If it hasn't come through by now, the main thrust of this blog is to promote using a motorcycle as a part of everyday life. It's open to debate, as most things are, as to whether or not we live a motorcycle lifestyle or if motorcycling is a way of life. To me, the word "lifestyle" has the meaning of affectation, or putting on. In my world, motorcycles are a part of daily life. Kind of like my coffee maker but a whole lot more fun. I'm passionate about riding just like I'm passionate about living with Katie. I'm lucky to have had two truly great loves. I just hope I never have to chose between them!
I've really enjoyed being an active motorcycle instructor. I have a chance to share my motorcycling philosophy with a receptive audience. Some of my students catch the fever and use a bike a lot. For example, Marv came through a class of mine earlier this year. Now I see his beautiful FZ-1 parked outside his work place almost every day. I've invited Marv to appear here as a guest. Here's hoping he takes me up on the offer. Marv's an enthusiastic and interesting fellow. I'm able to plant a seed with many new riders. Sometimes it sprouts, sometimes not.
Regardless of what happens down the road, riders all start at the same place. They start with learning to ride. Here in Oregon the vast majority of new endorsements are obtained by our Basic Rider Training graduates. Since I teach a lot, this means I get to touch many of these folks early on. The goal is to get these students to the point where they can demonstrate a basic level of skill. That skill level is demonstrated during our formal riding evaluation. It sounds simple, doesn't it? Take new students. Teach them to ride. Give them the riding test. Sign completion card and send them on their way. There's much more involved than it might seem.
As in motorcycling in general, so it is in this particular endeavour. The journey itself is where the real experience happens. Sometimes the journey is fairly uneventful. Other times not so much. In fact, the journey can be downright trialsome for some. The journey is what keeps me so enthused about teaching. I've had to acquire a whole new set of skills myself in the process. These skills have served me well in other areas of my life. Sometimes I wonder who's teaching who. In my not-so-humble opinion, I feel that being an effective instructor involves much more than passing along information. A truly skilled instructor makes a huge emotional investment in the students. We also need to be somewhat skilled parking lot psychologists, as well. Let me give you a couple of examples.
Here's a photo of a recent group of students. This isn't all of them as there's a few wandering around loose during the break. A full class numbers twelve students. Each one of those is a distinct and different personality. Each is there to reach the destination of becoming endorsed riders. Every one of them will require a slightly different journey to get there. The key to being an effective instructor is to give each and every one of them what they need. Which means we need to make an effort to tune in to each individual. To get them "there" you need to know where their current "here" is.
So what do you do with a young man who seems to have an attitude? He's there with his girlfriend. As you guessed, the young man needs to show off for her. He doesn't want it to be obvious that he needs training as much as she does. This makes him a bit less cooperative than he could be. I could choose one of three options. Firstly, I could ignore him. This won't give him what he needs. It could possibly hinder other students in their own learning process. Secondly, I could impose my "authority" on him. Sure, he'd comply but not align. I want alignment and I won't get it by shutting him down and making him think I'm a bad guy. I don't really care so much about his opinion of me. If he closes his mind, though, the important stuff won't be absorbed. The young man still won't get what he needs. I go for the third option. I make him my ally.
"Hey, it looks like you've maybe ridden before. I can see some good basic skills there. Your classmates are going to see this and they'll start looking up to you. It would sure be of help to them to see your great example as we ride the exercises."
Now he's having to focus on the proper technique because he wants to be looked up to. Deep down he's as insecure as the rest of the group. The young man rose to the challenge. He needed to be looked up to by his girlfriend. As a bonus I gave him the whole class. The truth of the matter is that the rest of the class is so absorbed in their own journey that they'll hardly notice him. Doesn't matter. Perception became reality for the young man. He got what he needed as evidenced by his doing very well on the skills test. I got what I needed. The chance to do my job. Which is to be the best instructor I can possibly be. Each student has the right to expect that from me.
That's my teaching partner Mike in the picture above. The skills test is done and we're starting a couple of traffic interaction exercises. The students will have a chance to mingle and deal with other traffic before facing the real world in a day or two. Mike's reading the directions so I took a moment to snap a photo.
One of the gals had purchased a beautiful red and cream colored Honda Rebel. She told me her first venture on the bike ended as quickly as it had started. With a spectacular launch and a broken ankle. Now she was here as a student to perhaps get a bit better start this time. Her enthusiasm level was sky high. Her skill level, well, a little closer to the ground. I love this kind of challenge. Rebel Lady didn't pass the skills test. However, during the journey her skill levels gained some altitude.
The other day I was in a department store. I guess my Hi-Viz 'Stich made me an easy target. One minute I'm walking down the aisle towards the back of the store. The next minute I feel this crushing pressure while my nostrils register the strong scent of leather. There was a brief moment of disorientation. Thinking it might be Mr. Riepe come to Oregon to do some bondage with me, I mean bonding, I twisted around to face my attacker. It was Rebel Lady. She laid a big hug on me and excitedly squealed that she had made it.
