awww, yeah... this is my bike.

I checked all over the web for advice, asked friends who've ridden many questions, and one thing that's kept coming up is to keep a rider's journal when you're beginning. The more experienced riders suggested it because it also takes them back to their beginning days and they vicariously feel that exhiliration of learning to ride again when they read it. I admit it is pretty exciting and somewhat challenging, and I can't wait to get better. So here's my rider's journal.

Saturday April 28, 2007
Day One
Earlier this week I e mailed a friend saying I shouldn't feel so nervous about learning the coordination for riding a motorcycle because I'm a frickin' drummer, for crying out loud, so this shouldn't be as diffficult as I expect it to be. I'm very familiar with the cooperation and coordination of my limbs to produce a rhythm. It's probably just the anticipation of teaching an old dog a new trick, because truth be told, the last time I sat on a motorcycle I was about 5 or 6 years old, about 28 years ago, on the back of my dad's 200cc Honda. So it's all pretty much new to me.
I did the same thing when I bought my first car- I bought the car first, then got my driver's license.
SO, here it is! I got my Suzuki C50 T touring bike today. It's black and gorgeous. It's an 805cc engine so it will be perfect for what I'm using it for- driving to/from work, casual stuff, etc. Basically replacing my car (which is 1,000 miles shy of hitting a quarter million miles).
I promised myself I wouldn't try to ride the thing until after I finished my riding course (which starts next Friday and lasts three days), but I didn't last a friggin' day. So here's what happened:
It was delivered to my house at about 2pm. The delivery guy parked the bike inbetween our van and my Suzuki Sidekick so it had to be moved shortly if either of the vehicles were to be used, anyway, so I got on it, found neutral, and rolled around a bit. I got the feel of the front brake a bit and it eased my nervousness that had been building up for days.
A few hours later after my son woke up from his nap, I decided to take him outside to show him. He loved when we went to the bike shop earlier this week. He got to run around the rows of motorcycles and, well, to make a long story short, he loves them. Anyway, I started up the engine for the first time with him out there. You have to have the clutch in to start it, and I guess I was in first gear, so when I went to slowly let the clutch out I felt the little tug forward, then squoze the clutch and front brake to stop it. It didn't feel so bad... Helped me gain confidence, actually. The feeling was almost familiar for some reason. We went back inside the house and I looked forward to that tugging-feeling for the next couple of hours.
I got back in the saddle around 7pm and rolled it out into our little parking lot.
The first time I let the clutch out- well, the gas is really sensitive, so it was kind of a surprise and made me realize just how incredibly powerful this machine really is. I didn't take off, but I felt a sliver of its potential and realized I have to be very critical about the clutch/throttle coordination so I don't spill.
I kind of got acquainted with the hand levers and used the gear shift a bit between first and neutral. I don't think I even let the clutch out all of the way. I must have killed the engine, oh, around 20-25 times. It makes me very thankful for electric ignition. :)
I parked it behind my car as to sort of obscure it from view and make it difficult for someone to steal it. I also got a motorcycle lock to hook on the brakes to stop the front wheel from rolling. After I get more comfortable with riding (which might be a little while) I'm going to ride to the local audio shop here and get a motorcycle alarm. Phoenix is 4th in the nation for auto thefts, so the more security stuff I can cram on it, the better.
I'm trying to think of a name for it. Curvey and black... Hmm... "Tyra Banks" is already taken by my bass guitar because it's black, sexy, and has a g-string... "Trigger" stands out for some reason. I dunno... Maybe name it after a Johnny Cash song or something.
It's hot outside, forcasted into the mid to high 90's all week next week, but I'm looking forward to day two.

