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Crash Test Dummy

Waiting your turn is part of the course.

I had one of the most exciting motorcyle rides of my life this past weekend — in a parking lot.

My husband had signed up for the Advanced Rider course with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF). 

Six of us gathered in the parking lot at North Hennepin Technical College on Sunday morning for an eight-hour course on the finer points of riding a bike.  The weather had cooled off and a nice breeze blew over the parking lot, which was dotted with orange traffic cones laid out in various formations. I tagged along so Ralph could practice the maneuvers on his own and with a passenger on the back. It was a blast!

Our chief instructor was Rich Jackson, a Minneapolis motor

cycle cop who has the bearing and voice of a Marine drill instructor combined with effervescent enthusiasm and encouragement. He was assisted by Suzanne Greer, whose poise and posture on a bike is incredible. She, too, is a very encouraging individual.


The students included a retired engineer, a VW mechanic, an electrical engineer (Ralph), a retired actor, and a motorcycle safety instructor who wanted to improve her own skills. And me, the crash test dummy. These are the skills we learned:

  • 40-mph brake-and-escape.

  • Brake control.

  •  Eye and body position.

  • Instantaneous stops.

  • The Intersection (Iron Cross).

  • J-turn and formation riding.

  • Low-speed clutch.

  • Slow and 30 mph offset weaves.

  • Throttle.

  • Tight and locked turns in confined spaces.

Prepping the bike for the Advanced Rider course means removing the saddlebags and covering anything that might get scratched or dinged!


After doing a few slow exercises, the motorcylce engines were hot. That’s when Suzanne took us on a wild ride throughout the technical college campus to “breeze out” the bikes. We rode up wheelchair ramps and across sidewalks, made U-turns in tight spaces and, essentially, performed all the skills we’d just learned. We circled around and rode figure 8s in front of the Basic Rider class, who stopped to see what we were doing. The kicker was the final turn. (Suzanne said afterward, “I was thinking, should I go for it? Yeah, why not!”) Suzanne made a 90-degree turn onto a sidewalk right next to a parked, bright-yellow Camaro and a black Lamborghini, and proceeded to drive down the walk.  Only one rider put a foot down, and no one missed the turn or hit the cars. I think my eyes were the size of dinner plates.

After lunch we worked on 30-mph offset weaves and emergency stops.  After all the low-speed work, 30 felt like 60. Fun!

Riding a motorcycle is about more than going fast. There are a lot of little things that can make a big difference in your driving.  As a passenger, I learned how I can help the driver.

A good thing to know as we prepare for our summer vacation.