Friday, December 11, 2009

Fueling the passion in the cold!

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,



cpa3485 said...

Been drinking a lot of hot chocolate myself lately. Honestly though, the passion you obviously have for what you do has always impressed me.
When's the next class?

Mike said...

Nice story Dan. I second Jim's question. Hopefully for the next class the temp will be in the 70's. :)

irondad said...

cpa3485 ( Jim )

The first class of 2010 is currently scheduled for January 21. It seems like we have to use every available weekend to meet demand. Although next year is a sort of "wait and see" with demand. After mid-summer this year things started cooling off for demand.


I think I'll wait and sign up to teach when that temperature happens. June, maybe?

Take care,


bluekat said...

Nice post. Very inspiring to hear about such committed students and instructors out in this cold. On a side note, I think Al may have been one of the instructors I had.

One more bout of freezing rain to get through...then back to normal temps and regular rain!

Be safe out there

Steve Williams said...

I've never seen you reveal the cold weather riding secret--- the cold indured while in motion is rewarded with an almost miraculous warmth when stopped. At least if you are geared up properly. I have always been amazed that no matter how cold it is on the scooter when I stop I feel suddenly warm.

Except my stupid hands. They are always cold. Even with electric gloves. Then they just aren't as cold.

But the rest of me is feeling fat and happy.

Riding class in December? They close up in September here. You guys are closer to the American frontier hence not as bright as we are here in the East. So that explains a lot.....*grin*

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

Allen Madding said...

Great post as usual. Ron at first glance looks like someone I'd like for a friend. Your story just confirms what my first impression. I appreciate the quality I see in you that you let people show you who they are instead of making a quick unfounded judgement of who they are from an outward appearance.


Charlie6 said...

Good posting as usual Dan, am glad to see an HD owner take the right steps to hopefully thousands and thousands of safe riding miles.

The dedication of instructors such as you and your fellow coaches is appreciated. I think fondly sometimes of my MSF BRC instructor...faced as he was with me that day less than 4 years ago, a neophyte who'd never ridden a motorcycle until that day.....I think you and him would get along just fine.

Redleg's Rides

irondad said...


Al is a sweethear of a guy. You may have had a more technically correct instructor but never one who cared more about your success!

Steve W,

I thought anyone who rode knew that secret! I can't tell you how welcome it is to stop and feel a twenty or thirty degree change to warmer! Although, like you say, I think good gear and electrics negate that somewhat.

So that's the question, isn't it? Do you use electrics and miss out on blessings like the warmth when you stop, or stay blissfully insulated? ( pun intended! )

As to those of us out West, maybe we're just tougher. Which is to say less civilized. :)

Take care,


irondad said...


Thank you. I am honored by your compliment. I can't say I'm never guilty of making initial wrong judgements. However, I have learned in life that one is very often surprised. So, yes, I do prefer to let people show me what they are.

One thing that helps is to ask myself the same question. How would people judge me on first impressions and would it be fair to me if they were wrong but acted accordingly?

I suspect that you, too, exemplify the same attitude.


I take it you have a high opinion of your instructor. As such, I am once again honored by the compliment.

It doesn't seem that an instructor in any endeavour can be very successful if they don't have a genuine concern for the student's success.

I'm so pleased that you had an instructor who realized that fact. There will be a post in the near future on that subject.

Take care,


Anonymous said...

Ron looks like a normal sized guy in his leathers...
Suspect the word normal could be stretched to my size? Nah!

Oh And we have no snow here, yet.
But a short distance north of here..

Much white stuff on the ground.
Oh and mucho salt on the roads here; the roads are slippery.

Doug C said...

Imagining Ron on the Team Oregon small cruiser brought back fond(??) memories of my training class and my lanky, 6'4" frame on a Honda Rebel 250. An uncomfortable couple of days but I would like to think it helped me to develope a good sense of balance.

Nice post, as always.