Day Zero

Starting Out on Two Wheels

My folks taught me to be scared of three things. As a result, at no time have I lost a digit to a table saw, I never broke a bone skateboarding and, up until January of this year, I had never ridden a motorcycle. But as I explained in my editor’s letter, it was time to confront my fears and learn how to ride a motorcycle, fears from my folks be damned.

Which got me thinking about you and your riding experience. It’s a good bet that many of you reading this article are already experienced riders with decades behind the handlebars. But some of you are co-riders, and you may or may not have ridden solo yourself. What would those of you in that situation do if your rider were to have a problem on the road? If you had to ride that motorcycle and get you and your partner to safety, could you? Then there are those of you with all that experience — when was the last time you boned up on your skills and went back to the basics?

With all that in mind, taking the expert advice of Wing World Technical Editor Stu Oltman, I contacted TEAM Arizona, a local organization that has Motorcycle Safety Foundation RiderCoaches that teach multiple courses to train you how to ride a bike. By taking their Basic RiderCourse, I could earn my motorcycle endorsement by spending 5 hours in the classroom and 10 hours riding, and all for under $300. Time to saddle up and get rolling.

Prep Time

Before you can sign up for your course, you need to know a few things about what TEAM Arizona does. They’re an ATGATT company, so showing up in shorts and flip-flops isn’t an option. Since the ATGATT concept seems to vary from place to place, the specifics here are a 3/4 or full-face helmet, eye protection, long sleeve shirt or jacket, sturdy pants (denim at a minimum), over-the-ankle footwear and full-finger gloves. Oh, and you also must have experience on a pedal bike, meaning in the last few months.

To get myself geared up, I reached out to Joe Rocket and asked if they’d be interested in helping out with the project. Shortly thereafter, a box full of clothing and accessories showed up at HQ with everything I needed to get on the road.

TEAM Arizona is a large organization with lots of different locations to choose from. Although I was closer to the Scottsdale location, I chose the Gilbert spot because of its huge training area and accessibility for magazine purposes. There are eight locations in the Phoenix Metro area and six others throughout the state, so if you live in Arizona there’s a chance there’s a TEAM Arizona training facility near you.

With my gear in the trunk and a deep breath, I went to sleep that night with no idea what lay ahead of me.

Day One

I scheduled my class for a Monday/Tuesday, knowing that the weekends would be busier anyways and it might be easier for me to quell my nerves in the midst of a smaller class. Turns out my guess was right — there were two other people in my group.

When the instructor spoke up for the first time, I knew right away that I was going to like him. His name is Curt Crenshaw, and he’s an energetic guy who quotes ’80s movies, believes that if you’re not 15 minutes early you’re late and dances around the front of the class so much that the podium he uses actually has wheels.

We started just before 8am, and by 11 we had learned quite a lot. A basic motorcycle orientation lead off the course, then it went into the laws of riding, S.E.E. (Search, Evaluate and Execute) and T-CLOCS. The program is designed around a DVD, so what we’d do is talk about a concept, watch it being executed on the big screen and then talk about it some more. These videos weren’t like the horrible ones I’d watch in middle school when we had a sub; yes, there were cheesy moments here and there, but overall, they were educational and served a purpose. Not once did I nod off from boredom at any point in the two days, and neither did my classmates as we were all riveted to the information being taught.

Then, just a bit earlier than I expected, we took a break for lunch with the specific instructions that we had an hour, but we should come back at least 15 minutes early — more time to ride, and all that. So with my head whirring and a notebook full of notes from the morning, I hopped in the car and went to grab a quick bite to eat.

Suit Up

Earlier that morning, Curt asked the three of us what kind of bikes we owned or were looking to buy. When we showed up to ride, he had selected three bikes to complement our choices — one was a Honda CBR250, another a small Suzuki cruiser and mine was a Kawasaki Dual Purpose bike, mainly because of my height.

We spent six hours that day learning all about our bikes, another advantage of a small class size. It started with discovering the friction zone, then working our way across the parking lot, triggering the friction zone with our left hand while walking the bike to keep us steady. Slowly but surely, we worked our way up to picking both of our feet up and riding, and by the end of the day, we were shifting into third gear and cruising on down at a fairly quick rate. We ended at 5:30, which meant we had over five hours of ride time to truly discover what our bikes could do. it was amazing.

Day Two

The second day was like the first, as we started with a class. But at the end of this lesson, we took what Curt called our “Celebration of Knowledge,” which was his fancy way of saying that we had a test. After the three of us passed (I got a 92%), we had another quick lunch and then back out onto the course. It was another 5+ hours of riding, which dealt with a lot of the other hazards that we’d deal with, including obstacles in the road and the like. Being that I was already sore from the day before, day two really kicked my butt, but I felt good by the end of the day.

But no, it was brilliant; by repeating what we needed to know dozens of times, there was little to no chance that we’d forget it.

Day two also brought a new bike for me, which was both awesome and a drawback at the same time. The Kawasaki that I started with the day before wouldn’t go into neutral, so we swapped that afternoon into a Suzuki cruiser similar to one of my classmate’s. But it was just too small for my legs, and the front brake was so strong that even the smallest amount of pressure caused me problems. To start day two, I was given a Honda CBR250, and that was a much better fit. Even though it’s a small sport bike (and I’m 6’2”), it was great to use and instilled confidence in me. Of course, that also meant that part of day two was learning the new bike over what I had picked up before, but still.

Repetition was key. At first, I’d hear Curt saying the same thing over and over, and I wondered if he just didn’t have a very deep script to work with. But no, it was brilliant; by repeating what we needed to know dozens of times, there was little to no chance that we’d forget it. And as I write this, weeks later, I still remember all of it. He is an excellent teacher.

Retention and Evaluations

What did I learn? Man, did I wish something like this was available for my auto driver’s license test when I was 16, because TEAM Arizona made the whole process much easier. The stress wasn’t there — it became about muscle memory, executing what we practiced hundreds of times in class and just moving forward.

The final Celebration of Knowledge was our last exercise of the day, and we had a few basic guidelines (this is when Curt got serious). There were four courses that we had to do, and for everything we did incorrectly, we’d get points marked onto our sheet. 20 points and we failed, so we had to be sure to nail it. One by one we did the slow-speed maneuvers in the box, then a quick accident avoidance, then going to a set speed and stopping, then finishing it off with two curves and a stop.

I don’t recall my exact score (I want to say it was 8 points off — stupid slow-speed box), but I passed, as did the rest of our class. We each got our cards, which we could now take straight to the MVD and get our motorcycle endorsement, plus it gives us a discount on our insurance, which is always nice.

The group at TEAM Arizona was amazing to work with, and it’s a course I’d highly recommend to anyone looking to ride a motorcycle. They have additional courses for more advanced riders too, and they truly have something for every skill level and type of rider.

So now it’s official: I have my motorcycle endorsement. What’s next? Well now that I’ve conquered that fear, maybe I should hit some others. Now I’ve just got to find some wood to use to build a skateboard using my new table saw.

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