as a full fledged member!

Miles and smiles,



Stacy said...

Yes, my personal nemesis, the cone weave...

I remember Nancy, as I audited her classroom session, but she was in the pm range session. I did get to see the scooter unloading process from across the range.

But back to the cone weave. Do you have the dimensions for the cone placement on the range?

American Scooterist Blog said...

Dan, I applaud you! The rigidity of coming to a class and being expected to par the course is quite different from the days when we took our road tests on the street and in traffic. That's where I came from. Nowadays, with skills being prepared, in a sense, on a closed course where finesse counts more than it did in the past, I'd bet most people are intimidated by the tighter skill sets needed than on the streets. Its just not something most people consider, setting up a similar cone course in an empty lot. They ride the streets and think they're good.

So again, I think you did something very special here. In one way you remembered this lady's needs and you met them. And because of it she not only passed, but she knows how to do it right because you were willing to go the extra distance to lead her to understanding.

We need more instructors like you.


bobskoot said...

Where was Stacy with her (or your) camera for that "Dan on Scooter" shot ?
The CVT on scooters is a little tricky, when you ease off the power you don't get much deceleration drag, and yes there is that delay in throttle response on acceleration due to weights and belts fumbling around inside the case. It is easier to "DRAG" the rear brakes while applying a little throttle for more control. Most beginners don't understand the dynamics of turning, they expect to turn the handlebars and just turn.
A big OOOOPPPS, there I go again, I'm only a grasshopper trying to educate the master.

I think you did the right thing, after all, you are training a rider to be proficient on the road and this is what it took to accomplish your goal, and you did her a great favour by giving her the benefit of your experience.

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Balisada said...

The analytical part of my brain tells me that the cone weave pattern is exactly the same in Basic Rider Training as it is in Rider Skills Practice (that would be the class you take after you get some miles under your belt).

However, I think that the reason that it was a breeze in RSP, is confidence that had built up in the meantime.

I passed Basic Rider Training, but actually just barely. He said that I didn't do as good during the test as I had during the class (test anxiety really killed my confidence, the cone weave really does have this aura of impossibility).

And now, I am half tempted to steal some crackers from the Courtyard Cafe and wander out to the motorcycle range in PL3 and practice, it's painted on the parking lot . . .

Baron's Life said...

It's all about confidence and this Lady was lucky to have you by her side, as she gained confidence, learn how to do it and passed.
God Bless you for you have put a human element touch on teaching and passing.
I too applaud you Sir.

irondad said...

The cones are 15 feet apart. Each cone is a foot and a half off center. Picture a straight line down the center. That makes three feet in width between the cones.

Take care,

Allen Madding said...

Ok, so where is the picture of you on the Vino?

If you REALLY want to understand a scooter, I would think you'd need to spend some time on one to get a real handle on its characteristics in all manner of riding situations (emergency braking, wet weather, etc). So, maybe you should trade one of the bikes for a Vino :) (ducking)


Conchscooter said...

Show up in the Keys and you can ride my wife's Vespa ET4, I'll follow you on the Bonneville and then I will be riding the faster bike. Actually I like stealing her Vespa 150 for a change from time to time.

Lucky said...

Yeah, you should get a scooter. Hey, I know a guy who's got one for sale! ;)

The offset weave was actually my favorite exercise... My mental block was in the confounded figure 8 box. I did OK with it until the test, when I put my foot down. Oops.

irondad said...

Thank you. I'm honored by your words. Most urban accidents happen at less than 30 mph. Sure, I want to follow the rules. That protects me on liability! Stll, the whole point is to impart skills to riders. We instructors should never forget that.

Sorry, didn't have time to set up a publicity crew! Your advice on dragging the rear brake and keeping the throttle rolled is excellent. Due to the throttle lag, it's a great tool to keep momentum.

Most of the riders in our classes are brand new. Their whiteboard is pretty full with just the basics. We've decided to give them a chance to process the really critical basic skills by not adding much finesse stuff. They're just not ready to process it yet. So what we do in the 90 degree corner is to coach the rider to enter the corner slightly faster to keep the momentum up.

Take care,


irondad said...

You're right. The cone weave in the BRT and the RSP use exactly the same markings. Crackers for cones? Interesting. Look for the white half circles on the range.

Not only has your confidence built, but your skill level, as well. I can attest to that because I saw you ride at ART. Look back on where you were and where you are now. You've come far, girl!

Thank you for the kind words. Last time I checked, life was still about humans!

It was a brief encounter. Nancy was ready. I just needed to show her where the stepping stone was.

Take care,


irondad said...

You know, Clinton's bike is at my house. He hasn't been around to ride it much since it's been raining and cold a lot. Maybe I should trade his bike for a Vino!

Other than a Vino scooter, you will never see me mixing vino and motorcycles. Yes, I could be in Georgia anytime, so be ready to duck!

Is there any point to riding fast there? I mean, don't you get to the end of the island in like ten minutes or something?

By the way, funny comment about "butch tattoo's"! Watch out, I could be back in Florida,soon, too!

Take care,


irondad said...

Seriously, I think of getting a scooter every once in a while. Especially right after I ride one. On the other hand, having to ride with my ankles together while wearing my Roadcrafter pants creates a sort of ( how do I put this delicately? ) "equipment storage" problem!

In a totally unrelated note, my inlaws are flying back home out of Phoenix today. They've been in Prescott the last ten days. We're going to pick them up at our airport later today. Guess I should take the car, huh?

Take care,


kz1000st said...

