Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Under a cloud

joe btfsplk bwOlder readers will remember Joe Bfstplk from the L’il Abner comic strip. He was the character constantly followed by a black rain cloud; a jinx who seemed destined to be forever leaving one disaster after another in his wake.

What brought me to this was the recollection of one of the more memorable experiences from my long-past days teaching the Basic Motorcycle Riders Course.

One of my students was a young man, 20’ish, who wanted to get his motorcycle license. The first hint of trouble came when he was having a lot of difficulty balancing the small dirt bikes we used for training. As it turned out, this was the first time he had ever been on two wheels as he had never learned to ride a bicycle! Okay, I thought, we can deal with that, and eventually I got him wobbling around the training area, very slowly, in first gear. So far so good. He only fell off a few times and didn’t hit anything or anyone (I was mostly worried about me!), and he actually got his feet up on the pegs once or twice. Progress.

Once he stopped tipping over, it was time to introduce him to second gear. At this he was completely lost, totally unable to grasp the underlying concepts of gear shifting. The bicycle analogy didn’t work because he’d never ridden one. Shifting gears in a car had no relevance because he’d only ever driven automatics and never really thought about what the 1, 2, D on the shift lever meant. But reverse he got, with all its obvious uselessness on a 125 cc dirt bike. Out of ideas, I brought a senior instructor over to try and explain it. No go.

But with faint hope we persevered, and so followed a period of him racing across the training area at 30 mph in first gear, the engine screaming in agony, or stalling because he was trying to start off in 4th. He was simply unable to process the concept of matching engine speed to road speed.

After a couple of very frustrating hours – for both of us – he realized he wasn’t getting it, and so we agreed that perhaps motorcycle riding was not in his future – at least if he wanted a future. I gave him his money back and he left the course early, much to the relief of the entire instructional staff.

Then two weeks later I read in the newspaper that an apartment balcony had broken free and crashed onto the balcony below it. Fortunately there were no injuries, but the balcony belonged to … you guessed it. My student.

Joe Bfstplk would have been proud.


  1. Wow what a story...OK I can see him being totally innept at riding... and you made him quit on the presumption that t were the best thing if he was to have a future, then the balcony story tops it all...He's got nine lives...let's hope the lottery is good for him

  2. Yeah, I periodically wonder what ever happened to him. Probably became an Enron exec just before the wheels fell off - or maybe AIG....


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