Category Archives: motorcycle training

Girls are just as fast…

At about 15 or 16 years old my daughter decided she wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle. I was roadracing at the time and she had come out the track a few times but somehow the ‘bug’ never got her. Until, she met a boy who rode motorcycles. Great? Well, at least it was better than falling for a surfer or football player…maybe?

“Dad, teach me to ride!!!” I was one happy guy. My daughter had gotten ‘the bug’. The good thing was we had a little Honda ‘Step Thru’ (a 1959 Honda Super Cub) in the garage that was a perfect basic trainer. Ok, that training session lasted about 15 minutes…”Dad, can I ride ‘The Mighty 350?”Picture 30

Now this is one of my prized motorcycles…it’s not a museum piece, it’s just a bike I have had forever and have ridden everywhere. In a weak moment I agreed to teach her to ride on ‘The Mighty 350’. By the way, ‘The Mighty 350’ is a 1972 Honda CB350 with a sh#t load of miles on it. Again after about 15 minutes, my daughter was off into the sunset. She returned an hour or so later with a great big grin on her face.

Leah moved her way up onto her brothers Honda HawkGT but as she has told me many times, it was that little Honda Super Cub that really gave her the biggest fun.

The boy she had met was also a roadracer. While out at the race track on weekend, she and her friends decided to take on the boys to see who was fastest. The boys were quite surprised.Picture 31

Just because you’re not paranoid…

…doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. I read that on a fortune cookie at Folk Yews Szechuan Buffet in Walla Walla Washington one evening after a long days ride. When I got on my bike to head back to my deluxe accommodations, room 116 at the Motel 6, I looked over each shoulder, twice…I checked the mirrors, twice…when I got to the street I looked up and down and over my shoulders again. I knew they were out there. Waiting for me.

More and more you see them, or actually you don’t and that’s the idea. The ‘stealth’ cars. The unmarked cop car that oh so casually pulls in behind you and then fills your rear view mirrors with pretty red and blue lights. “Damn…where’d he come from?” Next thing you know a smiling officer is handing you an invitation to contribute to his states general fund. Isn’t that special.

Unmarked cars are nothing new, state troopers have been using them for decades, I believe Arizona was one of the first, clear back in the early ’70s…take a guess as to how I know. Wow, good guess. Early stealth cars were the standard highway patrol cruisers, the lights were tucked in the windshield (but still pretty noticeable), some even retained the push bar in the front. They weren’t too hard to spot, if you were paying attention. Over the years, law enforcement agencies have been getting sneakier when it comes to unmarked cars. Is it because we as drivers / riders are getting smarter? Look around you next time you’re on the road and you’ll know the answer to that question is no.

Coming home from the World Superbike races in Utah a couple of years back, we were just droning along I15 listening to Rush Limbaugh or some other loudmouth spouting off his views of the world on the radio, when we got passed by a little Toyota econobox doing about 85. As the Toyota was disappearing into the scenery, we were passed again, this time by a sweet looking Mustang GT. As I watch the GT motor off, I was thinking ‘people in Utah like to drive fast’, cuz I’m doing 80 and getting passed like I’m in second gear?! A little farther up the road we pass the Toyota and the Mustang like they were standing still, they were. The Toyota and the Mustang were pulled off on the side of the road and the driver of the Mustang, looking pretty spiffy in his Utah State Police uniform, was asking the other driver for the usual paperwork that means this is not a social visit.

State law enforcement agencies say they use unmarked cars for safety reasons citing speeding as a major cause, if not the major cause of highway fatalities and that by using unmarked cars they can catch more speeders, therefore making the highways of this country safer for law-abiding citizens like you and I. What a bunch of hooey…in my opinion. Here’s my thought, you knew you were reading this for a reason, if states really want to keep the highways safer, make sure all the cars are marked in such a way that it is painfully obvious that it, the car, is a highway patrol vehicle. The reason I believe that is very simple. All of us, whether we are in a car or riding a motorcycle, if we are speeding and we see a police car, we slow down…right now, even if the cop has someone pulled over on the other side of the road! None of us wants to pay a ticket and have our insurance go up. If we see more highway patrol cars and see them more frequently, we will all (well, most of us) be motoring along a little more safely. The mission of the state troopers has been accomplished. Is it really that simple? No.

More speeding tickets means more income for the state where the ticket was issued. State police ‘stealth’ cars are nice little revenue generators. The states all say no, that’s not the reason for using unmarked cars, it’s all about safety. Again, I say hooey. Every state in this country is in fiscal trouble (except maybe Tennessee) and they are raising money any way they can. Catching more speeders with unmarked cars may slow them down for a moment and bring more money to the state, but if highway patrols would show a greater presence, drivers and riders would be more aware of their speed at all times. Not just when they are getting a ticket.

Baby Riders

I have spent the vast majority of my life on two wheels. From riding a Schwinn Stingray to school, throwing newspapers onto porches pedaling that same Stingray…well…occasionally the paper ended up on the roof or in the shrubs…”sorry Mrs. Cleaver…”. I wish I still had that Stingray…do you know much that would be worth on ebay right now??!! About the same time I started getting really interested in girls I also got the motorcycle bug. My friend Byron down the street had a Taco mini bike that we terrorized the neighborhood on for years but now, it just wasn’t cool enough. I needed a real motorcycle.

My first experience being on a real motorcycle was when my dad came home from Vietnam in 1966. The first things he did was buy a new car and a new motorcycle. The car; 1966 Chevy Impala SS, the bike; a brand new Honda CB160. Looking back I wonder…why did he buy a big Chevy with a really big motor, I think it was the either the 396 or the 427, and then buy a ‘little’ motorcycle? If you’re goin’ big go BIG…he could have gotten a Triumph, BSA or a Harley… and in the words of the late John Belushi…”But Noooooooo” he had to buy a little Honda.??!!