I know this is a tiny point but my curiosity is piqued. Was the Vino in question a 50cc or a full blown 125? Since they both look the same the photo doesn't tell the story. It would be easier to relate to Nancy's issues if we knew if she had to struggle with three horsepower or eight. As silly as that sounds there is quite a difference between the two machines

Tinker said...

Started out as Motorcyclist, LOVED going up through the gears, and back down. After few years, I was persuaded to give it up. But then, got a Yamaha Riva 200Z, shiftless of course, and couldn't get thrills from shifting up or down. And it was slower than I felt safe on.

So I went back to the first compromise vehicle a Honda CB400A. 400 cc, while it is grossly underpowered for a 400 (a modern 250 can blow it in the weeds) is still 400cc, and has a bit of oomph, even though it DOES have an automatic. About 85 mph max, enough to get out of its own way, but not so much I get into trouble. Has a good deal of "Road Presence",more so than the Riva. People give me more room, on the highways. And it as elderly as I am, now. You learn to do the same things with less, less power, less accleration, fewer gears (TWO!).

Modern tires are much improved from my initial experience, so I get my kicks from carving (slow) corners now. Getting used to it. Not too bad...

Moving on to bicycles now, back into the fire.

Has anyone tried the "automatic" three speed "Coaster" bikes?

SheRidesABeemer said...

an instructor that is not allowed to instruct...I could not stand it. If she failed before but is not clear why, of course she needed instruction. You did the right thing, no doubt! :)

Heinz N Frenchie said...

Wonderful blog. We appreciate your devoting time to us scooter lovers. When we took the class it was all scooters (Vespa 150s) for scooters and on scooters. We were as green as cartoon frogs. The first time I put on a helmet in my life and I put it on backwards. Of course everyone broke up and guess it relaxed them. Gave them confidence that they had a leg up. Then the first time I took the Vespa off the stand I almost dropped it as I was shocked by how heavy it was. Fortunately the teacher was standing right next to me. Wonder at his intuition? Guess you can tell from this that I am the lightweight in this duo. But we were good students and we passed. We learned so much and are so thankful. We think it should be mandatory for all scooter riders to take a class. Believe it or not, months later we actually saw a young woman riding her scooter with her helmet on backwards. There are more of us out there. Watch out. Your blog is always an education in life and riding.

Dave said...

Well Dan you wouldn’t be the first MC rider that had the guilty pleasure of scooter riding : )

Start looking at the 150cc an up this should take care of that storage problem .

To late now but after the scooter bug bites there is no know cure.

Old F

irondad said...

This scooter was the 125. I mistakenly called it a 150 in the post.

Take care,


irondad said...

Which did you enjoy more, the scooter or the CB400? I find the scooter has a certain appeal that's different than a bigger bike. Makes me want to go explore our town more.

Take care,


irondad said...

Thank you so much for your support! Sometimes it's obvious what a student needs and it can be quickly imparted. How could I claim to care about students and not do the right thing?

Heinz & Frenchie,
What refreshing honesty! I love it. I saw an article from a newspaper that hit the web once. A student put her 3/4 face helmet on backwards and the instructors never noticed. The photographer took a picture of the student and never really noticed, either. She just happened to be the student he picked to take a picture of. The whole thing became a national joke among the instructor corp!

I don't feel at all guilty about riding a scooter. I must really be sick with the bug, huh? Thanks for the tip on picking a bigger scooter. The trick is to find one big enough to be practical but small enough it doesn't lose it's particular charm, I think.

Take care,


Steve Williams said...

What a great post on motorcycle instruction. The MSF classes I have taken were good, but they were regimented and followed a strict schedule. If someone needed personal attention it would be difficult for the instructors to find time to do it. Or so it seemed.

And the first one I took I was nervous. I had not ridden much after a break of decades and had been riding the scooter for a couple months. Getting on a motorcycle again, a 250 Kawaski dirtbike, felt intimidating. And the commands of the instructors was intimidating. If I wasn't paying close attention and had a little experience I could see myself panicking. It was obvious that the classes paid attention most to the first person through the course and did a follow the leader thing. If they did something wrong we all usually followed. I have to remind myself that I was not always as comfortable or as confident as I am now. And I got there through formal instruction, practice, and experience. Dan, you are an essential leg of that.

And you'll get your instructor karma points for the help you offered Nancy!

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

-Tim said...

OK this is completely off topic, but I can't figure out any other way to contact you....
How do you organize the photos in your posts so they aren't just random. When I upload photos to my blog, they are just put wherever, and I am unable to move them...I hate it.

irondad said...

You can always send me an e-mail at

I'd be happy to forward to you a phone number and we can talk as you work on your computer.

Here's what I do on photos. I'm figuring you are using Blogger for your site, as well.

When I am composing a post and uploading photos I am in the "compose" part of the page. When I upload a photo, the picture goes to the top of the post.

After the photo is loaded, I click on the link to the left of "compose" that says "edit html".

You find the lines of html that denote the photo. These lines include the name you gave the photo originally.

I copy these lines by hitting the ctrl and c key at the same time. Then I delete the lines I just copied. Then I simply place my cursor where I want the picture to appear and hit the ctrl and v keys at the same time.

What usually happens to me is that this process puts more space between paragraphs. When I'm all done I have to go back and delete the extra spacing. I've found that the letter p surrounded by brackets denotes extra spacing so I delete them as appropriate. I'm sure there's a quick way to insert some code that would do the same thing but I haven't found it, yet. Mostly due to a lack of time to explore.

Hope this helps. Again, feel free to send me an e-mail and I'll give you a phone number. We can talk about while we're both on the blogger site.

take care,


Lance said...

Irondad, great post - it was nice to meet Nancy and her blue Vino, and thanks for all you do to help us "Nancy's" become better riders!