Monday, July 20, 2009

A higher level of training.

Once again the instructors' bikes are sitting patiently while we do our thing. At least this time a couple of them will get to play a bit. The two bikes in front of Elvira belong to instructors teaching a basic course. They won't get to participate, sorry to say. I'm waiting for the class to get off the range. I'm way early but eager to go. My friend Julie and I are going to teach an RSP class. Otherwise known as Rider Skills Practice. The students will participate using their own bikes. Some of the drills have demonstrations. Yee haw, we get to ride our own bikes for those!

While I was waiting I took some time to mess around with shutter speeds and aperature settings on the Nikon. The beginning students became my subjects. I'm actually starting to understand how all that stuff relates and works together! The "Trinity of Exposure" is coming alive in my head little by little. Not that this is a great photo, but I actually made the camera do this type of shot on purpose. The auto mode used to be the only mode I used. Now I'm making little side trips.

You all have met Elvira. I don't know if Julie has named her bike or not. It's a V-Star 1100. Julie handles that big bike with ease. She's smooth and precise. I love the rumble of that motor!

Today we have a student of special interest to me. It's my youngest son, Clinton.

We had a small group so there was plenty of room. I told Clinton that I would pay for the class if he wanted to take part. I was gratified that he took me up on the offer. Clinton's been an endorsed rider for about five years, now. This would be a chance for me to see where his skill level was. At the same time, he'd get some valuable training.

The RSP was designed as a riding clinic with no classroom time. We do have some discussions on street strategies, mental skills, and the mechanics of accident avoidance skills. However, each session is short. The students receive what we call a pocket guide for their own personal study later. The main thing is to ride. The class covers cornering, braking, swerving, and low speed maneuvers. We run drills based on having to accomplish two accident avoidance maneuvers in quick succession. Once students get around 3,000 miles or so of riding experience we encourage them to come back for this class. Basic skills are taken to a higher level. Some of the turns are tighter, for example. Which requires a lot more of a head turn and precise control.

Last year we scheduled a large number of RSP classes. Attendance wasn't what we had expected. Another class designed to get unendorsed riders legal and give them some training experienced the high demand. When an RSP is scheduled, full or not, it eats up range space. In fact, a lot of the RSP classes got cancelled due to low enrollment. Which means we wasted a range slot. Not to mention that some of the students who were enrolled in cancelled classes had to wait for another slot. It was a less than ideal situation.

This year we scheduled less RSP classes but committed to running them even with low registration. Which is how we came to run this class with five students.

What I like is that these students are serious riders. Sadly, a huge number of our Basic students never come back for more training. That really bothers me. I'll share what I consider a very important thought about this at the end of the post. Anyway, these folks braved a 90 degree afternoon to improve their skills. One of the students just bought a new Concours and wanted to get familiar with it. One was a Basic course student come back for more training. One got a new to him Harley and wanted to make sure his skills were solid before taking a passenger on it. One of the guys was riding a SilverWing scooter. I've been teaching him in various advanced classes for a decade or more. His goal is to come back every so often to keep skills sharp.

Our RSP starts with a circuit ride. Briefly, it's a timed course and the students get points added for mistakes in the run. It's not pass or fail, of course. Merely a baseline to see where they are when they come in to the class. The circuit ride assesses skills used in everyday riding.

The course starts with a 90 degree tight turn where the rider needs to keep the bike inside the boundaries. Then on to a barrel ride between three cones. Just like the horse people do. Then on to a curve. Next comes a swerve with the cue cones 13 feet from the barrier. When the swerve is done the rider goes around and makes a quick stop in the shortest distance possible. All of it is scored. Then we conduct exercises designed to sharpen specific skills.

At the end of the session we run the circuit ride again. The students are able to compare their beginning score with the new score. 98 percent show marked improvements. The goal is for the students to take these newly sharpened skills and use them effectively in the real world. It's quite satisfying as an instructor.

Did I mention demonstrations? Each time we do the circuit ride one of has to ride a demo. What a rough life!

And what of Clinton, you might ask? I know this is going to sound a lot like a father bragging about his son. Probably that's because it is. I was gratified to see that Clinton's physical skills were at a pretty high level coming in. I was greatly impressed. Not that he didn't need some tuning up. I told Julie coming in to treat Clinton like any other student. Which meant to cut him no slack! Actually, I held him to a higher level just because of him being the son of the Great Irondad! Man, I almost made myself gag there. But you know what I mean. I don't believe in "good enough" when it comes to riding.

