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    • Maya Spier Stiles North

      Columnist, Copy Editor
    • March 16, 2015 in Columnists

    Motor trike, chapter two — failing the skills test and the art of being dauntless

    If you read my previous column, you will know I recently acquired an absolutely gorgeous, metallic green 2012 Can-Am Spyder sportster, automatic with ABS (anti-locking brake system) and VSS (a stabilizing technology). This machine could not be sweeter. In our fine family tradition, I named her Dragonmouse. I added McSnort later as a last name in honor of the sound she makes as she downshifts.

    In Washington State, you don’t just need a motorcycle endorsement, riding a three-wheeler (trike of any sort or side car) requires a special endorsement. The state has chosen to farm out its testing, which comes at the end of a two day course (or you can just test, for a bit less money).

    So, I took the class. The course is absolutely worth it and despite everything, I learned a tremendous amount.

    There were three Can-Am Spyders, but only one was an automatic. I have diabetic neuropathy to about my upper shins, so I am honestly not prepared to be dealing with a gear shift lever operated with my toe. There was a time I might have, but not these days. There was a lovely couple there – he a tough as nails ex-Marine and his lovely, gentle but strong and determined wife – Ms. Newb1 (me being Ms. Newb2). She wasn’t prepared to use a clutch either, so we wound up needing to share the bike, which would end up with both of us getting half the practice time of everybody else – and it showed.

    As time went on, the fact that this poor bike had been rode hard and put away wet began to show. It refused to go into neutral when the gear shift paddle was pressed and despite the head instructor’s insistence that I never got over about 12 mph, the speedometer said I was going 18 – and it never would shift into second gear. And yes, buddy, I was going fast enough, or that speedometer was lying. Even Ms. Newb1’s incredibly competent husband was having trouble with it.

    The first day started out raining, but cleared to a pretty day and I did decently enough for a complete novice, but not, of course, in comparison with all these people who’d clearly been riding at least something for years and years. Instructor1’s style of teaching — think drill sergeant. He seemed to think that encouragement consisted of badgering Ms. Newb1 and me. He says he’s married — I wonder what she’s like.

    Badgering and humiliating (“I can WALK faster than that!”) could possibly work with guys who might respond by working harder to impress him. Ms. Newb1 and I were not encouraged. We felt bullied and daunted instead, which made us more uncertain and more likely to fail due to sheer nerves. It was clear he and the other instructor in terms of skills and experience knew their stuff inside and out. What Instructor1 did not, apparently, know, was truly how to teach.

    My father, the anthropology professor, had one cardinal rule. If the student is struggling with something, the fault is with the teacher. If they aren’t getting it, it’s up to the teacher to change tactics until the student succeeds. Period.

    Instructor2 was sweetness – he would tell us where we’d missed the mark and was very clear about what we needed to do differently. This made me really want to try hard and didn’t make me feel like an abject failure – when I got it, he grinned and gave me a thumbs up. This honestly felt like being handed a blue ribbon. Instructor1 truly needed to pay attention to how Instructor2 was doing it, but I suspect that a mosquito hovering by a bug zapper has more chance than that.

    Instructor1 shouted stuff at me that, for some reason, I couldn’t hear, regardless of his bellowing. This annoyed him greatly, despite his admission that he has hearing problems himself and finds the high registers of women very difficult to perceive. Pot and kettle, anyone?

    Second day was cold and so windy that the heavy rain was being blown sideways. It was the kind of day that no rider in his or her right mind would have gone out in, but there we were (we were told “rain or shine!”). We started with class time and then we took the written test. I thought I was going to throw up, but passed with an 86.6 – not too shabby.

    By an hour into our outdoor instruction time, my gloves were wet and my fingers were burning.

    By two hours in, my gloves were soaked, my gear was wet and heavy and my fingers felt like they’d been trampled by horses.

    By three hours in, I could no longer put the gloves back on without help and the rain had soaked through my gear into the clothing below.

    By test time, I was distinctly hypothermic. My legs were shaking literally up through my tush, the rest of me was shivering and my teeth were chattering. I had traded in the sopping, dripping gloves for summer weight gloves that I could at least put in my pockets. Ironically, the summer weight gloves were warmer.

    I now know that while some sections of Hell may be hot, there are other sections of Hell that are absolutely freezing. I can take you there by car, if you like.

    The moment had arrived. I girded myself and got on the trike. I had watched the other students carefully as they went through it. I said what each one did aloud as I watched, trying to imprint it on my brain.

    I was the last one to go. Down a bit, weaving around cones – didn’t hit a one. No, I wasn’t very fast, but I wasn’t going two mph, either. Around the curve and stopping in the box outlined on the pavement, then around to park the bike and see how I did.

    I got off and we assembled, waiting for results.

    Both us newbs failed on the very first section. Ms. Newb 1 had missed an element – we saw it when it happened. Me, I thought I had it and I honestly can’t remember what he said I missed except I did know I was slow. I tried really hard and I don’t remember missing anything at all. According to Instructor1, I missed something and something on top of the whole slowness thing. Even the husband of Ms. Newb1 thought I had it and was shocked when I failed.

    Am I quitting? Not on your life. I’ll take that blessed class until I pass the danged test – over and over again until I can freaking well teach it, if necessary.

    I am nothing if not determined. Plus Dragonmouse McSnort is waiting to get her wings…

    Dragonmouse, a 2012 Can-Am Spyder RS-S SE5 in metallic green and me

    Dragonmouse, a 2012 Can-Am Spyder RS-S SE5 in metallic green and me

    P.S. For dry, warm hands, use light-weight gloves and cover them with the tougher, contractor version of dish washing gloves. Works like a charm and thank you, Mr. Retired Colonel.


    • Plain, and simple, your ‘instructor’ was a tool (or words to that effect). His approach was absolutely backasswards to the role he should have fulfilled. I barely passed my motorcycle skills test and remember the pressure and nerves I felt without having someone like him flailing (and failing) about. Pick your days, dry and warm, and go out and ride. Safe and local is your destination, you’re building riding experience at this point. If you can find a Can-Am club, go and check it out. I’m sure you’ll find a few wing’people’ to ease you through this transition.


        • Maya North

        • March 22, 2015 at 6:47 pm
        • Reply

        He was okay for people who are stoic and pride themselves on expressionless toughness, although he should have noticed that I was having obvious symptoms of hypothermia and humiliating people is the last way to encourage most of us. I need to find a Can-Am club locally, but I’m part of a really awesome Facebook group for motorcycle riders and they’re amazingly encouraging and supportive and have great wisdom to impart. I’m rescheduled for a class in June with instructors more suited to me (I asked the people in the office to recommend me someone better for me) — I’m hoping to be good enough to ride the miles to get my own bike there. 😀



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