Friday, February 20

Bike School Student Again

MSF Course includes Reference Text Like LAB, but Unlike CS. Material is Also Available on Line
The Bike League requests that its instructors periodically take educational material related to bikes in order to keep "fresh" in bike ed. The principle is exactly correct and ought to be followed by all; ESPECIALLY by instructors. Recently, I took advantage of an opportunity to become a bike school student all over again through a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) course offered near my home in North Texas. There is an obvious (to me) synergy between how to safely ride and control a bicycle with how to do the same thing on a heavier and more powerful two-wheel vehicle. Indeed, I found MANY things that cross over directly, and it was fascinating to see the similarities and differences between the Bike League (LAB) and Cycling Savvy (CS) bicycling programs.

MSF Instructor Has a Pole to Help Cone Placement, With Marks on the Lot, Unlike Either LAB or CS
ALL Riding was Done in this Parking Lot
General Observations
The MSF course takes two FULL days, and there is at least one added follow-on course. Thus it is longer than either of the cycling programs. In addition, in many states, taking and passing the test obviates the requirement to take the state skills riding test in order to win a motorcycle endorsement to one's driving license. On both days, the course started with some classroom work that consisted of going through the MSF handbook and watching relevant videos. Late each morning, we'd go over to the parking lot for various drills. Unlike EITHER the CS or LAB programs, there was no on-street riding and, as you can see below, the school-provided motorcycles do not have licenses or turn signals installed on them, making them not street-legal. My own class was probably unusual because one of the three students already had his motorcycle endorsement, was a deputy sheriff, and was taking the class in preparation to become an instructor. The second student was taking the course to get his motorcycle endorsement and did not have much more motorcycle experience than myself. The third student was me. While my bike handling skills were probably better than most, I last rode a motorcycle more than 30 years ago. Fortunately, the course does NOT assume you know how to do things such as starting the motorcycle nor shutting it down.

Our Class Had Only Three Students, Like Many LAB and CS Classes. Instructors Only Double-Up With Larger Courses
Motorcyles ARE Different (in some ways)
The first, and obvious difference is that motorcycles are big, heavy, and fast compared to bikes. Our training motorcycles were Suzuki 250 models which are tiny by current motorcycle standards but even they seemed heavy and clumsy to me. The second difference is that rider compliance is NOT considered "optional" by the larger society and the education programs are specifically backed by major manufacturers. A corollary is that instruction recognizes that motorcycles are vulnerable road users, but also starts with the presumption that crashes are usually multi-cause events in which the motorcyclist is actively seeking a balance between risk and safety. That is a refreshing change from bicycles, where advocates often seem obsessed with distinguishing between which crashes are the fault of the motorist and which are the fault of the cyclist. The MSF course knows that if you crash, it will HURT. This being said, there is a LOT of crossover in principles with bikes, even though the motorcycle people use different terms for many of their principles. ONE OTHER THING - Motorcyles ALL "backwards brake."

For the rest of this post, I'll cover topics I found interesting that either differ from bicycle teaching, match bicycle teaching, or fill in blanks for me.

Ear Protection
One thing I found fascinating was the subject of earplugs, due to my past bike school experience. Gail, here, started this and I have made other posts on the subject, here and here. In the case of the MSF, hearing protection is STRONGLY advocated even for those with quiet motorcycles and full-face helmets. One reason why, which tracks with my own bike experience, is that outside noise is a problem. The MSF cites wind noise in particular. In addition, traffic noise adds to the fatigue aspects. The MSF instructor discounted engine noise as a reason for the earplugs and was unaware that some jurisdictions outlaw their use. I also found that some motorcycle helmets have built-in provisions for listening to things like music while riding. Myself, I think this is a situation where "it depends" is a guiding factor. If you are riding slowly, in a quiet locale, ear protection is probably extraneous. That's a major reason I do not wear earphones in Ocean Shores. OTOH, if you are going to be listening to loud and engaging music, earphones are probably NOT a good idea since the music itself, in addition to being distracting, can add to hearing loss.

In the past, I've been somewhat dubious about the incremental benefits of wearing "high vis" since much cycling (and motorcycling) clothing is basic black and because the first line of defense is to have good lights and to ride where people WILL see you before it is too late. However, I have to admit the MSF makes good points that being visible adds incremental safety. As they note about motorcycles (and could equally be noted about bikes), "...are smaller and not as prevalent as cars and trucks, so they are more difficult to pick out in traffic and their speed may be difficult for others to judge." We should keep in mind that many emergency vehicles are rear-ended on roads, despite being covered with high vis and despite "move over" legislation. 'Nuf sed.

