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BACK TO BASICS - IS EXPERIENCE THE BEST TEACHER?

by Jerry Palladino (MOTORMAN)

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a bike gathering at a local Harley Dealer when I struck up a conversation with a guy who was taking delivery of a new Anniversary Edition Ultra. The guy was into his mid to late 40's and he tells me he's been riding for 20 years and this was his 4th new Harley. He said he had an 02 Ultra, but some clown turned left in front of him and he had to "lay her down". The bike was totaled and he had a broken leg which he said was now in good enough shape that he could start riding again. I then asked him if he had ever taken any rider training courses. He looked at me like I was crazy and said, "I've been riding 20 years, that's enough training for me". I then watched him as he duck-walked his bike around a U-Turn a Greyhound bus could have easily made, and then saw him drag his feet about 100 yards through the parking lot and out onto the highway.

It made me think of something an MSF Instructor recently told me. He said he teaches the MSF Experienced Rider course and that he sees a lot of people who think they are good riders because they've been riding 20 or 30 years. The instructor said what they really have is one years experience 20 or 30 times.

That made a lot of sense. In other words, a rider gets to a certain level and then, never improves any further, but instead, keeps repeating the same mistakes over and over again. Now, if you're driving a car, you can get away with a lot of mistakes for a lot of years before it catches up with you. But, on a bike, there's usually no such thing as a little fender bender. In almost every crash on a motorcycle, you're going to get hurt or even killed and your bike is going to be a mess, if not a total wreck. The point is, don't fool yourself into thinking you know what you're doing just because you've been riding for a lot of years. Look at it this way. If experience was all you need to be a good driver, then that 80 year old guy blocking the left lane of the highway with 60 years of driving under his belt, should be able to easily win the Daytona 500 should he choose to since he has far more experience than most of those young whippersnappers in NASCAR, right? Of course not!

Those young experienced NASCAR drivers have received the best training available and constantly practice and improve their skills. Now, the old guy with all the experience, like you, the experienced rider, can cruise on down the road just fine, until something unexpected happens. Then, all he and you can do is jam on the brakes and hope for the best. The highly trained driver or rider can rely on his skills and training and probably can avoid the crash altogether instead of "laying her down", (in other words, to avoid the crash). Now, it's true, you can't avoid every crash, but it sure would be nice to avoid most of them.

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More articles by MOTORMAN:
Back to Basics Series:   About Jerry Palladino:
A "Motorman" is the term used in police circles to identify a motorcycle cop, or any law enforcement officer assigned to the motorcycle division. Prior to
becoming a Motor Officer, Jerry rode for enjoyment for about 25 years. Then one day, he saw a 5 minute segment on a television show which depicted motorcycle officers training on their Harley police bikes. The way these officers could maneuver these full size motorcycles around like a child's toy, made it appear as if they were defying gravity. At that moment, he knew that he had a lot to learn about riding a motorcycle. Shortly afterwards, the agency he worked for started a motorcycle unit. he was sent for training to Tallahassee with the highway patrol. The training consisted of 120 hours of intensive motorcycle training, focusing mainly on low speed handling. Jerry says, "When I finished this training, for the first time I really knew how to ride a motorcycle."
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