Ok, let me get this straight? You want me to hit 40 mph, swerve through all those cones, slam on my brakes without locking them up, then go through a hairpin turn at less then 2 mph? Oh, ok. No problem officer! Some sort of sobriety test? Nope, it’s an exercise that police motorcycle officers train on before they can go out can ride on the streets.
Last Wednesday I had a chance to spend a 10 hour shift with The Academy’s Police Motorcycle riding course. It’s where officers from various police departments come to learn how to ride a motorcycle. And not just ride, but really, really learn how to handle a motorcycle. High speed braking, evasive maneuvers, slow speed handling, and formation riding. So this is no average riding course. Each of these students is carrying a gun. 🙂
I show up at 6:45am to check in with Jeff, one of the senior instructors at The Academy and my host for the day at Moffett Field. Resiting all doughnut jokes, we have some coffee, and he introduces me to the 3 other senior instructors, 2 instructors in training, and 4 students. Together, they represent the Palo Alto, Daily City, Fairfield, and Carlsbad Police departments.
And then it was time for me to gear up and get my ride. A Kawasaki Police 1000 bike. The standard motorcycle bike for most departments. Weighing in at just over 650 lbs, it’s one big bike! And my first time riding one. 🙁 But there are students who are also riding BMW’s and Harley’s.
So the plan for the day? Figure 8’s, Keyhole, Short Cone Weave, 30 Cone Weave, 40 Decel, Cone Pattern 3, Cone Pattern 180, Incline Figure 8, Incline Pullouts, and Incline Start Stop U-Turn. Oh, did I mention that it was pouring rain?
So I’ve been riding a motorcycle on and off for over 10 years. My main bike is a 1989 Suzuki Katana 750. Otherwise known as a crotch rocket! Her name is Hayzell and she’s a beast that loves to ride. Small, sleek, fast, and dangerous in untrained hands. A bike that looks fast just sitting there. On the contrary, my bike today is a huge bike. But it’s got a lot of power, and since it’s the first time riding her, and it’s raining, I’m scared out of my bones. Most motorcycle riders don’t ride in the rain. Plain and simply, 2 wheels, little traction, and boom, you go down. But these are police officers and they ride 24×7 in all weather. So on we ride.
This is a very intense, 2 week, 10 hours a day, riding class. And I’m jumping in on day 3. Behind the curve already. And before any officer starts this course, he/she has already gone through a 5 week intense basic riders course. So we spend the morning riding through the various patterns and I am becoming familiar with my bike.
I quickly learn that it’s not all about speed, but rather slow speed handling. There is this pattern called “The Intersection” to simulate, well, you guessed it, an intersection. But this is one, tiny intersection. The object is to basically ride around it. Enter the intersection from any point and go clockwise. Go down the side and make a u-turn, accelerate and round the corner, slow down and u-turn, and repeat. But the thing is that you are going soooooo slowly. Slow enough so that you feel like the bike is going to tip over. Feather the clutch and rev the engine and get through it. If you go too fast, you go wide. Too slow, and the bike falls over. So the only way to do it, is to do it just right.
Sit up straight, turn your shoulders.
Look where you want the bike to go.
Then take a brake and play a little game. “Rodeo.” Two bikes in the intersection. Follow the leader. Whatever he/she does, you do. The goal being to get the other rider to drop his/her bike using any maneuver possible. Flash the lights, sound the siren to break concentration. All fair.
And now lunch time!!! Jump in the cars and go? Nope. Even lunch is a training exercise. Formation riding. 10 bike, in groups of two. Freeways, streets, stop signs, formation u turns, unpredictable cars. Focus on the bike next to you, the bikes in front of you, and the cars around you. And all I could think about was Ponch and John.
And then it’s back to the drills. Go fast, slam on the brakes and slow down. Dodge in and out of cars. Repeat. Over, and over again. Sadistic? Yeah, but that’s what the police do. Parked on the side of the road. Speeder goes flying by. Put the radar gun in it’s holster, turn the bike on, jump into moving traffic from 0 mph to uber fast. Lights flashing, sirens blaring. Speeders doing 70 mph and has a jump on you. So you have to do 85 mph just to catch up. Weave through traffic, watch out for that idiot car that doesn’t know to pull over to the right. Catch up to the car, and pull him over.
Was it dangerous? Yeah. Did I fall? Thanks to Steve, I didn’t. But I learned that Motors have it pretty rough. It’s hard enough being a motorcycle rider as it is, but to push it to the extremes that the Police Motors have to, it take a certain type of person to do it. Being an officer is a very hard job, but doing it on two wheels without the safety of a steel cage around you is true bravery. But like every professional, practice makes perfect. They push themselves to the limits during the course. If you’re going to drop the bike, do it here. Watch the instructor demonstrate the maneuver, then you try it. And do it again, and again, and again till it’s second nature.
So the next time you are on the road, just remember, there is a motorcycle out there somewhere. When you are about to shift lanes, look over your shoulder. If you see flashing lights in your rear view mirror, pull over to the right. And if you are getting pulled over, don’t roll your eyes and be mean, just be cooperative. The person pulling you over is just doing their jobs.
Special Thanks to Rob, Steve C., Sam, Joey, Steve B., Craig, Tyson, Lillian and Jeff. Be safe out there guys.