Lane Positions
The MSF teaching on this is simple, and virtually identical to what is taught as "best practice" in cycling. The "line of sweetness" rules! In an interesting difference of terminology, the MSF describes the "line of sweetness" as the "presentation position."

The "Line of Sweetness!" Also Endorsed by the MSF

I don't recall much material from bike school about dealing with dogs, and DEFINITELY not about how to deal with larger animals such as the deer that abound in Ocean Shores. The MSF recommendation follows: "Once an approaching dog is spotted, a good rider response is to slow, including a downshift, then accelerate past the point of interception. Don't kick at the dog, because it will make controlling the motorcycle difficult."

Crash Chain
Two things that are talked about in bike ed, are "the danger is ahead" and ACE (which stands for Ability, Conditions, and Equipment). This is complemented by the "ABC Quick Check" which is more equivalent to something the MSF refers to as TCLOCS. The Crash Chain is an excellent way to view all the elements of ACE. With apologies to Preston Tyree, he ought to consider adapting the graphic view of the Crash Chain as it wraps together all the elements of ACE, though it separates "conditions" into "road and environment," and "other traffic."

Crash Chain Graphic PERFECTLY Illustrates the LAB "ACE" Concept
REMOVE Crash Causes to BREAK the Chain Between You and Crashes
As noted  here and other places, I feel the CS program does too little testing (this is only bad because it means less feedback to students) while the LAB program spends too high a portion of its course time in testing (better student feedback, but too much time spent on tests relative to the length of the course). I do not know to what degree the MSF course approach to testing is dictated by state licensing requirements, but I found that its written test wasn't much less of a PIA than the LAB test, and its riding test was "pass/fail" since a "pass" is required to eliminate the state riding skills test. Overall, I wasn't impressed with the MSF testing, since feedback was only offered upon request. In this way it was effectively somewhere in between the two cycling programs.

Turning and Braking
I think I've blathered on for almost too much here, so I'll end with turning and braking. The principles of turning on a motorcycle are the same as on a bicycle. I found it interesting that the instructor never used the term "countersteer," though he taught us the principles. The MSF Handbook mentions it once in the context of "Press" where you press forward on the motorcycle grip in the direction of the turn. Still, this is an area in which my past bike experience with "instant turns" and such allowed me to control the motorcycle more accurately than the other students.

Another difference in emphasis is braking. In bike school, we try quick stops with the rear, with the front, and with both brakes to illustrate things. In motorcycle school, we are simply taught to apply both brakes smoothly and there is less emphasis on letting up on one or the other brake should skidding begin. Principles are the same, but perhaps the difference is because it would be difficult to spot for someone on a heavy motorcycle.

All in all, it was a good learning experience and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in improving his/her cycling abilities. Since I've done it, I also guess I ought to go ahead and get a motorcycle endorsement. After all, "you never know..."


Chandra Eswaran said...

Hi Steve,
Nice comparison of motorcycles riding and bicycle riding.
The Hi-Vis as added protection is always a good thing in my opinion.
For me it is not Hi-Vis v. No Hi-Vis + Lights, but Hi-Vis + Lights.
That said, I ride in tweed this winter and I am on the trail abouut 95% of my ride.
So, I actually do not wear a Hi-Vis vest. I will get back in the habit once the warm weather gets here, when I will start riding in Jeans and T-shirts to work and then change there.
Good to see you taking the motorcycle class!
Peace :)

cafiend said...

Almost bought a motorcycle a few years ago. Then I realized it's the worst of both worlds, driving and cycling. Haven't been tempted since.

Khal said...

As far as safety, cafiend is quite correct, motorcycling is the worst of both worlds with far higher fatality rates (per mile, per hour, who cares?) than bicycling or driving a car. Then again, if you have not experienced a twisty mountain road or a long road trip on a fine motorcycle, I don't think you have lived. Or died, either, I suppose.

Khal said...

p.s. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Robert Pirsig. Go read it.

Chandra Eswaran said...

Unrelated to this post...
I have my own domain now - Please update your links

GreenComotion said...

This class was useful and lot of fun.
I enjoyed taking in Georgia.
Now, I can understand your post much better.

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