Since I’ve got a wife and wonderful seven-year-old daughter, and since riding a motorcycle isn’t deemed by the people I know as the safest pastime I can indulge in, I decided early on to do everything that I can possibly do to prevent the separation of me from my motorcycle in an unwanted fashion. Even if this is to occur, I also want to make sure that I have more-than-adequate protection. Lastly and most importantly, I’ve committed myself to getting the best education and training I can, and to continue this training in an ongoing manner as long as I continue to ride.
Time to get some gear and get educated.
I looked into training schools sponsored by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, and most said that they would provide helmets, but I would need to have gloves, a suitable jacket, pants and boots. I figured that with minimal effort I could cobble together an outfit that would “pass”, but that path didn’t feel right to me. I decided to purchase the equipment that I would begin riding with immediately. I would have plenty to do and think about during my first few thousand miles, and I wanted to have the equipment that I would be using initially. I felt the need for commitment to the process from the time I first threw a leg back over a seat.
Read the book
The first thing I did was purchase a bunch of Motorcycle magazines, and then after perusing the racks at the local Border’s Books, I bought “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Motorcycles — Third Edition“ – by Darwin Holmstrom and Charles Everitt. Both of these writers are contributors to Motorcyclist Magazine (which I now subscribe to). I cannot say enough about this book. I have referred to it again and again for advice on gear, schools, riding technique and bike purchasing, and rarely ventured anywhere near the outside limits of their advice.
After signing up for my course, I decided to do some helmet shopping. Initially I hit the web and spent a tremendous amount of time reading DOT/SNELL info, looking at all the products that were available, reading reviews on the motorcycle magazine and motorcycle gear websites, narrowing down exactly what I wanted to get.
I decided to buy a helmet that was both DOT and SNELL approved, partially from my automobile racing experience, partially because it seemed to make the most sense, and finally because that was the main recommendation from the sites that I had visited. SNELL approved helmets are all full-face. I made the decision to have a full-face helmet because I didn’t want to deal with bugs and rocks hitting me in the face, and also, if I come of the bike, I like my face the way that it i s and didn’t see the need to grind any of it off.
Once you have both the DOT/SNELL approvals on your helmet, there’s not much more difference at that point excepting features, comfort and other goodies. The most basic SNELL helmet can be had for about $80. It’s a pretty featureless Bell Zephyr Full-Faced Helmet, and you can get it at Wal-Mart (I won’t step foot in Wal-Mart, but that’s another story). Probably the main reason I discounted it is it was only available in Black that I could find, and I wanted something with more visibility.
I surfed the web and combed through magazines for options. I ran across an article about picking out a helmet; the writer recommended that one should go into a store, try on a bunch of helmets and pick the one that meets your criteria and fits the best, then buy it from the store as a thank-you for putting up with your time and helping you. I also found this page on the WebBikeWorld site about helmet fitting indispensable. I picked out a couple of models that met my price/safety criteria, and then took a weekend to go shopping.
I am so glad that I did this! The helmet that I had initially picked turned out to fit me horribly. Had I purchased it my nose would have been smashed up against the front of it and I would have completely wasted $150 plus shipping. Instead I walked into the nice Honda dealer on Ventura Blvd. In there the wonderful staff helped me pick out a very comfortable and properly fitting ICON Mainframe helmet. I purchased it for $200 and change.Later in the month, after wearing it in my MSF class for two days, taking it off very little, I found it to be extremely comfortable, fog-free and fit my particular pate wonderfully. The only thing that I might do differently would be to get one that has the new “flip down” sun shade built into it. Maybe next time.
While in the store, I tried on gloves, jackets and looked over all the other protective gear. I was able to find out how different brands of leather/fiber jackets fit me, and discussed with the staff what the best choices were for various conditions, features to look for, etc.
The time and money put into my helmet purchase was a great investment. It was roughly $35 more than I would have paid on the web with shipping. The extra money bought me an education and confidence in what I was buying. I knew a lot more about jackets, gloves, pants, etc. I knew that I fit a “Large” in some jackets and gloves, XL in others. Same for features to look for, and what the variables were with respect to construction and materials.
Mining eBay for a Jacket and Gloves.
