MSF and parking lot motorcycle training

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Confidence is Key

When it's time to return to the parking lot

You all remember the very first time you rode a motorcycle, when the handlebars were finally in your own hands and you felt the elation of learning to control that mechanical beast. Do you remember where you were? Most likely you were in an empty parking lot, slowly maneuvering around curbs and practicing throttle control, looking forward to the day when you'd feel comfortable out on the open road. You may think it strange for someone to get their endorsement and then continue puttering around in a parking lot, yet that's exactly what I did after experiencing one horrible day of riding.

Here's a look at what happened.

Seven years ago I took the MSF beginner rider course in Pennsylvania. For almost a year I rode around on a 91' Suzuki Katana 600, before moving out of state and losing my motorcycle endorsement in the process. When my husband recently suggested that we buy a dual sport for off-roading, I found that I really wanted to get back in the saddle. I bought an '08 XT250, perfected my slow riding techniques in a parking lot, and cruised all over Seattle on my learner's permit. All I needed was an endorsement to be a "real" rider. I saw that Evergreen Safety Council offers a one day endorsement class for people with previous riding experience, and decided that would be perfect for me.

When I first entered the classroom for the written portion of the class I was unsettled to see that I was the only female, and even more so to see that all the other students, except for one, were clearly at least 20 years older than me. Their levels of experience ranged from ten to thirty years, and even the fellow who looked about my age had several years of experience under his belt. I foolishly let this intimidate me right away - I didn't feel that my meager experience was good enough for this group.

The classroom portion went by smoothly, yet despite acing the written exam I was extremely nervous to start the three hour riding portion of our day. I didn't want all these experienced riders to see how bad I was in comparison. I didn't want to be the worst.

But I was.

There were a variety of bikes to choose from, but I ended up being the last person to pick one, having to make do with a Suzuki GZ 250 cruiser, the one bike I was hoping I wouldn't get. I had never been on a cruiser and felt that I was too short for this one, so now I felt intimidated, nervous and mad, which makes for a very uncomfortable state of mind.

The forward position of my legs felt completely alien. I attempted to lean forward as I had on my sportbike, but that threw off my balance. The handlebars were in entirely the wrong place, the clutch was incredibly difficult to squeeze, and the brakes were far too sensitive. I immediately hated that bike with a burning passion. In fact, if I ever see that horrid monster again I will shun it and pretend we never met.

Despite my hatred of the bike, I told myself it couldn't be that bad. After all, I had spent hours riding my XT250 and this was exactly the same, right?

I dropped the bike within the first 30 seconds of class. My body positioning felt so awkward that I couldn't maneuver it around the weaving cones. My confidence was officially shattered, and even worse, everyone had seen me fall. For the next three hours my mood was a combination of anger, frustration, nervousness, and self-pity. Normally I would shake off a fall without attacking my confidence, but because I let myself get into a dangerous mindset I was horrible for the rest of the class. On my first figure 8 U-turn practice run I dropped the bike again, despite the fact that the first time I had taken the beginner's course I was so awesome at this technique that the instructor had used me to demonstrate it to the rest of the riders!

I was informed by the instructor, Alex (not his real name), that if I dropped it again I would automatically fail. At this point I was seriously considering ditching the bike and running away while on break, but Alex had spent extra time with me, running around inside the figure 8 box calling my name and making me follow him while everyone else took a break. He was so nice, and he believed in me; I couldn't just leave. We practiced figure 8s again, and again I dropped the bike. Fortunately I dropped it in front of the other instructor, so neither him nor Alex had realized that I had passed the two drop limit, and I wasn't in the mood to bring it to their attention. By now I was so upset that I honestly hoped the apocalypse would start, with zombies crawling from the earth to eat me alive so at least I wouldn't have to finish the class.

Right before the test, Alex informed me that I could fail the U-turn and still pass the test, as long as I achieved a perfect score on all the other techniques. So I ate the microscopic remainder of my pride and purposefully did huge, sloppy figure 8s to avoid dropping the bike.

I was relieved when the class finally ended, but was almost certain that I hadn't passed the test. Then the instructors informed us that three people had failed. Imagine my shock when they handed me my endorsement card and score sheet indicating that I had passed the riding portion of the test by a single point.

So who failed? Three of the "highly experienced riders". The guys who had been riding for a decade or two had been unable to pass the simple written test, and would have to retake that portion of the class.

It was weeks before I would ride my bike again. Eventually I returned to the large parking lot near my apartment and spent hours gradually chipping away at my insecurities. After perfecting my U-turns in the parking lot, I've managed to dispel those pesky fears that evolved from one bad day of riding and have since enjoyed some great on- and off-road riding.

I regret that I let my mind get the best of me, that fear and intimidation were ever allowed in to begin with. I had psyched myself out, and made myself scared of a basic technique. But in the end it's important to remember that no matter how experienced or skilled you are, the parking lot will always be there to help you get back on your wheels.

Emily Mercer/Summer 11

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