St. Louis, MO
Posted - 02/06/2011 : 10:31 PM
The following is my personal take. It does not represent anyone's opinions or statements other than my own. That should be obvious to anyone who's ever read the blog, but there are high paid idiots out there that need to be reminded so that the innocent do not suffer. And, btw, the subject of the entry doesn't know what I'm writing or writing about.
Last night I got a call from Bob Reichenberg as he was driving north past Sacramento. After 27 years, he's leaving M$F rider education behind forever. No loss, I told him. Good riddance. He's not retiring--oh, no sir. He's going on to start a whole new career. Congratulations, I said. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.
Many of my readers know who Bob is and what role he's played in rider education over the years, but for those who don't: Bob rose through the ranks and ended up at M$F in the glory days when state programs were being established as fast as they could be funded and worked with Ron Sheperd, Beth Weaver, Carl Spurgeon, Hoot Gibson, Doug Fitts, J.T. Smith and the rest of those who brought rider training into the accepted way to learn to ride. Like his co workers, he was a true expert in rider ed--he had real boots on the range experience and the knowledge to back it up. And his expertise was recognized, respected and appreciated by the rider ed community.
He was the Chief of Chief Trainers for years and, at the last, was one of those within M$F who said that the MRC:RSS didn't need to be dumped but modified. And then one night Bob was heading south late one night on lonely Highway 15 between Vegas and LA as he returned from a trip. Out of nowhere--and iirc, the car had its headlights off--he was rear-ended by a car traveling at high speed. Bob almost died and ended up recovering from his injuries for over a year. At which point M$F didn't exactly fire him but told him to come in and pick up his things as he no longer worked there.
Bob and his most excellent wife Jan moved up to central California and established first one and then another training site under the California Motorcycle Safety Program. As many of you may know, the CMSP used a modified RSS overseen by Doug Fitts, the so called Father of the Range. The CSMP version had higher standards and was harder than the M$F version. Bob's training and safety record was terrific from the beginning: students were happy and trained (as well as any M$F curriculum can train), and, prior to M$F taking over the CMSP, there hadn't been a broken bone in any of their classes. Indeed, there were very few falls and no serious run-offs. It was a model training site.
Bob and Jan grew their business and Bob trained really phenomenal instructors--I've met many of them through Streetmasters. He began that with Walt Fulton--another legend in motorcycling. Streetmasters was to the ERC as diamonds are to coal. It concentrates on developing cornering, braking and slow speed skills that honed technique to elevate safe street performance--and it's a hell of a lot of fun taking the curves at road speed on the Horse Thief mile racetrack up at Willow Springs, CA.
Bob is also part of the NHTSA rider education evaluation team and that's where many of you have met or gotten to know him. That he's on the team is NHTSA's acknowledgment that Bob is among the best of the best.
Anyone who knows Bob knows he's as far from the drill sergeant, power hungry parody of the RSS instructor/trainer as possible. He's affable and friendly and has a hell of a sense of humor and is gentle but firm when dealing with students. Then again, he's got a droll, quick wit and can tell the most hellacious stories and have his listeners crying because they're laughing so hard. He's not the touchy-feely BRC salesman/instructor, though. No, not at all.
And Bob had serious objections to the BRC as it was being designed. He saw the flaws even as Ray Ochs was happily puttering about creating what would become a deadly program. In many ways, Bob's reaction to the BRC when it was rolled out was similar to Steve Garets--someone Bob had gotten to know, in part, through Garets' consulting for M$F. Bob, being part of the CMSP, couldn't go and design his own curriculum but then he didn't need to--he was, after all, a part of CMSP and that state was one of four states that refused to switch over. And Bob was grateful for that.
And then M$F took over the CMSP and forced all the sites to change to the BRC. Bob's instructors were updated by M$F directly and things changed. For the first time in years, there were broken bones and more injury crashes--and more crashes period. Students' skill levels at the end of the evaluation were poorer than in prior years. His uneasiness with the BRC turned to a serious concern. And he wasn't happy with how M$F was extending its tyranny over the state program sites. Nor was he happy with how new instructors were trained. He used the BRC--he had to--because the training sites were, after all, his source of income. But he wasn't happy with what was happening in rider ed.
But no matter what the curriculum, Bob was an excellent rider educator--his sites won not one, not two but five awards in various categories as outstanding sites in the CMSP last year. Iow, it wasn't that he couldn't or wouldn't adapt--he didn't think the BRC was good--but he was going to do a good job teaching the poor curriculum.
