Impossible? Check this out!
"It's impossible to do that on our kind of bikes!" he proclaimed from on high to his wife. His arms were folded across his chest. He'd drawn up to his full height. Taller than me. Of course, almost everybody is. There was no hint of a question in his words. The delivery was that of a pronouncement from Zeus thundered down from Mt. Olympus. I could almost smell the sizzle of hot electricity from the lightning bolts.
"That" was the infamous offset cone weave dreaded by most motorcyclists hoping to pass a skills test. "Our kind of bikes" was a pair of Yamaha YZF R1 sport bikes. Not only did his wife hear his proclamation, but it was made in front of Katie, Clinton, and I. And I was about to do a little miracle working to make the impossible possible. Right in front of his very eyes. Before the session was done not only me, but his wife would be doing the impossible. Actually, I never thought it was impossible. The wife, however, wasn't sure. By the time the next couple of hours passed she was going to seriously rock Mt. Olympus.
In the last post I wrote about reaching the third step in gaining proficiency. That wonderful moment when we realize that we have conquered. You know the feeling. Working on our cornering skills. One day we carve a corner with a perfect "Whoosh!" No more slice and dice. Now we're carving. A smooth and efficient quick stop. Discovering that the bike really does go where we look. Not only that, but we're using the head turns deliberately, amazed by the amount of directional control we now have.
In one way I'm sorry because the last post got more technical than I meant it to. In another, it was interesting that the part about squeezing our knees against the tank while braking got so much attention. So I'm glad that part was there. The thing that got overlooked in the post was just how stinkin' much fun it is to gain new skills. Then there's the incredibly good feeling and amazement that comes from being able to say,
"Did you see that? That was me. Yep, I OWN that now!!"
To me this story perfectly illustrates the fun and satisfaction of conquering. First, just a tiny bit of setting the stage.
I'll call the wife Jen for this story. Our paths have since diverged as often happens in life. At the time, though, I counted Jen as a friend and fellow instructor. I still count her as a friend. Jen's no longer teaching and I don't see her much these days. A career move and a development with her husband took away most of her time. Jen was fairly new to riding and an even newer instructor. A number of folks learn to ride a motorcycle in a class. They're then so enthused about the whole thing that they want to become instructors themselves so they can pass it along. Jen was such a one.
I'd had a hand in mentoring Jen both as a riding student and as a new instructor. I have such a soft spot for people who have the desire and the potential but simply lack confidence. I knew Jen could do this but she didn't. As a result, she was ready to quit after trying her hand at a few classes. Long story short, I invited her to come shadow me in a class. She'd stand beside me for a while then step in and coach. The beauty was that it wasn't "her" class so there was less pressure. She was simply working with me. After doing this for a couple of classes Jen realized that she really could do this. It was so cool to see her flame grow stronger and her smile wider. From there it was history, as they say.
Jen acted like I was some sort of miracle worker. I assured her that it wasn't me. She had the fire all on her own. I simply sheltered the flame a bit until it got stronger and burned brighter. In the process Jen's trust in me was further reinforced. Which is what makes the rest of the story so cool. She'd be doing some miracle working of her own with a little help from a friend.
One Saturday evening I was relaxing at home when the phone rang.
"Hi, it's Jen. I taught my first IRT today!"
"Good for you!", I replied.
For the record, the IRT ( Intermediate Rider Training ) is the second half of the Basic Course. It's a one day class designed for those who know the mechanics of riding but are unendorsed. The students get some valuable training and, if they pass our skills test, get the waiver from taking the riding test when they apply for their endorsement.
I was glad that Jen had reached out to teach at a slightly more advanced level. Not all went smoothly, however. Instructors are highly encouraged to ride their own bikes for the riding demonstrations. Credibility, and all. One of those demonstrations was the offset cone weave.
(They look so harmless and innocent in that little pile, don't they?)
"I blew the cone weave big time", Jen said. " I didn't drop the bike but it was REALLY ugly. Can you help me?"
Always willing to help a damsel in distress ( thank you Gramps for teaching me the chivalry displayed by knights and cowboys ) I immediately accepted. We made arrangements to meet the following weekend at the local college where our range is located. We'd practice while the range was coned off from that week's class but after the students and other instructors had all gone home.
Jen's husband also showed up. Mostly to tell us how it couldn't be done. Katie and Clinton were out and about and decided to stop by, as well.
A quick word about Jen's husband. He's the typical Ricky Racer. Not a lot of skill. His need to show off and be admired by equally unskilled peers outweighs all else. Thus the liter sized full-on sport bikes. Jen had followed her husband's lead in bike choice. I guess if someone were to offer to buy me an R1 I wouldn't turn it down. In the years since a degenerative muscle disease has kept the guy from killing himself on the road. Sort of the blessing in the curse, if you will. That would be in the future. For this session he'd be in full voice that a rider couldn't possibly do the cone weave on the R1.
At that time we were using cone weaves of two different sizes. On one side of the range was the standard weave we're all familiar with. Cones set fifteen feet apart with each side being set a foot and a half off from center line. A rider moves fifteen feet ahead while moving three or so feet side to side. On the other side of the range was a larger offset weave. Cones were twenty feet apart and three feet off center. Which meant moving side to side six feet instead of three. Confused? Doesn't matter. There's no written test at the end. Or riding test, for that matter.
