~ by Jim Crum

We approach with trepidation. They are gathered in a group together — beautiful and distant. My friends and I move toward them, each of us wondering which might be the one for me? Maybe not forever, but for some fun together, at least for today…

As we get closer, there is a familiar dance. We slowly move around and in between one another, sizing each other up initially and looking at all angles with respect and curiosity and with an understanding that physical attributes alone can never tell the whole story.

I hear a voice say with authority, “She is the one for you,” and I know the decision has been made for me. I turn to her and am mesmerized by her beauty.

This is how the morning began at the MOA Foundation’s Premier Training Event at the BMW US Rider Academy in Greer, South Carolina.

After an initial classroom review we were outside and paired with our motorcycles for the morning. One half of the class would be on dirt and the other half on the track before switching for the afternoon. Safe riding may not seem sexy, but it’s key to survival.

I learned this, sometimes the hard way, over my many, many years on a motorcycle that began in 1980 when I purchased new a Honda 400 Hawk and promptly rode it from Connecticut to Kansas. Not safe. Not smart. But I survived, and learned a lot. It took a number of years, a few minor crashes and some stern words from my wife for me to realize I needed some training. I discovered some from the recently formed Motorcycle Safety Foundation. So I took the class, ended up teaching it for 10 years, and can guarantee that it saved my life many, many times over. And the skills learned have helped me be a better driver as well as rider.

So what inspired me to travel from my home in Hawaii all the way to South Carolina after 40+ years of riding for this skills brush up? My bucket list. I want to ride through Europe by motorcycle before I die. I just wasn’t sure if I could survive such a trip.

There were enough signs of my age and declining abilities that I sold my Harley Street Glide “bagger” in favor of a much lighter and more agile BMW R1100GS a few years ago. Then moved to an even lighter BMW F700GS which is probably really the right fit for the steep and rugged terrain where I sometimes need to travel on the remote island where I live. But it’s less sexy. But safe isn’t sexy. It’s just smart if you want to survive to check things off a bucket list. So I was determined to see if I still had enough skills to safely ride a bigger GS, and perhaps brush up on those skills to get there.

The instructors wasted little time that morning getting us on our ‘cycles and driving over to the off-road section of this massive training center that BMW maintains by the plant where nearly all their M model automobiles are assembled. We followed the leader through parking lots, off the road and through some trees over to the field of dirt. We immediately began performing balance exercises I never would have dreamt of trying had the teachers not said they were possible so matter-of-factly and proved by demonstrating it for us.

So around the dirt we rode in ovals, one leg on the seat, right leg on left peg and left leg extended, reversing and doing the opposite side. It was a quick way to build confidence and surely a way for our instructors to know our skills and abilities pretty quickly. My hope was that I was at least not the worst, and I prayed I wouldn’t drop it (although it was clear from the scuffs and missing mirrors that many before me had)! We went on to learn the best ways to turn and brake and ride on rough terrain.

After lunch, the afternoon was spent on a different ‘cycle and on a section of race track where we learned or had reinforced more safe riding techniques. All this build up my confidence an abilities and drilled home some new skills or forgotten ones that I can now incorporate into safer riding. By the end of the day, I was tired, but felt much more confident in my riding skill and abilities than I had in years.

And yes, I dropped it, but I also learned from our instructor how to pick it up again, all by myself if necessary.

So I now feel confident in my ability to rent a magnificent motorcycle and carve up any of the beautiful mountain ranges and valleys Europe has to offer. Who said safety training can’t be sexy?!

Jim Crum is an avid motorcyclist, an active member of the Motorcycle Owners of America (, a former MSF riding coach, a farmer (@TinyvilleFarm), blogger, and podcast editor. He has a background in psychology, accounting and data analysis, and he lives on the Hāmākua Coast of the Big Island of Hawaiʻi .