Sunday, August 30, 2009

Nobody told her.

Nobody told her you "couldn't" use a 150cc Vespa scooter for a track bike. Let alone a 1960 two stroke model. So here she was, sitting among a group of 16 riders. Front row and happy to be there. Nervous, but excited. Towards the back of the class were the Harley riders from ABATE. They made up about a third of the group. The rest of the riders were on bikes ranging from a Ninja to a CBR600 F4i to a scattering of sport touring bikes. Hers was the only really small ride.

You may be thinking that this is going to be one of those amazing stories. A story of how a person who shouldn't be able to do something came and conquered. That maybe this gal on her small scooter came in and blazed her way around the course, leaving the other riders in the dust. If so, you'd be on the wrong track. No pun intended. Okay, maybe a little.

On the other hand, it's not a story of how a rider came in and totally held everybody up. Of how they failed miserably. That wouldn't be accurate, either. The truth is somewhere in the middle. I'll expand more in a bit. For now, let's just say it's a story of how someone perhaps unkowingly bit off a little more than they could chew. It's about how someone naively jumped into the deep end yet came away with more than if they'd stayed on the side of the pool.

A quick word on photos. I know the last two photos look nearly the same. I'm exercising my blogger's privilege of including both. The top one shows Elvira more closely. She's sporting stickers sent to me by Krysta. First time I've ever put stickers on a bike. I just like the second photo. There's something about how the line of bikes points from the bottom right of the frame towards the corner in the distance.

I have no photos of Tracy, the rider of the Vespa. At the time I took the pictures of the Vespa simply because it was the first time I've ever had a small scooter in an ART ( Advanced Rider Training ) class. We've had a few MP-3's and a Silverwing before. Nothing this small, however. I really wasn't thinking about doing a blog post concerning the event. Six days have gone by since and I keep reflecting on the day. I finally came to the conclusion that underneath the surface was something worth sharing.

Tracy had a little experience riding to work and doing errands on the Vespa. Which made me like her already. Somewhere she'd seen some scooter racing and decided it looked like fun. Her enthusiasm was higher than her skill level, however. The ART class looked like a good way to raise the skill level. So here she was. Jumping right into the deep end, so to speak. I was teaching the classroom session. Tracy was fully engaged. She innocently asked a few questions that made some of the other students roll their eyes back in their heads. Which just made me warm to Tracy even more. There wasn't an ounce of pretension about her. Tracy was there to learn.

Interestingly, some of her questions weren't as strange as some of the other students might have thought. What they failed to take into account is that her questions were based on her experience riding the Vespa. There's definite differences between how a small scooter reacts and what one might expect on a bigger bike. Same basic concepts but each with their own nuances. Fortunately, I've become a lot more familiar with scooters and was able to answer her questions in such a way that it applied to her riding.

That's something I have a lot of you to thank for. So many of you in this blogger community of ours ride scooters. I've learned a lot from your posts and the discussions we've all had. The last few years of associating with you all has made me take scooters so much more seriously than in the past. During the same time period it seems like scooter sales have really increased. Which means we see a lot more scooter riders come through our classes. I beg rides from scooter riders both in class and otherwise. I want to be able to speak from the perspective our students are feeling. Through the sharing that you've done, you all have accomplished more to help your fellow scooterists than you're probably aware of! I offer my heartfelt thanks to you all.

Tracy has a personalized license plate. One of the things I appreciated about her is that she didn't come in as a "female" rider. Oh sure, she's well aware of her femininity as you can see by the plate. In the class Tracy just wanted to be treated like any other rider. No more, no less. It was funny that in one way she actually acted more like a man. Tracy wanted to take a couple of laps with me on the back of my bike. On the other hand, she really wasn't too wild about being a passenger. We made it work.

Maybe I should offer a quick explanation of my second sentence of the previous paragraph. On the other hand, maybe I'm doing a little jumping into the deep end of my own.

