River Crossings & Riding In The Empty Quarter

I’ve been building a map of local green lanes and interesting back roads to use the KLX250 on.  If you know where to look, there are some surprisingly tricky off-road bits around where I live.   As I build up the map I’ll have a list of go-tos that mean I don’t have to go far to get off road.  If anyone lives in Wellington County or nearby and has any suggestions, I’d be happy to add them.

I headed down a back road suggested by Jeff the motorcycle Jedi this time.  It ended at the Connestogo River where there was a water crossing.  It was obvious that Jeff wanted me to try it, so I did!  What happens next is all on him:


Success!  The first was tentative.  I did what ABR Magazine suggested and scoped out the bottom first, looking for any deep holes I might fall in to.  The river was never more than two feet deep and fairly even, so I figured I’d give it a go.  ABR said to proceed slowly so you aren’t swamped by your own wake.  I might have been a bit tentative on the first pass, but the second was a test to see if I could proceed with a bit more throttle.  Like all things off road, the real trick seems to be don’t fight the handle bars, they’ll find their own way, even over slippery river rocks.

Some of the back roads in my area aren’t maintained, which makes them much more interesting from a dual sport perspective.  The farm trails I took to get to the river were remote and varied from groomed gravel to deep mud holes and larger rocks.  In a couple of places I couldn’t have gotten by with a car, which was what I was looking for.  You have a moment where you think, “if I drop it here and can’t get it going, I’ve got a walk to get out.”  Calling for a pickup wouldn’t have been an easy exit.  I was never more than a short walk from help though, farmers waved from a wide variety of vehicles while they tended fields throughout the ride.

In one mud hole I was in a rut which led me right into the deepest part of it – it was the only time I had to come to a stop to keep my balance.  Once I had my feet down the big knobbies on the KLX chucked up clods of mud and I easily powered out of six inch deep sludge (which smelled a bit cow-ish).

One of the nicest parts of dual sporting is getting lost in the world without traffic.  I put over 60kms on the KLX on this ride, the vast majority of it without another vehicle in sight.  At one point I was connecting trails and doing about 100km/hr on a back road and I was reminded why the empty quarters are better.  A guy on a sport bike blew past me and then slowed to look back over his shoulder with a shrug.  I waved at him to follow me down the next dirt track.  He didn’t.

The next day I’m still feeling it in various muscles.  Working your way though challenging trails on an off-road bike is a full body workout.  Austin Vince must be made of iron!

Another benefit of dual sport riding?  If you’re into photography, it’ll take you places worthy of it:


A Change of Pace

I just spent a week on a houseboat.  Houseboats are to boating what uHaul truck rentals are to driving, so it wouldn’t be fair to judge boating based on driving one, but it did offer some insights into boating culture.

Boating (like motorcycling) makes you aware of just how much driving a car turns people into assholes (it must have something to do with being enclosed).  There are still jerks in boats (they tend to be in smaller boats with giant outboards), but generally boating is a gentlemanly activity.  It’s also remarkably classless.  We went down and up the lock system on the Trent-Severn Waterway and found that everyone was happy to chat, from people on half million dollar cruisers to tiny fishing boats.  That is certainly not the case for automobile drivers or that sizable group of bikers who are more interested in presenting an image rather than being human.

The more experienced boaters were also willing to assist and offer advice if it looked like we were in over our heads (which we occasionally were).  The community nature of boaters (ignoring yahoos in speedboats) was exceptional, and enjoyable.  I felt something similar at Indy with motorcycling.  After the hyper-selfish world of the automobile driver (the most antisocial – almost psychotic – activity we saw was driving up to and back from our boat trip), it’s nice to see some modes of transport creating positive human contact.

We didn’t really have a plan when we started out, but we were told that the largest lift lock in the world (in Peterborough) was too far for our slow boat to manage, so we decided to go for it.  We got there late on day two of our four day rental.  The Parks Canada people were absolutely fantastic, staying late to get us docked at the top of the lock where we then got to spend the night.


The lock was built in 1904 using mainly horse, steam and human power to build it.  It’s still run and owned by Canada.  Twenty First Century Canada doesn’t build things and is more interested in selling off its natural resources to create fake-balanced budgets.  I’m surprised that this historical monument to Canada’s past engineering mastery isn’t now owned by the Chinese.  Maybe if more Canadians had some idea that this exists and spent a moment remembering what we are capable of, we’d see Canadian manufacturing spark back to life.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see a Canadian two wheeled manufacturer at the Canadian Motorcycle Show at some point?

