A running journal of Sandollar Ridercoach Candidates

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"The purpose in the organization and operation of the Sand Dollar Motorcycle Club is to promote a safe and effective means of group riding and conduct that will enhance the image of the motorcycle rider and encourage others to participate in the sport. "

This is the preamble to the Constitution for the Sandollar club. As I helped instruct a Ridercoach Candidate course this past weekend, it became evident that that’s what we’re all about. Fact is we have 4 Sandollars giving up 3 weekends to become better motorcyclists as well as volunteering to educate potential motorcyclists.

Tracy Friday, 16 Jan 2004, 5pm: Candidates started showing up at the classroom at Eglin AFB. We had a total of 9 candidates, 4 of them are Sandollar’s. Joe T, Randy, Bill P. and Tanya. The ridercoach trainer is Tracy Simmons, "The Man", "The Grand Over Lord". Some of you might remember Tracy, he was our winner in the Pumpkin Run. He’s a hell of a great guy, a great instructor (even if he does ride a Harley Road King) and is volunteering his time to teach this course. The Snake Pit
Tanya The class got started late... and it was a Sandie! Oops, something about work! The candidates had class from 5-9pm the first night. We covered all the legal stuff, the introduction to the course materials, and started working on classroom teaching. This really puts the candidates at a disadvantage to try and teach material they are seeing for the first time. There was a lot of fumbling, bumbling and mumbling. It’s a lot of pressure to stand up in front of people when you’re not familiar with the material you’re trying to teach. But as the night went on, and as mistakes were pointed out they were getting the hang of it by the end of the night. We knocked off at 9:00
Saturday, 17 Jan 0700: On the motorcycle range. Tanya drew the short straw and was responsible for exercise number 1. Which meant she had to get the training motorcycles to the range and make sure they were ready to go along with all the required range equipment. The first exercise is called "motorcycle familiarization" and it’s one of the hardest, most tedious and most important of all the range exercises. Although the name is obvious, this is where an instructor would teach the student where the motorcycle controls are. Keep in mind, this could possibly be the first time a student has even sat on a motorcycle. Teaching this for the first time, she did very very well. Tanya Teaching

By the time we got to exercise 3, the rain got so bad we took it back to the classroom for the rest of the day, where we finished up classroom teaching for day 2. Class dismissed at 4:00

Sunday, 18 Jan 0700: On the motorcycle range. We started with exercise 3 and finished with exercise 17 about 5:00 where we then moved back to the classroom for debriefing for the day. All 4 Sandies are doing very very well and I’m very proud of them. Joe’s picking it up quickly, Randy’s keeping his speed down, Tanya’s got a new nickname "evil", and Bill P. rode one of the best demos I’ve ever seen!

Next weekend the candidates will be more familiar with the course material, the atmosphere will be more relaxed and will be a lot more enjoyable...I promise!


Bill P's comments:

Bill Teaching My part begins with the privilege of being selected for the instructor class a couple of weeks ago. I'd thought about possibly becoming an instructor several years ago (1997) when I took the experienced rider course. Like a number of people...the idea got put on the back burner for quite a while (but never really got turned off). I thought about doing it several more times but never carried it through to fruition. Now, my chance finally arrives. Bill Teaching

Friday evening at 5PM was the first exposure for me to a rather different world than I am used to...that of the beginning motorcycle rider. After having ridden motorcycles for over 26 years now...I take the majority of the things I do (as a motorcycle rider) on a daily basis for granted. I tried to think back about when I learned to ride but, it was nothing like this. I learned to ride in the dirt or more accurately, on rugged dirt/rock roads in the mountains of West Virginia. On a street bike no less! The bit of riding that I did do on any paved roads was limited and things such as handling a motorcycle, just seemed to come natural. Maybe it was the extensive bicycle riding and mini-bike experience when I was a kid? A couple of years later...that street bike that I learned to ride on ended-up in Ohio with me and street riding commenced immediately. From then on...it was a natural thing for me to experiment on the roads it was a thrill to try and crank one over into the corners. It's been that way ever since. Now...had there been an experienced rider course back then...I sure could have used it! The crash I had at age 19 was something that definitely could have been avoided had I known then, what I know now. Hindsight is always 20/20.