I hit eBay and other sites to compare and contrast jackets and gloves, and work out the best deal I could find on the best gear I could get. Good, Fast, Cheap. Pick two. I decided to go for Good and Cheap, and figured that it would take me at least three weeks to get everything together. I took my time and I believe I scored with a great Joe Rocket Leather Jacket (Blaster, used three times, fit me perfectly, $89!) and some Icon Merc Gauntlet Gloves that matched my Red/Black/White Jacket and Helmet, for $49.
Both of these purchases were used equipment, but both were as-new when they arrived. I noticed that you really need to read the fine print and do the research. eBay “dealers” often had prices higher than the better equipment sites that I found, like webbikeworld . I also wanted matching gear, but I didn’t care if it was last year’s style. I was more interested in the protection and features — the Joe Rocket jacket has vents, armor and nice, thick, pliant leather. The gloves have pucks on the palms, Kevlar over the knuckles (which I find is awesome for deflecting rocks) and they are gauntlet-style, which is really nice for keeping wasps, bees and cigarettes out of your sleeves!
I completed my initial kit with a pair of heavy agricultural jeans and some nice eBay-found Alpinestars leather boots for $50 (As I write this and contemplate picking up my bike soon, I will buy a nice pair of armored pants and extra back armor this week).
Getting back on a bike and getting schooled.
Now that I have all the gear, it’s time to protect myself with mental acuity. I signed up for a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) course. I was going to do this part by the numbers so I could get properly licensed and have the basic skills to build from to become safe. You’ll hear a lot of authors, pundits and the like say that MSF training gives you the skills to operate a small bike in an empty parking lot at 25mph.
This is overly-simplified and inaccurate. What it does is give you the tools to think about what you’re doing in a manner that will allow you to become, with practice, a safe rider. I was able to ask questions about how to progress from the parking lot to city streets and beyond. I received valuable advice with respect to the type of bike to purchase, the way to “break in” to the unforgiving streets, how to practice and what to practice. I feel like I got straight, accurate advice and information.
This is why I took the course, and I’m not only ecstatic about the results, I am a strong supporter of their goals and their teachers, especially the ones I met at the Ride Rite Motorcycle School.
Day one — Morning 5-hour classroom instruction.
I was so excited about the class that I went to the grounds where it was to be held a week early to make sure I knew where to go and how to get there. They admonish you to not be late or face a stiff fee and delay of at least a week in the course, so I decided to err on the side of caution.
Class started promptly at 7am on Saturday, and I got there at 6:30. I had some very interesting initial observations:
- 1/3 of the class was about my age (46).
- 1/3 of the class were women.
- Most of the people had purchased a bike.
- Most of the people that had purchased a bike were unlicensed.
- Most of the purchased bikes were medium-large displacement (800-1100cc) sport-bikes or large-displacement (1300cc+) cruisers.
- ALL Women like the Ducati Monsters; one had purchased a 620cc on a “whim”.
- Nobody purchased a dual-sport.
- One person was taking the course to ride a scooter.
- Various levels of experience abounded. Many of the licensed riders had just moved to California and nearly all of the people there had taken the course to avoid the DMV test, and I believe they thought the safety benefits were secondary (I hope not!).
Due to various run-ins with local constabulary across the US in my youth, I received many “performance awards,” usually for speeding. I often attended the safety courses offered by most states to avoid the horrible insurance rate hikes. I half-expected the classroom part of the MSF course to be as dry and video-filled as they were.
I was pleasantly surprised that our instructor, Steve Bergstrom, never crossed that line. He talked at length to everyone about what kind of experience/bike they had, commented intelligently and in an extremely diplomatic fashion with respect to the answers, and explained in detail how the course would be given. While the ubiquitous videos were present, they were modern, well-made and to the point. I learned a lot from them and confirmed quite a bit from what I had read in “The Idiot’s guide”. The entire class was engaged and time flew by.
The main gems of knowledge I received in the classroom session were:
- Things that I needed to think about and look for while riding
- Basic principals with respect to technique, like braking, counter-steering and unforeseen situations.
- That I had a ton to learn. I was absolutely, in no way, ready to get on my bike and ride on a freeway for a mile, let alone commute or take a trip. I was definitely going to need to practice my skills and build my confidence slowly and in controllable situations.