Saturday May 5, 2007
Day Two
Holy cow, I can't believe how drained I am!
Our first day of rider's training was last night from 6pm to about 10pm, and we had to be back at the base by 6am this morning for the second day. Tomorrow morning we have to be back at 6am, as well.
Let me say, first off, that anybody who rides or plans on riding a motorcycle should take a certified MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) course. I don't care how long you've been riding previously, there is always more you can learn from someone who's got TONS more experience than you (the instructor). In fact, the student in our class who's had the most riding experience missed more questions on the final written test than two of us who've never been on bikes. Actually, the two of us who've never been on bikes both got 100%. How's that for irony, Alanis Morissette?
We started off the day by getting fitted with our bikes. "It's not the rider who chooses the bike, Harry. The bike chooses the rider." Ahh, just had to say that.
The bike I'm learning on is a lot smaller than mine. I think it's about a 250cc, but the thing could easily buck you off if you let the clutch out too fast with too much throttle (as with all bikes, I suppose). It's a mid-sized dual sport Kawasaki that's a pain in the neck to click into neutral. No matter, really, though, because when are you ever supposed to be in neutral except for when you start up?
Our first exercise was called powerwalking. That's when you coordinate your throttle with your clutch to basically feel the friction zone where the clutch engages the drive, then you kind of walk along with the bike and get the feel of the pull until you're eventually taking Neil Armstrong-like steps. We did 4 reps of that back and forth for a total of about 80 yards, then on the 5th rep it was time to pick up the feet and place them on the pegs. I thought to myself, "Oh, crap! Here goes!" but the faster the bike goes the more stability you have. And man, whatever you do, DON'T LOOK DOWN while you're riding (or at least learning to ride)! Look in the direction you're freaking heading, dude! It's like the followthrough of a golf swing but you keep following through. It's like a zen-like state you're accepting, and as soon as you accept it you know and can feel you're doing the right thing.
We went through a number of exercises... ...riding with the clutch engaged all the way, hitting second gear, cornering (improper cornering is the second highest cause of fatalities, so do them right!), shifting up to third during a turn, downshifting to adjust engine speed, tight turns... So many things. I can see how these processes can be forgotten if not practiced. They're not very difficult, but the first few times through the tight u-turns where we had to roll on the throttle (speed up) were intimidating. ...and the tighter weaves had me freaked out for a bit until I kind of grasped they're handled sort of like a slalom. Gosh, keep your eyes and head UP and looking in the direction you're headed on that one. That one was the only one I almost spilled on. (Thank goodness nobody in our class fell.)
On the speed exercises I could hear the wind blowing and felt the breeze on my sleeves. It felt a little foreign but it felt like it was supposed to happen. It's one of those things you encounter when you ride, obviously, but when you feel it for the first time you can't help but notice and pay attention to it. Just an observance of something inevitable.
The riding part of the class today lasted about 6 or 7 hours long and is located about 100 yards from Luke Air Force Base's flight line. It didn't feel too hot, though, despite being "Cinco De Mayo" in Arizona. (May 5th for you honkeys out there.) Even with my long pants, long-sleeved shirts and boots on it didn't feel too bad. Probably because the heat was the farthest thing from my mind.
At lunch time we got in our cars to grab a bite to eat and meet back in the classroom for some videos, reading and worksheets. When I got in my car it felt cramped, hahahahha.... It's like I was in a box with wheels and a stereo that had slow reaction time. Motorcycles can stop and start pretty much right on command. If I were ever in a car chase and had my choice of vehicle, it'd definatly be a motorcycle.
Anyway, it's getting late and I want to remember all I can tomorrow, so I need as much sleep as I can get.
I am really looking forward to applying these familiarization, learning and riding techniques to my C50T. I know it will take some time and patience and lots of practice, but once the basics come naturally (turning, braking, etc) I know it will be a fun and economical way to get to and from work. Dangerous, yes, but only if somebody is an idiot and doesn't see me or doesn't care (those people of which I have to anticipate reacting to everywhere, so hopefully I'll be prepared the best I can), or if I don't act to road conditions properly. If something terrible should happen, most likely it was my time to go, and I would have been nixed at that point if I were in my car, anyway. (My car isn't much bigger than the bike, hahahaha....)
In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have tried out my bike last week without knowing what I know now. Something pretty bad could have happened had I let the clutch out all the way.
As a side note, one of the instructors has a 2005 C50. It's the same bike as mine (only a 2005 model) but without the windshield, saddlebags and passenger backrest.

Sunday May 6, 2007
Day Three
Back before I took the rider's course I'd assume some of the maneuvers we learned and performed today would have taken at least a month's worth of learning to do.
At the beginning of each exercise we'd look at a chart of the layed-out course we had to ride and had it explained to us and demonstrated.
There was one in particular, that scared the crap out of me. It started out by going straight about 30 feet. Okay, here's the best way to describe it: Imagine a box about the size of four parking spaces. Well, we'd ride lengthwise along on the inside left edge, then make a hard right, nearly making a complete circle in the top two parking spaces, but halfway down the box head at the corner where you first entered, then change directions and make a hard left in the bottom two parking spaces, then ride on up and out on the right side, so when all is said and done you've pretty much done a figure-8 in the space of four parking spaces. Our instructor is a member of the Goldwing Club and he did it on his 9-foot Honda Goldwing. He'd lean it so far over he'd scrape the pegs on the ground. He's also a member of a motorcycle drill team, too, so yeah, he's reeeeeally good.
Anyway, I was really excited because I made it through perfectly the first time. MUCH easier than I had thought it was going to be. The second box was about two feet skinnier, so I just tightened it up and pulled it off nicely. It really boosted my confidence, which is exactly what I need before I take to the streets. One guy wasn't looking far enough ahead and slowed down too much and ended up falling over. It looked sort of painful. It was pretty low speed, and he was okay, though.
There were some really essential exercises, too. I think the one I was most scared to do but happiest I did was to lock the back wheel with the brakes and keep it skidding. Here's why: If you're going down the road and some moron cuts you off and you stomp on the back brake hard enough you're going to lock your back wheel, which is going to scare the living crap out of you. If you're going fast enough, your back end may slide out to the side. When this happens, plan on, and expect to fall down with the bike. You may break your leg or get some serious road rash, but it's better than if you let your brake off to try to regain control, because if you let off your rear brake you're going to get bucked off and have a very, very bad accident. If you skid with your back brake and your back end fishtails out and you release your brake to try to let the back tire roll again, the wheel will get its traction back and violently whip back into following the front wheel again, making the bike either stand straight up or slam onto its other side, and when that happens, well, imagine laying down on the edge of a 600-pound steel platform and having it spring up and freaking catapult you into next week. Well, pair that with a forward momentum of, say, 60 mph. That, my friends, is referred to as a "high-side."
Anyway, it was nice to get the feel of that back tire skidding and just knowing to HOLD it so you know what it all feels like. When the front tire skids (I don't know if mine did or not because I kind of pumped the lever) you release THAT, then reapply. So BACK wheel locks up from braking too hard, HOLD IT. Front wheel locks up from braking too hard, RELEASE IT, then REAPPLY.
We practiced rolling on the throttle while cornering. I had a bit of trouble with that but got it down toward the end of the exercise. I wanted to do it more because once you get that feel it feels like you're creating your own gravity source. There's a lot of lean on that one, and it takes a great deal of commitment.
I passed the tests all right and got the paperwork to go turn in to the MVD (Arizona's DMV) so I don't even have to take the riding test when I get my motorcycle license. Kinda cool... I'm proud of myself and the commitment it took to do what I did. I just need to work on the same exercises with my C50T now and get the hang of it, because I have an appointment to have an alarm installed in a week and a half and I'd feel like an idiot if I had to reschedule because I couldn't ride it in.