A McLaren P1 or Motorcycle Nirvana?

I recently ruminated on super cars vs. super bikes.  The McLaren P1 (if you can find one) costs about $1.5 million Canadian… or about what I’ll make in my entire career as a high school teacher.  It obviously isn’t designed for the rest of us.  Were someone to give me a P1 I’d immediately sell it, probably for more than $1.5 million (rich people find ways to have the things they own constantly increase in value).  What would I do with the million and a half?  Here’s the motorcycle themed version of one super car:

Turn a horse farm into an iron horse farm:  $950,000

 

Headwaters Horse Farm Mins From Mono Cliffs Park, Fine Dining & Shops. Easy Access From Airport Rd & Hwy 9 Off Paved Road, Custom 4 Bedroom Home, Updated Bank Barn 4 Stalls, Run In, 64’X32 Shop (2014) & Paddocks Situated On 45.6 Acres Perfect Setting For Equestrians Or Working Farm. Huge Open Concept Kitchen, 2 Sided Fireplace, Great Room With Fireplace, Master Suite, 4 Piece Ensuite, Walk In Closet & Walk Out To Enjoy Beautiful Views Over Class A Farmland. ** EXTRAS ** Steel Roof, Electrical In Barn, Shop & Garage Done In 2014, Detached 1 Car Garage, Heated Tack Room, Auto Water Outside, Hardwood Floors, Slate In Foyer, Mud Room & 3 Pce Bath, InsideEntry From Garage.

A lovely country house with a HUGE 2000 square foot workshop (the new home of Mechanical Sympathy), and a barn to store all the old bikes I’d be picking up… all on almost 50 acres of rolling Niagara Escarpment. Some of the nicest roads in southern Ontario run through here.

 
I’ve still got over half a million left!
$950,000
 

Bike Delivery System

 
The dreaded Guy Martin-Transit Van dream resurfaces!  A new, diesel, nicely spec-ed out Transit Van costs about $45k.  It’s trailer ready, so I’d throw in a bike trailer too for bigger loads – the ultimate bike delivery system could deliver 4 bikes to the track (or the Tail of the Dragon in the middle of the winter), and provide an instant pit area.
$51,000
 
 

Racing & Race Bikes

 
The money-to-burn-wishlist has some sure-things on it.  A modern track bike and a vintage racer would both be in the workshop (along with track days and training, that’s about $30k).
 
$30,000
 
 
 
 

Road Bikes

 
I’d keep the Connie and the KLX.  The Connie would get the fancy seat I couldn’t justify ($500), but otherwise I’d let it ride.  With almost fifty acres I’d have my own trail system to ride the KLX on.  A race track with a mile long straight would let me test all manner of motorbike madness.
 
I’d do the Ninja H2 with upgrades ($40,000) to scratch that McLaren beating itch, and then I’d go into my huge workshop with a vintage VFR750 Interceptor, a Triumph Daytona and both my current bikes and wonder what I’ll do with the $429,000 still left over from unloading that McLaren.
$400,500
TOTAL
$1,071,000 (gets me a massive property with a huge shop, many bikes, a super bike that’ll go faster than the McLaren anyway and a new van – and I’ve still got over four hundred grand to play with!)

How We’ve Situated Ourselves

I’m wrapping up Matt Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head, and it’s leaving a lot of questions around education.


Throughout the book Crawford questions the hyper-individualized nature of our post-enlightenment selves.  He does it in the context of skilled manual labour, which does a lot to refute the ideal ‘generic/flexible intelligence’ we all value nowadays.  Skills situated in real-world demands are immune to academic flights of fantasy.

Below are some quotes I’m ruminating on:


“…manufactured experiences promise to save us from confrontations with a world that resists our will.”

Anyone teaching modern teens feels the strain of trying to haul them out of the digital trance they prefer.  I teach computers and this is acute, like trying to teach pyromaniacs how to be firemen.  Many of my students are incapable of seeing the machines they are supposed to be learning about as anything other than entertainment.  Computers are a digital window into a world where you can always be capable and rewards are continuous and timely.

