Motorcycle safety, a different point of view.

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August 11, 2008

As some of you might remember, I and my significant other ride motorcycles. Now, I grew up playing with anything that had a motor. Things like mini bikes, homemade dune buggies, go karts, backhoes, dump trucks, lawn mowers, tractors and yes motorcycles were all things that we worked on, built and rode/drove when I was a kid. As an adult with little money, I got away from playing with "toys". But, as I grew older and having a little money, I managed to start getting some of my own toys, like pop-ups and campers, bass boat, and, yes, a motorcycle. So, what do motorcycles and riding have to do with camping and RVing? Well, I don’t know about you, but I see more and more bikes in trucks or as toads or even pulling small pop-ups.

Now, as a paramedic, I am very aware of the risks and dangers of two-wheeled travel and keeping life and limb together and unhurt is a prime goal. Maybe, if I had been more aware of that as a youngster, I wouldn’t have as many aches and pains as I do today! So, I thought I was a pretty safe driver, wearing gear, helmet, and boots at all times. But when my significant other decided to ride, I realized that someone who is a professional teacher would be better to help her learn than I could. So, Pennsylvania has a safety/driving course for motorcycle riders sponsored by the MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) to teach riders how to ride and ride safer. So we signed up! Now, I already had my license and figured it would be just a chance to get some brownie points! But, what I learned was much more! So, if you have ever wondered about having a motorcycle as a toad, or as a tour/camping bike or just wondered if you were interested in riding, please read on.

The class is now three long days. The first night consisted of the usual paperwork related to a class, but then became much more interesting. We had to introduce ourselves to follow class members and learn about them, why they were there. We had several total beginners who just had always wanted to ride, several who had ridden on the back for years and now wanted to "ride my own", and even a few who had years of experience who where there for moral support for others.

After learning a little about each other, we settled down to learn more about motorcycles. We started with basic understanding of the machine and its parts. Each section had a portion of the workbook to help prepare the student and then was followed by a very well done program on DVD. The instructor was knowledgeable about the subject and still was not afraid to say "I don’t know, but I will find out for you" and then did. The materials built upon what had gone before and were arranged and taught logically. I can say, as a motorcycle rider, I wish more car and truck drivers could learn some of the things we learned this night. I feel some of the problems of motorcyclists and other drivers come from fact that other drivers are not familiar with the limitations of bikes and the person on the bike forgets this! I honestly think everyone came away from even the first night having learned something.

Day two began out on the motorcycle "Range". The class uses smaller motorcycles (125 to 250 CC bikes) to teach the student the proper way to operate the motorcycle. The nicest thing is that these are not your bikes! The student can learn without worrying about damaging their own bike! I will say for a experienced rider the first part of the riding section is a little slow. But it needs to be for those who have little riding experience. But if you can stick out the first hour or so, it builds rapidly as you progress through the exercises. By the end of the riding day, I honestly can say that I think everyone had learned something, and those of us with a little more experience were moving with much more confidence!

After a hour break for a late lunch, we were back in the classroom for more information. Now, we were moving through things like stopping distances and road obstacles and how to plan for your movement through traffic and the world! It finished up with a (if you pardon the pun) a soboring look at impaired driving, and then a written test. Yes we both passed; in fact, everyone did. There were 3 people who scored 100% and yours truly was one of them, but my signicant other, Pam, only missed one.

Day Three began back out on the range, and with wet pavement to boot. While we never had rain directly on us, it was enough to give us a taste of wet pavement driving, and, by the way, the class does not stop for rain; this is the real world, you ride. The exercises were no longer slow or easy for any of us. We were now covering things like how to avoid obsticals, emergency stopping (very useful in my opinion), proper preparation for turns and maneuvers at speed and slow speed control! Even the experienced drivers were sometimes pulled over by the rider coaches and were taught how to be better riders. And finally the big movement came the dreaded practical test! Now some of us already had our licenses, so there was no pressure (yea right!), but everyone wanted to do their best. How did it come out? Well, no one was perfect, I have to admit with some pride I lasted longest. I was too slow on the final maneuver and was three points off of a perfect score. Pam was 12 points off. Everyone did pass (which I understand is not always common). To everyone in our class, I want to say a job well done! And to our Rider/Coaches Wayne Fair and Jeff Wentling, thank you for doing a great job teaching.

Now, like I said up above, what does this have to do with camping and RVing? Well, more and more people are finding the enjoyment of camping and touring on bikes. It is one of our favorite things to do, and I am sure a favorite of many others. Now, if someone can teach me how to do it safer and for free (at least in Pennsylvania) and can get me a insurance rate reduction just for taking the class, I am all for it. So, the next time you see that class A pulling a motorcycle or a toy hauler, don’t be afraid to ask them about their bike! If you have ever wanted to ride, don’t let age stop you, the youngest in our class was in his teens, the oldest in his sixties! Just learn to do it safely and well!

Your Obedient Servant,

Gary Smith, Jr.

By the way, we did not get our dream house, even dreams must be paid for and be the right one, so we are still looking! So, if anyone wants to sell us a home or land near Brookville, PA, just let me know LOL!

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  1. I agree with the comments I read above, I thnk this is a great article, and I would like to refer to it in a post on my website if thats OK?

    cheers, Mike

  2. Great post, Gary. I rode bikes from the age of 16, but when my wife and I got together 11 years ago, she was terrified of bikes, so I sold mine.

    Last year I got the riding itch again, and she surprised me by insisting I get a bike, and helping me pick it out, a gorgeous V Star 1100. Boy, have my skills gotten rusty in 10 years away from the saddle! Added to that is the fact that my largest bike before was a 750, and the size difference is very noticeable.

    So I am actively looking for a motorcycle class. I want to go back to the basics, even though I have retained my motorcycle endorsement all these years. But it is hard to find a class when you are wandering all over the country and we never seem to be in the right place at the right time.

  3. Jim

    Good article Gary. Motorcycle awareness is important to all drivers. One thing that I would like to add is that our reaction time and vision as well as hearing detieriate with age. I know as I’ve rode over 40 years and thousands of miles. Upon turning 60 it suddenly hit me that I wasn’t as good a rider as when I was younger. Thus I hung up my helmet and started Rving. Boy am I glad I did as I’m having the time of my life. Been on the road for about 5 years in a motorhome and have loved every mile. I firmly believe that I’m a much better defensive driver in my motorhome due to defensively riding a motorcycle. In closing, Watch for and share the road with motorcycles

  4. Ellen F

    Taking a motorcycle safety course is required if you want a cycle endorsement on your license in Michigan.