Taking what we had taught her in class, she practiced on her bike. Having a permit, she was able to ride along with her boyfriend. Then she went back and did the skills test on her Rebel. This time she passed just fine. She spent the next fifteen minutes telling me how she hears my voice in her head talking her through all the situations she's been encountering. Then she took me out and showed me her bike. Some people might find this annoying. It's just one of the perks for me. Can you hear the happiness in her voice? I had a part in that. By the way, Rebel Lady, you're welcome to use my voice in your head until your own develops.
Most of the students fall into one of three categories. There's aggressive and overconfident. There's the middle of the road bunch. Then there's the timid and nervous riders. Once in a while, though, a person will come in at the extreme end of the first or last group. One of our gals was at the extreme end of nervous. You could accurately say she was scared. In fact, she herself told me she was scared "spitless". Well, the word she used had to do with an excretion at the other end of the alimentary canal. I took the liberty of making a slight change.
In short, she told me that she used to ride as a passenger when she was a kid. The rider was her older brother and things were fun. Nothing bad happened to her brother, by the way. He just moved across the country and wasn't nearby for support anymore. Now in her fifties the woman decided she wanted to explore riding a motorcycle on her own. Whether her family is extra controlling or she allows herself to be controlled isn't a subject for this discussion. However, there was a lot of that going on. Basically the theme was "if you ride a motorcycle you will end up dead". Apparently it was an intense campaign. Yet, here she was. Totally scared but determined. I wish I could say this was a rousing success story. It wasn't. I guess it depends on how you measure success. Sometimes success isn't determined solely by reaching the destination. In some cases the victory comes from starting on the journey.
During one of the first few exercises the woman came to a stop, then did a slow tipover. This really freaked her out. She was determined to go on but needed some time to pull herself together. We gave it to her. A bit later she came to a stop beside me for some coaching. She told me she was feeling like she wanted to pass out. She didn't want to quit, though.
Now I had to make a decision as an instructor. I obviously can't have a student riding who's on the verge of passing out. Safety is job one for us. On the other hand, even if the student has no chance of passing the skills test, everyone deserves the chance to experience the discovery process. It's not my place to say when that journey should end for them. I'm only going to pull them out if it's very clear that to continue would put them or the other students in harm's way. One has to use reasoned judgement in the matter. That's why I try so hard to connect with the students. I need to know where they are at any point in time.
The woman and I had a conversation during the break. She opened up to me about where she was coming from. I asked her why she was feeling like she wanted to pass out. The woman explained that it was from the pressure to perform. She was doing all she could just to ride the bike, let alone be pressured to meet the objectives. It's not that the instructors apply pressure. We simply cheerfully coach. Putting myself in her place I realized that any amount of coaching would seem like pressure to an already overwhelmed student.
Just the fact that she opened up to me was gratifying. You might not realize how hugely the trust factor figures in. We're asking already timid and nervous students to do things way out of their comfort level. It is critically vital to be trustworthy to that student. There's no way they can experience success until they trust us enough to try what we're coaching them to do. Once they have their own success the process gets easier. It's those first steps that are so hard.
One of my stock jokes is about how the instructors are motorcycle people. That the program owns these bikes. I assure the students that they can trust my coaching. After all, I'd never ask them to do anything that would hurt my bikes!
Anyway, the woman and I worked out a system. I later informed Mike so we'd be on the same page. I told her that she needed to remember first and foremost that we were on her side. She was welcome to continue. If I felt her safety was at risk I would pull her out. Short of that, we would not put any pressure on her. For every exercise she was welcome to just ride the path of travel at her comfort level. She could participate in the actual skill practice when she felt she was ready.
You know, it worked. She never crashed or even dropped the bike, for that matter. She actually made some meaningful progress on her skills. When she showed she was ready, we offered coaching. All the while mixed with abundant reassurance. As you might expect she didn't pass the skills test. She knows that there's no way she'd be ready to ride a bike on the streets any time soon. Yet, at the end of the day, this woman was beaming with victory. She had taken the journey and conquered a huge fear. That's a win any way you look at it. Now that it's no longer a mystery as to what is involved, she told me she wants to come take the class again. I'm sure her results will be much better next time.
Yes, at the end of a class you're ready to just plop down on something and take a load off. The journey takes a lot out of all of us, instructors and students alike. It can be extra draining for the instructors as we become the catalyst that binds all the diverse personalities together to head for the common goal. At the same time, how many chances do we get to do something so meaningful for others? Not only that, but to do it with something we so deeply enjoy and believe in? When one class is finished, I get to start fresh with a new group the next week. It's a fascinating and rewarding role.
Like I said before, developing skills that will help the students get what they need has made me so much better at understanding and communicating with people I meet other places, as well. We need a lot more of that in this world. I learn as much from my students as they learn from me.
Who's teaching who?
Miles and smiles,