That was where things were at when I first interviewed him years ago. And I haven't asked his permission to say any of the above nor will I. This is my take on who he is, what he thought and how he felt. It's important to make that very clear--it's my take on him. Not his take. He wouldn't say a lot of those things at this point in time. You'll understand why in a moment.
Over the years, I've had occasion to grill him on rider ed history, to ask him for his recollections and have been impressed with him. Like his friend Ron Sheperd, he is WYSIWYG, an honest and direct man. A strong man who has the courage to follow his convictions and to stand up for what he believed. In a world where so many sit down and cower in the corner because they are too afraid to do what's right for those that depend on them, he is an extraordinary man and is, in my view, one of the heroes of rider ed. And, I'd say, so is his wife Jan who is just as discerning and intelligent and funny and kind as her husband.
Given all of that, maybe you're surprised that I'm not sad that they gave up and sold their business and are leaving the CMSP. Not to worry, though, Bob and Jan aren't leaving rider education--they're escaping M$F's version of it. Bob has followed his conviction and put his money where his mouth is. A true pioneer, Bob's heard the call "Go North, Young Man". On July 1st, he joins TEAM Oregon as Manager of Communication. Lest you think that Bob jumped once the lawsuit was settled, this was in motion with the July 1st start date months ago before it was settled. Had it not been, he could've moved there only to find the BRT was no more had things gone differently.
It's a frightening thing to begin all over again--particularly since Bob had already had to do that whole start from scratch thing before when M$F let him go. Harder still when the future of the program was uncertain at best. Hard to know if it was the right thing to do or the best thing to do. It has to be hard for them to give up the house they loved in an extremely beautiful area and to move away from their long time close friends. Hard to hitch their wagons to a program that--even now--M$F is determined to marginalize, control by preventing its spread. Hard to stand up and say "this is a lie I will no longer live. I will do the right thing no matter what the cost." But Bob and Jan had the courage of their convictions and believed in a better tomorrow, believed that there was a better way and were unwilling to continue to live the lie training had become. And Bob and Jan have always, always, always seen the purpose of rider ed much like parenting - just like good parents are willing to do the hard thing in the short term to raise mentally healthy children in the long run, rider education should look to the long term interests of the students - a life of safe riding - and not the short term emotional satisfaction of the instructors. And that's just some of the reasons why I love them both: they are among the best of the best both as people and as rider educators.
He will be earning less money, I assume, than he did as the owner of two extremely busy sites and co-owner of Streetmasters. But Bob is the rider educator's rider educator: it was never about making the most money he could. It was first and last about looking out for the best interests of the students and making a living rather than making a killing. Otoh, the manufacturer members of M$F are in it to make the most they can and, by doing so, have made a killing off of training--no, make that at least nine deaths and near deaths. As I said, Bob has been and is among the best of the best in rider education. Hat's off to you, Bob. Bon voyage on this new and very personal journey.
So last night Bob was heading north on highway 5 towards a new beginning--not one he had planned to make and one he, I would bet, would rather not have had to undertake at this point in his life. Jan will follow when she sells the house. It's a lonely road in many ways and I don't mean just the freeway.
He has no home of his own up there--nor even an apartment. That has to wait until their house sells. He doesn't know the area that well where he'll be living, nor does he know that many people up there. He has hardly any of his possessions with him. He does have one of his bikes--his old BMW with more than 117,000 miles on it--in the back of his SUV. That's a lot of change and newness at a point in life where he thought he had everything settled. Nor is it clear yet what will end up happening in the long run to TO's BRT and associated programs. And the thing is, he sounded joyous on the phone. As if an enormous weight had been lifted off his shoulders. To put words in his mouth, it seemed as if he felt like he was scraping the dung from the soles of his boots. He certainly wasn't a man paralyzed by fear by taking a huge risk when most men his age are planning on drearily enduring until their retirement.
But then again, Bob is a real rider. He's willing to leave the known behind and go out to find his future. He's willing to travel light and find new roads to find freedom, to be the man he's believed himself to be--a man of integrity. He knows those are more important than to live your life in a cage and he isn't one to just moan and complain to those who will listen that things are so hard, he's so unhappy with the way rider ed is but not do anything to change his life. Would that more rider educators were like him.
When I hung up the phone last night, Bob had many more hours and hundreds of miles to go to get to Corvallis, OR and his new life. But, like I said, he's a real rider and he's not afraid of traveling unknown roads. And he believes he's heading north to freedom. North to a life where he could be true to his principles. North to be able to be WYSIWYG in every aspect of his life. That's the kind of man I admire and respect. The kind of person I am proud to call friend. Go for it Bob--and don't let M$F's door hit you on the way out of state.