Confessions Of A Neophyte Motorcyclist (sort of long)

Or: Ask the MSF Student

I began the MSF Basic RiderCourse on Monday. Asimovian expressed an interest in knowing how things went, so I thought I’d put up a thread about it.

Monday was a basic classroom lecture. It felt like I was back in Driver’s Ed, with the lengthy talk about risk awareness. It never hurts to have a refresher course, but it was mostly old ground. We did get plenty of motorcycle-specific instruction, of course; it’s amazing how well silly acronyms like T-CLOC and FINE-C find a place in one’s head.

But there was no riding on Monday, and I was jittery like an addict in withdrawal. Funny, considering I’d only ever sat on two motorcycles before in my life, neither one with the engine on. I’d gotten the desire to ride a motorcycle wedged firmly in my head, and likewise the notion that I was totally capable of it. Turning the bike was just like turning a bicycle, right? I shouldn’t have a problem other than the whole “motor” part, which shouldn’t be too hard, right? I’ll impress the instructors and be cruising down Broadway like a pro the day after I finish the class.

I’ll give the experienced riders a chance to stop laughing.

Yesterday we finally got the chance to ride. I wound up on a Honda Nighthawk. Not a bad bike, but I’m pretty sure I don’t want one when I go to buy my own. I’ll skip over the basic lessons, but other than having trouble getting into Neutral occasionally, I actually did do fairly well for the most part. Where I started having some trouble was when we started shifting into and out of second gear. Juggling the throttle, brakes (cars only use one brake for four wheels, where do bikes get off having two?!), clutch and toe-shifter took a lot of effort, especially since it’s not muscle memory yet. You’ve got four limbs working four or five controls independently, my god. Yeah, it’s not too different from driving a stick, but a car doesn’t topple if you stall out. :stuck_out_tongue: Turning the bike wound up being the easiest part, especially once I got myself into second and could stay there for a while.

The last exercise of the session was cone weaving, with the cones set in a wide offset pattern. Before I go further, I should mention that the classes run from 6 pm to about 9:30 to 10. I wake up at 5 am, so I’m usually in bed at 10, and that’s after I’ve fought off tiredness for a little while. I also have a tendency to drop off in cognitive ability sharply past a certain point of tiredness. Typing immediately gets harder, driving suddenly becomes pure torture, and I just can’t focus.

Well, that certain point of tiredness? It hit right as I was weaving between the cones. One minute I was fine, having successfully navigated the cones something like five times in a row already, and the next minute I completely lost control of what my hand and foot coordination. My right hand decided it wanted to lock down on the throttle, and I took off across the practice range like a bat out of hell, the engine screaming. I hit a speed you should never hit in first gear. The instructors had pressed into us the point that if anything like this should happen, just lock down on the clutch and you’ll roll to a stop. Ha. My left hand took one look at the situation and fainted.

I think I must have eventually grabbed the clutch, because somehow I rolled to a stop without hitting anyone or running into the tire barrier around the range. My brain was still catching up, and so I wound up gently lowering the bike to the ground, throttle still locked to full and roaring, and only then did I remember, “Hey, there’s an engine cutoff switch. Maybe I should use that.” The bike died and I could finally think again.

Ugh. What a way to end the night. The instructors were understanding, and nobody got hurt so it was all good, but that was a scary demonstration of what can happen to an inexperienced and tired rider. I was on a wide-open asphalt lot with nobody but a few other students around. What if that had happened while making a turn on the street, with a car not 20 feet in front of me? There’s nothing like the thought of being a flaming cruise missile of death to sober one up.

I’m not discouraged, and I intend to see this through. But we don’t get back on the bikes until Monday, and that’s just fine with me.

Nice! Glad to hear you had fun your first day on the range! :wink:

I don’t really like the Nighthawks, either, and since I was the tallest person in my course, they let me ride the Kawasaki dual sport (probably a KS250 or something like that?). Don’t worry about having trouble getting into neutral, those bikes are pretty beat up between first and second gear. There were times during the class where I had to turn my bike off to get it to set into N.

