With the amount of cars out on the road, commuting on two wheels has definitely become an option for Filipinos. The gridlock and fuel wasted idling in standstill traffic has become the norm, so the only way to get to where we need to go, and make it there on time, is by motorcycle or scooter. For most, the dangers and exposure to the elements make motorcycling a dangerous form of transportation. However, there are many methods used to make riding safer. It’s not just about the proper safety gear such as a helmet, jacket, and boots. It also comes down to the proper attitude and discipline. This is what the Honda Safety Driving Center aims to instill in new riders through their basic scooter and motorcycle courses.
Located right off Sucat Exit on SLEX, this 2.4-hectare property is touted as the first world-class facility for proper operation of automobiles and motorcycles in the Philippines. Capable of holding lessons for up to 120 students through its 80 classrooms, the Honda Safety Driving Center simulates real-world traffic conditions in a controlled environment. Both cars and motorcycles share the course at any given time, promoting a proper understanding of right of way laws and traffic signals, therefore making mutual respect and courtesy a priority.
The one-day course we took consisted of four modules, with each increasing in difficulty and building on the skills learned in the previous modules. If one has no riding experience whatsoever, the basic scooter course is tailored for you. Each module consisted of a classroom session and a practical exercise to apply the lessons learned. Two highly trained instructors discussed each module and guided us through the riding portion, following a strict set of guidelines and procedures in line with international standards. While most of us do have previous riding experience, a refresher is always welcome, doing away with the bad habits we may have learned over the years. Complete safety gear is provided for each student (we are all big fans of the stylish pink helmets provided), together with a Honda Click automatic scooter.
The first module consisted of an overview of the basic controls of a motorcycle. Since we were riding automatic scooters, there was no clutch involved, so imagine my surprise when I tried to put the bike in gear. When sitting on the bike, with the hands positioned on the handlebars, the right hand controlled the throttle and front brake. The left hand actuates the rear brake, which, on the scooters we were using, also applied some front brake pressure. This was the combination brake system available on most Honda scooters at work. Proper foot positioning was also taught, feet inside the foot well at all times, with knees pointed straight to maximize balance; something I forget at times, but it doesn’t help that my tall frame feels extra tight when riding most scooters. To my surprise, there was also a proper way to mount and dismount the scooter, something that was completely new to me. A shoulder check must be completed before getting on and getting off the bike, which, when practiced, will give visual awareness of their surroundings, which is extra important in a city environment. The next step consisted of swinging the foot above the bike, much like getting on a bicycle or standard motorcycle. This felt entirely new to me, since the convenience of just slotting yourself into the scooter seemed perfectly fine. The practical part of module one was all about getting the bike moving forward, braking properly, and repeating the process. Leaning forward when accelerating and leaning slightly back when braking was also taught. This helps stabilize the motorcycle due to the weight transfer. While this seems a little basic, the realization that most people on our roads neglect to perform the little steps to increase their safety and awareness makes for a perfect starting point for new riders.
The second module was all about actually maneuvering the scooter at speed, while interacting with other traffic in the closed road course. They taught us about proper lane positioning, indicating, and an emphasis on safety, such as maximizing the view of mirrors and always shoulder checking before moving off from a stop. After a quick classroom session, we were to perform loops and figure eights to get a feel for the scooter. Learning the proper body posture and lean angle for the speed and tightness of the turn was the key to maintaining a smooth, steady pace. After the short maneuvering session, we were instructed to follow a route in the road course, following all regulatory signs and mixing with other learners for the day. Riding or driving is extremely enjoyable in this environment since proper right of way and regulatory signs are followed to the letter; no need to doubt or second-guess the intentions of other road users.
Because motorcycles and scooters are the only form of private transportation for many families, it’s common for riders to have a passenger with them. Having a passenger entails a different set of skills and understanding how it drastically affects the characteristics of any two-wheeled vehicle. Module three tackles how to operate the scooter effectively with a passenger or pillion rider. We were told to partner-up and follow the instructor throughout the course, following the road rules and hopefully not crashing the bike. As a passenger, one must understand that they must lean with the rider and the bike, maximizing control and confidence for the one operating the scooter. My partner happened to be over 6ft tall, challenging my skills at maintaining low speed balance and control. Thankfully, I pulled it off without a hitch, only having to put my foot down to yield or stop for other traffic. Emergency braking was a highlight of module three. We were instructed to run at a straight line and brake as hard as we could with both levers when signaled to do so. Progressive braking was the name of the game here, maximizing braking power and shortening stopping distance without skidding; a useful skill to have to avoid tricycles and jeeps suddenly stopping or pulling out in front of you.
The final module was the culmination of everything learned in the previous lessons. We were told to follow the instructor around the course, following all the proper signs and traffic signals. Handling ascents and descents were also part of this module, exercising our throttle and braking control throughout the course. Since the route is constantly changing, the traffic conditions and turns are different as well, maximizing the foundation and skills we learned throughout the modules. Despite taking up an entire day, the one-day course covered the important basics for people starting their two-wheeled journey. Coming from someone with riding experience, I was still able to take away some good practices that I am still applying now. Stripped down to the fundamentals and promoting a mindset of safety and constant learning, the Honda Safety Driving Center is a great way to get the confidence and knowledge to brave our local roads. Just don’t pick up a few bad habits along the way.