I'd ridden a Honda VFR to the range. It was the closest to a sport bike I had at the time, being in between CBR's. Seems there's always been a VFR hanging around our family somewhere. As I write this there's one parked in Clinton's garage. I rode a couple of laps, talking it through to Jen as I did so. For the record, Ricky Racer never volunteered to even try the weave.
Since this was about helping Jen succeed and students learn by doing, I parked the bike and concentrated on coaching her. Ricky said the bikes had too little handlebar movement and too much power for this kind of thing. He thought he was vindicated when Jen struggled for lap after lap. She was fighting the bike. As well as being a little scared. Nothing like thinking the front wheel is going to tuck under any time to raise the stress level. When she got stressed she'd look down at the cones and the front of the bike. Yes, the bike goes where you look.
( Put them out in that dreaded pattern and they turn in molten cones of terror and stress! )
It was time for a break to let the frustration and a bit of fear dissipate. I asked Jen to trust me when I told her that if she used the clutch correctly she could control the lean of the bike. Keep it in the friction zone. Hold the throttle steady. It's too abrupt for good control Squeeze the clutch just a little to start the bike leaning, then ease it out just a little to pick the bike back up. No matter how worried you are about what's happening at the front of the bike keep your eyes up and looking well ahead. If you look up the bike will follow. Trust me, follow my coaching, and the bike won't fall down. Start your inputs a bit sooner. As soon as you begin to round a cone on the small weave set up for the next one. On the large weave think two cones ahead. It will seem strange but will work.
"Trust me" I repeated. I tried to be as calm and soothing as possible with my voice.
Jen looked me in the eyes for a long time. I could see her mulling my words over in her mind. I tried to beam some of my confidence and strength across the gap between us. I could see Jen shudder slightly as if shrugging off a weighted cloak.
"All right", she sighed. " I'll trust you."
For several laps I jogged alongside the R1, coaching her with a running commentary. Did you get the pun? Coaching while literally running. Oh, never mind. Think about it for a while and come back later.
Within three or four laps Jen got it. She rode several more consecutive successful laps. However, she was still having trouble being totally smooth. There's a lot of torque in first gear. Especially with a thousand cc's and over a hundred ponies waiting to get loose.
I now told Jen to try the cone weave in second gear. Ricky had been pretty quiet up until now. I guess I would have, too. Seeing my wife, a new rider, doing what I had just declared impossible would have a tendency to deflate my balloons a little. Now, however, he thought he had me for sure.
"There's no way it will work in second gear! You can't even shift on the roads until you hit 60. How can you do it in a parking lot? The motor is going to lug like crazy."
I know it's evil but I was really looking forward to this next part.
By now Jen had tuned him out. Her trust in me had been hugely rewarded. Jen was actually doing the impossible. At least according to Ricky.
Jen popped the tranny up into second. After a few minutes I could see the amazement on her face. Not amazement that I was right. The source of wonder was how her inputs on the bike immediately smoothed out. No lugging, either. I'd coached Jen to hold just a little more throttle. She wanted a few more revs. Not a lot, just enough to make sure the bike had power when she let the clutch out. Using the friction zone correctly was a bit more critical but that she still had plenty of control over the bike's speed.
Not only was Jen totally amazed, but now she felt the need to share that amazement with somebody. Making a pass on the short side of the range near her husband Jen blurted out to him,
"It works even better in second, Rick!"
I'm sure I heard a bit of gloating in her voice by this time. Naughty girl!
Ego would bite Rick one more time. This time it would come from me. I'm sorry, but there are some things people just beg for and I'm all about customer service.
It was a warm summer afternoon. My riding jacket was my trusty old 'Stich. Which was admittedly warm at slow speeds, even with the large side vents open. Rick had purchased a new mesh riding jacket. He urged me to take his bike and try his jacket. It was almost like he was trying to show me pity with the grandiose act of lending me his jacket and bike. Hey, as Bolty says the proper answer when someone offers to let you ride their bike is to just say yes.
Rick's bike and I went out to Hwy 34 and back. Probably six miles or so. I'd never ridden his bike before. Evil lurks deep in my brain. When I got back to the range I veered off and rode the R1 through the cone weave twice. Even though the key had been in the bike when I started, I parked in front of Rick, handed back the key in a symbolic gesture, and said,
"Wow! Thanks for letting me ride such a great bike. It's balanced so well that it was effortless to lean it side to side in the cone weave."
My happy smile was met with a glare. What could he say? In front of his very eyes several buckets of cold water had been poured on the fire of his lightning bolt declarations.
Jen and Rick mounted up and fired off their matching bikes. Jen gave me a happy wave. Nothing from Rick except for a few harsh throttle blips. Just to show us he was still a stud despite it all, I guess. Pretty much a useless gesture by now, though.
One can only imagine their conversation at home. Jen was pretty darn proud of herself. As well she should be. You might even say she was a miracle worker. After all, she'd just pulled off what her much more "experienced" husband had declared was impossible!!
Gaining a new skill doesn't get much better than that, does it?
MIles and smiles,