Who Rides? Who Shouldn’t?

Teaching MSF Beginning Rider Courses is too often eye-opening, as far as the spectrum of people who decide to take on motorcycling. At the beginning /middle/end of a lot of classes, it’s impossible for me to not be reminded of an IT friend who I worked with 25 years ago, when the World Wide Web was just beginning to be a presence. He and I worked together to create our company’s initial WWW intranet presence and we had a lot of time to think about what we were doing, as we tried to make our system “friendly” to the morons who made up the company’s sales force.

My friend’s basic premise was, “There goes the neighborhood.” The only easy way to use the Internet, for most people in the early years, was through an over-priced, semi-orderly AOL subscription or with a considerably less user-friendly account from a variety of tel-coms like AT&T, Netcom, or a whole bunch of local “services” that were pretty much geek-in-a-basement secondary hook-ups to the bigger companies. The corporate account that first introduced me to the internet required that the user possess a moderate amount of UNIX knowledge. To send an email to someone out of our business intranet, I had to “write” a set of instructions that created my email editor and the actual email creation was about as pleasant and creative an environment as boot camp. One screwed up backspace or return and the whole letter was lost and the editor unraveled itself. I suppose you could imagine this was “geek paradise” and it sort of was, but there are all sorts of geeks and only a particular sort of geek found the UNIX maze worth travelling. User Groups were what made the internet worthwhile for me and I maintained my sluggish AT&T account until AT&T dropped User Group support a little more than a decade ago.

When the WWW came along, opening access to anyone who could read at a 3rd grade level, User Groups became littered with wannabes. The areas I frequented/lurked were mostly pro-audio and electronic engineering groups and I am perfectly willing to admit we were a pack of uber-geeks. For a half-year, I participated in a discussion about how to hack and rewrite Studer’s A820 ePROM transport control to eliminate that pro recording deck’s propensity to stretch tape when the user bounced the fast forward and rewind keys quickly to find a spot in a recording without using the auto-locator controls. We put hours into solving a problem that only the least talented of recording engineers ever experienced. Now, similar groups argue complete bullshit without a lick of technical knowledge or design competence. Websites like GearSluts.com generate miles of idiot conversation about crap that has no validity, value, or reason for existence because GearSluts’ patrons are little kids who will wannabes until their trust funds run out.

Likewise, learning how to ride used to be something you managed it you really, really wanted to ride. Forty-fifty years ago, there were a few training programs for intermediate and advanced riders, but beginning riders were on their own. The bad aspect to that lack of introduction-to-motorcycling wasn’t (in my opinion) what you might think. Kids, mostly guys, who really wanted to ride a motorcycle jumped on the first bike made available to them and started figuring it out for themselves. Like today, they crashed, busted themselves up, and even died in the process, but they were driven to ride and did it either carelessly, cluelessly, or brilliantly. If we’d have been inclined to search out a basic riding training program, it would have done us a lot of good. A bunch of the awful habits and tendencies I’ve adopted over the last 50 years could have been headed off with a little guidance. Teaching MSF courses does that for me today and I’m grateful for both the opportunity and the education.

On the other side of the current and past equation were all of the people who timidly imagined themselves as motorcyclists but never managed to find the gumption to straddle one and would never manage it if it weren’t for “basic” training programs like the MSF’s BRC. Occasionally, I see the light come on in a few of these students and they clearly find something in themselves that resembles the best of what an activity like motorcycling brings out in humans. More often, I see people who are used to having the world compensate for their distraction, incompetence, and miserable physical conditioning expect the training to continue the de-evolutionary tactics society has adopted. And we, mostly, accommodate them. Darwin Awarding aside, I don’t see that as a good thing.

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