Day one – The First Riding Course.
We were initally taught how to mount the bike. We went over all the controls and the course protocols. We finally went through the mounting and starting procedures a few times.Once we were able to mount, start, stop and dismount from the bikes, we were given instruction in the “friction zone” of the bike. We walked the bikes while mounted, first out of gear and then under power. Gradually we went through a series of short exercises in a straight line to start and stop, slow down and finally make basic turns. Things that I had known years ago started coming back to me, working their way from the vibrating mechanical masses below, up my spine and into my brain. Me like. Me remember. Me smile under helmet.
Day one ended after the last of the exercises of increasing complexity. Observations included the fact that the instructors were not afraid to yell at us, one young woman wasn’t taking things very seriously, and the woman that wanted to ride scooters was intimidated and probably needed more help (She dropped out the next day, the woman that wasn’t taking things seriously dropped her bike the next day. She got serious after that and passed with flying colors).
Things started to come back to me quickly. I was thrilled at one point when “Instructor Carl” put me in front and told me that he wanted others to see what I was doing because I was doing it well. Made my whole day, whether he meant it or not.
Day two – All Day on the Bike.
Day two started early and ended as it was getting dark. We went through all new material; it escalated in difficulty but was never threatening other than “doing it correctly, to spec” could be difficult. It was easy to understand what was going on and why each particular exercise was necessary, from panic stops, riding in a tight box or stopping in the middle of a turn. These were things that I would need to practice on my own bike, increasing in speed and within the envelope of limitations surrounding my experience and that the bike that I would purchase.
At the end of the day, we all took a test, scoring points for mistakes, with only a few errors between us and repeating the test in a week. I passed, but messed up my panic stop by going 6 inches too far, and the final course with the decreasing radius turn and stop at the end was a point-gainer because the sun had gone down and I couldn’t see the lines enough to see ahead and turn accordingly. I didn’t do anything stupid and I passed.
In no way did I feel immediately prepared for real-world situations with angry, over-caffeinated, cell phone wielding soccer-moms in their Tahoes and Excursions.
I’m now a licensed rider with a few skills, a good idea about a basic road map to better ones, and no doubt I’ll take a good ribbing from my friends as I go out an wear out a set of tires in parking lots, and gradually build up my skills on lesser streets around my house and work before I take to the freeways and hopefully interstates.
I’m in no hurry. I’d rather be safe than do anything stupid. I will enjoy the process of getting better as much as the result.
What I learned and where I’m going from here.
I learned that the right gear can stop you from getting hurt badly in a serious accident, and possibly hurt at all in a minor one. I’m a full-face-helmet-wearing rider. I think it’s the safest way to go and the statistics back me up; if you don’t believe the statistics, you have the right to do so as long as it’s on your tab. The rest of my garb, when completely installed on my body, makes me look like a “Power Ranger”, according to my laughing, finger-pointing wife. It also means that I’ll be visible and well-protected, which is fine by me.
As far as riding a bike goes, I need to make sure that I don’t get “too much” bike, which isn’t too hard because my riding goals are not to become a Track God or Street Hooligan, and the friends I’ve made on my Yahoo Groups pages have given me a tremendous amount of sage advice.
I’ve got nothing to prove on the whole “Manhood” thing, and I just want to enjoy the ride and be safe. The MSF course got me in the right direction on this, and I am thankful that I had two guys like Carl and Steve to get me started in the right direction with the knowledge to know that it was a good start, and nothing more.
local San Fernando Valley Schools
Ride Rite Motorcycle Training
PO Box 874Norco, CA 92860
Motorcycle Safety Foundation – approved classes in the San Fernando Valley and Corona.
Ride Rite, Inc is endorsed by the California Motorcyclist Safety Program. As of July 1, 2001, more than 200,000 motorcycle riders have been trained by the program’s California Motorcycle Training network. The program began operating publicly in July 1987. Since 1986, the number of annual motorcycle fatalities has dropped over 70 percent, and motorcycle accidents also have declined more than 70 percent.”
The final installment to the series is here: Back to Motorcycling Part 4 — 25,000 miles in 9 months