What Have You Learned This Year?

Continuing Education

Virtually any job worthy of the noun “career” offers an employee education program, and that program, for various reasons, continues forever.  One of the reasons is that the people putting on the job training have a vested interest in never working themselves out of a job (so sayeth the cynic), but there are other reasons that are logically valid.

Very few things, whether economic systems, societies, governments, or fields of endeavor, stay the same for long, and the frequency of change has ramped up exponentially in the past few decades. There was a time, to over simplify, when a person could leave high school and get a job on an assembly line using an air gun to put 5 lugs nuts on each wheel of a new car as it went past.  There was the potential, or perhaps the threat, that such a job would not change for 30 years, and then the person could retire.  Sometimes simpler is not better, and we’re better off in the workplace, I offer, for the need for adaptation to change.

In my first career as an English teacher I attended classes in education every year.  Some were less than valuable, but a few of were really important and gave me a new insight or two into a technique, approach, or curriculum.

I could not return to teaching English today, as my certification has expired. To become re-certified would take at least two (more) years of college education on top of the seven I already have, at (my own) vast expense. Good thing, I don’t want to.  

My wife’s brother is the Prosecuting Attorney for a county on the east side of the state, (hint: do not commit felonies in the Pullman area) and he’s in Seattle every so often for “CLE,” which is “continuing legal education.”  Laws change, technology changes, rules of evidence change, and so forth. It is important to be current, even for someone with decades of experience with the legal system.

How about continuing motorcycle rider education?  When was the last time you took a course?  For a dismaying percentage of our rider population, the answer is “Never.”  Others took a basic MSF course 5 to 20 years ago.  Their motivation was often to get their endorsement and/or to get a lowered cost of insurance. Actual rider education was a bonus.

How much sense does that make?  At work you risk saying something foolish that could cause a problem, or making an error in judgment that could cost the company money because you chose the wrong path to follow for a product or idea.  Very few of us work in a field with the risks inherent in our passion, where an error in judgment or lack of knowledge of technique can get you killed.

When we ride our motorcycle we voluntarily expose ourselves to risk.  We reduce that risk with a quality motorcycle, quality gear that we wear every time we ride, and perhaps decisions on the weather and route.  But very few of us choose to invest in ourselves with further (or initial) rider education, which can drastically reduce our exposure to risk.

This is particularly egregious with people returning to motorcycles after being away for kids and parenting duties for 20 years or so. Anyone who works at a dealership has bitten their tongue several times when hearing the phrase “I don’t need a class – I remember how to ride.”

“But, but, but…,” you want to say but don’t.  “You may think you remember how to ride, but the world you rode in no longer exists. There’s more traffic, and a greater percentage of that traffic is more and more distracted by new gadgets drivers cannot seem to keep from fondling as they drive. The motorcycles are appreciably heavier and taller, and can both accelerate and stop much faster than 20 years ago. Gear is better, but also different. Add to that your memories of 20 years ago, colored by the passage of time and the subtle nuances of ego nudging reality toward a story where you are the hero, and you have great potential for disaster. You need to be prepared.”

During a dental appointment, would you be comfortable if the dentist said  “Yes, I took 20 years off to start a chinchilla farm in Peru.  I’m just back and happy to be doing dentistry again.  You’re my first patient.”  How about if similar comments were uttered by your attorney?  Your heart surgeon?

Here’s another thought that might be uncomfortable. Let’s say that you have been taking continuing rider education courses all along, and have been nodding your head in agreement as you read this because it does not apply to you.  Fair enough, but how about those you ride with? Your best friend is on a 600 pound machine right in front of you as the two of you enjoy a winding road. Has he taken an On Street Course, as you have, and is scanning ahead for road hazards?  Has he taken a cornering class and is selecting one of several lines for the upcoming corner?  Has he ever actually practiced coming to a sudden stop from speed?   If not, how may a problem he does not know how to solve affect you?

Aha, you say, and accuse me of hypocrisy. Is it not true that I lead customers on rides all the time, and many of them I’ve never met before and do not know what their level of riding skill and experience might be?  Yes, that is true, but I do have an advantage.    …I’m at the front.

I presume the point has been made.  Good news!  In the Northwest we’re sitting in a pool of motorcycle courses, providers, and instructors that is deeper and more chock full of intellectual nutrients than pretty much anywhere else. There are reasons for this, but let’s just enjoy the bounty before us. 

Years ago, roughly a decade after I started and probably a decade before you did, the course to take was an MSF course.  Not because it was the best course, but because it was the only one.   Today several local providers provide a half a dozen courses or more. Most are street based, but there are more and more opportunities for learning on dirt, grass, rock, and mud surfaces, or even on a paved race tracks.

As another resource, Ride West puts on Thursday evening seminars (and some on Saturday mornings) over the months from October to April. Here are two dozen opportunities to learn a great deal at a minimal cost. The Thursday evening seminars cost $10, and pizza, sodas, and coffee are provided. Saturday morning seminars are free, and you might avail yourself of a good cup of coffee and a naughty doughnut.  Whether you want to venture out for a track day in 2013, as several WSBMWR members did for the first time in 2012, learn new techniques for street riding and dual sport riding, or simply amass a wealth of information on how to enjoy an adventure on a motorcycle pretty much anywhere in the world, these seminars are a terrific resource. The presenters are some of the leading authorities in the world in their respective areas, and include AMA Hall of Fame member David Hough (twice),  renowned tour expert Helge Pedersen (twice),  Mark DeGross, the WMRRA #1 plate holder for 2013 and the owner of 2Fast Track Days, and others.  Some of the presenters are volunteers from our customer base who donate the time to share their considerable expertise and experience with others.

Learning about riding motorcycles is not a choice, it is mandatory.  Further, the need for continuing education lasts for your entire riding career.

How much time did you spend learning this year?  What will you learn in 2013?  What will you learn today?

More good news – these are all classes where the homework is fun.

Copyright 2012                                           David Preston

About david

I am a 69 year old motorsports nut who lives in Bothell, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I have been married forever and have two grown children. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Bonneville T 120 , a Triumph Thruxton, a Fiat 500S and a VW Tiguan. What else would you like to know?
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