The proliferation of fairly terrible flash games on the internet indicates that many students would rather exist in digital Pavlovian response environments than deal with the pesky real world.  The game play is so bad that I’m astonished anyone plays them, but play them they do, for hours at a time.  Crawford has a section on machine gambling that strikes startling (and terrifying) similarities with how I see students playing these digital games (most of which are thinly veiled advertisements).

Between an isolated and hyper-intensified (almost sacred) sense of self, and the nature of digital economics, people are immersed in a society that has quantified and actively seeks their attention for monetary gain.  Crawford describes this as the enlightenment ideal of a free self taken to bizarre extremes – but these extremes feed nicely into the neo-liberal/globalized digital economy we’ve created for ourselves.

Distraction is seen as a problem of technology, but it is actually one of political economy: “in a culture saturated with technologies for appropriating our attention, our interior mental lives are laid bare as a resource to be harvested by others.”

Hack the future – or be used by it. Digital technology has
evolved into the shiny gateway to an attention economy
that is as relentless as a casino in catching eyeballs..

Worries about digital-distraction have long been tied to education and technology, but Crawford does a good job of uncovering the economic foundations of that problem.  My concern has always been that poor implementation of educational technology simply feeds students into this harvester.

If we’re delivering a single branded approach to educational technology, we aren’t teaching fluency so much as dependence.  This is why technology multi-nationals are so willing to ‘work with education’.  With students already walking into class having been digitally branded on a personal level, education has jumped on the bandwagon by following student trends (kid’s love ipads!) rather than pedagogical imperative.  If we’re going to recover students’ ability to navigate (rather be navigated by) the digital economy they are immersed in, we can’t be driven by the same processes.

If the only point of education is to put more bricks in the wall, then we should just keep on doing what we’re doing.  If we want to teach students to survive in a voracious economy that sees their attention as a commodity then we need to teach them what the technology is and how it works.  Open source software and un-locked, non-brand specific hardware would be a good place to start, but you’re not going to see lots of ads for it.


“the advent of hyperpalatable mental stimuli… raises the question of whether the ascetic spirit required for education has a chance.  The content of our education forms us, through the application of cultivated powers of concentration to studies that aren’t immediately gratifying.  We therefore had to wonder whether the diversity of human possibilities was being collapsed into a mental monoculture – one that can more easily be harvested by mechanized means.”

Student directed learning: the kind of thinking
being embraced by Ontario’s education leaders
at this summer’s conference.  This kind of nonsense
ignores how education has worked for millennia.

The “ascetic spirit” of education is long dead.  If it isn’t fun and engaging, it isn’t a correct lesson plan according to modern educational thinking.  Students treat marks as a score, demanding them immediately and ignoring feed-back.  There is no delayed gratification in modern education.  Teachers have to justify (up front) any teaching – it can never lead toward a goal that is out of sight.  Where ever possible we are asked to be as transparent and immediately gratifying as possible.  The more forward-thinking, extreme view is that teachers are no longer needed at all.  In an information rich world (conveniently delivered on closed platforms by multi-nationals), students can learn on their own with no direction.  All you need is an I.T. guy to keep everyone connected.

If we’re producing generic-intelligence graduates that are able to work anywhere for minimum wage with no real expertise other than a can-do attitude, then we’re doing a great job.  Crawford’s focus on skilled labour neatly sidesteps the ideal of the liberally educated university student who can’t do anything but is ready for everything (as long as it doesn’t involve reality).  Reality makes demands on skilled trades that most academics find beneath them.

The danger in digital technology exists in its ability to latch onto and modify our very plastic thinking processes.  A skilled-trades approach to understanding digital technology can elevate us from being users to being architects.  Nick Carr does a good job of criticizing this in The Shallows.  Crawford goes further by explaining that technology isn’t the issue, it’s the cannibalistic economics that drive it that we should be protecting students from.

By pulling back the curtain and revealing the machinery that feeds this relentless economy we enable students to dictate the terms of their digital experience.  What happens instead is that we present digital technology as if it’s just another educational tool, which allows the underlying economy to seep into education unseen, feeding students into a mechanism that wants to commodify their very thoughts.

The Ride to Indy: The Gear

After putting well over a thousand miles on in five days I’ve been able to focus on what works and what doesn’t.  Here’s a quick rundown of the gear used and how well it worked.




