Editor’s Note: I first met Kyle Hyatt at one of the Petersen Museum’s monthly Breakfast Club events. Along with his co-host James McKeone, Kyle is responsible for the Petersen’s podcast, called Car Stories. They sit down with some of the biggest names in the automotive and motorcycle industries, and for some reason they asked me to sit down for an episode as well. Part of my discussion with Kyle was about his pursuit of his first motorcycle, and we’ve kept in touch about what he’d buy and how he’d get his training. I was excited when he told me he’d be taking a motorcycle training course, and my interest grew even further when he mentioned it was through a program that Honda runs.
A wave of articles have been coming out of big papers and websites about how “millenials don’t like motorcycles.” We need new riders, so I love hearing about people like Kyle and I’m glad to be able to share his story. Got a friend who’s on the fence about getting started with a bike? Let Kyle show them how easy it can be!
Happiness and Heat Stroke in Colton, California
Taking the CMSP Class at the Honda Rider Education Center
by Kyle Hyatt
For those of you who are familiar with the Petersen’s CarStories podcast, you’ve no doubt heard me talk about wanting to get into motorcycling, and a big part of that has been my insistence on taking an accredited motorcycle safety course. This is something that’s been on my to-do list for months but life, as they say, tends to happen while you’re making other plans and I wasn’t able to find the time or the money to take the plunge. That’s where the folks from Honda step in.
Honda operates a top-notch Rider Education Center out of Colton, California near San Bernardino. This school is primarily set up to teach kids and adults the fundamentals of riding a motorcycle on dirt, but they also offer a fully CHP-accredited California Motorcyclist Safety Program (CMSP) for those folks who want to ride on the street. I approached Honda wanting to see how their program might differ from the typical MSF course you see people participating in parking lots all over America. They offered for me to take the course free of charge and naturally I accepted. Of course, I made the mistake of scheduling it on two of the hottest days of the year.
The drive from Los Angeles to Colton isn’t exactly thrilling, nor is it particularly short. I woke up in the pre-dawn hours and fumbled around in the dark, making sure I had all my gear and class materials ready without trying to wake my wife. Kit assembled, I climbed into my old and very non-air conditioned car and pointed its nose to the slowly rising sun in the east with Tom Waits’ “Ol 55” blasting out of my single ancient dash-mounted speaker.
I had been given strict instructions that to take the class; I must arrive at the Honda Rider Education Center a half-hour earlier than the 8:00am start time. I showed up at 6:45, like a dope.
Being a weekday in July, our class was smaller than usual. We numbered eight in total, all fairly experienced riders in various states of legality as far as street riding was concerned and then there was me: all over-prepared and under-experienced, as per usual.
Before taking Honda’s CMSP class, I’d ridden a motorcycle approximately once in the past decade, and that didn’t count because it was the nigh-uncrashable SkidBike (Thanks for that invite, Abhi!). So, I was coming at this whole thing as a more or less blank slate. Of course, I’d read the entire 100-page CMSP “Total Control” Handbook as well as the excellent (if a little hokey) Proficient Motorcycling, but regarding practical experience, I had none.
After completing some paperwork, we dove into our classroom work. Our instructor Joel moved through the somewhat dry material quickly and with a sense of humor that took my mind off of potentially crashing in front of this pack of quasi-alpha male weirdos. Joel was an interesting guy, he splits his time teaching at Honda and providing motorcycle instruction to actors for Hollywood films and also doing stunt work. The order of the class was changed somewhat due to the projected temperatures of nearly 110 degrees. We did the minimum amount of class time and then went out and got on our bikes.
With the school being run by Honda, naturally, we were on Hondas. The nice thing was that the school offered a pretty big selection of 300cc bikes to choose from based on experience and comfort. I found myself on a CB300F while others gravitated towards CBR300Rs and CRF250Ls. [Editor’s Note: those of you that have taken the regular CA MSF program will know how much nicer this than the usual selections available, which are typically quite old.]
The CB300F is awesome. I’m going to get that out of the way. This little thumper is super comfortable with a very positive and easy to use gearbox and clutch, plus sufficient torque to haul my 6’4” 260lb frame from a stop without using the throttle. I think 20 horsepower is maybe a little less than ideal on the street for someone my size, but I’d wholeheartedly recommend the F with its upright ergonomics to anyone just starting out on two wheels. In their short and no doubt difficult lives as learner bikes at a school, these things had been dropped more often than 3rd-period French class, but none of them skipped a beat despite being idled forever in crazy high ambient temperatures. My respect for Honda has grown immensely since riding the CB300F, but I digress.
Once mounted, we progressed through the standard series of familiarization exercises like walking the bike under its own power, riding it across the range at idle, and eventually moving to acceleration, braking and cornering. It was all fairly perfunctory until we got to our main cornering exercises at which point, it all clicked. The sensation of rolling on the throttle, shifting up to 3rd, braking for the turn and downshifting then accelerating through the corner while leaned over was so unbelievably intoxicating that it’s all I’ve been thinking about since I got home.
I’ve loved bikes for a long time, but it’s always been at a certain distance. They’ve been objects, beautiful and a little frightening, but now that I’ve experienced the sensations they provide — even at just 20mph — I’m completely hooked. I just want to ride all the time now.
Our two-day class unfolded fairly predictably, with Joel and our other range instructor George helping to break us of bad habits and trying to keep us from getting heat stroke. Eventually, all exercises were completed and with only one involuntary dismount between all eight riders (not by me, thankfully), we took our riding test. I’m thrilled to say I passed. Now I’ve got an appointment at the DMV to go and get my endorsement, and I’m putting together the last of my necessary gear for riding on the street while trying to stay patient and not drive my long-suffering wife insane with YouTube videos and bike talk.
Los Angeles, look out. I’ll be roaming your streets on two wheels in the very near future.
Photos Courtesy of Honda Powersports and Honda Rider Education Center