Thoughts by Richard Bleil
If you read yesterday’s blog, you know that I failed in my riding practical component of my motorcycle training. There were several mechanical issues that I had that I wanted to discuss today, so if you’re thinking about taking lessons you know what to expect.
First, let me say that a lot of the failure was my own fault. They warned us to keep our heads up and eyes forward (or at least in the direction we want to ride), and this is a hard habit to get into. When I toppled my bike (twice), I overcompensated, and I know full well I was looking at the wrong place. Instead of looking ahead, I was looking at what I was hoping to avoid. The problem with that is that the bike follows your eyes, not your mind. You might want to go straight, but if you’re looking at the instructor thinking, “I need to watch for hand signals”, you start veering towards the instructor, and believe me, if you run over the instructor it’s really not a good way to build a rapport.
The gearshift was a real problem for me. They warned us not to trust the “neutral” indicator, and for good reason. It worked about half the time, but worse than that, I had the hardest time finding neutral. To shift, you use your left foot. There’s a gear pedal just in front of the footrest, which always felt a little too close. By the way, that was another problem. As I was picking up speed, I would try to lift my foot onto the footrest, and as often as not I would hit the rest with the side of my foot and often it would begin to fold. Basically, I just wasn’t lifting my foot high enough. But, to shift up to a higher gear, you slip your toe under the gear shift and flip it up (of course while clutching). To shift down then, you move your foot around that lever and press it down (again, clutching). Sounds simple enough, but with the riding boots, you can’t really feel the pedal, so I struggled hard with just wondering if my foot was in the position it needed to be in. What’s worse, a full lift from first gear puts it in second gear, but half a lift puts it in neutral (or a half push down from second). To test it, you slowly let off of the clutch and see if you can rock it back and forth just a little bit, but as often as not it was not in neutral. A similar problem occurred with the rear brake, which is a pedal you depress with your right foot. I was never comfortable that my foot was in the correct position.
Getting a balance was a real problem for me. I started getting better. One of the instructions I received was to put on the throttle as I was releasing the clutch quicker, which did get me up to speed, and the bike was easier to balance at a higher speed. Unfortunately, so many of our exercises were slow-speed maneuvers, including a “pause and go”, where they wanted us to come to a very temporary stop (or near stop) without putting our feet down. This was very difficult for somebody who felt unsteady on the bike as I did.
Unfortunately, another issue I had was just strength. I’ve never been a particularly strong (physically) person, but I used to have very powerful legs. I guess those days are over. I found it very difficult to walk the bike or keep it from falling. One of the worst habits I have (and I have no idea why I do this) is to turn the handlebar to the left when my brain tells me I’m in trouble. On a motorcycle, this tilts the bike to the left, and down it goes. You want to keep the handlebars square and straight to keep the bike upright. So why I jerk it to the left I’ll never know. Maybe it’s because I kept veering off course to the right (again, why to the right I don’t know) kind of like slicing a golf-ball. (I’m pretty sure that’s called a slice.) Once the bike began to tilt, I barely had the strength to keep it upright. I’m sure this is age, especially since I also had difficulty with my hips and straddling the bike properly in the first place.
So, my advice for new riders? First, learn to control your instincts. If you tend to jerk instinctively, you need to learn to keep control. Second, listen to your damned instructors. Learn to keep your eyes forward, and not to fixate on something to the left or right. Third, get to a gym. Strengthen up your legs, but also limber up.
I couldn’t do it, but I’m sure that you can. Don’t let my failure dissuade you from trying if you want to try it. I fell twice: no scrapes, no bruises and no breaks. Mostly, have fun. In the end, I realized it just wasn’t fun for me and that was the final deciding factor.