In order to avoid getting in over my head, I'm going to keep this narrowly focused. Men often come in thinking they know more than they do. It's not based on experience. It's based on the fact that, since they're guys, this riding thing should be in their chromosomes. Unfortunately, this common attitude can get in the way of their actually being able to apply themselves to really learning. Women often come in to classes showing the other side of the coin. They've been told that women don't do certain things. Or if they try it, the women will never be as good as the men. Back to the old chromosome thing. What really pisses me off is when a woman's male partner is the one telling her this. AAARRRRGGGHHHH!!!!

How about this? Everyone comes to class. At the door we strip off all the limiting labels. Starting with an open mind, let's see where we actually end up based on our abilities. I'm pretty sure we'll all be better off for it.

That's why I finally decided to write this post about Tracy. You see, Tracy didn't "know" that our ART class wasn't the place for an inexperienced rider on a small scooter. Nobody told her that she "can't" do this. Tracy came in with no preconceived limits. Her mind was open to whatever the day would show her. What Tracy took away from the class would be based on actual experience. She would try things she might not otherwise. Somewhere in business there's a saying going around. It's something like:

"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land high."

So where did Tracy land?

Her maximum braking greatly improved. At first she continually slid the rear tire. The scooter is a three speed with a clutch lever on the left front grip. There's a brake pedal on the floorboard of the scooter. It sticks up fairly high. Properly modulating the rear brake takes some work. Now Tracy knows how to do it right.

She can swerve with the best of them. As far as cornering goes, well, that can use a bit of work still. The Vespa is a three speed. Tracy rarely hit third gear. The scooter had a bit more available than Tracy did. Partly it's experience. Partly it's due to the small scooter. She hugged the inside line a lot. It's hard to just let the scooter aggressively drift out wide on the big sweepers. Tracy would pull off on the front straight to let faster riders by then go after it again.

I believe that Tracy left with a higher skill level than when she arrived. I also feel that she attained a higher skill level than if she'd attended a parking lot based class. Most of the real world happens outside parking lots. Tracy also still has some definite limits. At the end of class she told me that she knows she still has a lot to learn. More than she thought, actually. How does she know? Real life testing.

That's the point I wanted to share. We all need to know where we are in our riding skills. The question to ask is this. Does what we "know" reflect the reality or just what we tell ourselves?

Food for thought, isn't it?

Speaking of food for thought, for the next post I'm turning the keyboard over to Dean. He's going to address a topic that most riders have pretty strong feelings about. You all come back, now, ya hear?

Miles and smiles,



fasthair said...

Mr. IronDad: You write of this ART class often and post on the Harley dude got me wondering. Then you post about Tracy and now I wonder more then before. How well would I do? How much don't I know? Would I have to ride on the back of your bike so you could show me something? Hummmm...

You see I've never taken a riders course. Back when I first started riding on the street (1979) there was no such thing as riders courses. A lot of my lessons were learned the hard way. Add in the fact that riding around here, other then trying not to get run over, is pretty simple. No big canyon roads to go carve up to really speak of. Oh sure we got some twisty road here and there but nothing like you get to enjoy day in and day out.

So I wonder how well would I do? I just might have to plan a vacation to ride out and have you show me.


47.wing (Silverwing) said...

Tracy's story, I think, illustrates about you as much as it does about the student.

I used to ride a Honda Silverwing. When I took the BRC class, I rode up to the parking lot on exercise day on the SWing.

After assigning me a bike, the instructor says that after the class I need to get myself a real bike. Few other students made similar comments through the day.

As time went on, how wrong were all of them. SWing is not a motorcycle and handles very differently. The differences end there.

cc for cc SWing is as good as any other sub-750cc bike. It could carve through the curves with the best of them. To top it all, huge windshield and lots of fairing meant that I was comfortable through sun, cold and rain.

Now back to the attitudes, I hope more of your instructors pick more than riding skills from you.

Wishing you many curves and sunny days.

Lucky said...