I used the Alpinestar S-MX 1 boots there and back again.  Vented and able to catch air on even the hottest day, I’ve had them for a couple of years now.  They aren’t as clean as the stock-pic, but I like the lived-in look.

Boots were one place where I had no issues – these things are excellent and worth every penny I paid.  They are big rain catchers, but we never saw any rain so it wasn’t an issue.



The Teknics Motorsports jacket I picked up at the motorcycle show last January was my jacket of choice.  In cooler temperatures and up to the mid-twenties it works a charm.  It has vents in the arms, chest and back, but the air flow isn’t strong.  On the return trip in 30°C+ temperatures it was sweaty hot though.

Once south of the border helmets and gear became very optional, but I never felt comfortable riding around without kit on.

No jacket seems able to do the full range of temperatures, and other than the sweaty, hot day coming back, the TK jacket did the business.

As for warm weather protection I’m still considering my options.  We stopped at Cycle Gear in Indianapolis on the way back and they had Bilt mesh jackets on sale for sixty bucks, but we were running low on space so I didn’t partake.  I’d still like to know what kind of gear works best in the heat.

Henry Cole has some kind of fully vented under-armour when he rides in the desert.  Considering the miles he’s done he must know something.  His kit is Knox Cross Body Armour (I just looked it up).  It’s about three hundred bucks from Motorcycle-superstore in Canada.  It’s a made in the UK ventilated, armoured jacket, but it ain’t cheap.


I picked up these Speed & Strength leather gloves this year and they’ve quickly become my go-to glove.  They feel solid with leather palms and full finger padding, but they’re also very ventilated with those knuckle vents moving a lot of air over your hand.  Any glove that is this solid, cool and conforms to your hand this well is a good glove.  At no point did my hands get sweaty or uncomfortable, even after eight hours on the road.  Epic gloves.


My Macna riding pants work well in many conditions.  They ventilate efficiently but still feel comfortably warm when the temperature dips.  I’d never ridden them into this kind of heat before and I quickly found their limit.  The ride down in mid-twenties was great, no problems at all.  The ride back in the thirties is where I found the pants couldn’t get the heat out fast enough.  The heat from the bike didn’t help.  Behind the padding and solid bits you start to drip and it’s downhill from there.

I ended up with heat rash on my butt in no small part due to the pants.  Wearing jeans on the last day was the only way out.  Great pants up to 30°C, after that you begin to look at all the Americans riding around in shorts and wish you could too.

I thought these were the super-ventilated riding pants, so I’m not sure where to go from here.

Bell’s Revolver Evo helmet did lid duty on this trip.  Since removing the snaps at the temples it has become all-day comfortable as opposed to agonizingly painful.  The flip up visor works like a charm.  I even left it up on short rides for an open view and some wind in the face.

My only issue is with the flip down sun-visor.  In bright sunlight it isn’t tinted enough.  Other than that this helmet breathes well, looks great and is very quiet for a flip up helmet.  It’s still not cool that I had to cut out snaps to make it work, but hey, you do what’cha gotta do.




Last but not least was the mighty Concours.  The $800 Kawasaki did the business beautifully.  Averaging in the high 40s MPG, it started on the first touch every time, thundered along never-ending interstates and rolled slowly through a hot night in Motorcycles on Meridian without using so much as a drop of oil (that pic in the link is the oil level when I returned – it had barely moved).

I discovered that with a 250lb rider, 120lb passenger, loaded panniers and top-box the bike could do the ton with ease.  Even when making time on the interstates it still returned better gas mileage than a Prius and never dropped below the high 40s MPG… and all this through four carburetors!

Fully loaded with 350lbs of people
on it, it’ll still hit a ton easily.


The heat that comes off the engine is an issue, especially on hot days, but the temperature gauge was rock-steady in the lower half of the range.  The radiated heat from the engine makes for hot legs on an already hot day, which isn’t much fun.  I discovered that if I ride with my feet on the outside of the pegs I’d get fresh air and all was good.

The other issue was the seat.  Eight hour days in the saddle gives you real insight into whether or not a seat works, and the Concours seat was agony after about half an hour.  At 45 minutes my ass hurt so much my shoulder started aching, but by an hour fifteen I had become numb.  On the way back Cycle Gear had a gel seat pad for forty bucks, so I gave it a whirl.  The above mentioned heat rash was the result.  The gel seat didn’t have me squirming around so much, but the heat buildup was so intense it wounded me.  I’m left wondering just how magical an Air Hawk is (I couldn’t find one while in Indianapolis).

