Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The boring life of an instructor's bike?

The other day my cell phone rang. The caller ID indicated it was Tallie. She's the one who does the instructor scheduling. It's an always hectic and sometimes very demanding job. Tallie handles it all with unending grace and charm. She's one of my heroes. I answer the call.

"Hey, Dan, this is Tallie. Do you want to teach ART next week?"

That's like asking if the government wants to raise taxes. Or asking a Lion if it prefers raw meat. Come to think of it, it's also a lot like asking Jack Riepe if he likes pole dancers. Of course, I said yes right away. Not for me, mind you, but for Elvira's sake.

ART stands for Advanced Rider Training. It's our flagship motorcycle training class. We hold the course on an enclosed go kart track. Strictly speaking it's not a track class. We do spend a lot of time on proper cornering technique. The big difference is that we teach street lines as opposed to racing lines. In a racing line the goal is to use as much of the track as needed. In a street line, it's imperative to always leave a way out. Remember "Plan B"?

This would make my fourth time so far this year. I taught the first civilian ART in May. In between were two Police ART sessions. Now it was back to a civilian group once more. As much as I love the hard charging atmosphere of the police training, it's good to pull the throttle back a notch or two, so to speak.

You'd think that the bike of an active instructor would have it made. In some ways the bikes do have it good. There's a few of us who practically live on a bike. Elvira and I are together almost every week day. It's a good life, but it's mostly work related. A Saturday and / or Sunday should see the work week behind us. The weekend should be a time to just go out and stretch the legs with miles of relaxed riding. Third star to the right and on 'til morning, as Peter Pan would say. That's the way it should be, at least.

Our work week doesn't really end. Weekends during the summer mean teaching. A lot. In June I racked up 63 hours of teaching. On top of my actual bread and butter job. What that means to our bikes is a bit more riding to work. Then just sitting and waiting patiently. Since the bulk of our classes are the Basic Rider Training, that means a lot of sitting, watching, and waiting. The bikes DO get to be in a motorcycle related environment all weekend. Sadly, they're only spectators. It's for an excellent cause, mind you. I find teaching riders to be extremely satisfying and rewarding. It's just hard on Elvira as it was on Sophie.

The photo above is of Elvira with Mike's ST1100. Both bikes sitting on the sidelines while watching the training bikes have all the fun. I can just see the bikes looking at each other and wincing. Some new rider will make some sort of abrupt move. Our bikes will be saying something like,

"I'm sure glad I'm not a training bike!" Or, "If Dan did that to me I'd dump him on his head, just for spite. Of course, MY rider would never do a thing like that in the first place."

Sound far fetched? How do we really know what they're thinking when they're forced to be sidelined?

Here's a shot from the very next weekend.

Different scenery, different companions, same situation. Just sitting around waiting. That's tough for a bike that's born to run. Ho, hum.

ART, in contrast, is so much more fun for the bikes. Our bikes are an integral part of the course. We're like cowboys on fast horses riding among the herd. Using our speed and skill we cut individuals out from the group. We might have the student follow us to see the proper lines. We might park the student and have them ride with us on our bikes for a bit. That's an awesome tool for imparting understanding of the many aspects involved in proper cornering. By the way, you might not have thought about it, but an instructor has to be as fast two up as the solo mounted students are. Can't be holding up the group while we take somebody on a tour of the track. Sometimes it's just a quick chat to pass on a tip. Either way, the bikes get to play and they have a total blast. Believe me, the bikes know where they're headed and get excited. Kind of like how a dog knows they're going to the vet, but with an opposite reaction.

I arrive early. It's fun to have that half hour or so with an empty track all to myself. In this case, Jeff Earls arrived at the same time as I did. I guess I'm not the only who likes to come early and play, eh? I'm coming in from the West and Jeff's coming in from the East. We meet in the middle. Jeff's another of my heroes. He's a perpetual top five finisher in the Iron Butt Rally. Take the last two rallies, for example. The IBR is held every two years. In 2005 Jeff finished 3rd. In 2007 he finished 4th. That's tough and smart in the same package!

