Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Now what?

This comment just came in. It was spurred from a post I wrote in July. My objective is to provide some support and encouragement. The comment was posted anonymously. If you log in you can request to be notified of follow-up comments. Without logging in, you can't. This is my attempt to ensure you see my reply. It's a great comment. I'm sure a lot of new riders find themselves in this same situation. So this post is directed to you in particular. I hope some others will find some value in it, as well. It's also a reminder to the more experienced riders of how much benefit our reaching out to new riders can be.

Here's the comment:

I just discovered your blog, and it's making me feel much better! I took the Team Oregon BRT class this past weekend and was terrified--had never been on a motorcycle before and heard all the "you'll die" stories for years.

Toward the end of the second day, my instructor told me that I "wasn't ready for this" without further explanation. Needless to say, I didn't pass the skills test--but more disappointing was that I left feeling as if there wasn't an option for me to become a safe rider.

You're spot-on when you talk about building trust with students--it makes an enormous difference if a student feels she can trust you and that you want her to succeed, especially when they tell you how much of motorcycling is mental!

First off, welcome to my humble blog! Thank you for taking the time to offer the comment. You're not alone in your feelings, by any means. You are poised on the brink of a wonderful two-wheeled journey. My instructor journey was started in the same place, if I'm correct about where you are. I taught twenty some classes my first year at Lane Community College.

I'm sorry you didn't get more of an explanation. I'm sure the instructor meant well. I have often been faced with telling a student that they aren't ready for the street, even if they passed the skill evaluation. I figure it's my responsibility to be tactful, but honest. The other side of the coin is that a student may not always recognize that fact for themselves. The instructor pats the student on the back, hands them their card, and sends them on their way. What is the student to think?

"Must be okay, I guess. The professional didn't say anything different."

Sometimes a new rider can get into trouble under these circumstances. So I am kindly honest. However, I always make an effort to outline the next steps. This part was missing in your course, it seems. Instructors are people, too, and not all relate to students the same way I would. Maybe some instructors don't care enough. Maybe I care too much.

I'm sure that you are well aware of where you stand as to capabilities and limits. That brings us to the next thing to think about.

The best way to approach a Basic Rider Training class, or any training, is to think of it as a chance to explore in a safe environment. Sure, the instructors and students all hope the eventual outcome is passing the evaluations and moving on. Pass or fail isn't the primary objective, however. It's the journey of discovery that's most important.

Think about it for a bit and you'll see it's true. There's a variety of riders that come to our classes. Some, like you, have never been on a motorcycle before. Some have already determined that they want to ride. Some come to see if motorcycling is for them. Being in our safe environment is a great move. The alternative is what I often see. A new motorcycle is purchased. Training is eschewed. A nasty crash happens. After the newbie recovers, they decide that riding isn't for them.

Pass or fail, the new rider comes away with a pretty accurate picture of where they are. In other words, they know which skills they've conquered and which ones still need some work. They also get a chance to see how they react when under pressure. That's provided by the skill evaluation. As you vividly remember, students feel a great deal of pressure when doing the evaluation exercises. Nothing like having someone with a clip board watching you, is there? On top of it all, everyone's a bit tired. As an instructor I'm well aware of what a student is feeling. Nonetheless, I have to sit back and watch. During the course I've done all I can to be of help and encouragement. At some point it's the student's turn to show me what they now own.

It might not seem fair that the evaluation is a pressure situation. All I can say is that there is pressure on the streets. Failing there can easily mean a lot worse things than getting points in an exercise. A student might feel that they will gain experience and things will be easier to deal with then. That statement is entirely true. However, a student is going to have to ride to get that experience. Which means they will be out in traffic, etc. I'm sorry, but a left-turning car, or a corner that we got into a little too hot, and so on, isn't going to cut anyone any slack just because they're not experienced, yet. Injuries aren't on a sliding scale tied to experience. That's pretty darn critical to keep in mind. Not to be bummed out, but to be aware and prepare accordingly. So, during the evaluation, you've got to show me that you have a basic mastery of some skills.

After all, when a student gets their completion card it means DMV will waive any further testing. So guess where a new rider could be the very next day? That's why instructors will tell a student that they aren't ready for the street. It's rare that I tell a student that they shouldn't be riding at all. Really rare. I'm sure your instructor was talking about street riding but wasn't clear.

I'm sorry this seems to have rambled on a bit. It just seemed important to set the context.

