Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Confessions of a Biker Chick

If you're a single woman and not picky, learn to ride a motorcycle. Seriously, when we showed up for our class, the men far outnumbered the women. And if you're a fan of the handlebar moustache, all the better.

Being picky and married, I brought my own man. More accurately, he brought me. It's not like I would have decided to learn to ride on my own. But Danny began his motorcycle crusade a few months ago. He wanted to get a motorcycle and take the Team Oregon safety course, and if I was going to see him at all that weekend, I would need to go too.

I figured, what the hey? Jayne Tate in Plain Jayne rides a bike; learning to ride would probably be a good thing. Faster than you could say "ease up on the throttle", Danny had us scheduled.

Some surprises:

1. I was not the only person to bring knitting to the Thursday classroom session.

2. 80% of motorcycle accidents are single-vehicle crashes, and most of those are because the motorcyclist botched a turn.

3. Of the multi-vehicle crashes involving motorcycles, most occur because the car driver didn't see the cyclist: visibility is key.

Then the instructor went through a show-and-tell with his gear. There was a lot of Kevlar involved. Apparently, most motorcyclists collect gloves. All of a sudden I knew what my husband was getting for Christmas for the next twenty years.

Operating a motorcycle is harder than it looks; you're essentially driving a stick-shift car on two wheels. The gas (throttle), front brake, on/off switch, and starter are all on the right hand alone. The back brake is operated with the right foot. You shift gears with your left foot while clutching with your left hand. Confused? It gets better. You stomp down to shift down, and hook your foot under it to push it up when you want to shift up. Neutral lives between first and second gear only, and on the bike I rode, only turned up when you didn't want to be in neutral. You want to keep your clutch "covered" (your hand over it) at all times, but you don't want your hand on your brake. If you do, the instructor looks at you with the intensity of a cop and slaps their right hand as a signal. Like that's not intimidating.

One of the most important things about riding is to look where you're going. I know that sounds obvious but let me explain. When you turn, you actually turn your head completely before you start the turn. If your head is turned far enough, you'll make a nice, tight turn. If you don't, you'll go wide. You can move your eyes anywhere you want, but your head has to be cranked over to the side to turn correctly. When we ran through swerving around cones, it was hard. You want to look at the cones, but the moment you did, you'd run over them. By looking up and watching the cones in your peripheral vision (as well as a lot of hip-action in the leaning), I was able to get through the cones okay.

We spent four hours riding on Saturday, and five on Sunday. Sunday was tough because it was 84 degrees and I had to be wearing long pants, long sleeves, gloves and boots, not to mention a helmet. I was uncomfortable but protected. I fell over during the Saturday session - hadn't quite figured out that I was supposed to actually use the throttle. I didn't have enough momentum to keep my balance, and gravity did what gravity does. Because I was wearing my leather gloves, my hand didn't get chewed up.

In the end, I passed the written test as well as the driving evaluation, although the instructor emphasized that I needed LOTS of practice. But when you consider I hadn't ever thought about driving a motorcycle until the summer, much less ever tried...it's not bad.

I'm glad I took the course. If nothing else, it's made me a better driver. I have LOADS of material for the book, and I got to learn something new.

Plain Jayne has been difficult in some aspects, mainly because it's Amish and I'm not. But getting to take the class helped me to get into Jayne's world and understand a small part of it. I got to do something book-related that did not involve me sitting in front of my computer. My hope is to learn something new with every book I write. As a writer, I think it's vital to stay fresh and continue to learn.

Although if the next thing I learn happens in a climate-controlled situation with both feet on the ground, I certainly won't complain.

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