Tracy Teaching So here I am, in the beginner rider's instructor course with about a thousand things going through the mind while listening to Tracy give us the entire classroom portion and teaching experience condensed into about 4 hours. That was a handful and then some.
Saturday started out kind of dismal on the range and got worse as the day pressed on. The rain was already enough, but it was cold too. I was receiving plenty of admonishment about not keeping my shield down on my helmet and a few other habits I've grown accustomed to. Mainly that shield thing though...primary reason for not keeping it closed...I couldn't see through the fog on the shield! We did end the range exercises early and went back to the classroom to finish-up what we could. Bill in the rain

Sunday, was a nice day weatherwise. As a prospective instructor though...it was a bit overwhelming for all 9 of us in the class (including the 4 aforementioned Sandies). There's a ton of things to absorb and there were plenty of doubts floating around about whether we might pass this course or not. There are no guarantees on success. My first instructor presentation had about a million things running through the mind while all those bikes (there were only 5 out there!) were following my directions that I had given earlier. Tracy was there beside me when I leaned over slightly and told him that there were a million things running through the mind. He calmly reassured me that it would take less than a millisecond for it all to go haywire for seemingly no reason at all, but would probably result from something I did if indeed things did go awry. Fortunately, they didn't. Afterwards, another bit of reassurance that things would get easier as we got more familiar with instructing. So far, so good.

As the day progressed on...we started making better progress on our instructor portions and riding demonstrations. And...we still have to ride all the exercises just as the beginning rider would. Tracy did mention favorably about the Sandies doing this kind of stuff fairly often and that we seemed to have no difficulties with our riding skills. In spite of some of our other habits that is! I reminded him that it was monthly that we did this and he seemed somewhat impressed with that given there are so few who actually do these basic maneuvers after they pass the riding course.

Tanya, Joe T. Randy V and myself looked at the famous "box" and joked at how big it was...24 by 60! Head turning while riding...no problem. Tanya gave the best example I can think of, out of all of us. The demo that I rode, was the result of a lot of determination from the previous 2 days and some good planning by both coaches. I did have 2 minor flaws in it but was told it was an excellent demo which made me happy, because that's what I was after. Oddly enough, it was my 3rd instructor presentation and second with Tanya as partner. We were "swapped" in instructor positions (rider coach 1 and rider coach 2) at the last second after we had already rehearsed how we were going to present the exercise and demo. The last minute change was a challenge and made us work that much harder for it. It was very successful.

Randy doing a demo Joe T,. and Randy rode their own motorcycles for the last few exercises of the day and Tanya and I joined in with ours on the last 2. Joe immediately noticed the difference in weight between the loaner bikes (Honda 250 Nighthawks and Rebels) and his Valkyrie! Randy didn't make much comment on the subject but, he did seem to prefer Mr. Max over the "powerhouse" 250's.

Myself, I liked the Rebel better than the Nighthawk (felt it was a bit twitchy) but gave the "memorable" demo on the Nighthawk. The Rebel was more comfy and turned on a dime. The Nighthawk could be so much a better bike with a disc brake up front and some fatter tires. That's just my opinion though. Wonder if Honda is listening?

We're a little over a fourth of the way through the course and now that we've made some progress and things don't seem so overwhelming...I'm reasonably sure we're gonna make it to the end. I had my doubts at various times. The skills Sundays do indeed pay off. It showed very well with the Sandies but, the other 5 seem to have pretty good riding skills too. However, I think we'd take'em down in the box though if the dimensions were shrunk a bit! Maybe a couple of other exercises too? Get 'em on our turf and see how they fare! Maybe a skills Sunday challenge between local clubs could be interesting?

That's about all I've got for words right now...I'll have more after the next round!

Bill P.

A running journal of Sandollar Ridercoach Candidates - PART II

Friday, 23 Jan, 5pm: Friday evening it’s back into the classroom starting at page 1 in the student workbook. Everyone was given assignments last week breaking down the classroom teaching into segments, so everyone got a chance to facilitate. All did much better due to the fact that they were now familiar with the material. They completed unit 1-3 of the 4 units in the workbook, unit 4 is always completed after their first trip to the motorcycle range. Doing classroom time

Saturday, 24 Jan 0700 on the range (see photos): Unlike last Saturday, mother nature cooperated and we had pretty decent weather. Just like the classroom, everyone was assigned range exercises last week. Each exercise requires 2 people to work together as a team. It’s easy to screw up if you try to second guess what your partner’s going to do if you don’t have a plan before you start the exercise. The students safety is priority #1. They completed 1-9 range exercises leaving 8 exercises and the riding qual for Sunday Back to the classroom for more peer teaching and to finish up the classroom portions of the course. It was a lo-o-o-ng day! All our Sandies did great and getting the hang of working the classroom.