Back in the garage with almost
29k miles on it – the Concours is a
super star.

The Concours is such a capable bike over long distances that I want to conquer the seat problem.  While I was away the astonishingly cheap seat cover from ebay arrived.  It has ribbing and additional padding so I hope it solves the problem.  If it doesn’t, I may have to start working toward that disco Corbin seat.

BTW: that’s 93.6¢ a
litre in Canada for
super unleaded…not
the buck twenty
you’re paying here


If I found myself heading down to next year’s Indianapolis MotoGP (assuming they don’t cancel it and there are rumours of just that), I hope to do it in Knox Cross Body armour, some kind of air pants that don’t exist and all while sitting on a Corbin seat.  Other than trying to duct the Concours’ heat away from my legs and addressing the seat there is little else I’d do with this wonderful machine.

As I continue to try new gear bits and pieces stick and become indispensable.  Those Alpinestars boots, S&S gloves and Bell helmet have covered the extremities, and the vast majority of the Concours is brilliant, it’s just the booty and the bod that I need to work on for a cooler and more enduring ride south next time (and I’m hoping there is a next time!).

The Ride To Indy: A Day At The Track

I’m in an entirely dodgy hotel by the Detroit airport after a long day in the saddle.  Indy was fantastic.  The weather has been epic and the Concours has been faultless.  I’ve only got the phone pics at the moment.  The camera pics will have to wait until I’m home and can get them off the camera, they look pretty sharp.

I wish we has more time to spend at the track, but it was a great reconnaissance trip.  I’ll be spending more time down there next year (please don’t cancel IndyGP Dorna!).

In the meantime, with some phone-made media maybe I can convince you to take your bike down to Indy for the MotoGP, it’s a special motorbiking experience.

We got there early and were directed to the back gate and onto the back straight of the oval- all bikes who showed up were parked on the straight!  – I gave her the beans going down the straight, there is nothing like hearing your own bike’s engine howling off the concrete retaining walls of the Indianapolis oval!

 

Sitting on the main straight watching Moto3 doing their first practice. The little 250cc thumpers are astonishingly loud!
When we came back at about 3:30pm there were hundreds and hundreds of bikes!

 

Yep, still Indy – there is a golf course in the middle of the oval!  Those people on the berm are watching MotoGP racers dicing with the s-bends on the road circuit.

https://goo.gl/photos/4J8iTc3W8TRwi4129

https://goo.gl/photos/UFNbcTby1LiWncCs6

The Ride to Indy: Cathedrals of Speed

We were enjoying a lovely ride through the Irish Hills in southern Michigan yesterday on our way to Indianapolis for MotoGP when we stumbled across another cathedral of speed, the Michigan International Speedway.  If you swing by when no events are happening you can still sign in and have a look, we did!


Green Laning

Public by-ways: It’s a thing in the UK, not so much here.

Green laning is a big thing where I’m from, but in Canada in 2015 most of the crown land around here has been sold off to pay off the debts of investment bankers.  With all the land hereabouts private it’s not easy to take an off-road bike on a trail.

“As a military training area, Salisbury Plain is a unique
environment that has to be shared by both military and
civilians alike” – ha! Can you imagine that in Canada?


I got the KLX to trail ride.  I’m not interested in ‘catching air’ or riding like an MX loonie.  If I’m getting to places most people don’t and practising my bike balance, I’m happy.  The point of the exercise is learning better bike control, being off road lets me do that.  If I have any interest beyond trail riding it’s in trials, which is also hyper-focused on bike control and balance.

Today I took the KLX out for an hour or so, looking for trails.  Dirt roads start less than a kilometre from our sub-division, so I went there first.  I went south on Sideroad 6 North for about 5kms before hanging a right, crossing back over the regional road and then cutting off onto Sideroad 14.  From there I found a nice cut along a hydro line.  Another five minute stint on pavement found me at another off road trail which took me back north of Elora.  I ended the trip following the Grand River looking for off-road opportunities (there weren’t any), though Pilkington Overlook was pretty.