By the way, I think Clinton was showing off a bit for me. Yes, I know it's possible to scrape the pegs on the VFR in a parking lot. You didn't need to show me!

I want to leave you with something to think about. It relates to training. Whether it be under the watchful eye of a professional or repeated efforts on your own. Sometimes a rider might think that when a situation presents itself, the right action and skill will be there. Despite the fact that a rider hasn't actually practiced that particular thing once, let alone over and over. Let me share with you a statement made to a few of us by an instructor from a different venue.

Some stuff just never leaves your blood. Kind of like riding. During a tactical training exercise a fellow student made some remark to the instructor. It had to do with the fact the student thought he would just be able to handle a situation when it came up even though he hadn't specifically trained for it previously. Here's what the instructor told us:

"You will not rise to the occasion. You will default to your level of training."

Pretty powerful statement, don't you agree?

Miles and smiles,



Arizona Harley Dude said...

"You will not rise to the occasion. You will default to your level of training."

I was 18, riding a Honda XL250, a car pulled out of a side street right in front of me, I SLAMMED the brakes, put my foot down and ran over it, slid the bike completly sideways, put my foot back on the peg, straightened up and came to an upright stop. Training? What stinking training? I went to a rider training class two weeks later because I learned my lesson. I wasn't good, I was damn lucky.

Charlie6 said...


Your son comes from good stock!

I wonder if mine will pick up the motorcycling bug some day?

Sojourner rides said...

I totally agree with the closing statement. I try to take an advanced class at the beginning and end of each riding season. I'm scheduled for my SRTT (Street Riding Technical Training) class this Saturday. It is always a blast, challenging and physically demanding. One can never learn too much about riding a motorcycle! Never.

Road Captain said...

Arizona Harley Dude we must be brothers or something... I had an XL250 when I was 18. Loved every minute of it.
Love that closing statement Dan! I love training too. I gotta get me some more training when I get some more money to pay for it.

Steve Williams said...

I agree with you and everyone else about the closing statement regarding rising to the occasion. A belief that one will rise to the occasion is a nice myth promulgated in movies where the unsung become unexpected heros. It happens from time to time but not something I want to rely on.

I think the phrase "I'd rather be lucky that good" is in the same vein. A nice rationalization to not have to work hard at something.

When it comes to riding there is no substitute for training and practice.

That's why I keep coming here. To learn more. Part of my distance education life long learning process.

Oh, and to enjoy your riding with and travels!

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

Jack Riepe said...

Dear IronDad:

I agtee with your assessment of the training default.

I like to think I rise to the occasion just getting oin the bike. Regarding the training default, I was in the process of changing lanes in traffic at speed this past weekend, when I found myself leaned over and confronting the husk of a blown truck tire (gator) dead center before me.

And I was really moving, about 85mph.

I didn't give it a second thought... But straightened up the bike and whacked that damn thing head on (just like the 2"x4" in class). There was a "pop-pop" sound as I passed over it, without further incident.

As near as I could tell, this was the whole retread skin off the tire. There was ansolutely no option of swerving around it. I can't tell you what might hasve transpired without the training.

It must have felt special to have your son in your class. My daughter and I are in the same profession, and she once honored me by bringing me in for show and tell. She was in graduate school at the time and asked me to lecture on the fine points of ethics in public relations.

I went through the exercise in a sweat. Later, she said she was proud of the reaction I drew from the class. I replied that I didn't think I told them anything special. Her response to me was, "Dad, you have no idea of the suckage of our average speaker."

Everything in perspective.

Fondest regards,
Jack "reep" Toad
Twisted Roads

Baron's Life said...

intersting post and comments...enjoy and ride safe

Lobsterman said...

My county in Ohio has chosen not to offer any Experienced Rider courses this year, choosing to offer more Basic Rider classes instead. While I'm glad there's a high demand for BR, I think they're doing the existing licensed riders a disservice. I continue to practice my skills 3 years after my Basic class and I ride year round, but an Advanced Rider class would certainly be something I want to do. I'm quite sure I would learn something useful, maybe even life saving. Too bad there aren't any here. Maybe next year.

Sojourner rides said...

Hi Dan,

No problem... I'll just delete this. But I wanted you to know that this last post to you regarding an "investment" deal was also sent to me and arrived as if it was sent by you. The person has probably sent this out to a lot of folks... Just a heads up.

irondad said...


I deleted the spam. Sorry that the comment looked like it came from me. The spammers are getting more tricky.