On day 3, when I first arrive, we were told to choose a different bike. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to ride and walked up and down the line of bikes to try and figure out what to choose: a cruiser… a sportbike… the really tall motocross…
One of the instructors notices my indecision and pulls me aside: you want to try the Ninja with the red stripe. Trust me on this one.
It’s a Ninja 300R Special Edition. It has ABS and seems to fit my size really well. The controls are smooth and with this bike, shifting falls into the proper sequence, corners are easy, and I become comfortable controlling the bike. It feels like all the pieces come together and I’m much more confident than the day before.
Day 3 is about sudden object avoidance. We run through these drills and add in stations for emergency stopping (stopping on a dime… literally), tight corners, and shifting.
I have no problems with object avoidance. After dropping the Ninja on Day 2 I have no qualms about jamming the handlebar forward and pulling back to move to the side. I figure if there’s any good place to wipeout on a bike, it’s during class on bikes that are meant to fall down.
We spend the morning doing drills. By lunchtime, I don’t have to think about what I am doing and it becomes second nature. I even have all the shoulder checks in place. We start practicing one thing at a time to hone our skills.
After lunch, the time has come: the two rides. We are now down to 9 people and leaving the invisible barrier of the parking lot seems like a daunting task.
I start with the Ninja SE. We do a small circuit around the parking lot and practice travelling as a group and understanding hand signals. At the end of this ride, we are given the option to switch bikes before we leave the lot. I notice that my right wrist is bothering me from the Ninja SE and opt to go back to a cruiser. I look for Sally the Marauder and choose her. I’m comfortable with her controls, I know she doesn’t put pressure on my wrists, and she has a really comfortable seat. It feels right to go back to the bike I started with.
We put on fashionable neon safety vests with a giant “L,” leave the parking lot and head out for a long ride on the traffic-congested roads. Shifting on Sally seems much easier now and we get lots of starts and stop practice in traffic. It’s Friday and school is out for the weekend.
When we hit the open road it is exhilarating, the speeds make riding the bike less labour intensive and there’s more time to think about what you are doing. It’s easier to focus on the road and the other drivers. People are generally respectful and give us a wide berth (maybe it’s the giant “L” we are wearing). As we pass other cyclists they wave and signal; we pass some former students and they give us the thumbs up.
We head out past the city and onto rural roads. This is what I’ve been waiting for. Why spend your time in a smelly, dirty city full of cars when you can enjoy the sun, sights and sweet smells outside of the city. I think back to a few years earlier and a conversation I had with dP’s niece and her girlfriend. They encouraged me to get my motorcycle license after they’d ridden to Alberta from B.C. You are better able to interact with your environment on a motorcycle and enjoy the travel experience more. She was right. I thought about this as a hawk flew over us.
At the end of the journey, I was a little sad to leave because the class was a lot of fun. I passed, which means I am now officially: a beginner. I don’t feel comfortable riding on my own or even doing the motorcycle test, but I’m certainly comfortable going out with dP on the weekends and practicing my skills.