I was a guest of Harley-Davidson at an immersion event in Milwaukee last summer in conjunction with my job at BlogHer. As part of that experience the company offered the participants a certificate for a free Rider’s Edge class at a Harley dealer.
This weekend I took the range portion of the Harley-Davidson Rider’s Edge Learn to Ride program.
I washed out. Early on the first day. And learned a little more about myself in the process.
Feeling like a failure sucks. Especially if you are (as I am) somewhat of a perfectionist. Although age and parenting have cured me of the worst of those tendencies, I really like to get it right. But note that I said feeling like a failure. Even for the little while during which I FELT bad, I knew that I had done the right thing. It wasn’t the day I was going to learn to ride. I pulled out before the instructor had to tap me out and kept myself and the other students safe. That’s success of a different kind.
So, I am going to finish out the written part of the class, so that if I do decide to try again, I only have to take the range portion of the class. I’m also going to take the instructor’s advice on prepping myself for the class.
My biggest hurdle was speed and control. Just like when I learned to ski 20 years ago. I’m tentative, and that leads to a tendency to look down not forward. As well as overthinking and getting caught up in the number of things to do, as opposed to just doing them. I have to overcome a lifetime of muscle memories and create some new ones. I learned to ski, and I CAN do this if I want to. But I have to prepare better before I try to take the range course again.
Because, and no fault of the instructor, the dealership or Harley-Davidson, the Learn to Ride course (at least in Connecticut) isn’t simply about learning to ride. It’s really about learning the skills necessary to pass the range test for the motorcycle endorsement. In Connecticut you have to take a class; you can’t just go to the DMV with your bike to do the riding test. As a result, some of the students are already experienced riders simply there to do the time, perhaps improve their skills and pass the range test.
Now I am not daft and do realize that passing the range test should be the goal for all the students. I also get that the rapid fire pace of the course has a purpose, in that in order to pass the range test you have to be able to do the skills smoothly, quickly and almost automatically. There’s not a lot of time for pondering when faced with a road hazard or traffic situation. So the instructor HAS to weed out the folks who aren’t ready.
But mixing raw beginners with experienced riders creates a different head space for the newbies. It also contributed to the performance anxiety that a perfectionist like me often has in such situations. I think that was affecting me from the very beginning of the day, and just compounded every time I had a little difficulty with something. Let’s be clear: It is MY problem, not the other riders, not the instructor, not the course designers. What goes on between my ears is for me to work on.
But as performance anxiety goes, every little failure compounds until you can’t do even the simplest things that you were able to do at the start of the day. You can’t build skill because you just. can’t. do. anything.
When I realized I was at that point, I stopped.
I also wasn’t having fun. It wasn’t the exhilarating feeling I remembered from the short intro lesson we had during the 3 day immersion event last summer at Harley headquarters in Milwaukee.
I thought a little last night about what made that experience so much fun. Of course, there isn’t really a comparison between a short intro lesson that is part of a larger experience and a full-on class, but the camaraderie of the group of women that had been together for 2 days was part of it. The student: teacher ratio was 4:2, which definitely made a difference, and we weren’t necessarily working to goal. The instructor’s job was to give us a taste, not teach us a life skill.
That sort of camaraderie isn’t going to happen at a weekend class with people of disparate backgrounds who are going home at night, not hanging out at group dinners and baseball games. Even before we arrived in Milwaukee, the group had the commonality of all being bloggers, and some of us already knew each other through our participation with BlogHer.
Reality: that generous student teacher ratio isn’t realistic. And, hullo, if you are taking a class, there is a goal.
However, I do think I might do better in a women-only class. Ideally if it were women 30+ (even 40+) who have a similar lifetime of memories (muscle and otherwise) that we have to get out of the way.
But that’s not all I need to do if I want to succeed at learning to ride.Because the course isn’t going to change. It is still going to be about developing the skills necessary to pass the range test.
So, really, I need to learn to ride before I go next time. Not a motorcycle, but I have to get past my mental speed bump and feel more comfortable on a motorized bicycle. If I can’t do that, I will be wasting everyone’s time.
Chatting with both the instructor and my brother (who used to ride until a hand injury made it difficult), I’ve got a strategy. First, I need to get out on my bicycle and do some fast riding. The practice balancing and operating multiple controls simultaneously will also help get my head around what I need to do on the bike. Once I have that nailed, we are going to rent some mopeds and do a little practice on those, getting even further up to speed. I gotta get out of first gear.
Then I just might be ready to ride.
It’s also a distinct possibility that I will be just as happy tooling around town on a scooter, and experiencing the pleasures of long-distances while riding from the comfort of my VW Beetle convertible.
Whatever I decide, however I end up in this journey, it will be the right decision for me.
That’s what success looks like.
PS: My new boots (which I LOVE and will get a ton of use from, riding or not): http://instagram.com/p/dFztHRAHH-/