St. Louis, MO
Posted - 02/02/2011 : 11:02 AM
For those of you who are well intentioned but not well informed, you may think that it's a great idea that student's can learn the basic controls like shifting without having to worry about balance. It does sound attractive, doesn't it?
That, though, flies in the face of what Ochs insisted was better: the BRC's philosophy which emphasized whole-to-part learning. Rather, as we shall see, simulator training is the ultimate part-to-whole teaching because it separates basic controls from balance and felt speed and that's exactly what makes it riding and not driving.
Will simulator training do what they think it will do and help the struggling student who cannot learn the basics? Not even Honda claims it does it better job than traditional teaching or even that it does it as well. There is, however, many reasons why it won't.
It should be understood that Honda's Awane believes that the student should experience simulator training first and then on the bike experience. So, first of all, it's not the problem student that will experience it but, in his view, all students. This would mean that unless a student had prior experience of motorcycling, they are learning without any relation to what a motorcycle is supposed to feel like and that matters a great deal.
For example, even though it appears that the Rider Trainer's handlebars do tilt the lower body will not accurately move in relation to the action of the arms since the frame is stable and rigid. Think about it and do it now as you sit in front of the computer screen press on an imaginary handlebar and feel what happens. If you press hard enough for a turn at say 20 or 30 mph, the weight subtly shifts to the same hip bone, the other hip rises slightly, you can feel your torso stretch a bit. On a bike, this would subtly change the balance in relation to the bike's speed.
But if you simply press on the handlebar without automatically doing what you would do on a bike, the arm moves and the rest of the body stays still. Unless the Rider Trainer is set to increase resistance with the supposed speed, the rider would be led to believe the body is supposed to be unaffected but even if it did, it's possible - on a rigid desk type chair - to simply move the upper body to increase pressure. But we don't know what the Rider Trainer does - it certainly doesn't do all the Prototype 3 did. Chances are, looking at the photo of the Rider Trainer, it doesn't and so misrepresents what the riders body actually does on the bike.
Secondly, whats specific to operating a motorcycle is deliberately excluded the significant role of balance and felt experience of speed in terms of acceleration and deceleration. However, it is exactly balance and speed that affects what we do on the bike even more than the controls but, of course, integral with how we operate them.
In terms of these two things alone, the student is learning at least as much misinformation about riding as information about how the levers and pedals work from the Rider Trainer.
But let's look specifically at what they are learning. If the student's initial experience of, say shifting, is on the Rider Trainer's stable, rigid frame while looking at a computer screen, the initial neural pathways are literally built in the brain based on that misinformation. And it is misinformation since it excludes the experience of motorcycle specific elements.
The way our brains work is to always try to associate new material with what it already knows and create neural links between them. Thus the brain will likely associate the initial simulator training neural track with previous experience, which for most Americans at least, will be driving a car. A car shares key similarities with the Rider Trainer the use of the arms (and slight use of upper body) rather than the whole body, the feeling of a stable platform underneath you during braking, accelerating and cornering and the computer screen is much closer to how drivers perceive their environment at a distance through the windshield/windows and around frames - than the motorcyclist's unframed view. Iow, the Rider Trainer simulator would seem to teach the students riding is much more "like" driving than it is and inadvertently reinforces driving behaviors.
I dislike to state the obvious but riding is not driving no matter what Awane and Ochs, et al, may think. The question then is whether that link to driving serves the student well since that's the exact prior information that has to be overcome to ride a motorcycle?
What they actually learn, then, may make it even more difficult to actually ride as Honda found out when their expert riders could not manipulate the motorcycle without the experience of G-force. Those riders had learned "of a piece" and could not go back. Simulator students who learn "of a part" without any basis of knowing it is essentially inaccurate may have that problem in reverse. How easily can they integrate what they learn "of a piece" once they are on the bike without different errors or delay? That's a reasonable question that deserves an answer - and not one from Honda's PR department.
So let's look at whether balance can be safely and effectively separated from shifting, for example. Shifting is composed of four elements: working the clutch lever, operating the shift pedal, use of the throttle and balancing the bike while doing the other three. Three out of four can be learned and practiced on the simulator. Balance while shifting cannot. Now, what makes it hard for the one or two that struggle with it in (every?) class?
It's not manipulating the pedal that's a simple up or down motion that can be practiced (with the clutch lever pulled in) while at a stop and while the machine is off. So is it the clutch lever and/or the throttle? Likely. But throttle control is something they should've already learned and practiced in earlier exercises as is the friction zone. Iow, a student struggling with shifting likely had not learned the earlier skills adequately or had enough time to practice them before being pushed to learn shifting. Iow, the student's struggle may be the instructor's failure to have coached them adequately early on. But perhaps it is combing the clutch/shift/throttle once again, I suspect it is the failure of the instructor to have the student practice these individually enough that they are more easily combined, but perhaps it is simply just that much more difficult.
Practice on combining the three tasks can be done on the simulator, however, the machine is not set up to evaluate *how* the rider actually shifts (or brakes or uses the throttle) but the *results* of that effort. As a result, the very thing that the instructor would flag could be accepted by the machine since the machine cannot observe how the student does it. If the student does it *wrong* but still has an effective outcome as to effect, the machine will consider it effective.