Yay Tracy! Frankly, I was hoping for the story about how she tore up the track zipping past all the sportbikers who'd scoffed at her choice of ride.

But this was good too. There's a lot to be said for jumping into the deep end - especially if there's someone more experienced around to pull you out if it looks like you're going to sink.

MeanStreak said...

I just started browsing motorcycle blogs today and found yours. I love it! The stories are entertaining and educational. I wish more places would offer ART courses. Thanks for a great blog!

David said...

Tracy sounds like my kind of person. Too often, people go into classes with preconceived notions of what they are going to learn. As both a student and teacher (I teach custom leather working, computer classes, and some communication stuff.) Those students learn very little in class and I sometimes wonder why they bothered paying for a class they don't want to learn in.

I had to learn to approach a class with an open mind. I may not learn anything _new_ but I know I'll reinforce things I already know. As a teacher, I try to make my classes interesting and fun. Sometimes people pay me to teach, sometimes I do it for free. either way they are giving me their time, so I better come up with something worth that.

Someday I want to take an ART class. Washington offers the Experienced Rider Course, but it has to be scheduled months in advance, paid for, and with my truck driving schedule I can't be home on a certain date. I can request it, I can try, but I can't guarantee it. It's already cost me several hundred dollars for classes I've missed, or in one case, car rental to get home while my truck was in the shop. Someday though...

I hope Tracy comes back to class again. And then blows those sport bike guys away with how fast a scooter can be. :)

Dave T.
Dave T.

Orin said...

I know Tracy and I know the scooter, both from numerous group rides. Good on her for taking the ART. The GTS and I need to do one of those. Once my life settles down, anyway...

Scootin' Old Skool

Steve Williams said...

I agree with 47.wing in that this story reveals a lot about you as a teacher. It's good to know that you have such an open attitude towards the people who arrive to learn. It shows in your blogging too.

Good on you!

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

Bryce said...

That Vespa is beautiful!
A work of art undeterred by the passage of time. Did Tracy explain how she came to own the Vespa?

As to the ART course, if it has two wheels, and is powered by a propulsion device any machine can and will be able to work the course.

Maybe one day I shall return to riding a motorcycle; not in this plane though...too many negative variables.

irondad said...


You and I are of the same beginnings. I had been riding since I was 8 with no formal training. My first course was in 1987. It made a huge difference.

I suspect you would do pretty well. I would also bet I could make you an even better rider both physically and mentally. I'd love the chance to try!

Take care,


irondad said...


I share your respect, if not love for, the Silverwing. Mostly because I haven't had the chance to spend much time riding one. I have a friend who brings one through a Rider Skills Practice class every other year or so. I'm impressed!

As to attitudes, I guess I have a passion for helping make people better riders. I think the first step is having respect for my students. I may know more than they about this thing called riding. However, that doesn't mean that my personal choice of a ride is the best one.

Thanks for the kind words.

Take care,


irondad said...


Hmm, I never thought of myself as a life guard, before. Great point, though. Pretty cool! I agree with you. Yeah, Tracy.


I'm honored by your praise. I took a look at your first blog post. Looking forward to more. By the way, I was going to leave a comment but didn't see a link for it. Did you want comments? You probably already know it, but you can go to the template and enable them.

Dave T,

I feel like you do. I owe it to the students to be worth their investment. I didn't know you taught classes, as well. How cool!

ART is pretty much an Oregon thing. Some instructors from Idaho are coming over in September to do the class.

Take care,


irondad said...


Give Tracy me regards the next time you see her. Tell her I'm proud of her. I'd really love to know, now that she's had a chance to digest it more, how much the ART has helped her riding.

Take care,


irondad said...

Steve Williams,

Thanks for the compliment. It really blows people away when I tell them I'm not really a people person. I don't know if you are familiar with Jeff Dunham, the ventriloquist. He has a puppet named Walter. Walter is the epitome of a curmudgeon. Katie says Walter reminds her of somebody she lives with. Hey, wait! Is she talking about me?

