Motorcycle course, part 3: Testing time

(The first part of this entry is here, and the second part is here.)

Sunday was a bit cooler and had a breeze, which was a very nice change. It was hot Saturday. I did manage to discover that my jacket was waterproof, but I learned it trying to get moisture from the inside out. Not fun. My helmet has been manageable, but they’ve let those of us with sunglasses ride with our visors open all the way.

I’m kind of tired of writing about the exercises — I really should have just posted a bunch of one-liners from my Blackberry during the course. Anyhow, Sunday was a continuation of Saturday: start off with some simple practice to get used to riding again and warm up the bikes, then braking in a curve, emergency braking on a curve (surprisingly difficult, since you have to straighten the bike up fast at the end of the curve to avoid falling over when you stop), a lot more slow sharp turns, and then swerving around obstacles.

A lot of people had trouble with swerving, and I think that’s because they tried to teach push steering before they let people try to swerve. Push steering is how you steer a motorcycle (or a bicycle!) at speed: since the bike turns from leaning and not from turning the front wheel towards the turn, initiating a turn becomes a question of how to force the bike to lean over quickly, and you do that by pushing the handlebar on the side that you want to turn away from you. Right turn, push on the right bar. It’s counterintuitive to think about, but you can’t easily get the bike to lean without countersteering; if you told someone to “go practice swerving”, at the end of the exercise they’d be doing push steering, but trying to do it consciously gets you thinking about the bars instead of the bike. A remarkable number of people had a hard time managing to swerve in the direction they were told — you’re told to swerve in a particular direction right at the point where you have to start swerving, just like you would on the road — and I wonder how much of that was being stuck thinking about which side of the handlebars to push on, and how much was just being prepared to go one way and being surprised at the last moment.

The test was surprisingly straightforward: five exercises, and a demerit system in which errors earn points. Twelve points accumulated is a fail, as is a crash, defined as letting the handlebar touch the ground — if you drop the bike but catch it a couple inches from the ground, you’ll probably lose some points, but it’s not a crash.

I was the first rider of the last group of 5 to go, although I was originally told I was the second rider in the group. That threw me a little on the first test: a sharp right turn into a sweeping arc with a box at either end. You take the turn at slow speed and then speed up along the arc, and you’re timed in the middle of it to make sure you’re going fast enough. Controlled stop (downshift, stop vertical, no lockup) in the box at the end of the arc, turn around, and go the other way along the arc stopping in the other box. I took the first turn a bit wide and touched a cone (3 pts) but was otherwise fine. One of the other students managed to drop her bike at the end of her return pass through the arc. I figure it was just nervousness, because it wasn’t a narrow turn at all, but she was the only failure of our group of 5 (and one of two failures in the whole group of 15 plus 4 retests from the previous week).

The second test was a sweeping curve at roadway speeds — no problem, although it was tempting to take too fast, since it was a tighter turn than what we had been practicing on. After that, emergency braking in a straight line, which also went fine (although I stopped longer than I expected to). Leaving that exercise to head to the next one I stalled, which cost me another point. The next exercise was a swerve — also no problem. One of the other students swerved the wrong way (would have been five points, I think), but she went too slow heading into the swerve, and had to redo it! I don’t know if she was still penalized for swerving the wrong way or not. The last exercise was an emergency stop on a curve which also went without incident. I passed, with four points.

So now I get to shop for a bike and wait — since my course was rescheduled a month earlier than I had expected, I’ve still got 40 days to wait before I can use the paperwork I received there to turn my M1 license into an M2 license. I’m going to start shopping around for a bike now and decide then whether or not it’s worth insuring for the M1 month before I can get my M2, since it’ll cost quite a bit more. Waiting to shop was definitely a good idea, though — I feel confident in my ability to give a used bike a once-over now, and I had no idea what to do a week ago. The Bike Trader updates tomorrow, but here’s what I have bookmarked now. I think I’m leaning toward the Maxims, or maybe the GS400 if I can talk him down a few hundred.