I park Elvira. Jeff does the same to his Moto Guzzi Breva 1100. His usual bike is the BMW K1200GT, affectionately nicknamed "Battle Star Galactica". It's currently being readied for the upcoming IBR so isn't available for duty. The gate's locked. Jeff and I fish out the key and open the padlock. Walking back to the bikes I look at Elvira. She's been here before. She knows why we're here. Like the flaring nostrils of a fine mare, Elvira's ram air scoops are open more fully. She's picking up the scent that surrounds the track.

Jeff and I head up the long gravel road that leads to the track. Elvira's trembling. Far more than the roughness of the road would call for. She's getting more excited by the second. Jeff's bike is picking up the pace, too. The track is calling. Soon Elvira and I are seeing the Guzzi through the dust cloud ahead of us.

For just a bit the track is hidden behind a bunch of parked cargo trailers. We burst out of them and there it is. An empty track just begging to be ridden. With two eager bikes we happily comply.

We play, I mean, work as long as we can. Well, somebody has to make sure the track's clean and safe for the students don't they? We do that job very thoroughly as befits the good instructors we are. All too soon, though, it's time to get things set up. The bikes are content as they know much more fun is coming their way. This time the waiting is easier for them. They know it won't be for long.

In short order the other two instructors arrive. Dan arrives on his GSX-R. Dan's a partner in the PSSR, an organization that runs actual track days. Stan rolls in on a red Interceptor. It's kind of funny when this group works together. There's two Dan's and a Stan! As a side note, Stan's the one responsible for my taking my first professional training class 22 years ago. Also for becoming an instructor myself later on. A sincere thanks to you on both counts, Stan!

Unfortunately for Elvira, I'm teaching classroom for the regular ART group. Since we have the track for the day, a cornering clinic for instructors is being held in the morning. Three of the four bikes will get to play twice. I give Elvira a gentle pat on her shapely seat. I assure her that when the other instructors are eating lunch, we'll put on enough "warm-up" miles to make up for it.

Later in the day Elvira gets her chance to play. She even gets to run down a "fast guy" on an R6! Maybe being an instructor's bike isn't so bad after all!

Miles and smiles,



Lance said...

It sounds like Elvira had a nice day, chasing that R6!

tedder said...

heh. Funny to be reading your blog and see a pic of *my* bike in there.

Bryce said...

OK..what did you do with the two stuffed bears?

They were cute...and where'd you see them?

irondad said...


Elvira was panting, but quite happy when we got home.


Yep, that's your bike from a week and a half ago. What's even funnier is that you're the only one of the IRT instructors who actually brought your own bike to ride. Good on you!!!


I hate to say it, but the bears seemed a bit too cuddly for my blog. The photo is of a statue sitting on my mantle. A relative gave it to us for an anniversary. You know how it is when you have the reputation as a "Bike" person.

Take care,


tedder said...

Dan- a student commented on that, too. Doh! Oh well, the other instructor regretted not riding..

Steve Williams said...

I like the idea of thinking about Plan B's. I'll need to make sure I have some stored away for a rainy day.

Your advanced rider training is far different than what MSF offers here in Pennsylvania. Our ARC is basically the same as the beginner course but without the classroom time and you get to ride your own machine. It would be great to have a track to practice on instead of a parking lot.

I suppose I could move to Oregon and take a course with you. How many scooters go through the ART? Might be scary for the scooter. Like a human showing up at a vampire bar...

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

cpa3485 said...

It's too bad you don't enjoy your job. Or Elvira for that matter either. Great way to personalize the feelings and thoughts of the motorcycle. My wife and I park next to each other downtown. I often imagine the Subaru and the SYM having conversations with each during the day when we are at work.
Something like "How was your ride in this morning?" "Great, how about you?"

bobskoot said...