Despite my decades of living a "tough guy" type life, I truly care for people who come through the classes. Maybe not personally, but at least spiritually. I want them to enjoy riding and to be safe.

In order to get them where they need to be, I need to know where they are now. Without judging. I also need to be able to establish a rapport with them. They need to trust me and I need to be able to effectively reach them.

So maybe I'm not so noble. Maybe I've just gotten good at my job!

Take care,


irondad said...


I didn't have the chance to ask Tracy how she acquired the Vespa. We had other things to talk about.

I'd have to qualify your statement. The machine isn't as important as the rider. I'm not sure if everything powered by internal combustion would actually work, though.

If you get to heaven before me, shoot me a message if they have motorcycles up there!

Take care,


Dave said...


I all ways say it’s the rider an not what they ride that counts.
An the only dumb question is the one not asked

Just showing up even if was over her head shows she is on her way to be a rider an not some one who rides

If I were a betting man I would bet she came away a better rider then say

Some one who was taught to ride by some ones uncle cousin brother guy next door for a six pack.

There is all to many out there who learned to ride that way.
Scares me an I am fearless : )

Old F

Dean W said...

I did Tracy's evaluation ride at the end of the class. For someone coming in with as little experience as she had, I think she did quite well.

Balisada said...

I remember striking up a conversation with someone on the LBCC campus once several weeks ago. We were talking about the Basic Rider Training class and scooters came up.

I encouraged the person to bring the scooter to class, since it would be easier to learn on what you will be riding.

It never occurred to me to bring a scooter to ART class.

Talk about "hanging out with the big boys." :)


Anonymous said...

While I have been a passenger on motorcycles before, I had never ridden solo until I took the parking lot class in March. I was one of two women and I did okay. I subsequently puchased a Burgman 650 based on - absolutely nothing. I've put nearly 2000 miles on it (most of them in the upright position)and have had a blast improving my skills. But I take so much flack from fellow riders that I've been thinking about trading it in for a "real" motorcycle. Thanks to your blog and Tracy, I'm keeping my scooter!

American Scooterist Blog said...

Thank you for the great post. Too often we try to pigeon hole riders into preconcieved notions of what we think should be.

If everyone were the kind of people person you are this world would be a better place.


Tracy Ball said...

Hi Dan,

I just came across this post today in the weirdest way. I was looking for clip art of scooters in a Google Images search. As I was looking I saw my scooter and said "Hey that's mine! What's this?" I was pleased that you were kind to me in your article. You'll be happy to hear that I am still riding. I've gone down, I've screwed up but I keep going. I've added two more two-wheeled vehicles in addition to "Skirt." I now have a super rare 1964 Triumph Tigress Scooter (250cc Twin) and a 1965 Mobylette Moped which looks like it should be carrying baguettes in its basket.

Some asked how I got the Vespa. It's not too interesting really. Trolled on eBay about 12 years ago and found her. She had to be shipped from Ohio and she was a real barn find. Lots of work (and money!) went into getting her restored. She's a 1960 Vespa VBA 150 3-speed.

On my performance on the track - I think if I hadn't been so worried about going down and if my very expensive exhaust pipe hadn't been grinding against the track every time I leaned right I could have done better. But I know I wasn't alone there. Lots of chrome got ground on that day. ; )

I should take another Team Oregon class as a refresher but I'm not sure I will be up for ART again although I am very glad I did it. As the very first Team Oregon class taught me - "Ride within your limits."

Since this class in 2009, scooter racing has really taken off. Visit to learn more.

Tracy Ball
Portland, OR

irondad said...


How cool to see your comment! It's been a few years, hasn't it? Thank you for sharing and I'm glad to see you're still riding. I left the corporate world a year ago and am working for TEAM OREGON full time as the Training Manager.

I supervise all the instructors and teaching around the state, now.

You may want to check out the Rider Skills Practice (RSP). It's a half day clinic that would be perfect to brush up on some things.

Take care!!