I’ve been riding over twenty years but in my impetuous youth my attitude was “I don’t need no stinkin’ license.” I did eventually break down and get one after numerous tickets and subsequent fines. But I did so grudgingly.
Harley practices swerving through imaginary cones on the DR-Z400S on the improvised testing grounds of the back parking lot of Motorcycle USA.
This time around, I again am hesitant. Not that I question my ability in the saddle. But it has been a long time. Had the test changed? What if I failed? I could already hear the ridicule from my co-workers Bart and J.C. No, failure was not an option.
So I read the Oregon Motorcycle and Moped Manual to bring me up to date and went to go take the written part of the exam. After missing the first question, I thought, “This is going to be a long test,” but proceeded to knock out the next 20 questions correctly. The first part of my mission was accomplished. I scheduled an appointment to take the riding test on the first open date, which was 10 days away. Great, 10 days to build up anxiety.
Not owning a bike currently, (it happens to the best of us when a wife and kids come into the picture) my co-workers and I pondered my options for taking the riding test. In the MotoUSA garage we had a 2007 Triumph Sprint ST, a 2007 BMW K1200R Sport and a 2007 Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 on hand. I’d spent time on a Sportster before and was familiar with its controls and balance. But these were test bikes, and in all reality I don’t think taking the DMV riding test is what the manufacturers had in mind when they lent them to us. So I was in a quandary over what to ride to take the test.
My brother-in-law had suggested a few weeks prior that I rent a small-displacement motorcycle (he passed his on an 1800cc Honda Gold Wing). I scoffed at the idea initially. It almost felt like cheating on the SATs. After all, I do work for a motorcycle magazine. The thought was unfathomable. Or was it? I mean, I needed to pass the test ASAP. It’s press intro season and there’s bikes to be ridden. I brainstormed the idea with my fellow motojournalists and we concurred. I would humble myself and rent a Suzuki DR-Z400S dual-sport to take the test on.
So we called up our friend Jeff Moffet at Oregon Motorcycle Adventures. If OMA sounds familiar, it’s because they’ve been featured in MCUSA before in J.C.’s Diamond Lake Dual-Sport Adventure article and have helped us out on more than one occasion. In addition to offering dual-sport guided tours, Moffet’s company rents cruisers, sport-tourers, dual-sports, off-road bikes and ATVs. With a phone call he had us hooked up with one of his slightly infamous DR-Zs.
The 400S was light, agile, easy to handle and proved to be a good choice to pass the DMV on-cycle test with.
The morning of the test we rode over to OMA in nearby Phoenix, Oregon. We talked with Moffet for a while to catch up on the local dirt scene and checked out a V-8 chopper he’s got for sale. Pleasantries aside, we got to the business of renting the DR-Z. I read the first line of the release waiver.
“I acknowledge and understand that I risk bodily injury, including paralysis, dismemberment, disability and death from use of the motorcycle and/or ATV.”
Geez, all I wanted to do was rent a bike to pass the DMV test with. The red line of my anxiety barometer rose higher.
By the time we picked up the DR-Z and got back to the office, I only had maybe twenty minutes to familiarize myself with the motorcycle’s balance, weight, handling, and controls. I made a few runs back and forth in our back parking lot, weaving through imaginary cones, starting and stopping quickly and executing U-turns. I didn’t want to be late so we loaded up and headed to the DMV.
An older gentleman on his Norton was going through the paces when I pulled up. I watched him slowly weave around the cones, turn around and accelerate before stopping with his front tire in the square painted on the ground. He got hit with a deduction for putting his feet down too soon even though to me it seemed like his bike was at a full stop already.
“She’s a real stickler,” he said to me when we talked while I waited for the DMV examiner to return from inside the office.
I walked the course while waiting. The cones were a lot closer than I remembered. The right angle turn didn’t leave much margin for error, either. But hell, I rationalized, I’m only on a small 400 dual-sporty, I can do this. Deep breaths. Clear the mind.
The examiner walked up. I smiled to break the tension. I don’t think she saw it beneath my helmet because her business-like countenance didn’t change. She explained the test, read me the mandatory spiel and asked me if I understood everything I needed to do. I nodded.
She hit me with her first question. “What size is the bike you’re riding?”
“That’s not the size of bike you usually ride, is it?”
What was I to say? “No, it isn’t.” The anxiety barometer rose again.
“Uh-huh,” she said, but this time I looked up in time to see the end of a short-lived smile. I had hope yet, and listened attentively as the test began (for people who have to take the test, listening is paramount to your success).
The DMV is very familiar with Oregon Motorcycle Adventure’s Suzuki DR-Z400S. The bike has been ridden successfully 11 times through the gauntlet of the DMV on-cycle skills test.
Run 1. We started with the sharp turn and stop box. No problem. Smooth turn, no lines touched, front wheel completely inside the box.
Run 2. The cone weave and U-turn. I had watched the guy before me weave through the cones extremely slow. Bad move. I tried his ultra-slow approach. Maneuvered through the first three, no problem. But I was going too slow on a bike with a higher seat and center of gravity than I am used to. As I felt the bike pitch over left, instinctively I put my foot out to tap myself back upright. Three point deduction. Humility would be waiting for me from the chiding of my co-workers. I still had to complete the U-turn. I picked up my speed a touch, kept my line of sight up and easily arced between the yellow lines. One out of two tasks executed.
Run 3. Seemed simple enough. Accelerate to the line, then brake. Hit a speed between 12 and 20 mph. Skidding while braking’s OK. I focused on the line I needed to brake at, gave the throttle a little twist, thought I had ample speed, and hit the brakes.
“Not fast enough,” she said. “Five-point deduction.” Guess I should have peeked at my speedo instead of assuming I was going fast enough. Now Bart and J.C. had more fodder to tease me about. Great.
Run 4. The obstacle swerve. “Go a little faster this time,” she said. “Stay in between these two lines and after you pass this point, swerve left and stop between these two lines.” I was determined not to go too slow this time, so I gave the throttle a good twist. The front wheel didn’t come off the ground but I felt the front end lurch up. I zipped through the lines, swerved left like there was a dead cat in the road, and skidded to a halt squarely between the prescribed lines. She seemed to be satisfied with my execution. No deductions. I had passed. Final score: 92.
So did the fact that I rented a 400cc dual-sport put a hamper on my accomplishment? Not the least bit. I’ve been riding long enough to know my abilities. It did help to reduce the anxiety of taking the test and it was a street-legal motorcycle. The $75 to rent the bike for 24 hours was worth it to me. Hopefully if I have to take the test again, I will have the luxury of taking it on my own bike and will have the confidence that goes along with spending countless hours in its saddle. But if you’re ever in a situation where you want to get your motorcycle endorsement but don’t have access to a bike or the thought of taking the test on an unfamiliar 800 lb beast of a bike is intimidating, renting an easy handling, small displacement bike to get you through the test might be the answer.
“They’re very familiar with this bike at the DMW. This is the 11th test the bike has passed,” Moffet said when we returned the 400S. Something tells me it won’t be the last.