A Beginning Rider

So a few things have happened since my last post about my bike. I decided to go back to Chicago to take the exam. This was mainly so I could take the test on a Honda Rebel instead of my Vulcan. I figured the u-turn part of the test would be much easier on the smaller Rebel. Also, I wouldn’t have to worry about getting my bike to the exam. So on a Thursday evening, I headed to Chicago so I could get to the exam first thing on Friday morning.

1994 Kawasaki Vulcan 500
1994 Kawasaki Vulcan 500

We arrived at 7am as instructed and waited. It was an hour before the inspector showed up. I knew he wouldn’t be there until 8, but I had assumed we would be able to ride during this hour wait. However, they didn’t let us ride until after the inspector got there and collected our materials. Needless to say, the wait was a bit annoying and did little to calm my nerves.

They had a few exercises set up for us to practice the test. We each got on our bikes and had time to try them out and get comfortable. These are the four exercises:

  • First you do a wide u-turn and return to stop with your front wheel inside a small box. This is a pretty easy one.
  • Next you have to weave a few cones, do another wide u-turn and then finish with a much narrower u-turn. This is the one I anticipated having trouble with.
  • Third, you were to do a controlled stop from at least 15mph.
  • And last, you needed to get up to speed and then swerve to the left or right

Ironically, the part that I thought I’d have the most trouble on, the narrow u-turn, turned out to be easy on the Rebel. I had no trouble with that. The one that turned out to be the hardest was the controlled stop. I’m still not sure why. He had me do it twice. The first time I skidded kind of badly. The second time, I skidded less, but still skidded. I think that was my only mistake, but perhaps I hit a cone or two.

I did pass, but it was close. I missed 9 points. Miss 11 points and you fail. It was good enough though. I had passed and was headed back home to Peoria to get my actual license.

It was a few days before I got to take out my own bike, but I’ve now been out three times on it. I’ve been busier in my free time than I previously expected or I would have been out more. Each time I go out, I’m learning a bit more. The first time, I was having a lot of trouble starting out smoothly from a stop at an intersection. A few times I stalled, other times I took turns too wide and strayed into the oncoming lane. It was a good thing that I was driving on the nearly deserted day time streets in my hometown of Morton.

My main realization from the first day of riding was that I was having trouble downshifting all the way to 1st gear when stopped. The second day I realized what I was doing. To downshift from 3rd to 1st, I’d hold in the clutch and tap down the gear twice. However, I would do the second tap before I fully took my foot off the gear shift from the first tap. On the second day, I would tap down from 3rd to 2nd, keep the clutch squeezed, bring my foot up off the gear shift completely and tap it down again. I was now getting into 1st gear pretty reliably.

Also, by the end of the 2nd day, I was getting a lot more consistent coming off a stop. I learned that when pulling out and crossing an intersection, it felt much better to clearly check both directions and then when I was confident of crossing, I’d focus all of my attention forward while easing out the clutch. Previously, I kept checking both directions as I was pulling out and I wasn’t able to keep the bike as straight as I’d like. Also, I started power walking the bike when easing out the clutch at a stop. Power walking was the first thing we learned on the bike, but I stopped doing it somewhere along the line. It was much easier coming out of those intersections by using it a bit.

This may all sound extremely basic stuff and it is. However, I’m finding as a novice biker, things that are extremely simple and nearly impossible to screw up in a car, somewhat challenging on a bike. There are a lot of steps to coming to a stop and turning right at an intersection and many more ways to seemingly screw up. And some of these screw ups could be very dangerous at a busy intersection. Hence, I’m going to need a few more times out to practice this stuff before I feel really confident.

My third day out, my discovery was more interesting. In my basic riding course, they talked about counter steering. As best I can describe it, counter steering is when you begin a turn by pressing slightly on the handlebars in a counter intuitive way. If you are going a reasonable speed and you press the right handle, the bike will start to tip over to the right, causing the bike to turn right. I had been confused on this point because most of our turning was being done by actually leaning and turning the handlebars in the direction we were going, similar to a bicycle. Also, it was confusing because at one point, an instructor was clearly talking about counter weighting (shifting your weight one way on the bike, while you tipped it the other way at slow speeds), but calling it counter steering.

Well last time I was on the bike, I finally decided to give it a try. The first time you want to try counter steering, I suggest getting up to 25/30 miles per hour on a clear empty street and slightly pressing the right or left handle of the bike. A very light press will do. You will instantly feel the bike start to tip slightly toward the direction of your press, and you will start to turn. It was fun to actually feel what was being described in the books. Remember a slight press is all it take to feel this counter steering effect.

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