This result-based training takes the worst of rider education teaching to the test to a whole new level. Passing the simulator training only means that they met what the machine therefore what was programmed into the software decided was good enough. It doesn't mean they do it well or correctly. That's where the human instructor is invaluable - if they are trained and understand riding itself, they can tell what the student is actually doing wrong and show the student how to do it differently.
But here's the thing: By the time a student learns to shift up to second, they are applying what they already know about the friction zone, shift pedal and throttle. So what is really going on, and what might be the source of their difficulty, is exactly what the unwitting want to exclude: they are learning a variation on balance and the felt experience of increased/decreased speed.
Balance is essential to the act of shifting. Even if were not aware of it, there's micro adjustments of weight in motion. Until shifting becomes second nature, moving the foot (with its effect on the leg muscles) causes "bigger" shifts in balance in motion which is likely what makes novices nervous thus more difficult to do. It also requires a different skill than they have learned. In previous exercises, though, they've learned to get their feet up and maintain that balance without moving their feet or legs. Additionally, shifting from first to second is still done at low speed where the bike's stability is more of an issue. Additionally, the act of shifting/releasing the clutch and rolling on the throttle changes the *bike's* balance again with more speed. Iow, it very well could be that what makes shifting difficult for some is actually a balance issue, which could be addressed in a variety of ways but is something the simulator doesn't do.
Remember, a key component to motor skill learning is recognizing what correct and accurate performance "feels" like, but the Rider Trainer doesn't give that feedback to the student. Instead, what will feel correct and accurate is an unreal stability with no G-force sensation etc. The simulator gives exactly the opposite feeling of what they will they will experience on the bike itself. Iow, what is most true about riding will feel wrong, rather than right.
This creates cognitive dissonance and must be overcome in order to translate what they did learn "right" (if they did) on the simulator. That could possibly delay further training or cause other problems in training. Increased drops and crashes could also be a reasonable result until the actual experience of balance and speed are incorporated into prior learning. Iow, the simulator could for some students at least simply make different problems on the range. But we don't know whether it does or not because there are no sources/studies available in English nor any studies at all in Japanese that aren't done by the people who will make money from simulator training.
At the very least, though, the simulator student will have to unlearn part of their learning experience in order to learn right and that means the neural pathway will have to be rewritten. So one question is: why? Why have the students learn wrong just so they can learn to operate the basic controls when it's extremely possible hell, you've been doing it for years to teach them right in the first place?
The only possible reason is to move more students more quickly through a facsimile of training to sell more bikes. After all, the Big Four didn't start offering simulator training because they were convinced it was the best way to train riders. It was only because Japan passed strict laws regarding large motorcycles and training on them in 1996 (yoo hoo, those who have been following closely does that date remind you of anything in particular that happened in Irvine that year?). Simulator training on large bikes (400cc +) became compulsory before 1998. Iow, the Big Four responded just as they did in the USA back at the beginning of the 70s when they turned to training to prevent more government regulation and initiated the M$F. That's important we *aren't* Japan we don't have laws regarding training and riding big bikes. We don't need the simulator except to move students through in limited spaces more quickly. We'd be suckers to think that on-line, simulator and compact range are to benefit the student! Then again, maybe you like being Buche's patsy (though another word does come to mind).
But even if the actual motor skills were learned correctly, sight is inaccurately trained on a simulator. The screen is obviously smaller and flat and at an artificial distance than what the student perceives in real life. Also, the student's head remains stable and unmoving in relation to the screen the student stares straight ahead. But, in real life, the head and neck has to move to keep the horizon level (or should), to check what's to the side and behind, and the head should turn when looking through a turn no matter what M$F says. But the simulator has the bike going through turns with the rider's head straight ahead. How accurate is that? More importantly, what does it teach the rider from the get go about riding?
Simulator training also changes what the students are looking at they look at a screen on which things are graphically depicted rather than the whole picture of what's in front (and to the sides) as they would if they were learning on a bike. One of the problems with novice and inexperienced riders and one of the results even in expert riders is a narrowing of vision why on earth would we train riders from the beginning to narrow field of vision? The "at a distance" factor also underscores the unreality of what are very real hazards on the road and does more than that as we shall see in the next entry.
What the Rider Trainer version asks us to do, then, is negate the physicality of riding, narrow the act of riding in every way and excludes what makes it *riding* as opposed to driving altogether. This cannot help initially train the brain with essentially incomplete - if not inaccurate - information that will have to be retaught once on the bike.
So, once again, why teach the novice wrong from the get go because instructors or the course fails to adequately prepare the student for something like shifting? Fix the instructors, fix the course don't make the initial riding experience essentially unreal. These are very serious issues that need very serious discussion on the part of both rider educators and MRO activists - and some kind of objective study (or, better, studies) - before this kind of training spreads in the USA.
The bottom line is: the Honda Rider Simulator having a rigid frame and computer screen divorces basic control operation from the essential reality of riding. It concentrates on only a part a part that cannot be implemented by itself and have safe riding result. Honda style simulator training, then, is the ultimate expression of part-to-whole training and directly runs counter to what the M$F says is best about the BRC.