So now a new rider is standing there at the end of class. They haven't passed the skills test and they're pretty sure they've barely gotten it. I hear that a lot. Students will tell me that they just started to "get" it when we moved to the next exercise. This does not at all mean that the student has "failed" in any way whatsoever. Some people live closer to Disney World than others. Some arrive earlier, some later. There's no difference in the quality of the experience. All it means is that a few people looked at a map ( a measuring device ) and "discovered" that their journey would take a bit longer to pull off. It's not a reflection on anyone's worth, only that some started from a farther away destination. Does that make sense the way I'm describing it?

As a quick side note, depending on the score, a student who didn't pass the test can do it again later. Most students do better the second time. The only thing that happens during the retest is a warmup exercise and the evaluation. Students have more energy and concentration working for them because of it. I offer my sincerest encouragement to you in this regard.

Remembering that we are separating the pass / fail from the discovery, let's talk about the next steps. Here's my advice.

I kow economic times are tough. I know it's a big expense, but big picture wise, I'd encourage someone in your position to take the class again. There's no mystery to it now. You've been through it all. You'll benefit from the added practice and coaching. Both your skill level and confidence in those skills will grow. You'll be so much better off when you mix it up out on the streets. We also have the IRT which is one day and less expensive. It's the second half of the BRT. Same exercises but we don't do the basic learn to ride stuff that you did on Saturday. We conduct the same skills test but not the written test. You could do that at DMV when you go to get your endorsement.

Barring that, I'd encourage you to go out and ride. With a permit you could do it legally. That's just a matter of taking a written test at DMV. Have somebody you trust ride with you. Go somewhere where there's as little multi-tasking required as possible. Get comfortable that you can make the bike respond to you rather than the other way around. Press on the handlebars and feel how the bike leans. Practice stopping smoothly. Work on your head and eye placement. Once you've felt these things over and over, you'll start trusting them on your own. Whether you take another class or go test at DMV, the testing will go better with some more seat time.

This is often my recommendation whether a student has passed the test or not. My focus is on how well equipped a rider is to deal with the real world.

The biggest thing to remember is to keep looking ahead. In this case, I'm talking figuratively. You see, you might feel discouraged by last weekend. Here's some encouragement. Just because last weekend wasn't "your" weekend, it doesn't mean that a weekend in the future won't be yours. Weeks, months, and years, can be yours for that matter. That was a snapshot of a place in time. It's a photo of a place you visited. You went and found out what you wanted to know. It's not a photo of where you live.

You've got a lot of great stuff in your head, now. Oh, you might not be aware of just how much there really is lurking about in there. Once you go out and ride, in whatever venue, you'll start remembering. It's not the basic knowledge that's missing. It's the cementing of the mind and body into a cohesive unit that can smoothly operate a motorcycle that's waiting to happen. Once that happens, it will form the foundation that learning by experience can be laid upon.

I'd love to help in that process. It happens that I have a bit of experience with riding a motorcycle. We all need to feel useful and sharing makes me feel that way. If you care to share your journey, it would be an honor to hear from you now and then. I used to have a blog post every week called "Share the Road". Riders, both new and experienced, shared photos and stories. I've been wanting to revive that tradition. You're invited to help with the awakening by sharing. Or to simply ask questions. I truly care.

Send me an e-mail, if you'd care to, at intrepidcommuter@comcast.net

That invitation goes out to anyone reading. Some of you already correspond with me and my life is richer for it. I sincerely believe that we all have the duty and pleasure to reach out to each other. We're much better off together than alone. At least in most things!

Miles and smiles,



Stacy said...

Dear Anonymous,

I too failed my Team Oregon BRT the first time around, and guess what, my bike just cracked 9000 on the odometer this weekend during a beautiful ride.

Despite the disappointment (and woo boy do I remember the disappointment!) don't let this minor setback discourage you!

I'm going to make a huge assumption and guess that you are a fellow lady rider! (And yes, you ARE a rider because you learned how to ride this weekend, right?)

If so, I really encourage you to look into a women's riding group like the Women In The Wind. We love new riders, we love safe riders, and we love teaching new riders to be safe.

Feel free to contact me if you'd like more information: Stacy's email

irondad said...


Thank you for throwing your support in so quickly! I hereby appoint you the

Wonderful Ambassador of Motorcycling!

People of either gender could do worse than follow your example.

And to think I knew you when the odometer was in single digits. :)

Take care,


Bryce said...

Failing is an acknowledgment that although everything appeared
satisfactory perhaps in your own mind, something is not correct.

Every student is different and hence when trying to teach a motorcycle riding class in a tight time frame, often the person who needs assistance is forgotten.

