Under the rust, I found…


…more rust.

Spent the weekend at the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Basic RiderCourse. After an oddly compelling dream and the subtle prodding of a certain Mr. Lion, I felt the need to at least investigate riding a motorcycle again.


First step: learn how. I winced a bit when I realized that the last time I rode a motorcycle was 1981, and that was a little Kawasaki dirt bike that probably wasn’t even street-legal. I suspected—correctly—that I had lost most of my modest riding skills, but it wasn’t until I started to read Proficient Motorcycling that I realized just how little skill I had ever had to begin with. Excellent book, by the way, and a perfect companion to the MSF course; it contains a lot of detail that they simply don’t have time to cover in a fifteen-hour course.

Short on shopping time before the first session, I grabbed my old steel-toed work boots, driving gloves, and a long-sleeved sweat jacket to meet the minimum safety requirements. They provided helmets, and encouraged us to bring snacks and drinks to avoid hunger and dehydration (90 degrees in Gilroy!). Sadly, they forgot to mention sunscreen, and I wasn’t the only person who ended up with some entertaining sunburns after five hours in the sun.

I also picked up a nice blister from the work boots, which wasn’t surprising; I hadn’t worn them since I stopped doing trade-show setup five years ago. For daily wear, it’s either sandals or my Oakley Big Teeth (another Lion recommendation, and well worth the price).

At the end of Saturday’s range session, I was pretty well convinced that I wouldn’t be able to handle any bike larger than about 600cc, and was wondering if I’d need to take the class again to get the necessary practice. After a night’s rest and rehydration, though, I was in much better shape, and steadily gained confidence and skill during Sunday’s exercises.

Only one of the exercises gave me any trouble on Sunday, and that was the low-speed figure eight, performed inside of a 20x60-foot box. I’d like to blame this one on the bike (a Yamaha Virago 250 mini cruiser), or at least how it fit me, but since I actually got it right on the test, I can’t. The test was the first time I’d gotten it right, though, so it’s high on my list of things to practice as soon as I get my own bike.

I didn’t really like the Virago, mostly because of the riding position, which was particularly annoying when I needed to lift my butt up off the seat for the obstacle exercise. Trying to lift myself up on the forward-mounted pegs wasn’t easy; the bike only weighed about 75 pounds more than I do, and I was basically levering the front tire off the ground. It wouldn’t be as bad on a larger cruiser, but the experience definitely left me with a preference for a more conventional seating position.

Of the twelve students in my group, eleven passed. The twelfth had never used a manual transmission at all and just couldn’t shift reliably, so she was asked to come back for more practice another weekend. I expect to run into some of my classmates at bike and gear shops over the next few weeks; one of them was unhappy that the class finished too late for him to get to the bike shop Sunday, so I think I know where he was today.

I bought decent gear at Road Rider on the way to work this afternoon, and I plan to spend the next week or two test-riding various bikes that have caught my eye or been recommended by random Lions. At the moment, I’m leaning toward the Honda ST1300. It doesn’t fit any definition of a “beginner’s bike,” but I like the looks and comfort, and the BRC instructor agreed that I should be able to handle it.

…with the unspoken proviso “if you’re not a damn fool,” of course. That means keeping the speed down, staying away from freeways and heavy traffic, and spending plenty of time practicing the things they taught us. Fortunately, there’s an MSF course layout just a few miles down the street from my house, and it’s apparently unused during the week. I might even buy my own set of cones for marking the course, because many of the MSF exercises are actually a lot of fun.

Once you know how to ride, that is…