Practice makes perfect. And when you are out there doing something you’ve done a thousand times before, and done well, it comes to you instinctively. Piece of cake! But if someone says to you, “it’s a test. Show me how you do it,” well, then it becomes somewhat harder. It’s a mental thing.
Rather than proceed on muscle habit you have to think about every little detail. First this, then that, unless this is happening. Keep your eyes peeled at all times. A thousand thoughts and actions just to accomplish one little task. It’s a smooth motion on instinct, but a mathematical flow chart in a test.
After riding my scooter for nearly ten years I decided it might be a good idea to get a license for the thing. You don’t have to have any special credentials to ride one of those little putt putt jobs, but mine is big enough that I need both a license plate, and a motorcycle drivers license. I don’t just flaunt all the laws I encounter so I have had a motorcycle permit, on and off, over those ten years. But they only last six months and then you have to go to the State Patrol office to renew it. So there were times when I didn’t have a license. Or a permit. Like any other law, you can ignore it, until you get caught.
So I made an appointment to take the road skills test. The nearest location for taking this test was nearly forty miles away. Should be a nice little ride I thought. Google Maps gave me the route. I had asked the planner to avoid highways. My scooter is pretty big, but on an uphill climb it may slow to forty nine or fifty miles an hour. And that’s a little nerve wracking when the cars behind you are approaching at sixty. But what the map planner called no highways just happened to include twenty miles on a federal highway that in places has up to six lanes! I may have to wing this one.
The Driver’s Services web site says the test will include a safety inspection of the bike and then four riding skills tests. A slalom course through cones, a U-turn, an emergency stop and an emergency hazard avoidance. And don’t forget to bring your insurance papers, registration and license for review.
That all sounds really simple. Any rider does those things all the time. This is gonna be a snap.
They go on to advise you that you will be scored based on your speed during the test, distances covered to execute the maneuvers, whether you put your foot down for balance at any time or whether your bike stalls out. And also if you understand and follow all of the instructions the tester gives you. If you fail the test, you have to wait a few days to retake it. Just the idea of scoring and failing and waiting makes me nervous.
Ok, so I’m reasonably intelligent, pretty skilled on my bike and confident. Then suddenly I wonder about any kind of rules testing. My biggest concern was that they would ask me to use hand signals. I only know two hand signals and neither is official. One is the biker fellowship wave. The other is pointing skyward with my middle finger.
At the test site I have to wait in line even though I have an appointment. They tell me to move my bike into the line of other test victims. There is another guy on a scooter who has just finished. He tells me to just be careful on the slalom portion. Keep it steady. Good luck he says.
The tester comes outside and hollers out to anyone who’s listening. Meet me over there by the trailer she says. There is some confusion as to who she is speaking to, but I finally figure out it’s me. Tension level rises. Who wants to look like an idiot?
When I get to the meeting place she is nowhere to be seen. Oh God, this is the following directions part of the test and I’m failing. Where is she??!! She has a beautiful spice island accent. Maybe I misunderstood what she had said.
Here she comes, slowly walking across the parking lot toward me. I can tell she is talking but with my helmet on I can’t understand a word of what she’s saying. Oh shit, more failing points. Oh, she’s on her cell phone…
To break the ice I ask her if she rides. She says something to the effect of hell no. Never, and she won’t let her husband of kids ride either. She says she doesn’t even like giving the test!
She goes on to tell me that she had one applicant who somehow managed to fall off his bike, roll it over and have the gas cap come off thereby spewing gas all over the place. She said she passed him on the exam. So, as long as I don’t kill myself, or the tester, I should pass.
Without any safety inspection, she explains all the aspects of the test and says shell go over them again as we do each individual one. Do I have any questions? Between the helmet and her accent, and being half deaf anyway, I indicate that I got it! Slalom test. Six cones lined up spaced in ten foot intervals. Looks simple. But balancing and turning in that small space is harder than you might think. Perfect score. Part two is start here. No, I mean start here with your bike pointing THIS way. Damn. Make a right turn inside these lines, ride over there, go between these two lines, make a U-turn and stop inside the box over there. Simple. Except that the lines I’m supposed to stay inside are only spaced about a tires width apart!!! Like threading a needle wearing boxing gloves. I lost two points on that one. Touched the line somewhere. Part three. Get moving straight ahead at about fifteen miles an hour. When I yell stop, stop. Easy. But the physics of it makes it a little less so. By the time she yells stop, and I hear it and slam on the brakes, I’ve gone six inches past the line she was aiming for. Minus one. And finally, at fifteen miles an hour ride to this line and then swerve right. Now that one was easy.
She tells me to meet her inside. I passed. The woman at the counter who will take care of my paperwork tells me everyone gets nervous about the test. Aw shucks I say, nothing to worry about. And riding home, new license in my wallet, I don’t feel one bit different. But now I know that I’m oh-ficial.
That’s part of my story. What’s yours?