One thing that we often neglect in preparedness is training, especially hands-on training with mentors and coaches. I was reminded of this over the weekend as I took a motorcycle basic skills course. I was pretty sure I could pass the practical portion of the state requirement to get my endorsement, but I had been off bikes for a long time. I just was not as confident as I was when I was younger. I decided that, in addition to lowering my insurance rates a little, the course might help me break some bad habits and form better ones.
It was actually much better than I had expected. Based on Motorcycle Safety Foundation material, we were taught good techniques, coached past personal obstacles, and given a great deal of useful information. There were several experienced riders in the class along with complete novices. I don’t think any of the participants failed to learn something they considered well worth the time. The total scheduled time was 19 hours: 3 hours Friday night plus 8 hours of mostly riding on both Saturday and Sunday. We were able to get through in a little less than that because the weather was very good, and all the students were motivated and positive.
Just to give an example, I have a bad habit of tapping my front brake with one finger and relying mostly on the rear brake. I started out as dirt rider and generally things go better if you keep the front end light in the rough stuff. On pavement and in emergency stop situations, it is, however, best to use both brakes and to apply the pressure evenly while downshifting. The coaches kept reminding me about my “bad finger” during the exercises. During the evaluation, my strongest point was probably my braking in which I significantly beat the standard stopping distance while under control, without squalling tires or locking the back wheel.
I also improved my cornering technique – mainly by slowing down more going into the turns, and I still managed to beat the time standard a little. As the coach reminded me, you can always accelerate a bike through a curve if you go in too slow. It’s not so easy to fix if you go in too fast.
Not everyone is interested in learning to be a better motorcycle rider, but whatever the skill is we are trying to acquire or hone, having a coach to watch us and catch our little faults and eccentricities can be beneficial. Most places you can find someone to help you with firearms training. There are classes you can take to be a better, faster shooter. But even informal coaching is a great help. You can get together with a friend or family member who can watch your technique and critically evaluate your habits. You can do the same for others. Things the shooter can’t see because he or she is concentrating on the mechanics of sight alignment and trigger squeeze may be obvious to an alert observer standing (safely out of the line of fire) to one side or behind.
If you are interested in acquiring a new skill or refining an existing one, seriously consider the benefits of working with a coach. The commitment required can help motivate you, and you are almost certain to be encouraged as well as enlightened.