I passed!!! Not with flying colors, but I passed none-the-less. I now have my motorcycle endorsement and am legal to ride, on the road, by myself. You can bet I am just ITCHING to buy a motorcycle and am keeping my eye out on Craigslist... I really want a bike, but I still need lots and lots and lots of practice. I mean, really, how good can I be after only 8 hours of riding?
I will try to share a little bit about the MSF Course I took this past weekend, but I am having trouble typing b/c I am wearing a brace on my right wrist. I sprained it today helping someone move a heavy hide-a-bed couch. THANKFULLY it happened the day after my riding test. I doubt I could have passed the course with a sprained wrist. I barely passed as it was, simply b/c I have performance issues when people watch me. I did way better on the practice rounds than I did on the final, one-shot attempts. Darn nerves.
The MSF Basic Rider Course was a 3-day class and cost only $25.00. It teaches you how to ride a motorcycle, starting from square one, and they have them all over the country. The only previous riding experience I had was maybe 3 hours on a little 90cc dirtbike, so I was extremely nervous, and I seriously considered dropping out of the class even though I had pre-registered... but ultimately (thankfully), my fear was shadowed a bit by my strong desire to ride, and I became more and more excited to learn as the class weekend got closer.
Day 1: Friday, 5pm - 9pm (classroom)
The first day of the course was in the evening, and it was all classroom learning. I felt immediately relieved because out of the 20 students, about 75% were females! Everyone got a copy of the MSF Basic Rider Handbook, and the class was split into 3 learning/discussion groups. Each group got to pick a name, so some chick in my group named us the "Speed Demonettes." lol. For the next 4 hours, we proceeded to read thru the Rider handbook, watch some videos, and answer a list of 126 study questions. The topics included: types of motorcyces, accepting risk, protective gear, pre-ride inspection, routine maintenance, motorcycle controls, range rules & hand signals, street strategies, common riding situations, braking, swerving, etc... It was information overload, and we went thru it all pretty fast... After only 4 hours, my brain felt fried. The instructor then split the class into 2 riding groups for the next 2 days (10 students per riding class). My group was supposed to meet bright and early at the airport parking lot at 8am... We were supposed to arrive 25 min early, and if we were late, we would be kicked-out of the class.
Day 2: Saturday, 8am-10am (riding), 12:30-2:30 (riding), and 4:30-6pm (classroom)
It was a beautiful sunny morning, but my nerves were defintely present when I pulled into the airport parking lot and got suited up. We were instructed to wear long sleeves, long pants, full-fingered gloves, eye protection, a DOT approved helmet, and over-the-ankle boots. Most of the girls in my group were also beginners, but my stomach felt a little nauseous while we were all standing around waiting for the riding to begin. We were able to choose our own motorcycle out of about 10 different ones (dual sports, cruisers, and standard street motorcycles, mostly 250s), so I selected a standard Suzuki TU250X.
It was such a new motorcycle that it didn't have a fuel valve or a choke, which made things easier for me I suppose. I picked it because it had a very low seat height (30.5 inches), I liked the burgundy/red color, and it just looked pretty darn slick. We all mounted our bikes, and man, 310 + pounds of weight felt like alot to have directly underneath me. The weight of the bike was pretty intimidating since I weigh about 115.
Before starting the bikes, the 2 riding instructors had us find all the controls, and then we walked the bikes like 1/4 mile out to the airport riding area. It was a good workout for my hips, I could feel the burn! Then we finally started the bikes (side stand up, fuel valve to ON if you had one, turned the ignition key to ON, put it in Neutral, engine shut-off switch to ON, held in the clutch, and pushed the electric start button). We put them into 1st gear right away and spent a while just using the clutch in the friction zone to walk the bikes back and forth & then speed-walk them across the parking lot. Within minutes we were already riding back and forth across the lot, and then we were riding around in a single file line. It was a very fast paced class, but I will say that the Instructors were VERY nice and VERY good at explaining what to do. I only stalled my motorcycle twice on the first day :) One instructor said that the most stalls in a row (during one of his classes) was 37! Yikes. I would've been beyond embarrassed.
We did a lot of practicing in our 4 hours of ride time on Saturday. We were doing quick stops, weaving in and out of cones (just pressing on the handlebars, not actually turning them), going around curves (slow before the curve, look where you want to go, press the handlebar in the direction you want to go, roll on the throttle) and also physically turning the handlebars to maneuver thru slow-speed off-set cones. Overall I did pretty good on day one. I got complimented on my quick stops and was used as a positive example for my head turns for looking thru the curves. It was a day of extreme concentration... the most mentally exhausting day I had experienced in a very very long time (perhaps ever). It was fun, challenging, scary, and exhilerating, all at the same time.
After the Saturday practice rididng, we all met back in the classroom to take the 50 question multiple choice test, based around the 126 study questions we had gone thru on Friday. It was a very easy test. I got 100%, along with almost everyone else in the class. The hardest part was still yet to come.
