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From Zero to 60 (actually 18); what I learned in the Basic Rider Course

  • Published
  • By Capt. Allison Stephens
  • 19th Airlift Wing, Public Affairs
Knowing virtually nothing about motorcycles didn't stop me from enrolling in the basic rider course sponsored by the 19 Airlift Wing Safety Office July 13. 

In fact, taking novice riders and teaching them the rules of the road is essentially the focus of the program with their crawl, walk and run approach to motorcycle riding. The instructors create a "high challenge, low threat" environment taking a newbie like myself from understanding the basic mechanics of a motorcycle: starting it, negotiating turns on a closed course, navigating u-turns, practicing lane changes and swerve skills and executing a "quick stop." The best part is they provide the motorcycles so there is no cost for student riders and no wear and tear on their bike if they own one. It's the ultimate try-it before you buy-it scenario, since bikes can get really pricy real quick. 

Day one 

Due to the new triple digit afternoon temperatures, we spent our mornings out on the course and our first task was to get comfortable on the bike. We did this with a series of exercises including walking the bike across the range in neutral and practicing shifting from neutral to first gear. I was feeling nervous about the next step: bike in motion, feet off the ground and light on the throttle. I was positive the bike would tip and down I would go in a mangled heap, but remarkably that didn't happen. The bike responded just as the instructors said it would. Then it was time to stop, so I engaged the clutch, gently applied the brakes and the bike amazingly came to a stop. I aced my first ride! It was thrilling! 

For our afternoon instruction, the instructors took us indoors for some in-class tutorials including video presentations and a 126-question worksheet. 

Day two 

On our second day, we once again met outside first and started up our bikes immediately. The morning session consisted of more in-depth training and ended with a realistic skills test. Just hearing the word "test" made me nervous. The second day took many of the basic skills learned on day one and combined them for more synergistic riding. Instead of each skill applied individually, riders had to apply them together to ride on the "open road" ... or in our case a closed parking lot. 

The first test was negotiating a 135-degree turn followed by a straight stretch, then a banking turn at about 90 degrees. The exercise is designed to test your ability to turn your head in the direction you want to go, get through the turn, speed up, then slow down to the appropriate speed and again aligning your line of sight to finish the test. It's a good thing they gave us two tries. 

The second test exercised a combination of skills first demonstrating the ability to do two u-turns in a box, staying within the lines, then speeding up on a straightaway and performing a swerve maneuver around an obstacle. There was no second chance on this trial, but thankfully no one needed it. 

The third and final test was the quick stop. Essentially this maneuver measured our ability to come to a complete stop in a short distance. The requirements were easy: get up to about 15 mph and shift to second gear and when the instructor motions the quick stop signal, the rider applies both brakes, downshifts to first gear and comes to a complete stop while keeping the bike straight and upright. Again, everyone passed, but thankfully they don't show you your scores - not sure I'm ready to face those numbers. (Thank goodness they didn't take off for style points!) 

The test 

They saved the written test for the afternoon and after looking over the 126-questions study guide, they administered a 50-question final test. After the exam came the moment of truth: who passed? 

Thankfully everyone passed and our instructors handed out our official cards showing we were BRC graduates. 

As I looked at the card, I realized how much I had learned in such a short period of time. The instructors taught in a way that literally took me from someone who couldn't start a bike to a rider almost contemplating buying a bike ... albeit a small one.