Thursday, June 26, 2008

Police Riding School

Back in May I lucked into the opportunity to participate in a 40 hour riding school put on by the Texas City Police Department. I have a friend that sells Harley Davidson Motorcycles and one of his customers invited him to come to a day of classes and my friend invited me. I was able to stay all week and complete the course. I am the only civilian that Texas City has ever certified as completing this course. 'Course I can't give tickets, but I sure learned a lot.

This is one post where I really suggest that you click on one of the pictures which will take you to the web album where the rest of the pics are stored. These pics are truly worth a thousand words and this class was worth a thousand bucks to me. Don't tell Texas City though, they may send me a bill.

I've been riding since I left home at 18 years of age. I have ridden all sorts of bikes. Dirt bikes, small street bikes, exotic Moto Guzzis, metric and HD. I've always paid attention on the street and I have takes some classes that teach riding skills. I thought I was a pretty good rider but this course really showed me that I didn't know much about handling my bike at slow speed in tight quarters. I think I learned a lot though, and developed confidence that I can put my bike where I want it to be.

The course consisted of six distinct cone layouts where the object was to avoid the cones. Speed did not matter, go as slow as you want or as fast as you can, just avoid the cones. We were all on 800+ lb Harley's except for one guy on a Honda Valkrye and two guys on BMWs. The Harleys all handled the course better than the other bikes because of the HD lower center of gravity and shorter wheel base. Each of the bikes can complete the course though, but with greater difficulty on the Honda due to the wheel base and the BMW due to the clutch set-up.

The first course was a slow weave in which cones were set about 18 feet apart and we just weaved back and forth between them. We were justifiably proud to complete that course with relative ease, but it turns out that the slow weave was just a tune up for the Offset Weave.

In the Offset, the cones are not in a straight line, but are offset by about 18 feet so that you have to make a hard turn at the first cone to line up on the next cone 18 feet away and requiring a 90 degree turn. Assuming you clear the second cone there is another one 18 feet away that may be a little tougher to clear depending on how you ride. Each mistake in position, speed or direction on these courses adds up on you because the layout of the course doesn't allow much room for corrections. If you are off by a foot on the first turn, you may be off by two feet on the second and so forth. A skilled rider can make up for small mistakes, but not for big ones, and we unskilled riders couldn't even make up for small mistakes at first.

It took us two full days to get everyone through the offset cones and onto the lane change course. The object on the lane change was to simulate the need to change lanes on a highway, but to do it in about 15 feet without knocking over any cones. Keep in mind that our bikes are about 6 feet long and we all had saddle bags that stick out and the bags were low enough to strike the cones.

After the offset and lane change we moved on to the 18 foot intersection. This course is best thought of as a big "Plus sign" with each end of the sign and each segment of the sign being 18 feet wide/long. We had to enter the intersection at one end and make a hard turn at each corner driving the bikes as far into each leg of the intersection as we could. Each turn in this course required a "wheel lock" turn in which the handlebars were forced as far as possible into the turn. The only way to straighten the bike at that point was with speed. Increase speed and you straighten up. Decrease speed and you fall down. A very interesting balancing act. It took most of us two days to master this course and some of us took even longer. It was only a five day course. Time got tight.

After the Intersection we only had a high speed "Maximum Effort Stop" and the Keyhole to go. The high speed stop was interesting because we performed it first using just back brake, and then with just the front brake. Finally we stopped using both brakes together. I am glad that I have two brakes.

The Keyhole was an 18 ft diameter circle of cones with a 4ft wide X 4ft long entrance/exit. We had to enter the keyhole, perform a full circle and exit out the same hole without touching a cone. OH... and did I mention that we had to do all these courses clockwise AND counterclockwise? Well, we did.

This course was a really great time for me. It was hard on my bike, but I gained alot of skill and confidence in putting my bike exactly where it needs to be every time and it showed me that no matter how good a rider I thought I was, there are always skills to be learned and more fun to be had in our sport.


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