It’ll get easier, I promise. There was an older gal in my section who started off not even being able to start the bike up, and needed individual instruction just to make that happen. By the end of the second day on the range (we had two 4 or 5 hour days), she was riding around like she’d been doing it since she was my age.

One way to think of the shifting is to think of it kind of like a circle. Let go of the gas, clutch, gear. Right hand, left hand, left foot. When doing the emergency stops, use all four limbs at once. And don’t forget to snap your head into those turns! You know where the ground is, look where you’re going to be instead (my instructor probably told me that 5 times at least).

I don’t use many of the acronyms anymore, but FINE-C is a good one, as is the phrase “Thumb, Key, Fuel”. I use that one every time, too.

Yeah, I got that a lot from the instructors too. By the end I had it pretty nailed down. I think I clipped a couple of cones, but it went well aside from the little end-of-day experience.

Like I told one of them, I really wanted to go faster. The few times I got up over 15 mph, the motorcycle felt nice and stable and I had better control. But I couldn’t enjoy it for very long, because the person in front of me was going along very timidly, and one of the rules that’ll get you kicked out is Do Not Pass Other Riders. So I had to slow down again, sometimes to the point of stalling.

I remember first learning to drive a stick, and it was similar to this. First gear is always really herky-jerky and hard to control, and you’re not supposed to spend much time in it anyway. It took me a day of practicing on my own, figuring out what works and what doesn’t work, before I could smoothly drive without stalling. I figure I’ll have to practice with my own bike by myself before I really get it down.

Motorcycles are much more stable at higher speeds because they’re basically made of three huge gyroscopes (two wheels and the engine). Practice that clutch control at slow speeds, it’ll come in handy later. My instructors quote was, “any idiot can ride a motorcycle fast.” A lot of the skill comes in low speed maneuvers. You’ve already realized it’s more difficult to control your bike at low speeds, so that’s where a lot of practice needs to be done. I’ve probably wrecked 10 times throughout my life, and only 3 were at faster than 10mph.

Bosstone, congratulations on getting out there! Next time, send me a note so I know you’ve started the thread. :mad: :wink:

I think you’re missing the significance of the fact that you had your incident on the course and NOT on the street. That’s why you’re in the class! During my class, there was one person who was (very kindly) kicked out of the class within the first hour because she just couldn’t figure out the clutch/throttle mechanism. And there were three or four people who didn’t pass in the end, including one guy who had three incidents like yours and several other similar ones. He couldn’t get going from a full stop without either taking off out of control or having to push-start himself Barney Rubble-style. I assure you that you’re doing far better than these folks.

And yes, I can remember getting the “Eyes up, eyes up!” instruction over and over again. I’d swear to myself that I wasn’t looking down, but I was. In the course of riding on the street, I can tell when that tendency creeps up, but I’ve gotten far, far better about it. It’s very much true what they tell you that if you study something too hard in order to avoid it, you will run right into it.

Anyway, I’m very much looking forward to hearing more as you continue on!

Good point. That makes a lot of sense, and it’s something the instructor sort of glossed over. I mean, they were clearly having us practice low-speed maneuvering over and over again, but I wasn’t sure why, apart from not wanting someone to crash into a wall at 30 mph. :stuck_out_tongue:

Asimovian, my bad! I didn’t think of it. :o And yes, I’m definitely glad I’m getting the kinks worked out on the range rather than in the middle of rush hour. I don’t have any worries about passing the course, really, although I can tell I need some independent practice. It’s a little hard for me to learn when I need to keep pace with the group; I’m too conscientious about holding things up for everyone else, and I feel rushed. I learn better when I can go at my own pace. Still, I know a hell of a lot more about riding today than I did Tuesday.

My next class is Friday, and sadly it’s another classroom session, watching (ugh) videos. Even the lead instructor doesn’t like it, but it’s the MSF curriculum, I guess. Monday and Wednesday we’ll be back on the bikes, and that will be the end of class.

Even though class is over it would be a good idea to head to a large empty parking lot and toodle around for a few hours practicing slow maneuvers. After all, cruising down an empty country road is easy, but they generally lead to crowded and unpredictable city-type places full of psychopaths in monstrous Urban Assault Vehicles.