Tracy briefing Joe teaching Bill simulates countersteering

Sunday, 25 Jan 0700 (see more photos): On the motorcycle range (after recuperating from our Anniversary party...and my wife didn’t let me keep the beads) . This is a big day for the candidates....we’ll get to that later. Day starts off on the range to finish the exercises, 10-17. They’re getting the hang of it and the demos are getting sharper. 11:00 break for lunch then back to the range to finish up with exercise 17, then it’s time for the riding eval! This consist of 4 parts, the infamous box, the swerve, a quick stop and a 135 degree turn. You are penalized points going outside the lines, stopping to long, not going fast enough, decelerating or failing to down shift at the proper times. To do this without losing any points you have to be on top of your game. As rider coach candidates they are only allowed to lose 15 points. All our Sandies did very very well, thanks to "Skills Sunday", but two of our Sandies (Randy and Bill) aced it! Back to the classroom for the written eval! This consisted of 50 questions and you had to get 80% or better to pass. Everyone passed...they’re 2/3 of the way there....the worst is over.

Debriefing Tracy and Randy observing an exercise Being briefed

Next weekend they have real live students (at least from the neck down) and will be graded on classroom teaching and range management. No worries mate! More to follow next week...


Bill P.'s comments on Part II

Friday night, 23 Jan. We have all been assigned segments of classroom teaching from the previous weekend and I made it through mine OK. I did get reminded of overloading students with tech stuff (hell, that's what I do daily!...tech stuff!) and possibly getting the "deer in the headlights" look. My classroom didn't appear to have much of that look because they were fellow classmates. I'm sure it would be different with actual "live students" in there but, I suppose we needed this practice for the real thing.

Sat. 24 Jan. Got the start of a nice day with sunshine. Made the day go better already in spite of nerves that were a little on the rattled side to begin with. After that first exercise I presented (honestly...I couldn't tell you which one it was...cornering, braking, shifting, etc.) things seemed to calm down and we were all focusing on our riding. We all had some riding habits that were initially hard to break (2-3 finger braking, not covering the clutch, looking down while riding, not putting both feet down when stopping, etc.) but, soon became accustomed to the harping about it and quit doing them. The riding we were doing was both, demonstration riding for the exercises and our own evaluation riding that we would be judged on the next day. It's real easy to ride a demo...it's a real challenge to do it right more than once! I was told I did very good at demos but, I really had to put some effort into them also. It was good to see the rewards of riding a good demo and that would really show up next weekend when the students were there. I managed to pull one or 2 more good demos and then it was back to the classroom to finish up the rest of the videos and class type stuff.

Sun. 25 Jan. It looked kind of crappy off in the distance to the West but the weather held out on us and we were rewarded with temps in the high 70's and sunshine after some of the clouds moved out. Man what a nice day! The exercises at the range were getting easier to perform as well as easier to present to prospective students. By lunch time, we all knew where our faults were and pretty much what to do to correct them. There was a point where I was half sick of hearing what would you have done different and how do you think you could improve that for the students? "Hell, I don't know...I'm out of answers and thought I did OK but, am open to suggestions" was one of my answers when Tracy asked. Turns out...he thought I did OK but only needed minor details adhered to. One of them being..."READ THE CARDS". We all had trouble with just reading the cards at one point or another. The cards I'm talking about are the riding exercise cards that explain the objective and how to do it. I did read the cards but, here's where the "overcoaching" in me came out (some would say talk too much!?!?). It's tough to address a crowd of well experienced riders as if they were rank beginners and just "read the cards". After all, rank beginners would be our teaching subjects and of course...they'll have questions. My crowd of instructors didn't. At least...not many.

After lunch (which was very meager for TJ, Ben and myself...everybody else went to KFC and we found every place that was closed on Sunday) the riding of exercises and presentations were coming to an end. Now, we would be graded on the riding eval portion of the course just like the students would be (our grading would be much tighter than the students would be graded on the very same eval courses) and then go take the written test.

