Motorcycle Endorsement

First, spare me your concern and do not deluge the comments of this blog with platitudes about how dangerous motorcycles are (“Be careful” counts as one of these comments, it’s reminiscent of a worry-wart mother). It drives me nuts how people feel obligated to pipe in their views about the dangers of motorcycles–without provocation–whenever they are mentioned. It is as though I’d lit a cigarette in a room full of non-smokers; suddenly, I’m the one who’s “willfully killing myself” and the do-gooders have to let me know how they know someone who died in a motorcycle accident. There’s three reasons why this won’t work on me:

1) I used to jump of airplanes. I’ve done this seven times (six static line and once tandem free fall). At one point in my life, I actually wanted to take this up as a hobby. Now I know that statistically one has a better chance of getting into a car accident on the way to the drop zone to go parachuting; however, I think most people would agree that motorcycling is a bit more sane than jumping out of an aircraft that is flying perfectly well. So if you want to talk about risk behaviors, let’s talk about that.

2) I don’t think you fully realize how dangerous road bicycling is. Sure, it’s great exercise and it means I lead a very healthy lifestyle. However, down a good hill, that little piece of flimsy metal between my legs is capable of going up to 50mph, if I let it (which I rarely do because I’m coward). But falling off your bike at 35mph is just like falling out of a car at the same speed. Both will hurt very much. Not to mention the fact that motorists enjoy the presence of bicycles on the road even less than than “enjoy” the presence of motorcycles. Furthermore, they are less likely to see bicycles than even motorcycles. For this reason, the average road cyclist drives very defensively. I have the keen ability to judge potential accidents and react to them in a timely manner. I’ve had to do so on more than one occasion.

3) You can die just choosing to leave your house. You can die when you haven’t even left it. I am completely impervious to all sputtering arguments about how closer to one’s death a person brings themselves by their actions. Smoking cigarettes would be a deliberate act of suicide because the outcome is fairly certain since we know cigarette smoking does cause cancer. Riding a motorcycle does not necessarily lead to death. I know many motorcyclists as well as cyclists who have lead long, happy lives. Same with cigarette smokers, but the difference with cigarette smoking is that I chose to be healthy. I can still consider myself healthy on a motorcycle.

Motorcycle riding is something I’ve always wanted to do. Do you have something that you’ve always wanted to do and never done? Have you not seen people doing something and felt deeply within your heart, for years and years, that it was something you wanted to learn to do, but you never brought yourself to try? Well, I’m tired of sitting on the sidelines drooling over other people’s motorcycles and wondering what the freedom of the road feels like as I pound the pavement on some beautiful sunny summer’s day; I wanted to give it a try.

So this weekend I attended the Basic Motorcycle Safety Course given by the State of Ohio. If you take this course, and successfully pass the skills tests at the end of the 12 hours of riding exercises conducted in the safety of a parking lot, then the state waives having to take the motorcycle driver’s test at the BMV and you get your endorsement. Today, I passed.

It was not an easy feat. I spent 12 hours–Saturday and Sunday–busting my butt to learn how to ride what turns out is a complex machine. It reminds me of the time when my parents bought me that pink Schwinn bike with a banana seat–my first bike without training wheels–and they took me to the elementary school parking lot to learn to ride on two wheels. Motorcycling is not like getting behind the wheel of a car–or maybe it was a little, I’ve been driving so long I forgot how hard it must have once been. Learning to ride a motorcycle was just as all-encompassing. It takes every bit of your brain to learn all the motions–pulling the clutch instead of pushing one with your foot, tapping the gears with your foot, braking with one side of your body performing the action. It’s very hard and it took every bit of my concentration constantly. And I’m not even on the road yet!

I guess I was a little disappointed in myself. I am really a slow-learner. I remember getting disgruntled when doing practice scenarios in sky-diving. In my first jump video, Mike had gotten a shot of all of us taking the sky-diving class as we eating lunch on break, and you can see a very disappointed, irate Mars Girl. I was with people who seemed to get everything right away and as soon as that happens, I get even more down on myself, which, of course, makes it even harder to perform. I don’t get things until they are demonstrated to me first. So you can speak directions all you want but I won’t understand them until you show me what you want me to do. I think words get kind of meaningless for me. Maybe I can’t form good mental pictures of events through words, which is kind of sad, when you think about it, for a writer to say.

