8 years ago I started on a path to create motorcycle mentorship development courses for our Military- specifically geared towards Marines. I am proud to say, to date, over 800+ Marines have attended these mc mentorship development courses. Those who attended have learned the basics to get started mentoring novice riders or they were able to hone existing mentorship skills to support their mentorship journeys.

In addition to teaching motorcycle safety, I was a Support Specialist, supporting/training 100+ H-D dealerships service department staff in subjects from better customer relations to better marketing for service to events to get more customers visiting service. Talking to these dealerships has been fun and challenging, all work being done over the phone with online meetings. Each dealership and person in the dealership is unique, so each approach in helping/assisting should also be unique. It was all great till covid 19. After that started, I was no longer a support specialist.

I love teaching motorcycle safety and have 12+ years teaching experience. This has helped me to teach and work with numerous entities from community colleges, motorcycle dealerships to teaching for the military for 10+ yrs, and has exposed me to MANY different styles of communication and learning. All these experiences have helped me grow as a motorcyclist, mentor, instructor, support specialist and all around person.

Toni wrote this introduction to her first Motorcycle Times submission:

“The background of the letter, I sent this to a female student who did not pass the MSF course. Teaching the course was super frustrating for me, I teach a lot and a variety of classes; the other instructor has been on the same bike since 2008 and only teaches the basic MSF course.

This student claimed in a social media post she was bipolar and anxious and ???, this would have been good knowledge to have when class started!” 

“I wanted to counsel her outside of the course about Exercise 5, the other coach wanted her to continue the course. This student had poor body position, little clutch control, much less throttle control and no head turn to help her in corners and general motorcycle control. The other instructor was of the mindset “she will fail the evaluation and we won’t have to worry about it”. She did fail and was mortified by it. She was beating herself up over it.”

“Attached is the letter I wrote to her. My husband read it and thought I should share it. So here it is. With names and such changed for privacy purposes.”

Now that you have the background, here is the letter Toni wrote to the student. I decided to publish it here because it’s genuinely good advice for all beginners and now you can share it with anyone you know. It’s our shared responsibility to promote our sport and lifestyle.

Dear “Student X”,

I am going to start at the top, your head/eyes and work my way down to your feet; instructions/guidelines and some practices for you on each area. 

First things first, Eye Placement:  your eyes should always be level with the horizon. Always. 

Point your nose, scan with your eyes. Repeat- Point your nose, scan with your eyes. Pointing your nose where you want to go and Scanning with your eyes is the best way to gather information about where you want you and your mc to go. Practice in front of a mirror; sit on a chair/footstool/bench with a broomstick in hand using proper body position. Practice looking through turns, left and right. Keep eyes level with the horizon. Then practice your lean, the proper body position for a lean (in most student handbooks) while keeping your eyes level with the horizon. The mirror will help you see where you can improve. 

You know where the controls are, no need to look at your hands and feet anymore. And the ground will always be there so stop looking at it. 

Turn your head when you drive. And, in order to do this the most effective way, you may need to move your body. Your head only turns so far-in order to look farther behind you on a mc, you may need to turn your shoulders too. And keep in mind, all of this moving should be done minimally and smooth, body movement and control use; eyes level with the horizon. 

All of this scanning allows you to search for any potential hazards. If you can see the end of a curve, point your nose at it and scan the roadway with your eyes. Keep your head turned, nose pointed, eyes level with the horizon and scanning.

When a Head Turn/Eye Scan is late, all other actions you perform on your motorcycle will be late. This could be the difference between negotiating a turn successfully or meeting up with a guard rail. In practice, your head turns were almost non-existant and that pushed you off the ‘road’ numerous times. 

Watch some road racing. See how far they turn their heads. And see how smoooooooth and subtle they are with controls and body movements. Yes, it can be extreme body positions, but their eyes are Always level with the horizon. Faster is a good movie. Also, look up Quinn Redeker, a master at slow speed clutch control, watch his head turns and amazing skill. I trained with him once. Talk about intimidating…

Now you have been practicing head turns and eye placement with a broomstick in hand. What were your shoulders doing this whole time? Are they relaxed or tense? Are your shoulders in a natural position with your spine when you are practicing or are they moving up and down? Keep shoulders in the normal position with the spine. One should not be higher than the other unless you are leaning, but they still should be in the natural position with the spine. 

Are your elbows in and arms bent in a relaxed position? Never fully outstretched arms, always a bit of a bend at the elbows. 

Flat wrist position? During class, a lot of student’s wrist positions go high as the training day progressed resulting in poor throttle control. Keep your wrist flat to help with controlling the throttle. Practice “rolling on the throttle smoothly then roll off smoothly and reach & squeeze the front brake” motions. Yes, do that. I imagine you have a preferred hand position to create tattoos, same thing on a mc.

Keep practicing the correct position so it will become second nature. Your goal is to control the motorcycle safely and smoothly AND then you will be safer and happier when riding. 

Exercise your clutch hand. ALL slow speed maneuvers use the clutch, again: All Slow Speed Maneuvers are done using the clutch in the friction zone. Your clutch hand needs to be stronger. 

You can use one of those hand exercisers or just get a racquetball and squeeze it. And when you are practicing your body position, also practice squeezing the clutch in and EASING it out. That is a much needed habit to create. Squeeze the clutch in and smoothly, with control let the clutch out. Squeeze in, Ease out. Some folks count “1, 2, 3, 4, 5” On the 1, your hand has the clutch squeezed in, and count to 5 as you smoothly ease the clutch out so by the time your hand is open and the clutch lever fully released, you are at 5.  

Your upper body does a ton of work controlling the motorcycle. Be firm yet relaxed with handgrips. Train, Practice, Repeat. 

Now your knees should usually be against the tank; the motorcycle is most stable with knees against the tank and flinging them out just upsets the balance of the mc. Keep your knees in. 

The balls of your feet should be on the foot pegs unless you are using a control. Move a foot forward to use shifter or brake, then put the foot back on the peg when done, unless stopping. 

When taking off, we always take off in first gear, you can always get your foot ready under the shifter for the next shift since you know you need to get to second gear. 

Now I realize you are sitting in front of a mirror, is your body position still good? Practice these things, then go sit on a mc because I think you have one to sit on, and practice more. 

I have looked at your tattoo art, you have great control of your hand, let’s practice and visualize being smooth on a motorcycle with that same control. 

You have a lovely day, go create something beautiful and practice body position and eye placement. 

T. Morris Harvey

Editor’s Note: Toni Morris Harvey will be contributing articles about motorcycle skills and how to improve them as her schedule allows.

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