MSF Course: First day on the range

Home, home on the range...
Where the Viragos and Nighthawks play.
Where seldom is heard
A discouraging word.
And you practice FINE-C all day.


Well, not all day, just before and after EACH of the 9 exercises we went through in the 6 hours of July heat. I got a Honda Nighthawk 250cc, pretty much like this:



Black-on-black, with 5000 miles showing on the odo, and a darling sweetheart of a clutch. So, fact #1--I look like a clown on a Nighthawk. I know because Whitney and Maria arrived at 6pm to spectate, and confirmed it.

Anyway, so the course. Our group of 12 riders had a mix of 125cc and 250cc bikes, and we had a mix of people, from experienced riders (one guy showed-up on his GSX-R) down through, well, me.

Our instructors are Bob (the ex-cop) and Bruce (the tubby guy who reminds me of my Uncle Arch). They're great instructors, taking us through all the elements: How to get on a bike properly, startup, moving the bike, stopping, quick stops, slow-speed maneuvers, road-speed turns.

Lets get this out of the way--Motorcycles are real sweetheart vehicles, provided you're going over about 12 mph. Below that, they're tempermental and bitchy, and they like to fall over. A large part of the course was how to maneuver at slow speeds, and so far I stink at it.

To illustrate: We did one session where we basically circled the parking lot on the perimeter at moderate speed in 2nd gear. The second phase of that was each straightaway became a 15mph slalom, one with gates 20 feet apart, the other with gates 30 feet apart. That was incredibly awesome--I felt right at home, because that's what we do on an autocross course. It felt natural and really got my spirits up.

Then, I came tumbling back to reality--the next exercise was the same setup, only performed at walking speed, now with offset gates. You couldn't just wiggle your way through--you had to crank this reluctant machine right and left. I struggled through it, managing to get it right maybe 1 or 2 times out of 5, enjoying myself not at all. During the debrief, they emphasized how this exercise is harder on smaller bikes, because they're not too stable, especially with someone with my avoirdupois.

Things perked up, but by the last of the 9 exercises, I just couldn't focus and nearly dumped the bike on the Quickstop exercise. The same thing used to happen during autocross days--too hot, too tired, too distracted.

So, key learnings:
- Yeah, little bike probably isn't gonna work for me. I felt folded-up like an accordion.
- It seems very similar to flying a plane--there's a performance envelope to consider and a set of perishable skills to hone: Quickstops, slow-speed maneuvers, Slow/Look/Press/Roll for turns.

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