Anyway, the class was stressful. I was overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to master the controls. It seems like it took me a longer stretch of pavement to change from first gear (down) to second gear (up 1.5 half steps) and I kept getting stuck in neutral (between gears 1 and 2). Which made it extremely hard to get up to speed in the segment of pavement in which they wanted to get up to speed and then do something. At one point, I had mastered gear changes after I’d completed an exercise. I would ride a wide loop back to the end of the line for the exercise and in that loop I would deliberately practice putting the gear from 1 to 2. But I don’t know what happened the second half the day… Well, I think I got a little frustrated because I missed an instruction and the Rider Coach shouted at me, which caused me to start crying (behind my sunglasses so no one could see). I think that ruined my concentration for the day because in the back of my head, I kept calling myself stupid. And I was mad at the guy for shouting at me so when he was monitoring my exercise, I couldn’t focus.

And I’m really, really bad at testing. We practiced three of the four tests right before the actual exam. I nailed all of the tests except U-turns during the practice time. I was stomping out my sudden stops like you wouldn’t believe, getting praises from the Rider Coach who hadn’t shouted at me and even the one who had. I made really good gear changes in approaching the stop. Then, when the evaluation started, I don’t know what the hell happened. In line while waiting my turn for each test, I was taking deep breaths and telling myself, “You can do this. You can do this.” But I failed to impress myself. Typical.

What makes me even more frustrated is that I was nailing long curves during the practice exercises–it was one of the things I did really, really well all day and I attribute it to my experience cycling in the valley. I would get up to speed, approach it by decelerating appropriately, and then taking the turn, accelerating slowly in the middle of it. Well, when I did the curve during the test, I must not have slowed down enough because I ended up braking during the turn–minus 5 points!

Overall, I lost 18 points on the test; 21 is failure. So just like my driving test, I passed by the skin of my teeth. Most people would say that it doesn’t matter what my score was because I passed and now I have the endorsement. But it does matter to me because I don’t want to just pass, I want to be a superstar. I want to be above average. But I never pick up anything like a superstar. I’m just me–the slow poke, the retard, the incapable. It’s so frustrating. It makes me rethink a lot of things, like why I am so afraid to go back to school in the first place. School had a way of making me feel inadequate, even in the things I’m theoretically good at, such as writing. I don’t think I want to put myself through that again; school made me hate myself and feel ashamed a lot. I wish I didn’t have such a low self-esteem.

It’s frustrating, too, when you go to a class with someone who is the complete opposite of you–the superstar. But I’ve been around superstars my whole life. And, as my dad always says, no matter how good you are at anything, there’s always someone better. I get focused on the someone better and it ruins my ability to concentrate on my own performance. Maybe I’m way too competitive. Or, more likely, I use other people to measure myself and intimidate me.

Well, I guess I have some time to improve my skills. I don’t know yet if I will get a motorcycle. I can say that I really, really did taking a shine to it. I love the way the bike humms between your legs and I love the smell of the exhaust sputtering out the back of the exhaust pipe. I loved the way the bike felt at speed and the false sense of comfort I had in its stability. Probably because it is heavier and sturdier than a road bike, I didn’t get the feeling that I could fall easily. I guess that’s a bad thing. I wasn’t sure I’d like the feel of riding it, but I did. I don’t think I ever got about 20mph, but I didn’t really get scared at any point while getting up to speed whereas on my road bike I might (if it was downhill). U-turns made me nervous because they are done very slowly in first gear and you really have to angle turn the handlebars. But what we learned in class is that the bike actually performs more stably at faster speeds. It was way easier to maneuver at a higher speed than at a slower one.

It was definitely a stressful day and now that I’ve mowed my lawn (damn that lawn, it always needs to be mowed now that it’s semi-healthy), I think I am going to relax in my backyard with some wine, try to finish the book I’m reading, U2 by U2. Maybe I’ll start a fire in my pit. Put away all thoughts of barking Road Coaches and evaluations passed by the skin of my teeth. Away go the quandaries of what kind of motorcycle I should buy. I passed, it’s over, time to let it go. At least I can say I did one more thing I always wanted to do. Hopefully, I’ll chin up and give it a go again.

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