I’ve survived the Riders Edge course at Stone Mountain Harley Davidson. You don’t have to promise to buy a Harley; they do take you on a dealership tour to soften you up, of course. If you’re looking for a course (and you should take a course, if you’re considering getting a bike), check out the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. And I can highly recommend the MSF-sanctioned Riders Edge Course.
I thought I would take right to it. I’d done all my reading ahead of time. I was a gearhead with SCCA experience. How hard could it be?
Boy, did I find out.
Day One: Classroom instruction, accentuating safety gear, being aware of the road and other drivers on it. Common scenarios are presented: pedestrians darting out, oncoming traffic making sudden turns, parked cars pulling out, etc. The common thread is “watch them, because they can’t see you.” Assume the worst, and be constantly vigilant.
Day Two: Today we’ll start learning basics on the bike. I’m excited, but a bit nervous.
Duckwalking the bike, just to get a feel for the weight and balance. Jeez, I suck. I’m so clumsy. I’d been disappointed to be placed on such a low bike, but now I’m glad. Then we take off and ride short distances in a straight line: I’m too abrupt on the brake, and I keep stalling on takeoff. I can’t seem to work the clutch and throttle smoothly. I’m so self-conscious, and it seems like there are so many things to keep track of. And my balance is terrible. It’s been much too long since I rode a bicycle. No wonder I fall over at yoga doing that silly one-leg Standing Tree or whatever it’s called.
Weaving around cones: I’m really terrible at that! Keep your head and eyes up: looking down is a sure way to lose balance. There’s actually more stability as speed increases. I did fine the first two passes through the cone weave, but then I started over-thinking it and fell apart. Having trouble pushing on right handlebar to lean, without accidentally twisting the throttle. Later, I’ll figure out that if I start in a wrist-down position, I’m less likely to accidentally give it gas.
I was really sore at the end of the day, from duckwalking the heavy bike (and it’s a little Buell Blast, which is relatively light).
Day Three: I suck at the low-speed u-turn, do better in the S-turn exercise. I think it’s because the limits of the path are painted on the pavement. I seem to have trouble with the tiny cones. I look down at them, while I find the painted lines more of an obvious limit.
Riding over a two-by-four looked daunting, but was very easy. That’ll come in handy later on railroad tracks. Still clumsy at shifting: timid toe puts me in neutral rather than second. Jerky toe puts me in third too soon, so I lug the engine on a curve, go too slow, and wobble. I become known as the Wobbling Wonder. It isn’t flattering.
Waiting to take off, i lose my footing as I lift my foot to put in on the left peg, and suddenly the bike weighs a ton. I can’t save it, and it falls in slow motion. I am so embarrassed. The little instructor comes over and helps me lift it. “If you look down, you’ll fall over,” she says. I don’t believe her. But later I decide it’s true.
Day Four: Exam day. We take a written exam, based on the MSF book, and then we have to pass the riding exercises. The written test is easy, because I’d read the book, and all the content was reinforced during classroom time. But I barely passed the exercises: I upshifted to 3rd accidentally and wobbled the curve test, and just barely survived the u-turn (touched the line). I need to work on low-speed tight turns, need to relax, need to not over-think. Need to work on smooth shifting.
Even though I’m now eligible for the “M” endorsement on my driver’s license, I’m truly not ready to ride on the street. I’ll still need to practice on my gentleman friend’s small dirtbike until I’m less clumsy. If I’m still so inept after a 4-day class, how dangerous it must be to just buy a powerful bike and ride off with no instruction. I shudder to think.