Riding off road is an interesting process.  The massive suspension travel and knobbies on the KLX makes it amazingly sure-footed.  On the gravel roads I made a point of crossing back and forth over the centre line through the deep stuff, letting the bike wobble and find a track.  Even when I got onto the rougher stuff I still found the bike remarkably composed and had no trouble navigating ruts, mud puddles and deep grass.

I’m looking forward to getting deeper into the brush!

Just outside of Ponsonby

 

 

North off Side Road 14, a lovely little trail.

 

 

 

North of Sideroad 10 it’s blocked off due to an electrical transfer station

 

2 Line East leads to the Elora Gorge Park entrance – it’s a nice little bit of gravel

 

 

Pilkington Lookout

If anyone else lives north of Guelph and knows of any good spots to trail ride, please let me know!

I Am M: The M2-exit exam for a full M license

Then…

Here I am early on a Saturday morning back at Conestoga College for my M2-exit course.  It’s the last official step in my progression through Ontario’s graduated motorcycle licensing system.

I got my M1 in March of 2013 after writing a short test in a dingy Drivecentre office in Guelph.  Getting my M2 in April of 2013 was the next big step, and the last time I was sitting on a bike in Conestoga’s parking lot.  Back then they were little Yamaha 250s, this time I’m rolling in on my own version of the Millennium Falcon, a 999cc Concours I’ve rebuilt myself.  My motorcycling has evolved a lot in the past two and a half years.


It was a busy weekend at the college with two beginner courses with over 50 students getting started on the little bikes.  Our M2-exit course had only eight people in it, four guys and four girls, riding everything from the most ridiculous cruiser imaginable to perfectly serviceable 500cc sport bikes.


… and now. The M2-exit is as diverse in bikes
as it is in riders

Watching the Victory ride all over the don’t-cross-lines while trying to lean a 280mm rear tire was both tragic and kinda funny.  It also had trouble stopping in the box, but hey, it sure was stylish.

The people on the course were as wide ranging as you can imagine, from a Ninja-riding pretty, blonde environmental scientist in her 20s to a grizzled, cruiser riding truck driver in his 50s.  You really got to see the breadth of motorcycle culture in our M2-exit class.

The Friday night was your typical three hour theory talk with lots of diagrams, videos from the 70s and legal talk.  When we left we had to be back in the room ten hours later (and I had a 90 minute commute in there too).

What the bike-control sheet looks like

On Saturday I was there bright and early to secure one of the first two spots on the testing calendar so I could leave earlier.  Saturday morning was spent in stifling heat in the parking lot following lines and working on slow speed manoeuvring.  Every time we stopped everyone stripped off jackets, gloves and helmets and lay under a tree drenched in sweat.  It was good to practice slow speed and precision riding and it turned into an impromptu test of the Concours’ cooling system.

With temperatures on the wrong side of 40°C on the pavement, the fans kept kicking on and off when needed but the big bike stayed, at most, in the middle of the temperature gauge.  By mid-morning several of the cruisers were having trouble starting in the heat and the rear brake light fell off the brand new Victory mega-cruiser.  The 21 year old, $800 Connie hummed along like a champ though, always starting at the touch of a button.  Damn, I love that machine.

After a short lunch we were back out, this time doing group rides.  One was simply a primer to riding in formation where we followed an instructor around while he very very obviously checked for dangers in places where we might be expected to check for dangers on our test.  It was very helpful in calming everyone down.

The second ride-out was a practice run with the instructional ear pieces in.  On the test you have a walkie-talkie with an earpiece that the instructor gives you directions through.  He then assesses how you perform these actions from a following car.    I was lucky enough to be the lead rider so I got to practice the instructions with a clear road in front of me.

Not pulling into the slow lane – my only error on the M2 exit exam. I didn’t because there was more room in front of me in the fast lane. You’ll find the follow-the-rules at all costs approach by the MoT to not necessarily follow the needs of defensive riding.

Riding out in a group made me wonder why people would ever want to do that in a city.  Every stop is turned into a stop times the number of riders in the group, especially if you’re further back.  I found riding around Kitchener in a group to be very tedious.

After all that we finally lined up for the road test.  While each rider went out, the rest were writing a knowledge test in the classroom with questions about rules of the road.  I got to go second.  It was about 45 minutes of riding in residential, industrial and regional roads followed by a brief stint on the highway.

