Riding a motorcycle is harder than it looks

Jeanette Kendall
Jeanette Kendall of Washington stands next to the Suzuki she rode in the motorcycle safety class at Illinois Central College June 9.

Stepping out of my comfort zone to try something new, I found myself in the Motorcycle Safety class at Illinois Central College June 8, 9, and 10.

I’ve never driven a motorcycle in my life, although my boyfriend has a Harley and I’ve been riding on the back for about three years now. Initially, I was terrified of bikes, but now I enjoy riding.

I decided to take the class to see what it was like and learn more, but not necessarily because I want a bike of my own.

The safety course is very popular. They announce the dates in mid-February and you have to sign up early to get in.

After my experience in the 82-degree weather riding on asphalt with helmet, gloves, long-sleeved shirt, jeans and boots on, I highly recommend trying to get in a class in the spring or fall.

The first day consisted of four hours of classroom instruction. We went over questions in a book and watched video clips on TV.

The next day we had two hours of class, broke for lunch and went to the field.

Instructors Mike Killen of Edelstein and Doug Ferguson of Eureka were very thorough. Killen was very strict about safety and reminded me of what a drill sergeant might be like, and as the day wore on, I imagined myself in biker bootcamp. Ferguson was more patient and encouraging. The fact that Ferguson teaches sixth-graders as his full-time job might explain his patience with students.

We began with the easy stuff: getting to know the components of the bike and how to properly mount and dismount.

The first of nine exercises that day consisted of feeling the pull of letting the clutch out and walking with the bike, turning around and doing it again and again.

Then, we actually picked our feet up and rode in first gear across the lot. I couldn’t believe I was actually riding a bike, even if it was at 10 mph.

Each exercise thereafter got progressively more difficult. We had to weave in and out of cones. We had to practice turning on a short oval track.

I had two mishaps that day. One exercise was to learn to stop at a set of cones while going 15 mph. Apparently I was going faster than 15 mph because I blew by all three sets of cones, then stopped.

The other mishap happened when I had to pull behind the other bikers and park on a white T. Apparently, I let the clutch out too fast, because the bike lurched and started going a little sideways. Luckily, I was able to balance it and didn’t drop it.

The other thing I really struggled with that day was shifting the bike. It was difficult to find the gear with my boot without looking down. I was also wearing new steel-toe boots that were pretty thick. I didn’t have much clearance to get my boot under the gear. Killen even told me that he didn’t like steel-toe boots while riding because you can’t feel what you are doing. That made me feel a little better.

Throughout the day, we took 10-minute breaks to hydrate. When I took my helmet off, my hair was drenched. During the riding exercises sweat dripped into my eye and down my back.

That night, I went home exhausted with a very sore left hand from doing all of that clutch work. My hand tingled and I couldn’t feel my pinky. The teachers made a comment that all of us would likely have very sore left hands and that perhaps we should ice them when we got home. Instead of doing that, I studied my book for two hours for the written test the following day. Out of 50 multiple questions, you could only miss 10. I missed two.

Then, it was back out to the field June 10. I didn’t make it very far.

Because my left hand was so sore, I had a difficult time holding the clutch in. As soon as we took off, I let the clutch out too fast and lurched forward, which scared me.

During the first exercise of weaving between cones, I went around the curve to approach the cones, but instead hopped a curb and ended up in the grass. I wasn’t sure how I even got there, but at least I was able to remember to put on the brake and I didn’t fall. After those two mishaps so early in the day, I decided I wasn’t going to do well that day, so I hung up my helmet.

Killen came over to talk to me.

I was really disappointed in myself, but what he said made me feel a bit better.

“This doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or a bad rider.”

Killen said he had guys who bought $30,000 bikes come to take the course and decide they didn’t care to ride.

Killen said since I paid my $20 I could always come and take the course again.

If I ever do, I am buying those hand grip things you squeeze to exercise my hands a month beforehand!

Overall, I am still glad I took the class. It was a new experience and I know a lot more about bikes than I did previously, which is what I was after.

June 10 night, I talked to my friend John, who also took the class. He passed. He said two men in the class did not pass. The four women in the class did pass. I thought it was interesting that out of the 12 people in class almost half were women.

For more information about the safety course, visit