Day 3: Sunday, 8am-10am (riding), 12:30-2:30 (riding), 2:30-2:45pm (riding test)
It was raining when we all showed up to ride Sunday morning, so we all had rain jackets on and our face shields down. (The previous day I wore my face shield up, with sunglasses) We were all pretty nervous about the wet pavement. I wish we would have started out slow and done a bit of refreshing what we had learned the previous day, but nope, we just got on the motorcycles and immediately started weaving in and out of cones. I did good on the weave, but I was really rusty on the sharp corners. I must have woken up on the wrong side of the bed, because I kept stalling the motorcycle and was doing worse than I had the previous day. It was frustrating, and I was losing any confidence that I had built up on Saturday. Plus, they were giving us harder things to do. We had to use clutch control in the friction zone to do a figure-eight (two immediate U-turns) inside a tiny box, stop quickly in a curve (straightening our motorcycle upright first in the curve), drive over 2x4s (rolling on the throttle quickly and rising off the seat) to simulate obstacles in the road, different narrow and wide cornering maneuvers, sudden swerving (quickly getting into 2nd gear and then the instructor would quickly point left or right at the last minute), stopping as quickly as possible (I had one front tire skid! oops), and various other exercises...
For the final riding test, there were 4 parts, and everybody went one at a time (with everyone else watching):
1. Double U-turn in tiny box (figure-eight) (very slow, using clutch control)
2. High-speed swerve (timed, to make sure you were going fast enough before swerving)
3. Quick stop (getting up into 2nd gear quickly, passing thru 2 cones, and stopping using both brakes and downshifting to 1st gear as fast as possible) (timed and within a certain number of feet)
4. Cornering exercise (getting up into 2nd gear quickly, going around a curve, accelerating, slowing down before entering the next curve, looking thru the curve, pressing the handlebars in the direction of the curve, and rolling on the throttle thru the entire curve without hitting any cones or crossing any lines)
Scoring - You got points for anything you did wrong. Points = bad. You could get a maximum of 15 points and still pass, but if you got 16 points you would fail. You got points for things like not going the correct speed, going out of boundary lines, putting your feet down, stallling, failure to turn your head, failure to upshift or downshift, failure to stop quick enough, etc. Points could add up quickly... The only automatic failures were to either lay-down your bike OR to do something dangerous. We could only do each exercise one time for the final evaluation.
How did I do?
1. two U-turns in the tiny box. Although I did pretty darn perfect in practice (one guy who had been riding since 1983 was worried I would do it better than him on the test!), I BOMBED it on the test. I have performance issues with people watching me, and my clutch hand cramped up in the middle of it. I quickly released the clutch while I had the throttle up and lurched right out of the box and put my feet down. I will just call the whole exercise ugly. I got 8 points right off the bat. Not a good way to start the test. Surprisingly, I calmed down a bit. Doing so bad at first made me basically say F*ck it. I laughed at the fact that I did so bad and shrugged it off. I honestly knew I could do better, but one attempt was one attempt. Moving on.
2. High-speed swerve. The swerve actually took place directly after coming out of the messed-up figure-eight. After pulling out of the U-turn box, I had to quickly get into 2nd gear, speed up, swerve right between some cones (press right, then press left), and stop using both brakes & downshift at the same time. I did it perfectly even though I was still flustered from the figure-eight. Zero points gained on that.
3. Quick-stop. This was frustrating b/c I did this 95% perfect every time in practice. I have no idea why I stopped a foot too-far during the testing. Probably my nerves. 2 points gained for a not-fast-enough stop.
4. Cornering exercise. Although I turned my head properly, shifted properly, didn't go out of bounds, and I didn't run over any cones, I got 5 points for not going fast enough in the curve. That was honestly a surprise to me b/c I thought I was going fast enough. And isn't going too slow better than going too fast anyway?
Regardless, I got a total of 15 points. SO close to the border between pass and fail. I was relieved to pass, but also really hard on myself at first for being so close to failing until I realized a couple things..
1. I did way better in practice than I did on the test, and yet I still passed.
2. How often will I be doing a tiny figure-eight on a motorcycle in real life? A U-turn, yes, but a little figure eight withoug putting my feet down? Probably not a whole lot. The people in the class who had been riding for YEARS had trouble doing it. Plus, if I had done the figure-eight as decent as I had in practice, I would have only had 7 points total instead of 15.
3. I was a beginner rider! How good was I seriously supposed to be after only 8 hours of ride time?
I honestly am still having a hard time believing that I took this course, did all this stuff on a motorcycle, and passed. My entire class passed! (well, except one girl who was extremely timid and just couldn't get the hang of it).
It feels like a whirl-wind that I am so happy/proud to have accomplished. I just know that I need to get a motorcycle soon so that I don't forget what I've learned. Taking this class was well worth all the stress, fear, and nervousness, and I would recommend it to anyone. I think these courses are pretty much exactly the same all over the country, you just look for them at http://www.msf-usa.org/.
I have fully discovered that there is nothing like being on a motorcycle, and there is this new excitement erupting within me. I even met a girl in the class who I really meshed well with, so we programmed eachother into our phones as "biker buddy." I don't know quite how it is possible, but somehow I feel like a new person. More free from fear, capable of doing anything that I really put my heart and mind into.