Motorcycle Lessons: The Controls (Day 1)

For thirteen of us, we all started together at McMahon Stadium… in the rain… with Too Cool Motorcycle School. Most of the riders in Calgary that get some sort of motorcycle training have found their way to Too Cool. They come highly recommended and dP is a graduate.

Upon arrival, we are all greeted by energetic and friendly instructors, which does a lot to ease my anxiety.

While waiting for the lessons to begin, people wander a bit and look trepidatious, no one knows exactly how this will unfold. We introduce ourselves and I laugh a bit with other students about never remembering names because after years of teaching swimming lessons I have to lose one name in order to gain another, like remembering is a finite resource. It’s not lost on me that our head instructor Trevor knows and remembers all of our names immediately.

We are assigned a bike that’s ours for the next day and a half. My first motorcycle is a Suzuki Marauder and I’m a little bit relieved. It seems like a slow, trustworthy, familiar type of bike… kinda like the family labrador: it’s happy to plod along and get a few head pats. Nothing fancy. Nothing that will throw me onto the ground during a brief hand or wrist spasm.


We start from the beginning… the very very beginning… and push our bikes over to the top of a hill and turn them around. I name my bike Sally and remember that her license plate finishes with an “08.” I don’t want the embarrassment of forgetting which bike I was riding.

We start with balance and I think back to my days as a swim instructor and making even the best of swimmers start every lesson with the front float. If you can’t do a front float effectively (and control your body with movements of your head) you won’t be able to swim effectively. In this case, we need to coast to the bottom of the hill with the bike off.

This is the first test, and without the basics of balance, you will be asked to go away and practice bicycle riding until you can balance on a motorbike. No one is left behind, meaning you are able to return and take a different class when you are ready.

We are now down to 12 riders.

At the bottom of the hill, we turn our bike around and are at the magical moment that we’ve all been waiting for: starting the bike. We run through FINECCS: Fuel Switch, Ignition, Neutral, Emergency Switch, Choke, Clutch, Start. And, the bikes are suddenly purring and ready to go… ready to start rolling forward. I’m afraid that Sally will suddenly decide she’s an Irish Greyhound and sprint off in one direction but leave me behind. But we are told to stall our vehicles and I learn that motorcycles don’t lurch forward like cars do when they stall.

We start the bikes again and are ready to move forward and work on drills.

It’s not hard to find the friction point on the Marauder. It’s so easy that I don’t stall it throughout the rest of the day. One piece of information sticks in my head: finding the friction point means listening for the revving to settle down; that’s when you know you’ve found the friction point and can pop off the break to move forward.

We start running through drills: ready position, stopping, starting, following in first gear, shifting up, tapping down… it’s a lot to take in but we keep practicing over and over and over and over and over again. By the end of the day (8 hours) I’m overwhelmed by information and I can’t seem to shift without revving the engine. I consistently forget to look both ways when starting an emergency check and look for an escape route when stopping. I begin to wonder if I will ever remember anything.

I know there’s no way I would be able to go out onto a road with other cars. By the end of day one, I feel incompetent.

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