Jun 10, 2015

Right Concept, Wrong Mission

An April BRC class included a seriously handicapped rider. For testing purposes, she, of course, chose to ride a scooter, although her already-purchased motorcycle was (big surprise) a large Harley with some kind of automatic transmission modification. There are two places in the BRC license test where students can lose 5 points (each) for not using both brakes. This student would lose a total of 10 points (out of a maximum 21) if she were evaluated like the other students. Physically being unable to control a motorcycle due to a variety of mental (like ADHD) and physical (like obesity) handicaps appears to be a root cause for large portion of motorcycle crashes. You might mistake both the MSF’s “safety training” or the DMV’s licensing testing as an attempt to minimize crashes and fatalities, but you’d be unobservant and politically-clueless if that were your conclusion.

When I asked MMSC management for advice on how to score this student’s evaluation, one comment was “in the spirit of trying to help someone overcome a disability I would say no deduct for not using one hand brake.” The advice from other management and coaching sources was similar. In the end, it didn’t matter. While this student was barely more than handgrip fringe for most of the class, she managed to only collect a few points during the evaluation. Scored either way, she’d have passed the state’s test. There were two other students in that particular course who were less in control of their motorcycles than our handicapped student and they passed, too. I was the license examiner, so if anyone gets blamed for not scoring hard enough it would be me.

The fact that 90% of our licensing system is designed to put butts on motorcycle seats will, sooner or later, be the reason I quit teaching motorcycle safety classes. I do not believe my mission is to “help someone overcome a disability,” regardless of that disability. I do not believe that ADHD, obese, or otherwise physically handicapped people belong on motorcycles on public streets. If that is insensitive, remember that I often repeat the mantra, “Life is hard, then you die. Get over yourself.”

A motorcycle is a fairly effective way to commit suicide, but I don’t feel compelled to be a suicide-pilot-trainer. My motorcycle safety mission, as I see it, is to help potential motorcyclists save some time in learning critical lessons about riding; tactically and physically. The more critical part of my mission is to help people who have no business being on a motorcycle realize that fact before they are killed or injured. I have never encouraged a friend, family member, or anyone I care about to become a motorcyclist. If you are not driven to ride, you should avoid both riding and being a passenger. You are thousands of times more likely to be injured on a motorcycles than on any other means of transportation, including bicycles, so don’t do it unless you don’t have a choice.

In other words, If you can think of a better way to get from point A to B than by riding your motorcycle, you should do it. I write because I don't have a choice, as Menken said "For the same reasons cows give milk." I ride a motorcycle because there are times when I can't see myself going anywhere unless I get to ride my motorcycle there. I play guitar, sing, and listen to music because it is part of who I am. None of those things are necessary to 90% of the population and that's fine with me. It is not my job to help you find your passions, but as a motorcycle instructor it is (in my opinion) my job to help you discover how passionate you are about risking your life on a motorcycle.


  1. Your post brings up a wide array of questions, contradictions, issues and mental puzzles. None of them simple or easy.

    I agree that our system should not be trying to quickly and simply put butts onto motorcycles or scooters. I've read many criticisms of US drivers and riders as being under-trained and unqualified to be on the road. But with most people thinking it's their right to drive or ride and want to spend little time or money to learn to be safe, it's no wonder we have what we have.

    As far as handicapped riders go I'm supportive of making accommodations IF, and only IF those accommodations still result in a safe, qualified rider. That means the arbitrary testing has to be modified and an instructor will have to be able to evaluate beyond points. That requires experience and ability that maybe all might not have.

    Risk and danger are attendant to motorcycles and scooters. Much can me done to mitigate that risk but at the end of the day you're left naked on a machine the flys down the road, often with other unknown drivers so anything could happen. If nothing else, every rider should be required to take an honest, sober look in the mirror in that regard. I've been surprised how many riders I've met who quit riding the first time they had a scare and seemed genuinely surprised at the possibility.

    Great, thought provoking post.

  2. I realize that most MSF programs and coaches are a lot more supportive than me. Every season since my first (http://geezerwithagrudge.blogspot.com/2013/11/28-msf-season-on-brink.html) I've had to re-evaluate my performance, attitude, and interest against the thought that I might be doing more harm than good. The only job I've had that compared to being an MSF trainer was being a reliability assurance engineer for a medical devices company. That should be a scary thought, since US medical device manufacturers are second only to US investment bankers in amorality.

    As you know, most riders who haven't crashed and busted up something serious are just lucky. No skill, attitude, or special qualities involved; just luck. Too many older riders don't get the chance to "quit riding the first time they had a scare" because they are permanently disabled or killed in that first event. The person this article described is/was/will be one of those riders.

    I think my greatest conflict/contradiction as a coach is that I feel compelled to score the test as it is ridden, not as how the student has performed for the previous 10 hours. Far too many people squeak through our insanely simple "skills test" and head out into traffic without a clue that they are completely unprepared. If you're a coach, I suspect you know that every lecture we deliver as we're stamping their permit and handing them a completion card is barely noted.


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