Let me tell you about that riding test...it should have been a breeze for any of us to pass but, you'd have thought we were the beginners! Randy, truly did "ace" the thing. TJ did very good on it with exception of a minor boundary overrun on the box and she did great on the rest. I'm sure she was heard in Crestview when she went out of that box! Joe T. did well also but was told that he'd not win any extra points for aesthetics. O.K. he doesn't ride pretty. My ride of the eval wasn't so great on the first ride...I passed the box with no problem but blew the swerve portion by clipping a cone which equals hitting an obstacle. Hitting an obstacle is not good...that's the purpose of the swerve.

As it turns out...Tracy made me ride just that portion again and I got it right. I was pretty sure I was toast as soon as I had clipped that cone. We had been instructed that if a student or anyone failed...we act like nothing ever happened to keep the train of thought focused. I focused on the rest of the eval after riding the swerve the second time. I wasn't sure how many points we could lose but, I knew it was probably less than what I had just lost or at least that's what I was thinking. I would find out different later in the classroom.

Which gets us to the classroom, and taking the written test. I was wondering of my status at that point after the riding eval and was then informed that if I received a test at all...I had passed the riding test. Damned if I didn't have a test sheet in front of me! The test...well, it just wasn't my day for tests apparently, of any kind. I scored an 80% which was the minimum needed to pass. Oh what the hell, can't have it all, all the time right? TJ definitely aced the test...I know 'cause I scored hers! There were quite a few aces of that written test in the class though. I wasn't one of them and I even studied the night before and some during the week! I did pass though and that's what counts. 80 is as good as 100 sometimes!

After the tests were corrected (I'm reasonably sure I was the majority of the test corrections in the class) Tracy told us how we did on the riding test. As it turns out... Tracy said he'd thrown out my timing/speed figure while doing the swerve and that would allow a re-run of just that part. Since I had no points deducted in the box...I had basically a clean slate. Also...he said that he'd seen me ride that same exercise at least a dozen times and knew I could do it, and also thought I'd make a good instructor. That comment right there made up for a less than desirable score on the written test. The rest of the riding test (braking and cornering), I lost no points at all. That result left me with an ace of the riding test. All the others made it through with only minor point deductions.

With the testing portion over, we were half way through the course. Most of us considered it the hardest part but, we might soon find that to be wrong with the upcoming weekend when we'll actually have students. Motorcycling Newbies!...Can you imagine? We all received our teaching assignments for the next weekend and were released from class late Sundayafternoon. We will be Rider Coaches (instructors) for real after the next weekend. That is...if we pass the teaching/instructing evaluations.

A couple of us were going to go blow off some steam and relieve some stress on Bob Sikes road afterwards but, the threat of the rain clouds that were making their way towards us put a hold on that. As much steam as we needed to blow off...it would have been possibly drenched by cold water. Steam and cold water together at once area bad idea. Maybe next time? We all headed for the homesteads at that point. I had nasty looking clouds and wet roads but not enough rain to wet the windshield or my face shield. The rain came a couple of hours later.

More on the upcoming weekend, stay tuned!


A running journal of Sandollar Ridercoach Candidates - PART III

Randy and Tracy on the range Friday, 30 Jan, 5pm: Our candidates are working with "real" students for the first time. The nervousness was apparent but they did a fine job in teaching the first 3 sections of classroom teaching. The only Sandie that had to teach that night was Joe T. and he did a fine job. Bill on the range

Saturday, 0700 on the range. Working with novice riders, they performed all the exercises on the range for day 1. The novice students progressed very well as well as the candidates. A few minor screw ups in moving from one exercise to another (we try to make it as smooth as possible), but Tanya coined the key phrase "we did it safely and no one died". After lunch, back into the classroom to finish up the workbook. The candidates are starting to get the feel for how to work with the students, all in all it was a good day.

Sunday, 1 Feb 0700: It’s cold, it’s raining and guess what? Everybody still has range work to complete. Three out of the five Sandies rode their motorcycles from home to the range, who says Sandies are sane? We had 8 exercises and a riding qual to perform, so everyone was going to be riding, along with the student’s. It was a long "cold" day, but I think the person who suffered the most through the elements was Tracy Simmons, the rider coach trainer. The rest of the candidates and myself could take breaks indoors, he was stuck outside through it all. Everyone did well performing their exercises in the gaud awful weather (it was damn cold!) Broke for lunch and came back to do the riding eval for the students. Everyone passed so it was back to the classroom for the written exam. Randy was in charge of that section and did very well administering the test and doing the wrap up.

