Friday, July 15, 2011


I learned a little about myself the other day.  In particular, I learned about one of my motorcycling skills.

You may recall that I have been riding a little over three and a half years now, starting late in life, on a sporty motorcycle.  I took the MSF Basic RiderCourse before buying the bike, and tested for my South Carolina motorcycle endorsement about nine months afterward (and passed the first time). 

One of the things we had to do both during the Basic Course and for the endorsement test was to weave around a series of cones set in an offset staggered pattern.  Like this:
Ah.  You remember them, right?  You hated both the exercises and the test related to them, I'll bet.  They told you that you had to keep your eyes up, and not to look at the cones.  ...and you have to weave through them the hard way, not just a lazy wobble!  (I drew in a few cones in my photograph so you would remember better.)  And you just knew that later on, it would be absolutely impossible to weave through those cones on that big bike of yours. 

Almost all of the students had difficulty with their slalom around those infernal little cones.  We practiced and mostly missed, some of us giving up and plowing right down the center of them in frustration.  Those poor cones experienced both our ire and a lot of physical abuse that day.

I remember having built up a bit of technique and doing pretty well during practice, then tensing up for the testing at the end of the class.

Anyway, most of us got the technique down well enough to pass the MSF test, and rest is history, so far more than 25,000 miles of riding for me, year 'round.

I went to take the DMV test for my motorcycle license endorsement at their office in nearby Pickens South Carolina.  I had practiced on their lot there quite a bit, but was as nervous as I had been when I tested for my first drivers license at the age of seventeen or so in a lumbering '59 Chevrolet Biscayne without power steering.  (Did you notice that I have continued a tradition of being a late starter -- first driving, then motorcycle riding?)

I recall the motorcycle examiner's admonition that if you had to dab a foot down they took off points and if you dropped the bike, they failed you on the spot.  That was no help to my nerves.

Well, I passed all the tests -- including the cone weave -- and I have since returned to that same lot for periodic practice of the various exercises on many occasions.  I almost always find that I am a little rusty at first, but improve with some repetition. 

Almost forgot: I also took a Collision Avoidance Class at our church, put on by several motorcycle cops from North Charleston South Carolina. 

Now, back to what I learned about myself.

I was following along after a delivery truck in some heavy traffic at a speed of around twenty-five miles per hour, bunched up a little tighter than is usually comfortable, though I was certainly not tailgating.  I noticed the truck in front of me move over just a few inches to the left, but didn't see a reason.

That reason very soon became quite evident.  His little detour was to avoid running over an automobile wheelcover.  He had straddled it instead.  This artifact from some earlier traveler along the road was still fully formed, not yet smashed flat by traffic, so it would have been a significant impediment to me. 

I was headed right for the shiny bauble, and there was almost no time to think about the action to be taken.

My low peripheral vision identified the object in my path, and I did a swerve to the right and back to the left, drawing a neat, close arc around the obstacle.

And that was it.  An automatic response.  I surprised myself.

It dawned on me a few seconds later that my actions had been without conscious thought, and I hadn't fixated on the object in my path.

Hallelujah!  I did something right!  That training and practice undoubtedly helped.

I think there are a couple of lessons in this.   One is that everyone should be trained, since handling a motorcycle well is not intuitive.  Second, practice is always a good policy, even for those with quite a bit of riding experience. (But don't go to Georgia to practice.) 


While we're talking about training and testing, I should fill you in a little more about that examination area at the DMV.  It must have been conceived to intimidate the test taker.  First, there are steep slopes down from the pavement on both sides.  You can see one side, on the right in the photo above.  For added interest, there is a fence at the bottom of that slope.

The other side looks like this:   
Yep.  That is the other slope, from the vantage point of the bottom, maybe three feet or so below the test lot, this time with some culvert outlets for added spice.

It is very easy to look at and worry about those nearby slopes -- and to go right there as a result!  Remember that target fixation works perfectly, even when -- especially when -- the target is somewhere you don't want to go. 

The other thing about the test lot is that there is a raised concrete storm drain cover directly in line with the end of the cone weave.  You can see that in the top picture.  It causes the rider to worry about hitting it -- and tempting him to fixate on it -- just as he is trying to concentrate on avoiding those infernal little cones.

Did I forget to mention that the parking lot is usually filled with cars and beginning drivers when the office is open, so the test taker has to watch for them too? 

So, no matter which side of the test course you look at, there is an obstacle tempting you.   Clever, those people over at the DMV.  Well, maybe this helps them evaluate the examinee better, and helps them assess his ability to concentrate on the task at hand.

Actually, the low speed tests they administer are good -- and maybe the distractions are part of the test -- but I wish they would add a real road test to the examination for obtaining a motorcycle endorsement.  That would help determine whether the new rider is ready for the real world of riding -- like avoiding stray wheelcovers in the roadway. 



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