Tuesday May 8, 2007
Day Four
OHHHH yeah...! My bike feels and handles even better than the one I learned on! The throttle is MUCH more cooperative! It's nice and low-slung... Very relaxing and comfortable compared to the Kawasaki. I think a good comparison would be that the Kawasaki is like a wooden church pew and the C50T is like a banana chair. Not that the C50T has a backrest or anything, but just comfort-wise.
I'm ready to take it to the streets now but probably won't get the opportunity until tomorrow or the day after or so. You see, my wife doesn't believe we can afford insurance on both the Sidekick AND the bike at the same time, but insurance for the bike was quite a bit lower than I had expected, so I went ahead and got it. She doesn't know, though. Also, in the state of AZ if you buy a vehicle and don't have insurance, I guess it pops up in the state's computer and they send you a nasty letter that says if you can't prove you have insurance (prior to recieving the letter) you HAVE to buy SR22 insurance and maintain it for three years, and on a motorcycle that wouldn't be too pretty. We got a letter like that for our van, but we had the insurance based out of Utah. So everything was insured legally, but we actually switched everything down to AZ, as planned, a couple weeks after we got the notice. We wanted to wait until that policy was up, then switch insurance companies. Now I just need to explain it to the MVD, explain that military is exempt from certian registration laws, etc, and see if they know their jobs or the law well enough to comply with that.
I forgot to mention that when you're doing the faster leans and turns you're using back muscles that you usually don't use in that way, so my back's been a bit sore. My left forearm has been really sore because the instructor didn't want us to ever be in neutral except for when we were starting the bikes up. We basically had to stay in first gear whenever we were stopped, so we had to hold the clutch almost constantly. I suppose it's a good practice, because say, if someone was barrelling up on you from behind at a stoplight, if you were in first gear you'd be more prepared to react.

Wednesday May 9, 2007
Day Five
Tonight after I got home from work (about 1am) I suited up and went for a ride around Glendale. Hit all 5 gears, went on the freeway for a couple of miles... I've got to work on getting my turns tighter, though, so I don't end up in the next lane over. Anyway, before I knew it, I looked down and saw 20 miles on the odometer. By now, hopefully, the tires are a little worn-in so cornering should be a bit safer.
Well, that's all I'm gonna write for the riding journal because from here on out it'll probably just be becoming redundant just be becoming redundant becoming redundant because it's working into my life now, so it'd just be like me telling you, "Hey, I drove my car to work today."
I hope these words have been of use to anyone who's stumbled upon them and is learning to ride. Apparently the concerns and excitement I've had are all a part of every new rider's learning experience. If you're learning to ride, the best advice I can give you is to take a rider's course.
Also, don't look down when you're cornering. Your bike goes where you look, so if you look down you'll fall down.
Once you get comfortable, try to wave to your fellow riders out there on the road. Amongst all of the many differences in your lives you've got something in common, and it lets them know you're aware of them.
Be sure to position yourself as to be most visible to other drivers, and don't ever think you're a better rider than you are. It's not all about you. You can't control what other motorists are going to do, and a motorcycle has never won a crash with a car.
Don't be an idiot. Wear your helmet no matter how hot it may be outside. If I can wear a helmet in 120 degree heat in AZ, you can wear a helmet wherever you are. Most motorcycle fatalities are due to head injuries, so it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that wearing a helmet is a great way to cut that statistic. Who gives a crap how cool Bon Jovi or Kid Rock may look in their music videos riding without helmets. Do you REALLY want to look like them anyway?
Any questions, comments, or if you just want to share your experiences or concerns as a beginner or experienced rider, I'd be more than happy to rap with you and/or post them on the site.
Be safe, and enjoy the ride.

jeff.huso@wnco.com