Joe and LtCol Evans

Bill and LtCol Evans

At that point the students were finished and released. As for the instructor students, Lt Col Dave Evans, Eglin's Ground Safety officer, presented their certificates. They are now officially "Certified Rider Coaches". Now they can work with me and it’s my turn to screw them up (ha ha). Congratulations to all. They put in 3 straight weekends in really nasty weather to accomplish this goal! I hope they find it as satisfying working with students as I do.

Tanya and LtCol Evans

Randy and LtCol Evans


Tanya S's comments:

There are few honors in life greater than being asked to share your knowledge with others.
- Tanya S.

Feb 2, 2004, Excerpts from an MSF Rider Coach (RC) Candidate's thoughts...

After three exhausting, exhilarating, and sometimes excruciatingly frustrating weekends, 3 other Sandies and I have received our certificates stating the MSF has deemed us Rider Coaches! Bill P., Randy V., Joe T. and I worked with five other RC candidates to train seven student motorcyclists. I was fired up at the prospect of sharing my love of riding through teaching, but I was dismayed at how quickly my coveted weekends would be eaten up by this class. I lost three full weekends to become an RC; we were in class from 5PM to around 9PM each Friday night then arrived at 7AM each Saturday and Sunday to be in class until about 6 PM each night.

We started two weekends ago in the classroom where we learned the techniques to properly instruct students using the course materials and correct vocabulary. (It's not a kill switch, it's an engine cutoff switch; we don't hit the brakes, we apply the brakes...) Then that Saturday and Sunday we practiced our skills and had to break bad habits like using two or three fingers on the clutch and brake levers versus four, not applying the front brake when mounting/dismounting the motorcycle...it's amazing how particular the MSF is when it comes to details. Then again, I guess that's why the "S" in their acronym stands for safety...

Tanya and Tracy on the range After taking off the rough edges the first weekend, we spent all of last weekend honing our classroom training skills and range riding skills, really getting into the nitty gritty on how to properly prepare ourselves to be RCs. Tracy Simmons, our RC instructor, was showing less mercy and being more particular about our riding, vocabulary, and finesse at peer coaching the other RC candidates through the exercises. I am grateful that I'm a member of the Sandies because it truly did help me do better during my riding, but it's WAY different to ride "The Box" on a Nighthawk 250 versus a Shadow 750! After we all beat ourselves up pretty badly about our inability to properly set up cones and ride "demos" we nursed our wounds and came back for a final hoorah.
Finally, after two full weekends of peer teaching and being hammered by Tracy, it was now time for us to get real students! These seven riders varied in levels of experience from 10 years (off and on rider) to NONE! What a humbling (and scary!) thought to teach people who have never in their lives been on a motorcycle to ride one. The weather was less than pleasant on our final Sunday than it had been all weekend with cold winds and incessant drizzle for the first half of the day...we knew it was Sunday at 9AM when the weather went from bad to worse and figured George must have some crazy Sandies out somewhere! Despite the weather, and all of us RC candidates fumbling and bumbling a few times, nobody died and all our students passed their riding evaluation and written test. The students all received a big round of applause from us for their patience and quick learning, and we all received our Rider Coach certification. Doing it in the rain

Looking back, I can say that after our first Saturday on the range I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of my decision. I wasn't that upset about not having a weekend, I was truly concerned about my ability to properly train the students we would soon be responsible for. The course to become an RC is very demanding and requires patience, study and determination. However, I now see that it was all worth it. It is an awesome experience to see the light come on in someone's eyes when the finally "get it" and know that you're the one who showed them the ropes. If you're on the verge of taking the plunge to become an instructor, perhaps my enthusiasm will be contagious and push you onward in your quest for motorcycle riding excellence! Becoming an RC improved my safety and riding skills and gave me the opportunity to pass my experiences on to others, hopefully making them better and safer riders on the road. I can't wait to really spread my wings and fly with my next set of new students!

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. - Henry Brooks Adams


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