Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Responsibility- giving and taking.

Taught a class this weekend. It was so darn wet I hardly dared pull a camera out. Took a couple of snapshots, but that's about it.

One of the things we talk with students about is the concept of Rider Responsibility. In other words, the idea that we are the ones responsible for ourselves out there. Sure, there's bogies everywhere we turn when we're riding. Nobody is going to cut us any slack. It's up to us to develop the physical skills and mental strategies we need to survive and prosper. Bottom line: We need to take responsibility for ourselves. Excuses don't cut it.

Each time I teach I'm presented with examples of both sides of the equation. Those who take responsibility and those who don't. The problem for me is that we have two clearly defined ways to evaluate the students in our basic classes. There's a written test and a riding test. We set out the parameters. The students meet them or not. Very little room for subjectivity. Sometimes people pass who really aren't ready for the streets, yet. Sometimes people pass who really shouldn't be on a bike at all. As a professional I have to live with that. Although I make sure they know the kind, but honest truth before they leave.

This weekend triggered some musings on my part about responsibility. A lot of things in the world of motorcycling cross over into the rest of life. Actually, is there a life outside of riding? Interesting concept.

***** Arriving unprepared *****

I proctored a written retest before my regular class on Saturday. If a student fails the written test or the riding test they are allowed to try again later. Within certain parameters, at least. So I had a group of five coming in to take the written test again.

Two of the group were young guys under 21. They arrived separately. Both of them said they needed a pen. Neither fumbled in pockets or did anything to make me think they might have had a pen but simply forgotten it. It was clear they expected me to provide one for them. Ok. Let's see here. You come here for the express purpose to take a written test. Yet you don't bring anything to write with. Interesting. I'm paid to be professional about it so I simply handed them a pen from a stash.

I know it's a little thing. What pains me is the idea that they expect somebody else to take responsibility for them. Doesn't our behaviour in life demonstrate what our attitude toward riding will be? Maybe I'm just getting old and cranky. Perhaps I'm just over-sensitive because I care a lot about motorcycle safety. Am I totally out in left field, here?

Here's a nice Italian scooter with a Washington State license plate. You can see Elvira in the background. I think she was a bit jealous of the attention I was giving the scooter.

****** It's never my fault! *****

One of the people who showed up was scheduled for both the written and skills test on Saturday. Which means he failed both the first time. A guy about my age. Old enough to have grown up. He started right out by telling me everything the other instructors did wrong. The bike he was assigned to was a piece of crap. The instructors didn't give him the attention he needed. They didn't do a very good job of coaching. On and on and on........

That's why he was here in Albany. He'd taken the class at another site but didn't want to go back there.

His claim was that he failed the skills test because he put his foot down. I challenged him because nobody fails for that one thing. Turns out that he also popped the clutch and launched out of the corner, completely missing the turn. Right away a comment that Dean W made in response to one of my recent posts came to mind.

I explained to the guy that launching out of the corner meant he would have crashed into oncoming traffic in the real world. Right away he made sure to remind me that it was only a parking lot, not real life. Brace for it. You can feel the punch line coming.

So, let me get this straight. You want me to believe that you would be just fine in the real world of traffic even though you couldn't control a small training bike in the parking lot?

Of course, it wasn't his fault. The bike he was riding was a piece of crap, remember? Right.

To cap this story off, the guy was happy with me because he passed the written test. He told me that he was going to call my boss and give me positive reviews. I found out this morning that he had already called in to complain about the other instructors. Between two calls he spent an hour and a half sounding off. But he liked me! I can't tell you how pleased I was to hear that. I felt so honored. I live for student praise and not the satisfaction of really teaching them something.

I happened to be out on the range when he was starting the skills test. Once again, he started on his long list of complaints and how it wasn't his fault. This time he had a fresh audience in the form of the other students there for the retest. I pulled him aside. It was time for some words of wisdom.

"I'm not conducting the skills retest. I wasn't one of your original instructors. However, I do want to leave you with some words of wisdom. Until you learn to take responsibility for yourself, you shouldn't ever touch a motorcycle."

As of this morning he hadn't called my boss with those words of praise for me. I still have high hopes, though!

***** The Hand-off *****

For somebody to take something, somebody else has to hand it off. The same applies for responsibility. Both in motorcycling and life in general. Here's a story on the positive side.

I've had the honor of teaching some of the gals in the program's support unit. These girls do such an awesome job of making everything work. They handle student registrations, course files going out and coming back in, completion cards, supplies, student concerns, you name it. Their success ratio is somewhere around 98 or 99 percent. I have the utmost respect for what they do and thank them for it.

Two of the gals were scheduled to take the class this weekend. I was totally humbled by the fact that they signed up for this weekend specifically because I was teaching. Unfortunately, one of the girls came down sick and didn't attend.

Braving it by herself, the other one showed up. She's never ridden before. At the time, her plan wasn't to ride. She wanted to see what the class was like to better relate to the students. This gal also does the scheduling for instructor assignments. I was hoping that things went well. Never good to have somebody who somewhat controls your fate on your bad side, you know?