My class is scheduled for next Saturday and Sunday from 7:30 to 5. A little too early for me to actually be functional, but I’ll be there.

Obligatory link to my motorcycle thread. :wink:

Wish I could have had the class first, but just didn’t work out that way. I still look forward to learning all the details I’m not picking up on my own.

Don’t sweat the crash too much, as you probably noticed the bikes are all banged up and most of the mirrors are bent. :smiley:

Don’t forget to feather the clutch (squeeze it partially). That’s a great method of controlling first gear, much more precise than the throttle. And yeah, squeeze it all the way when you want to slow down.

Cruisers are much easier to ride. We had Suzuki cruisers, Honda Nighthawks, and some Kawasaki dirt-bike type bike. The guy riding the Kawasaki wound up getting the thing bucking back and forth and went over the handlebars, he landed on his back and left in an ambulance. That was sort of sobering. I don’t think I could even reached the ground with my feet on that bike.

I’m going to take a class when it gets less hot here, maybe September or October. I’m kind of worried about it, though, because I don’t know how to drive a manual car. Do you think that would be a serious drawback? (On the other hand, I’m getting pretty experienced on my scooter, so I’m getting a lot of practice with that “two brakes” thing.)

Heck, I’d say if you’re good on your scooter you’ve already got a head start.

The shifting on motorcycles isn’t too hard, you’ll start off by “waddling” along on the bike, slowly letting out the clutch to get it to move, finding the friction zone. Nobody seemed to have a lot of trouble with it, and I can’t imagine that everyone in the class had driven stick before. The MSF course is amazingly efficient and streamlined.

It definitely is. The second lesson, after familiarizing ourselves with the controls, was to “powerwalk” the bikes back and forth, which involving duckwalking while handling the clutch in first gear without touching the throttle at all. There’s no danger in the exercise, since if you squeeze the clutch too tight, the bike won’t move without you, and it you let it out without twisting the throttle, the bike just dies and you have to start it again. There’s that sweet zone in the middle where the bike edges forward, and you just walk with it. It was a very efficient way for us to learn how to handle the clutch.

I’m not sure if the ones in South Carolina are official MSF classes or not. It says they’re taught with “materials provided” by MSF. The nearest one is at a community college, and comes in Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced.

Mine was taught at a local high school by a couple local riders and a motorcycle police officer. I’d imagine that’s standard operating procedure.

Yeah, that sounds like it. My class is being taught by TEAM Arizona, but it’s using the MSF curriculum.

I always assumed it would be a problem, but I’ve heard from others that it’s actually easier to learn to drive a manual car after first learning to ride a motorcycle. I can see that. I think you’ll be fine.

Projammer – 7:30 to 5 both days??? Geez. That’s a long time to stay focused. The class my wife and I took was 5pm - 10pm on a Wednesday (that was the classroom session) and then 7am - noon on Saturday and Sunday (range practice). Even that seemed a bit long, but it was manageable.

I remember being so pissed off because I aced the u-turn manuever every time I practiced it, but I ended up putting my foot down – twice – during the actual test. I still passed, but grr.

And having just switched from my little Nighthawk 450 back to the much heavier Concours, I’m thinking I need to find a parking lot myself and practice those low speed manuevers. It’s so much different with a bigger, heavier bike.

Oh, and Bosstone – were you sore at all after riding?

So very, very sore. My hips and ankles in particular weren’t used to working that way, and my legs and hands were stiff as anything this morning. I expect it’s just from a lack of use, but the pain in my hip when I got on the bike was surprisingly sharp.

I’d forgot about being sore during the course, but I was too. The good news, at least for me, was once I got used to balancing a 600 pound machine I don’t get sore any more. Even if I don’t ride for a few weeks I can still get back to it without soreness.

I agree. Even on my second day of rider training, I wasn’t anywhere near as sore. It was just after that first day, my body protested mightily.

I have some issues now with the Concours that cause my hands to get sore, but I think I’m going to buy risers for it to see if that helps at all.

That’s what I figured. The last time I was on anything remotely similar to a motorcycle, it was about 9 years ago on a horse for one day of riding. It’s just something my body’s not used to.