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Miss Street Smarts learns to ride a motorcycle
Last week, I started motorcycle safety training at Cabrillo College. Besides wanting a bike all my life, the main reason why I would benefit from having one now is to skirt rising gas prices. Currently, I spend about $35 every four to five days on gas for my “fuel efficient” car. Yes, I drive a lot. With the right motorcycle, I could cut my fuel costs down by more than half, as the kind of bikes I'm eying get upwards of 70 mpg. My car tops out at 35 mpg. I must say learning to ride is unlike anything I have ever experience before. Riding a motorcycle is not that easy, but becomes with easier with practice. My main concern is that riding a motorcycle requires you to use your brain differently than driving a car. As if there isn't enough going on the road to think about, riding a bike throws in extra stuff to test your coordination. Now, I know how to drive manual transmission car, so I'm used to shifting gears and manipulating a clutch – you know, multitasking behind the wheel. Riding a motorcycle takes that multitasking to the next level. In a vehicle with a stick shift, the left foot is in charge of engaging the clutch so that the right hand may work the gear shift while the left hand steers. The right foot oversees the accelerator and brake. On a motorcycle, the right and left sides of the brain must really learn how to communicate with each other and send that message to the corresponding limb(s). While this shifting concept is similar to that of a car, it's quite different. Like driving a stick shift car, there is a clutch that the motorcyclist must engage in order to change gears. However, instead of this device being manipulated by the left foot, this is the left hand's job. Meanwhile, the shifter is the responsibility of the left foot. As for the gears, they are in a single line -- not tree shaped as with cars. There's also no visual clue of which gear you're in, unless you are in neutral. There is a green light for that. Similarly, a motorcyclist's access to the “accelerator” – called a throttle – and brakes is via the right side of the body. But instead of this being through the use of the right foot, making the bike go and stop happens by wrapping the right hand around the throttle and being ready to brake using controls on the handlebars, as well as at the right foot. For someone used to riding a bicycle, I'm finding it difficult to use the riding posture of right hand fully on the throttle while the fingers of the left hand rest lightly on the clutch, ready to act. While cycling, I tend to ride in a stance of being ready to brake at a slight hint of trouble – palms on the handlebars and fingertips on both brakes. So, motorcycling is a challenge for me. As I'm learning to ride, I find it frustrating, exciting, frightening and exhilarating. But I know I will get better with more practice and becoming more comfortable with the controls. Stay tuned for pictures and video from motorcycle class.