Experienced Rider Course

by Bill Hufnagle
aka Biker Billy

The day dawned warm but overcast, the morning fog lying snugly in the mountain valleys. The iPod-powered alarm clock had sung sweetly at its appointed time, yet was already too late. Wakefulness had arrived even earlier, brought on by the rhythms of my mechanical soul.

As the music worked to motivate the long-risen sleeper, the rider was already preparing for the day ahead. In short order it was time to don the day’s attire: a basic black, classically styled exterior over very modern armor. This combination affords great protection and also would provide the freedom to explore the limits of today’s lessons.

Gear on, it was time to raise the garage door, inspect the machine, and face the day. Nature had progressed nicely since my sleepy eyes had first looked out the window. The fog was almost gone from the mountain and the sun was poking through the high clouds. The bike checked out fine and roared happily to life; it seemed to be as eager as the rider for the day’s work. Together we were out of the driveway before the garage door had time to fully descend.

The ride to class was brisk yet revealed the reasons this course was overdue. As time and miles had accumulated in the saddle over the past few years, so had some undesired sludge built-up—not in the engine compartment but within the rider. These mileage byproducts may have been nothing more that bad riding habits, yet “bad habits” can be dangerous when they concern how you ride.

In my case, riding takes two forms: a cruiser and a sport-tourer (HD Road King and Buell S3T, to be exact). While the King is perfectly competent everywhere from mountain roads to super slab, the Buell is so much more than competent at aggressively dispatching any road, especially the fine, curvaceous pavement of my Blue Ridge Mountain home. The only problem I had found mastering those sweet ribbons of alpine asphalt was me. Those nasty bad habits—not so noticeable on the King—were very noticeable on the more high-strung Buell.

Despite decades of riding and multiple sessions of Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) Experienced Rider Courses (ERC), I had been unable to self-teach those habits away. Simply put, I could not both ride and observe myself riding objectively, and like most of you, I’m not a qualified rider skills instructor. To unlearn the habits, I needed to demonstrate them to a trained instructor in a controlled environment while performing exercises designed to sharpen my skills.

Our group gathered that morning on an extremely varied collection of bikes. We were equally varied in our experience, the personal lessons we needed to learn, and the skills we needed to master. One of the beauties of the MSF ERC is that you learn using the bike you ride everyday. You receive both classroom training on current safe street-riding skills, techniques, and hazards, and personal coaching on how you actually ride your own machine during the range exercises. I was surprised by the amount that the course has evolved in the past few years; for example, the emphasis on understanding how advancing age affects riding. Yes, as a group we are getting older, and it does impact our abilities and strategies in approaching riding.

The day progressed from very simple riding exercises to more complex ones. Each exercise was designed to finely hone skills and demonstrate what we each had to improve. Before each session of range exercises, we had classroom-style instruction in the comfort of shade trees by the parking lot that was our school. Returning to the shade after each riding session, we would recap our efforts and move forward to the next level. At the end of the day, it was apparent on the range that most of us had improved our riding, while a few discovered that they needed to learn more. Some even learned that their bike was so poorly fitted to them that they needed to make changes if they hoped to be safer riders. Remember, folks: style is cool, but good function is critical to survival.

By the end of class, the sky had cleared to a fine blue and the crisp sunlight echoed my sharper skills. The ride home was as breathtaking as the mountain scenery that I rode through. While I know that I will need to continually practice my new good habits to stay sharp, I also know that time and age will someday make it necessary to take another MSF ERC. If you only knew how much fun that ride home, and every ride since, was, you too would be looking for a class near you right now. What are you waiting for?

Painful Pesto

The only real pain with this pesto pasta dish is when you miss getting the last serving. I always love to make this after I return from a ride on my Buell, especially when I show an Italian sport bike rider how fast is done “American style”. This dish is as fast to make as a ride to the market on a Buell White Lightning; just have the pasta ready at the same time the sauce is finished and you win the race to dinner.

3 tablespoons dried basil
3 tablespoons boiling water
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shelled unsalted pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons pine nuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup shredded Asiago cheese
1 pound tri-color fusilli pasta, cooked to al dente according to package directions, drained, and kept warm

1. Combine the basil and boiling water in a small heatproof bowl, stir well, and set aside to cool to room temperature.

2. In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, just until it begins to color, about 1 minute. Add the crushed red pepper, white pepper, salt, pistachios, and pine nuts and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low, add the basil and its soaking liquid, stir well, and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the cheeses, stir well, and remove from the heat.

3. Pour over the hot pasta, toss well to cover with the sauce, and serve immediately.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

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Column copyright Bill Hufnagle 2006. Recipe reprinted with permission from “BIKER BILLY’S HOG WILD ON A HARLEY COOKBOOK”, published by Harvard Common Press, Boston copyright Bill Hufnagle 2003. Biker Billy hosts a syndicated television cooking show, “Biker Billy Cooks with Fire” and has authored three cookbooks. Check out www.bikerbilly.com where you can acquire autographed books and also find information on Biker Billy’s touring schedule.

M.M.M.

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