It was all about shoulder checks, mirror checks and constantly (and obviously) scanning for dangers.  If you adapt to their system you’ll find it fairly easy to work with, but I found it too regimented.  Defensive driving should be fluid and agile, constantly adapting to varying situations.  Following a checklist means you’re not honouring the circumstances as they change (for example, always pulling into the slow lane when you have a better space bubble in the fast lane).

I was on my way home with a signed M2 exit pass sheet by 3:30pm.  I was hot, tired and sore (your wrists and fingers take a real beating after a day of slow speed manoeuvring and group town rides).  I’ll take using my mirrors more out of the testing, but beyond that I found the frantic meerkatting to be both exhausting and unsettling on the bike.  We were encouraged to spin our heads around constantly but this is both tiring and disorientating.  There is something to be said for a composed approach to riding a motorbike.

Having to ride conservatively within posted limits was also very difficult.  I’m willing to shoulder the responsibility for my own safety, but not if I must have distracted people in SUVs creeping past me (and into me) because I’m required to ride at five under the limit in the inside lane all the time.

I’m glad I took the exit course.  I got some good practice and a supported approach to the MoT test which isn’t always commonsensical, but I’m also really glad it’s over.  One more trip to the take-a-number, florescent lit, beige misery that is the Drivecentre office and I’m a fully licensed rider.

A Thin & Fragile Pretense

I’m still mulling my way through The World Beyond Your Head, by Matt Crawford.  It’s a slow go because I’m re-reading and thinking over what I’m looking at, often paragraph by paragraph.

On page 153-4 Crawford is talking about the way in which we depend on established values when transacting with each other.  He is talking about how he bills his motorcycle repairs, but I found a surprising correlation between this and my current views on grading:

P.153-54 The World Beyond Your Head by Matt Crawford

 

 
This could easily be re-written to describe my own battle with grading:
Consider the case of a teacher. In handing a final grade to a student, I make a claim for the value of what they know about what I have taught them, and put it to them in the most direct way possible (a grade). I have to steel myself for this moment; it feels like a confrontation.  (I hate grading, I feel it actively discourages learning by implying there is a definitive end)
 The point of having posted criteria, rubrics, due dates, class rules,  and the use of complex grading systems with byzantine weights and balances, is to create the impression of calculation, and to appeal to the authority of an institution with established rules. But this is a thin and fragile pretense observed by me and my student – in fact the grade I present is never a straightforward account of the skill of a student. It always involves a reflection in which I try to put myself in the shoes of the other and imagine what he might find reasonable.  (Freeing myself from the tyranny of grading programs is both professionally satisfying and existentially terrifying – what are we all doing here if not making numbers?!?)
This lack of straightforwardness in valuing learning is due to the fact that learning is subject to chance and mishap, as well as many diagnostic obscurities. Like medicine, teaching and learning are what Aristotle calls “stochastic” arts. Especially when working on complex skills at the high school level, in trying to teach one discipline (learning how to code), I may unearth problems in another (the student has little grasp of basic logic). How should I grade for work done to solve a problem beyond the realm of what I’m supposed to be teaching? Should I hand off this new problem to spec-ed, or simply blame previous grades and move on? (I do neither, I consider a student who is able to overcome previous failings to catch up to his peers to be superior to a student who is simply going through the motions because this is easy repetition for them)  This question has to be answered when I formulate a grade, and in doing so I find that I compose little justificatory narratives.

 

When a student receives a grade, I usually go over the reasons with them in detail, and I often find myself delaying the presentation of the grade, because I fear that my valuation isn’t justified (I can never have all the facts needed to be completely accurate). But all my fretting about the grade has to get condensed into a simplistic number for the sake of systemic learning on an established schedule (our education system is predicated on the receiving of numbers that are so abstract as to be virtually meaningless). Whatever conversation may ensue, in the end the grade achieves a valuation that is determinate: a certain amount of educational value exchanges hands. As the student leaves the class for the last time, I want to feel that they feel they have gotten a square deal in terms of me not using grades as either a gift or a punishment; I want to come away feeling justified in the claim I made for what I think they know and can do.   (but many teachers don’t – empathy and grading can be safely made mutually exclusive thanks to the absolute truth of mathematicsthe more complex the calculation, the truer the grade it produces must be)