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Travel & Adventure

Getting Back on the Bike

Twenty-plus years ago, I rode a motorcycle. I used it to commute, have fun and occasionally travel. The bike itself was a ’79 BMW R100/7, which was a combination project, time machine for many people I encountered (I remember when…), and semi-reliable way to get around. I sold it a few years after moving to North Carolina.

The pandemic got me thinking about riding again, as a means of getting out of the house for a few hours and visiting sites around the Piedmont I’ve been wanting to see and photograph. I’m old enough to know that riding a motorcycle is a perishable skill so I decided to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Rider class again. Finding a class nearby that wasn’t fully booked was a challenge, so I used that as an excuse to take the class at the BMW Rider Academy in Greer, SC. If you’re thinking about taking the MSF class and are anywhere near Greer, I can recommend it.

I rode a nearly new BMW G 310 R instead of the clapped out Honda from my first class. It’s a light, agile bike with a single cylinder engine, six-speed transmission, TFT instrument display, inverted forks, rear mono shock and ABS. It’s not ideal for a person six-plus feet tall, but it wasn’t uncomfortable to ride.

My bike for a couple of days.
No dials on this bike.

I mentioned that motorcycling skills are perishable? Mine were. The class starts with very basic skills – finding the clutch friction zone, balancing and manipulating the throttle before moving on to actual riding. Most of the exercises happen at relatively low speeds (under 30 mph), so spills (and a few classmates had them) aren’t serious. U-turns, figure-8s in a confined box, braking (and panic braking) in different situations, swerving and other fundamentals kept us busy for most of two days.

Another thing in favor of taking the MSF class at BMW: Fantastic food for lunch. I had baked cod the first day and pork chops the second. And no, the class isn’t any more expensive than taking it at a community college. Plus, BMW offers some financial perks for those who choose to follow up by purchasing a new BMW motorcycle.

The conclusion of day two is the skills test. Those who lack a motorcycle endorsement on their license can pass this in place of some states’ skills tests. We quickly went through five tests to assess our ability to control our motorcycles. Drop the bike, stall more than three times, or rack up 16 penalty points and you fail. I’m happy to say I didn’t stall or fall, and had plenty of points to spare.

What’s next? I need more practice, but I need a bike first. And I kind of miss having a BMW boxer, which was a lot of fun and easy to ride. Maybe I’ll look for something like this R nineT.