Monday, November 14, 2011

Coaching for the Prudent

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. 


  1. Hi Mushroom,

    I took the MSF course about 10 years ago. I agree, it is an excellent course. Never did get my bike though. Oh well, maybe someday.

    There was an older lady who was taking the course with her husband. For some reason she panicked, gunned the throttle, went over the parking lot curb, down a grassy slope, and went over a culvert pipe opening. (three feet high?) We found her on her back on the concrete pad where the culvert terminated. An ambulance came and took her away. We found out later that she was bruised but not broken. We were all shaken up by that. It was truly amazing to witness such a disaster in a controlled, "safe" environment.

  2. It's easy to panic. I have done it myself. My wife did it not too long ago on a tractor she was backing out of the shed. Like to took the whole building down.

    Rule #1 -- They call it a clutch for a reason.

    Rule #2 -- They call it a kill switch for a reason.

    I learned to drive a standard transmission and all, but we tend to forget how much the clutch is our friend on a bike.

    I'm not trying to encourage consumerism, but have you ever checked out the custom cafe racer link on the FJ sidebar?

    There are some really cool-looking bikes out there.

    I rode most of the '70's and '80's without a bike endorsement on my license, let alone a safety course, but off-road more than on. I figured with the Enterprise I might want to improve my mental skills rather than to rely on "main strength and awkwardness", as my dad would say.

    My last street bike wreck was in 1986. My wife's memory of it is fading -- she wasn't with me but she was waiting for me when I got to the ER -- so she allowed me to finally get another. That, or she's getting tired of me.

    Bikes are good to have. One of the guys who took the course lives just on the other side of the Amish from me. He's 63 or so and bought a Goldwing that he hasn't taken out of the garage. After he passed the course, he decided to get a small bike, something on the order of the Suzuki GZ250's we were riding. The coaches concurred that the best approach was to pick up a used, small-bore rice-burner. You're almost guaranteed to get your money back if you want to move up to something bigger because people are always looking for starter bikes.

    My initial choice was a Kaw dual-sport KLR650. The boss nixed that when she saw the seat.

  3. Heh! Yes, I have looked at the cafe racer link. Nice selection. I do prefer race bikes, the naked, non-ornamental look. I'm laughing because as much as I like race bikes, I'm all arms and legs so a bit of research a few years back made me think that the KLR650 would be the only bike I could comfortably fit on and not be all scrunched up. Might as well get the diesel version if you are going to daydream. A prudent bike, don't you think?

    I plan on restoring some cheap old bike someday and make my own cafe-racer-road-warrior thing.

    But first, fence the pastures, build a barn, build an equipment shed, get the track-loader running again...

  4. Definitely a prudent bike.

    I have several rolls of Gaucho barb wire I bought just before the price spiked three or four years ago that I need to use up myself. I don't want stock running to my fishing pond so I need to put in a cross fence -- yet another project to absorb my copious free time.