The systems tries to help said individual however there is only so much an instructor can do.

Maybe the person Dan is correct, they are terrified. And too, said person may well be so bloody scared they won't return. Perhaps
when people sign up for a course the forms should state what may or may not happen, including the participants being terrified. And also somewhere there should be a
notation for those who tried previously and failed. Maybe they could receive a lower fee or something, ANYTHING to encourage the people who failed to come back, try the course again and maybe get over the problems that happened first time around.

Oh, and your e-mail box should really have a larger capacity, oir empty the box more frequently

Dean W said...

As an instructor, two thoughts...

First, it's hard to tell someone that they're not ready to ride, and / or that they didn't pass. We work hard to coach and encourage each student to success. Having to tell someone they failed- or even harder, that they're not even close to being a good rider- isn't something I've gotten as good as as I like. If I soften the delivery too much, then I can't be sure that the message gets through. It's not personal- try to take it in best faith that the instructor is looking out for your well being when they say "You're not ready to ride."

Second, it doesn't mean you never should ride- just that you need more practice and coaching. I tell all my students that it's a fact that not all students can learn to ride a motorcycle in one weekend; they may be distracted, nervous, outright scared. Under all those conditions someone may even be able to perform acceptably well some of the time, but we can tell that the skill isn't really a part of the toolkit that student will need as a rider to stay safe.

If the commenter really wants to do this I encourage them to sign up and take either the IRT or BRT again. A second BRT where you start out ahead of the curve, can show fantastic results, and nobody needs to know you "failed" the first time. The one gotcha is that you'll need to step up and advocate for yourself a little- if you don't understand something, ask.

Best wishes,


Jack Riepe said...

Dear IronDad:

This is isn't broadly known, but I too failed my MSF course offered locally here in Pennsylvania. And I did not take it like David Niven being told thre were no more olives for the martinis, as I was the only person in the class who failed. So distraught was I over this issue, that I felt compelled to tell the tester that he was a little shit.

And I did not whisper this fact.

People in this class passed the course barely able to keep the damn bikes from stalling. On the day of the test, I was given a Honda 250 piece of shit that had a sticking front brake. The instructor said, "You can obviously handle it. But we have no other bike to give you." It was the last course of the season.

It was also the last weekend in October, and we were taking the test in the dark! With the headlights switched off! The other group on the other side of the range was bring tested with their headlights on. I could barely see the ground markings, and didn't -- twice.

My girlfriend took this same test and passed. The next day, she said to me, "Could you pull my bike out of the garage and ride it down the driveway to the street for me? I'm not sure I can handle it on the steep hill of the driveway." I exploded for the second time in 24 hours. She was the one with the license! I told her to call "The Little Shit," and ask him to do it. Then I moved the bike.

I was furious. I resolved to just ride without an endorsement. Then I got a letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, wanting to know why I had a permit and a registered bike, without an endotsement. They were going to require I test for the permit again.

At this point, all I wanted was a flame thrower.

But I signed up for the Riders Edge Course at the local Harley dealers, instead. It cost me $300 bucks, and my girl (Leslie) signed up too, so she wouldn't be afraid of the driveway.

It was a great course... A bigger range... Better equipment... More hours... More riding... And an instructor, a state motorcycle cop, who cut me no slack for a now gimpy leg, but who took me in hand. I passed with a higher grade than Leslie (not important but fact/95 vs 93) and got my endorsement.

In the four years that have passed, I have put 60,000 miles on two bikes, through ten states, and was published repeatedly in a motorcycle magazine read by BMW riders. There is a clean spot on my ass for that first instructor to kiss.

If he thought I was that bad, he should have ripped up my permit, because I started doing 100-mile rides once or twice a week -- the next day. I read every book I could find on the subject, and studied the internet. (There is no shortage of shitheads there either.)

I often wondered how many of the other graduates of that class gave it up after they hit the real street. Leslie developed vertigo and couldn't even drive a car for a year. She sold her brand new Honda 750 Aero Shadow three years after she bought it -- with 800 miles on it.

I have aspired to be the best mediocre motorcycle rider in the world. I have realized all my ambitions. I am also one of the most crippled too. I'm stretching my joints every day so I can do a 400-mile ride up to the Adirodacks in two weeks. (I had planned to trailer the bike but that's so peculiar.)

In conclusion, I would still recommend the MSF course for anyone -- even bicyclists. But it certifies you to ride in circles in a parking lot. But it is a lot better than the alternative.

And that is the truth of my beginning as a re-entry rider.

