He came in through the door that opened into the adjacent classroom. His heavy black combat boots made noise, even on the carpet. I heard the steps getting louder as he made his way to stand in front of me.
"I'm here for the motorcycle class," he informed me.
I looked him in the eye and then took in the rest of him. Camo pants topped the combat boots. A ragged t-shirt with a Harley logo came next. In between the two was a wide leather belt with metal studs. Covering his upper body, but open in the front, was a thick black leather jacket. Facial hair and a long black ponytail topped off the package. This was a mountain of a man. He looked "bad".
Thus was I introduced to Ron. In the end Ron turned out to be more teddy bear than grizzly bear.
This was the first weekend of December. It would mark the end of our official training year. At least as far as having students on parking lots goes. One always wonders about those who take a motorcycle class in December in these parts. Even more so about those who choose to teach the classes. People like Ron and the rest of the class are why I do it. I've requested to teach the last class of the year for a decade, now. There always seems to be something special about these groups. This goes for the instructors I work with. This weekend would turn out to be no less special.
December usually starts a bit cold around here. The Weather Gods outdid themselves this time. Our temperatures set record lows. Depending on who you listen to, it was either the coldest it's been in eleven years or twenty some years. Doesn't matter. Cold is cold, no matter how long it's been. Here was the gauge on Elvira when I started the ride to class on Saturday. I take the pictures before I start the bike so the heat from the engine doesn't cheat me out of few degrees of bragging rights!
I rode in 14 degree ( f ) this last week. It didn't make the 23 degree mark on Saturday feel any warmer by comparison. Still no electrics on the bike. Sunday would be about the same but we had the added charm of a cold Northeast wind blowing the chill down from the Arctic. The sunshine on Sunday might as well have been a candle because the wind sucked the warmth out of everything. Interestingly, when I got home Sunday night, having left in the dark and returning in the dark, I warmed up with a shot of Sourthern Comfort. I noticed my lips burning. The cold wind had done the same thing as sunburn does to my lips. Should have used chapstick like those skiers who advertise it!
During the cold ride I could be forgiven for asking myself just why I was doing this. Sane people on a below freezing weekend would stay close to the fire. Here I was, not only riding in the cold, but planning to spend hours outside in a parking lot. The students were driven by their own needs that were probably more pressing than mine. I didn't have to do this. I could have passed on teaching and my life would not have been affected negatively at all. On the other hand, sticking it out for the weekend had a positive affect that will enrich me forever.
This is Stacy. He was my teaching partner for the weekend. His dedication and passion for teaching equals mine. Throughout the whole freezing weekend, Stacy never lost his smile and good grace. The photo is kind of screwed up so I didn't do him justice. The glare through the window is pretty bright. Class time is fairly hectic for instructors and I didn't have time to do much more than a quick snap with the G11. One of these days I'll learn to make the proper adjustments on the fly.
Working with Stacy was so easy. We communicated with nothing more than slight nods and gestures. Each of us was always in the right place at the right time. We had a student who struggled mightily on Saturday morning. Between the two of us it always worked out just right for being where we needed to be. Stacy is the perfect blend of camaraderie and professionalism.
This is my dear friend Al. The photo was taken earlier this year. Al is holding a cup of hot chocolate. That's been Al's trademark. He shows up early at the Salem range with cups of hot chocolate for the instructors who are working. Al lives nearby. He shows up pretty often. Even when he's not working, as was the case this weekend. Al wasn't scheduled to work until the lunch hour. Yet, here he was early on Saturday, hot chocolate in hand. It was pretty welcome after my cold ride!
Al helped Stacy and I get the range set up and the bikes started. The tiny little batteries have to work hard to fire the bikes in the intense cold. The tiny little motors take a long time to store warmth. Between the three of us all the bikes were ready to play in plenty of time for us to meet and greet the arriving students.
Al also found a way to spread the hot chocolate love to our whole class. During our first stretch on the range Al brought one of those 20 cup coffee makers. He filled it with water and set out a table with powdered hot chocolate mix, mini marshmallows, and styrofoam cups. You can see the can of chocloate mix behind Stacy in that photo. By doing so I'm sure that Al made all the difference between a grueling struggle for survival in the cold and giving our students a fighting chance to succeed this weekend. It was neat to go into the classroom during breaks and hear the students' happy chatter in the warm room.
I am extremely fortunate to call these kind of people my friends and co-workers. Actually, we're less co-workers than we are family. During tough circumstances, the family has each other's backs. It was well worth putting up with the cold to experience that feeling once again with Stacy and Al. You two are awesome!
Ron had a newly purchased 1993 1200 Sportster sitting in his garage. Turns out that he is in his 50's and has never ridden a motorcycle before. That is, except for a few hours on a dirt bike when he was a kid. Ron is wise enough to know he needed some professional training before he even attempted to ride his motorcycle. He said that he was resisting the temptation to take the bike out before he took the class. That alone is enough to make me tip my helmet to Ron. He would end up adding a wonderfully positive tone to the class during the weekend. I'm sure that's another reason the class did well as a group.
Despite his intimidating exterior, Ron has a heart of gold. At least that's what he showed during the class. It was clear that Ron was there to learn and committed to the process. Ron was totally coachable. During the class and breaks Ron could often be heard encouraging the other students. Not coaching, just encouraging. Ron turned out to be a good rider and passed with flying colors. There was a bit of humor in the situation, though, from another source.
Here' a quick shot I took of the group outside on Saturday. You can see the cold fog. Ron is the guy in black leather. To his credit, Ron is in full leathers and has a full face modular helmet. Ron has the right attitude about riding to ensure his success. Remember, Ron is a big guy. Since he was going to be riding a cruiser, I had him try the GZ250 for size. Our training bikes have to be under 300 cc so they're physically small. I knew it wouldn't work for Ron but I was still kind of hoping he could learn on the same style. No luck. Once he sat on the small cruiser I knew he wouldn't be able to see with his knees up in front of his visor!
Taller riders end up on the dual sport bikes. Imagine a mountain of a man in full leathers sitting on the TW200! It all worked out, though. The principles and skills are the same and can be applied to any bike a rider chooses to ride. I tried to get a quick photo of Ron on the bike in motion but I missed. My first priority is coaching. I found one opportunity to get off a quick shot but only got half the bike for some reason. You'll have to use your own imagination.
Ron's story is just one of the things that made the weekend with the students so fulfilling. There's more that I will share with you in pieces. If I put them all here this post would be a book!
I love what I do in motorcycle training, both in the big picture and in the day to day interactions. I have a passion for riding as well as for sharing that love with others. Helping them either get off to a good start or improve on existing skills is so satisfying. In the process I'm rubbing elbows with others who have the same passion and zeal. I don't know how I got so lucky but I'm just going to keep enjoying it!
Stay tuned. A student took the class with an automatic motorcycle that I had never even heard of. I wasn't too impressed with the bike, I have to say.
Miles and smiles,