Having her in class was a lot like having a little sister in class. She's family, so to speak. You want her to succeed. You like her. The temptation was to give her a lot of extra attention. I resisted. It would have been wrong on a couple of levels.

All my students get a lot of attention. That's what I'm there for. I care about them as riders and as people. I like to think they all get what they need from me. Giving my "little sister" extra attention wouldn't have been fair to the other students. It would not have been fair to her, either.

I'm a professional evaluator. I could see that she was capable of things even if she didn't know it, yet. It's kind of like teaching a kid to ride a bicycle. I can remember running alongside my kids holding the bike up. After a while I let go but kept running beside them. Pretty soon they'd realize that they were actually riding by themselves. That newly found confidence was the platform they built upon.

The same thing happens with riding students. They need confidence. They will only get that by having personal success. I start them out. ( I'm speaking for all my fellow instructors, whether in Oregon or not ) Little by little I let go. The students realize that they're capable of doing this on their own. Now I simply guide them, rather than hold their hands, so to speak.

That's the handoff.

"Little sister" did just fine. Now I hear she might actually want to get a bike of her own. Cool.

Fascinating how much riding and and life otherwise are intertwined, isn't it?

Miles and smiles,



bobskoot said...

Mr Irondaddy:

I really liked this post. It reminds me of the game I play with other cars around me while I commute. It amazes me how selfish some of these drivers are, like this morning a driver sitting in the right lane waiting for the light to change to go straight ahead. Don't they realize all of us could make a free right turn except for him blocking the road.

I also think certain personalities purchase certain type of cars and often their actions confirm this belief

You have a lot of perception in analyzing behaviours and results thereof based upon perceived actions, or non actions.

In my vocation, I also have to be aware of actions and non-actions and read between the lines in order to safeguard company assets

Wet Coast Scootin

Anonymous said...

EOR? End of Rant?
Methinks you're feeling just a wee bit stressed. It's not like you to go into detail about idjits. Problem is many of those same individuals who complain
about everything have been this way, for a long time. it is an acquirted habit.

Or if we'd been in some other situation, and there would be no feedback, a quick smack across the jaw might have wakened up the
twit. Some people are assholes,
and in those same circumstances,
all too visible.

As to the gals; that alone for achange of pace made the weekend all worth while.

Lucky said...

It drives me nuts when others refuse to take any responsibility for their own problems. Everyone is entitled to a goof or two - or hundreds, in my case - but that's only if they can admit they goofed.

Also - No pens? Seriously? I don't go anywhere without a writing utensil of some sort. I feel all naked without one.

Cynthia Q. said...

This is a great post. I've been impressed with all the MSF instruction that I received, and specifically, the professionalism and positive attitudes of the instructors. Your students are lucky to have you.

Arizona Harley Dude said...

Responsibility is a humbling thing. Every time I have been down was my fault and I could/should have prevented it. Every close call I realize just how lucky I am. For me that is responsibility.

No pen? Hard to make a mark in life without the proper utensil. Then again maybe they plan to be sports bike riders and didn’t want to waste the money on something they were only going to use once.

Steve Williams said...

Excellent post. Some of the lessons you highlight I learned early in life. Others came a bit later.

Being prepared blossomed as a kid. Not sure if it was watching Combat on TV or reading the Boy Scout Handbook. Whatever it was I seldom find myself unprepared. And when I am not I usually have a plan B, C, and D in my head. But I know what you mean about people expecting others to take care of them. I could sense your frustration in your sentences.

Not me man.

Nothing says as much about a person that hearing excuses. I'm not saying there aren't real excuses but true or not they don't really help. All the blame and criticism just keeps a person trapped in yesterday. I choose to take my just licks and keep moving.

I always keep a bunch of pens and index cards under the seat of my Vespa.

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

American Scooterist Blog said...

Wow. This obviously is something we who ride can really relate to.

Just yesterday I was in my car with my seven year old son when the person driving ahead of me pulled off on the same exit as I did. The person had their right blinker on and moved to the left lane. The blinker stayed on. When the person made the LEFT turn the right blinker was still on. It stayed on for at least another hundred feet.

When the person mad ethe initial left with their right blinker on, knowing I had one of my kids in the car with me, instead of letting off a stream of under-my-breath "expressions" I sort of came up with a new one:

"Yayy for the stupid people!"

My son asked me why I said that and when I explained the reason for fir it he could not stop laughing. He cited all sorts of incidents in his peer group situations where the same phrase would aptly apply. When he finished we would say it together and laugh like a couple of crazy people. That kid is so bright. When I told him he might not want to say it at school etc, he already thought of that, telling me he would just think it when he saw someone about to do something which would put them in a precarious place and sort of back away from them.

Yayy forthestupidpeople! haha

Glad I'm not in your shoes. I don't handle people who can't take responsibility for themselves well.

