Sunday, September 19, 2004

One step closer to a motorcycle driver's license

Seated at "my" window table in A'Roma Roasters. A breathtakingly beautiful day. A day to be out on a motorcycle!

Actually, I was. Awakened early this morning by the sound of rain. A welcome sound. Autumn is arriving early, I hope. Very chilly, this storm clearly being out of the north. Immediately, the air is amazingly fragrant. "It smells like Halloween!"

My body heavy and aching. Slowly "moved into gear", making some breakfast, straightening up around the apartment, then turned to cleaning out e-mails, disposing of about 70.

As I prepared to leave for "the range", I had no idea if the motorcycle training class would be canceled. Up on Sonoma Mountain, the rain was torrential, falling in big drops. The thirsty ground was drinking it up, however the roads had turned into streams.

Coming off the mountain, I could see blue sky to the southwest, the direction of Petaluma. By Penngrove, the rain had subsided, though the northern sky remained ominously dark.

Class was on. I was too late to see the morning session ending, and to hear how it had gone for others.

Today, we focused on negotiating curves, swerving, braking and confronting obstacles. Occasionally a shower would overtake us, but nothing severe enough to stop the class.

There was no locking up the front brake today. We concluded with a skills test: executing a figure-8 inside a small rectangular area, a swerve test, a braking test and a curve-handling test. In this last test, I stalled out while waiting at the starting gate, having forgotten to turn on the fuel petcock. Despite a few missteps and widespread nervousness, we all passed. I had a couple points deducted from my score, but came through with the second-highest score and some reassurance that, twenty-five years on, I had not totally forgotten how to ride.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Riding the range

The first step to Alaska and Tierra del Fuego is getting a motorcycle driver's license, in California, an "M1" endorsement on my regular driver's license. I opted to sign up for a three-day "Basic Rider Course" provided by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF). This alleviates the need to take a Department of Motor Vehicles driving test. And since it has been 30 years since I've owned a motorcycle, a refresher is highly advisable.

***

After a classroom session Thursday evening, motorcycle rider training began "on the range" in Petaluma today. I showed up at Kennilworth Junior High School at 12:30 p.m., wearing an "Eddie Bauer" winter coat, jeans, my "Merrill" hiking boots (from Vermont) and a pair of leather work gloves, hardly the appropriate biker fashions.

The first order of business was a simple written test, derived from the classroom lecture and training booklet. "Aced" the test.

We then went out onto the expanse of asphalt behind the school to meet our machines. For those of us who were not already outfitted riders, loaner helmets were offered. I selected an old battered full-face helmet. The bike I would be riding was an aging Honda 125. The equipment was pretty beat up, yet adequate for training purposes.

We were introduced to the controls. (I don't think they even had "kill switches" when I rode in the early 70s!) The instructor thoroughly explained and reinforced starting and stopping procedures.

During pauses in the action, I continued to gaze around the school grounds registering the sad deterioration. A testimony to our fiscal neglect, that began with California's Proposition 13, and continues with the selfishness of those now in power (all of us).

The longer the class went on, the more impressed I was by the content of this $198 course. It should be mandatory for riders, not just an optional track to a license.

And the longer it went, the more proud I was of my daughter Jessica, who had quietly undertaken the course before me.

There was one embarrassing moment when I locked up my front wheel during a braking test, but generally, things went well. We adjourned after 5:00, with our final session tomorrow.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Starting to get serious

Visited "BMW of San Francisco" today, meeting "Larry" the motorcycle division general manager, and "Jeff", one of his sales associates.

I studied the two 2005 BMW R1200GS motorcycles they had on display. Both were aready sold, and there was a waiting list for future arrivals. By November, they expect to have inventory on the floor.

We talked about bikes and traveling and, specifically, what I might need for my hypothetical trip to Alaska and South America.

I know so little of bikes now, that I listened with great interest to their advice and stories of the road, some passed on from other adventurers who have traveled my imagined path.

One thing Larry said I should seriously consider: contacting an acquaintance named Jim Hyde, who operates an off-road training camp designed for riders of these big bikes. It's called "RawHyde Adventures".