I was fourteen years old and I was spending a few days with my dad when he took me on my first driving lesson out at the Marine Corps base…I didn’t get to drive the Chevy, I drove my step moms VW, oh well, you’ve got to start somewhere. But then…but then…came, “you want to ride the Honda?”… “gee Dad, let me think about this a whilel, YEAH!!!” I may have called that Honda 160 ‘little’ but when you’re fourteen, sitting on that bike was better than kissing the prettiest girl in school. And what did I do??…I promptly rode into the rear bumper of my dad’s new Impala…yes, I Impaled the Impala…sorry dad. A rather auspicious start to a long motorcycle career don’t you think?

I was fourteen years old when I started riding motorcycles, started racing at sixteen and you know what I’ve learned of late? I was a late bloomer.

In my job as a Moto Journalist I have had the opportunity to interview and spend time with every type of rider. Racers, travelers, industry types, photographers and everyday riders…it’s a great job. There is always one common denominator, the love of riding a motorcycle. Where does that love come from? Usually it’s dad, an uncle or a big brother…sometimes all three and occasionally it’s a friend who goes through the “this is the clutch, this is the brake,shifter…one down and three up” ritual with you. Most women I have talked with got the bug from a boyfriend or husband…I think they got tired of looking at the back of his helmet or, more often, telling themselves they can ride ride better than him.

About a year ago at the AMA Grand National Flat Track races in Pomona, California I was walking the pits doin’ my job…talkin’ to racers. I usually don’t spend too much time on race reports, I like to get to know the racer and the question I ask of everyone I talk with is…”how old were you when you started riding motorcycles?”. Everybody has a fun story about when they first threw a leg over a motorcycle.

On the way home from the race, I was mentally editing the interview’s and one common thread came through…nearly all of the riders I spoke with started riding very,very young. Somewhere between Pasadena and Fillmore I started reviewing all my roadracing interviews as well and I came up with the same thread. I worked through my interviews…MotoGP, World Superbike, AMA Superbike, AMA Flat Track, Motocross and here is what I found. Most all these champion racers were barely out of diapers when they started riding and racing. Take a guess, how old do you think most of these guys were when they first threw a leg over a motorcycle? If you said ‘four’, you win the prize…that’s right, four years old. At four years old pretty much all they could spell was PW50 or JR50 which, were the two most common bikes all these racers started on.

So what have I learned from all this research? I was a racer of no renown because I started ten years too late and that I’m going to have get my grandson a PW50 in about three years. Now if I can just convince his mother…..

5154 less motorcycles on the road

Good morning all,
This morning on CNN the bubbly news personality reported that automobile fatalities were down again last year. Then added that motorcycle deaths are up for the tenth straight year. That was all. A little digging was in order (no pun intended).

USA Today, Healthlink, The New York Times and more all have the story. Motorcyclist deaths are up 6.6%. 5154 died last year. Why? There are lots of things to look at.

Starting with motorcycle registrations, up 75% compared to 10 years ago. The average age of the motorcycle buyer has risen from 24 to 38 since 1980. In the past, 47 states required wearing helmets, today only 20 require helmets. Average size of a motorcycle has gone from 769cc to over 1000cc since 1990 and horsepower figures have just gone sky high. Older first time buyers, big engines, no helmets, no education = trouble.

With gas prices on the rise (here in the USA we’re just now starting deal with prices that the Europeans have been experiencing for years) motorbike usage is also on the rise. Guys are dragging their old bike out of the back corner of the garage, and more often than not, not upgrading the tyres, brakes, cables, etc. And more importantly not upgrading their helmet from the old 1979 model. Scooter sales have shot up. My friends at Cal Coast Motorsports in Ventura can’t keep them in stock. There is even a GM dealer I saw on the news that has given up it’s Hummer dealership and brought in small electric cars and scooters!!! Good for him.

Now, I’m going to step on my soapbox again. Hey, blogs are for opinions right?

I believe in wearing a good full face helmet…ALWAYS!!! A good jacket and good gloves. Quality boots too. Training. Before you are allowed to get a motorcycle license you must pass the MSF riders course. No exceptions. And if you’re really smart you’ll go to a another school, Keith Code’s California Superbike School, Reg Pridmore’s CLASS or another.

Next, I do believe in a ‘graduated licensing program’. It works in Europe. Being in the motorcycle business, I have a lot of friends in a lot of dealers around the country and I hear stories all the time of guys (women don’t too often do this) buying big bikes and asking the salesman, service tech or lot monkey teach them how to ride it!? And the fact that the dealer guys would do that blows me away as well. A sixteen year old kid with no experience should not be buying nor should be sold a 1000cc Sportbike. The same goes for the 45 year old who has always wanted a Harley but has never ridden anything bigger than a moped when he was in college. Note here, I’m not picking on Harley Davidson, but…that is Harley’s customer. You don’t hear the phrase, “I’ve always wanted a Honda VTX”.

Starting on smaller displacement motorcycles works. You can develop skills, confidence and enjoy riding the motorcycle without being intimidated. The are plenty fast, they come in all flavors (sporty, cruiser style, plain) and colors. They’re not too expensive and if you decide that two wheels really isn’t for you, well, you’re not going lose thousands of dollars. If it does fall over, you can pick it up. A good thing, because ain’t nobody else going to help you, they’re too busy laughing.

That’s enough for today. Next is what the government can do to help the situation. Lets, make the roads more ‘2 Wheel Friendly’. Teach car drivers to see motorcycles…on and on.

Ride safe, I’ll see you on the road.