The practical part of the course started out simple: first, we learned how to walk a motorcycle (walk along beside the bike, not on it, and lean it towards you especially when turning away from the side you're standing on), and then how to balance it at slow speed -- without the engine running! We took half of the bikes and teamed up into pairs, who took turns riding and pushing down straight lanes. On my first push, I managed to make it about four feet before I was in the next lane. "Clamp the gas tank with your legs!" Tried again, this time no problem. Once all of us had the basic idea, the lanes were cut in half to make 90° left and right turns. Legs flailing again, all over the course. Clamp the gas tank. Legs in, no problem.
After a few minutes of that we were taught how to start the bike: fuel switch on, ignition switch on, bike in neutral, engine kill switch off, choke on, and hit the starter. No problem. With the bikes started, we started learning to get them moving with the clutch: find the friction point, roll forward a foot or two, squeeze the clutch, pull the bike back, and repeat. Then we started riding the slow-speed exercises: straight-line starts and stops, circles, sharp turns, weaving/slalom, and a long course which included all of the individual exercises in a loop. At this point we were being encouraged to shift into second where appropriate, and downshift smoothly. I got the hang of this stuff pretty quickly, since it wasn't a whole lot different than riding a bicycle; look where you want to end up and you'll end up there. About half the class was starting to get a bit behind the bike at this point, mostly because they were staring at the next cone instead of halfway around the circle or at the end of the slalom. I did the same thing occasionally, mind you, but I knew what to correct when I did!
After that, more of the same, but slower, slipping the clutch to go as slowly as possible around the inside of the circles we had just been going around outside. Slower is way harder, but necessary for learning balance and for maneuvering around parking lots and other cramped quarters. You could really see that part of the class was starting to have a hard time keeping up -- especially the women who were taking the course to get their own bike instead of riding pillion with their boyfriends and husbands. Those riders also tended to grab the Honda Rebels when it was time to choose bikes; while the Rebel would be close in position to what they would probably end up buying, they were also heavier, more powerful, and harder to manoeuver. The women who were taking the course without that background weren't having much trouble.
Lunchtime. An ambulance arrived over lunch, and we learned that one of the riders in another group had dumped the bike and injured her knee. She was up and riding later on, though, so it must not have been too bad.
From there it was into traffic behavior. The course was set up into four "blocks", with "streets" around the perimeter and through the middle of the lot. We practised hand signals, shoulder checking, stopping at intersections, and so forth all riding around the outside, and then were free to go wherever we wanted to go, having to coordinate with the rest of the riders as we would on a city street. This was easier than I expected, although it felt like you would expect to feel riding around a neighbourhood filled with fourteen brand-new motorcycle riders.
We finished up the day with emergency stops: go like a madman towards a set of cones, and then on a signal stop as quickly as possible with as much grace as you can manage to maintain: don't lean the bike, don't lock up the back wheel, try to end up in first gear ready to take off again, and so forth. This sort of came naturally to me, I'm not sure why.
I was wiped when the day ended. It was a very strange feeling to get back into a car at the end of the day. The steering wheel felt tiny, and it was so quiet! A day of wearing black nylon and a helmet had tired me out pretty good (and a glove with a really bad hot spot on my thumb didn't help -- the skin is still growing back!) so I went home and crashed.
(I'll put the next day's riding and the test in another post.)