Thanks for the great post!


bluekat said...

Did you have to boat into the facilities?

I must be getting old, seems to me commonsense would dictate that you bring a writing implement to a written test. Perhaps they had the cell phones and were planning to text you their answers.

That's very cool that your "little sister" did well and might join the ranks. Hopefully that makes up for the more annoying moments.

irondad said...


Not only selfish, but stupid. That's a dangerous combination. Both of us share that same background, I think. Reading people in different situations.


Not really meant to be a rant. More like a comment. Some people are assholes while others are professional victims. This guy was more like a whiner about how unfairly he is always treated.


I'm probably even with you on admitting goofs. The difference between us and most people is that we take responsibility for ourselves.

Take care,


irondad said...


Thank you so much for gracing my blog with your kind words. Instructors are plenty human, we just have a passion for sharing something we know to be of value.

Arizona Harley Dude,

You're an example of the positive side of responsibility. I'm sure you try to help your students, too. Can't remember, are they fifth graders?

As to the pen, it just struck me that these guys were only there for one reason- to take a written test and couldn't be bothered to bring a writing instrument. Whether they ever needed one again, they certainly knew they needed one then.

Take care,


irondad said...

Steve Williams,

What struck me as I read your comment is that you and I must just be "old school". Then I realized, if that is true, then it's a frightening thought. Aren't kids being taught responsibility anymore? When I look at so-called "adults" I'm pretty sure that's the case. Even the adults don't seem to take responsibility for themselves. How do they pass it on if they don't have it?

I can only shake my head in puzzlement.

As to your pens, great. If I find myself in Penn State with no pen I know somebody to bum one from!

Tricky sentence, isn't it?

Take care,


irondad said...


Funny story. Thank you! Sometimes laughing is all we can do.

I'm no saint. I've simply learned to compartmentalize. When I'm not representing anything "official" I tend to be less patient!


Maybe they also expected one of those "smart boards" or whatever they're called, now. Texting was an interesting idea, too.

As for the weekend, the joy of seeing "little sister" succeed far outweighed all the rest, even the deluge!

Take care,


Conchscooter said...

Taking responsibiloity for myself is one reason I don't bother with day glo clothing. Expecting drivers to notice me goes counter to the theory.
The pen? Do you have any idea how many people call 9-1-1 (not 4-1-1) looking for a phone number and don't have a pen to write it down?

Jack Riepe said...

Dear IronDad (Dan):

The world is filled with irresponsible assholes, just look at Congress. But it seems as if some divine plan makes sure the number of preditors roughly matches amounts of available carrion.

I failed my first MSF course... The only driving test I ever failed. I had one mistake on the written section, but encountered a number of challenges on the riding test. I deeply resented that some real doorbells in the class managed to pass, as they barely kept the bike running. (Like most aspects of my life, the circumstances are highly entertaining and I intend to make a real good story out of it, maybe next week.)

Students were invited to come back to retake the training, but my invitation got lost in the mail, as I called the indtructor "a little shit" after I got the good news. I have many faults, but being shy isn't one of them.

The day after the test dabacle, Leslie (the love of my life, who had passed the test and now had an "M" endorsement) said to me, "I'm too afraid to handle the downhill curve of the driveway. Would you pull my bike out of the garage and run it down to the street?" I almost called her "a little shit" too.

But I was determined to get this right. I still had my permit and joined a BMW riding club. Those guys rode with me everywhere. And 6 months later I signed up for the Harley Davidson Riders Edge course. It cost me $300 bucks to participate in a smaller class, on a larger range, on a bigger bike, under the watchful eye of a Pennsylvania State motorcycle cop.

And I got the same question wrong on the written section, but only flubbed one part of the skills test, and at 95, got a higher score than Leslie. I don't like smart asses myself, especially those who can't deliver the goods. It can probably be argued that the extra time I spent on the road riding with guys who did things by the numbers better prepared me for the class... But it is a fact that the asshole quotient often includes doctors, lawyers, pilots, writers, politicians and sometimes motorcycle instructors. Some folks are lucky to get you...

Here's a question for you... When a riding test is scheduled for 5-6pm on the third weekend in October, when it is alread dark out, is it customary to ask the class participants to ride with their headlights switched off? (I don't even have the option of switching off my K75 headlight.) I knew of one 50-year-old participant who couldn't see the lines on the road.

It is of no consequence... When you want something bad enough, you find the correct approach and pursue the solution.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Derek said...

When I took my road test years ago, several guys showed up on some large machines, Goldwings mostly. The Kentucky road test for motorcycles is not very complicated or technical. Follow a slalom through orange cones, shift up two gears after steady acceleration in a straight and then shift down smoothly to first, and have the bike make it through physical inspection. Several of the guys on the Wings borrowed another rider's Honda Rebel 250 to take the test. My thought was, "So now you passed, what happens when you're back on a bike with three times the engine size and weight in the traffic?"