I learned a lot from reading this blog. I would recommend it to anyone. Respectfully submitted.

Fondest regards,
Jack Riepe
Twisted Roads

Anonymous said...


I've never taken the required Motorcycle Safety Course offer here in Washington. But I must say I took the long route to get my endorsement. I applied for my permit and for three months I rode my M/C back and forth to work and took the practical test and passed it with flying colors. That experience was 4 years ago and I still ride to work and I still have alot to learn riding m/c safety. Thank God I have no injure myself yet. I try to learn as much as I can about riding my MC and there are alot more to learn. Take care

Your fan from Washington State.

irondad said...


You're correct in that a class only has so many hours. The instructors do the best they can to help the students. Ultimately, the students have to bring something to the table, as well. Of course, isn't that the way it works in life, too?


Thanks for sharing your perpsective and added wisdom.


I'm sorry, but I'm chuckling picturing you on a 250 cc training bike. On the other hand, I'm totally impressed by how much of a gentleman you are.

Who else would clean a spot on their posterior before asking someone to kiss it?

Take care,


irondad said...


Wow! So neat to know you are still reading! Haven't heard from you in quite a while. Thank you for chiming in, here. I have this distant memory of you trading in the Ninja for something bigger, but can't say for sure.

Are you still an everyday motorcycle commuter up there?

Take care,


irondad said...

P.S. to Reep,

Thank you so much for the compliment on the blog.


Anonymous said...


Wow! So neat to know you are still reading! Haven't heard from you in quite a while. Thank you for chiming in, here. I have this distant memory of you trading in the Ninja for something bigger, but can't say for sure.

Are you still an everyday motorcycle commuter up there?

Take care,



I am still commuting via M/C I could not think of other ways to commute to work while at the same time saving time and money. Actually I started with my 250 ninja, purchased my Honda Silverwing Scooter, Suzuki SV1000S, and now 08 Hayabusa.

I sold my 250 to another person wishing to learn how to ride. Traded in the SV1000 for Hayabusa. So now I only have the Silverwing and my Hayabusa. I still commute each day and as a matter of fact getting gears to get ready for cold riding days ahead. Keep up the post I truly enjoy reading them and at the same time learning.

Ford said...

I also failed my first motorcycle license test, forty years ago last month. I was living Honolulu on about $3.00 an hour and riding a 100cc Yamaha twin (a bike not sold on the mainland). The skills test was diabolical compared to the one I took five years ago in California. In addition to a figure 8 and a cone weave applicants were required to ride a narrow path (about 18” as I recall) between two cones that were 20-30 ft. apart (I only did this once in 1969so the exact dimensions are a little foggy) on the right and a curb on the left. The difficult part was that you had to take longer than a fixed number of seconds, meaning the rider had to go VERY slow.
The last part took me weeks of almost daily practice to accomplish. This one used four pairs of two cones positioned so the rider would start behind the first set of cones, ride between them and turn right about 140 degrees and stop be the between the next pair only 15 ft.(prox.) away from the first pair. Then it was required to restart, turn about 180 degrees to the left and stop between the next set only about another 20 ft away. Then restart and turn right about 160 degrees and exit between the last set about another 20’ away. The rider could stop with the bike anywhere between the cones as long as they were between the axles. The stops had to be complete in each position. Oh yeah, if you put your foot down any where between the first and last set of cones you failed.
A 100cc twin two-stroke puts out about 22.5 inch pounds of torque so throttle and clutch control were critical issues. By doing a quick stab on the front brake and releasing them before the compressed front forks started to rebound I found I could maintain just enough inertia to help restart.
At 6’2” and 160 lbs I didn’t catch much wind and could exceed the 45 MPH limit for the island but slow maneuvers very hard for me.
However, the reason I failed the first attempt was a flat tire that developed between the vehicle inspection done before the test and the figure 8. Even though it wasn’t a lack of riding skill that caused the failure, the emotional impact was still strong enough to make me consider risking a ticket for riding at night with only an instruction permit.
My point is that in any failure there are two elements to deal with. First are the technical skills which can be addressed by coaching and practice. The second is the emotional aspect. Improving the skill sets involved will help the emotional side but not eliminate it altogether.
In my case it was pride that pushed me to try again. I had worked hard to perfect the skills and wanted the recognition. It would have helped if I knew other riders at the time to get encouragement.
So I think anyone who has failed should seek out people who will provide the support they need (I would include reading your blog here). And reflecting on the person’s values and expectations associated with riding will also help overcome the emotional road blocks.
Ford Minnett