Like Jim (cpa3485), I was thinking that this was Elvira's blog, her thoughts, opinions and a fast thinking brain and you were just her escort for the day.

nice to have the manly bike pictures back in place of the cuddly bears.

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

irondad said...


We do offer a sort of riding clinic in a parking lot. The students bring their own bikes. It is several steps above the Basic Course, however, even if it's not conducted on a track.

There are very few scooter riders who come to ART. We had an MP3 that I posted about last Fall. Once in a while there's a Silver Wing or a big Burgman.

I'm not sure that the reason the scooter pilots don't show is because of fear. Although I'm sure they'd feel out of place. It seems to me like it's a perceptual thing. A class on a track sounds like racing and scooter riders don't think of using their mounts that way. What we're trying to get across is that the class is actually geared to anyone who rides on the open roads, enjoys cornering at whatever pace, and might expect to encounter unexpected hazards.

Take care,


irondad said...

cpa3485 ( Jim ),

Sometimes I feel like the bikes actually are alive. When a rider establishes an intimate connection with the bike, their personality and quirks come through pretty clearly. I swear there's even days when the bike is more ready to play than others.

Yeah, I'm going to have to try to find something to do that I might actually like! :)


This past year with Elvira has been like getting to know a new woman in my life. She's actually made me "change" in order to further the relationship. It's a weird feeling but I'm liking where this is going.

I, too, am glad the photo changed. I thought I was more secure in my manhood than that, but the bears just seemed too "soft" for a guy like me!

Take care,


Dean W said...

Tallie called me for that ART class, too. At the time, I was in Crescent City, CA, and southbound...

I did my cornering practice on US-101 and CA-1 the next day...

fasthair said...

Mr. IronDad: And people think I'm weird for taking to my bike. I just read a blog post about some guy talking FOR his bike!

Whiskey want to go play with that pretty Road King or that sexy Ms. FJR this time? Wasn't that fun Whiskey dusting off the 103" stroker motor!? :)


irondad said...

Dean W,

Does your comment mean you're home safe and sound? Did you take the planned route home or modify it so as not to make the young man ride in the windy spots?

By the way, you don't need cornering practice. I've seen you ride the track, remember?


Now where would you read something like that? I fully realize a bike is just a machine. Ok, so maybe not. Being called weird is a compliment. Nothing is as appealing as listening to the enthusiasm of a madman!

Ms. FJR would be proud to go blow some carbon out with Whiskey any time.

Take care,


Jack Riepe said...

Dear IronDad:

I know that bikes have feelings... "Fire Balls" screams every time I aim my ass at the seat. Great narrative.. With a wonderful underlying moral... "If you don't understand what I'm talking about, go stand someplace else."

Fondest regards,
Jack "R" Toad
Twisted Roads

Conchscooter said...

Great. I'm the odd man out as usual. I ride a motorcycle that is all metal and no flesh at all. Luckily, because when I throw it down the road it protests not one bit. Perhaps I need to be taking art classes and pirouetting with irondad. God that would be good, we should all meet in oregon and take a class and drive irondad over the edge.I wonder if they make high-viz straight jackets?

Dean W said...

Yep, home. 10 days (including 3 @ Laguna Seca, and one day of downtime trying to find a battery for the VTR250 in Crescent City), 1600 miles. The Child Unit did OK for his first road trip; he gets a bit freaked out by bumps in corners, but then again, he's only been riding five months and the trip more than doubled his total experience.

As for scooters- I suspect the lack of interest in ART is the same as the lack of interest in training to begin with- "that doesn't apply to me". In the case of ART, scooters tend to be urban transport, so clearly anything more complicated than a single 90 degree corner doesn't apply to them...

So there may be exceptions (the guy with the MP3 last year, or the occasional "maxi-scooter") but I don't think we'll ever see many scooters at ART.