“Just let the clutch out slow and steady, and give it a little gas” I tried to say as reassuring as possible
“Damn it!” She exclaimed stalling the car again. Yanking the brake and unbuckling the seatbelt she jumped out and slammed the door shut.
“Come back, you will get it! You just have to keep trying!”
“No this is stupid. The car is stupid. I give up”
This is one of the first times I was trying to teach my girlfriend how to drive a stick because I have known it and practiced it long enough that I was finally comfortable teaching someone else. She did give up for the rest of this day, but still tries every once in a while, to drive it, she just has a hard time. Thankfully it never was too difficult, it was actually easy as falling off a log, though it still took some time and practice with changing over from bikes to cars. I am beyond grateful that I learned how to for multiple reasons. Contrary to what some people would say, like some of my own family, learning and daily driving a standard has made me a much more patient and better driver. It has been a long way coming to learning how to drive it though.
Back when I was a little and my dad first got me into riding motorcycles from a young age, and this is how it all started. Yes, most times when someone first starts out riding the lower cc bikes don’t have a clutch that needs to be worked, but the same can be said for cars now too. With bikes though as a person gets bigger they need to get a bigger bike to fit them. I started out with a 50cc stock bike that really wasn’t anything special at all whatsoever. I got a few years older and needed to graduate to a bigger bike and got a 65cc full race two stroke.
I can say that I don’t think this was the best bike for me to start learning how to learn a clutch but it was what I could get at the time. I remember the clutch on this bike would grab very hard, which seemed like it would always pull my fingers out too fast. Mixing that with the touchy throttle and lots of power made this bike a little hard for someone who had never operated a clutch. Though it was hard because of the way the bike was built, starting off and learning on this bike taught me control and patience. I didn’t always get it right which is what taught me the patience, and this lead to control. I had to have the control and patience to get it correct to get going. On a bike the clutch and throttle are operated with hands, and the shifting is done with a foot.
“Alright now just slowly let out the clutch until it starts to grab. When that happens start to give it some gas, and you won’t get it first go but after a few you will have it” my dad tried to encourage me
It didn’t take me too long to get used to slowly letting clutch out and applying some gas, and after about two hours I was able to start like I had been doing it for months. When I got up to my next bike, which was not race built, riding it was a breeze. Not much longer after that my dad got in an accident while we were out riding alone, having to be airlifted to Loma Linda Trauma Center, so we had to get rid of the bikes, but that is a story for another time.
A year or two later when I was about 14 and starting to learn how to drive it was the same sort of thing with driving. I started out driving the old Chevrolet truck that we have had for years. Like with bikes the truck was an automatic. My start was just driving it around the block and backing it into the driveway, small things, before I got my permit a year later. Once I got my permit I was driving that truck every day, so I got good practice just driving for a while. A month or two into having my permit I started to learn how to drive a standard with a car. This took a little more work than one would think. I had been told by some buddies that “It can’t be that hard you already did it on a bike.” Sure, it wasn’t as hard as if someone was starting out with a clean slate not knowing anything, but it was a little hard making my feet operate the clutch because I was so used to using my hands while riding. I started learning little bits in my dad’s Subaru outback doing the same things I did with the truck in the start. Before I could start making any real progress we sold it in the vain attempt to get a van for making cross country trips more comfortable than in my mom’s sedan. So, I just kept driving automatics through getting my license.
Not too long after I attained my license, maybe three months, my brother in law got a new car, a Ford Focus ST. This is extremely similar to my own car that I have now but we will get to that later. In case you don’t know the ST is a sports hatchback, of which is a standard. I was only able to drive it around the neighborhood a few times, but it was interesting to feel how different it could be from car to car. The difference was different than I had expected though. The clutch was much spongier in the ST than it was in the Subaru. I think that this is just because the Subaru was much older so it didn’t have all the electronic assistance that the ST has, but it was nice to get some more time driving stick.
Another year or so went by and the truck I had bought so dad could have the Chevy back was starting to fall apart so we had to sell it. Being that dad needed the truck we started to look for a different car for me. The biggest thing I was looking for in a car was that it had to be stick. I decided that I wanted to get a Mazdaspeed 3 and started hunting through the internet for one. Most of the ones I found fell through for multiple reasons, we finally found one.
Thankfully as a graduation gift my dad went in half with me to buy it. We got it on a Friday morning so I could use the weekend to get used to the how the car handles and drives. It has a very heavy clutch, like the dirt bike I started learning on in the beginning. That next Monday I was driving it to school and everything was going fine. I took to driving it like I took to riding the bikes with clutches. Being that I live in the mountains, there are also a fair number of hills that one has to stop and start on. This really helped the way that I drive. It had the same effect as the bikes did when I first. One thing that it did more than the bikes was it made me more observant to what people and traffic lights were doing around me. It also helped me focus on my brake control, because of being able to use engine braking it has taught me how to use the brakes as effectively as possible with the engine.
About six months later, my girlfriend had been up at Humboldt State University for a while and her fall break was coming up so I planned a trip up there. I think that this really solidified my abilities with driving a standard. To make this happen I had to drive all the way up to the school, which is a 14-hour trip, on my own. Instead of taking my own car I ended up taking my brothers ST. Driving all that way by myself really helped me practice continuously driving stick and work on a few different things. I could practice rev matching when I started to see people slow down in front of me, making me proficient with that. Making sure to be observant the whole time was something that a majority of people I have talked to said would be the hardest part. It was very difficult to do the first time, but doing it once made it much easier. It is not even a problem on short trips anymore because of it either. Traffic through San Francisco gave me quite the leg work out as well. This trip allowed me to work a lot on my abilities with driving.
Me having taken this trip and honing my abilities is what allowed me to be willing to teach my girlfriend how to drive stick. Although she doesn’t like it, and isn’t the best at it, she at least knows it. This is something that I thought was extremely important because if she were ever stuck somewhere with someone injured, and all they have to drive is a standard transmission car, she would be able to get herself and the other person to safety.
I don’t know everything that there is to know, but I am still improving my skills and literacy in operating a standard in everyday life. Contrary to what most of the people around me in my life said about driving a stick, I do believe that it has made me a better driver in many ways. I would suggest to anyone that is learning how to drive that they learn to drive stick, and drive it for at least a year to hone your abilities as a driver. I think that it also aided me in normal day to day life as well helping with my patience and ability to observe what is going on around me. That is the story of my learning and love of driving stick.