What’s on your list of “firsts”?

Happy New Year! I’m not one for making resolutions anymore. It seemed to become this grade school-like exercise where the assignment is to list a bunch of your petty faults, along with a set of rules to follow to fix yourself. Oh, and if you’re not perfect by March then you fail! No thanks. I do love to reflect on my favorite adventures from the past year and look forward to all the new experiences and “firsts” to come in the next 365 days. There are roads to ride, places to visit, and people to meet for the first time. If riding your own motorcycle is on YOUR list of firsts, make this the year it happens!

I’ve mentioned the lady rider who inspired me to get my own motorcycle before, and with the I-can-do-anything-attitude my mom gifted me, I knew it would happen. But, where do you start? My advice to you is the same I received; take a motorcycle riding/safety course. Mine consisted of a classroom session on a Friday night, then a half day of training on the range Saturday and Sunday, with testing at the end. Passing the course, which met requirements established by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, meant I didn’t have to take an additional driving test at the DMV. Also, there were discounts available from participating insurance companies after receiving a completion certificate. Since it’s been… a while since that weekend, I thought I’d check with friends who are, or were class instructors to see if the experience is still similar. Ruth was an instructor in Central Virginia and confirmed that the course is still much as I remembered it. Like me, she’d ridden as a passenger before riding a bike on her own. She explained how that transitioned into becoming a RiderCoach:

I dated guys with motorcycles in my teens and rode as a passenger, but hadn’t operated a motorcycle until 1998, when I took the Basic Rider Course (BRC) in Charlottesville, VA.  A couple of years after taking the course, I got a job working in the Albemarle County Public Schools’ Community Education Department.  The Basic Rider Course was one of the classes offered through Community Ed.  I learned more about what a great service the DMV-sponsored course provided the public by the positive feedback from students.  Most raved about the course, the RiderCoaches, and what a great experience they had.  By 2007, I had enough riding experience and decided I wanted a better understanding of the course we offered, so I took the Motorcycle Instructor course through the DMV.  It was intense; a couple of very stressful weekends of studying, gaining and practicing skills that would assist students to safely operate a motorcycle.  I was the only woman in that group of 15 men to become a certified RiderCoach.

Coach Rod is still an instructor through this program and was inspired by Ruth to take a class and then go on to be certified as a RiderCoach right along with her:

My inspiration to become a rider coach started at the picnic table of my best friend’s bike shop. Several of my riding friends were talking about taking the basic rider course. It was a safety class I guessed but had NEVER heard of such thing and didn’t know it existed. They asked if I had taken the course and I was like NO, I’ve been riding 30 plus years, never been down what have I got to learn? They had ALL taken it and said you might be surprised at what you will learn. Ruth was one of those riders and she convinced me to take the class. It was a gorgeous September day on day one and it went well. It poured buckets on day 2 and was cold and miserable! What I learned about myself as a rider was amazing. I was a lazy braker, (usually just the rear and the front if needed), my cornering was marginal. There was just a lot I was not doing properly. After 2 days I was a better rider than I had been my entire life. At that moment I knew I wanted to teach this class. It was fun, exciting and it just might save a life.

Rodman also points out where you can get more details on taking a class, “You can pick a class by signing up for the weekend of your choice at opendoors1.org or visit the MSF website to find the classes closest to you. VA has 350,000 riders. We add about 7000 more each year through this program. For roughly 150 bucks you get great training and a chance to learn on someone else’s bike!!!  You only need a driver’s license and the proper attire. We provide helmets and bikes. Under 19 requires a parental signature. It’s a ton of fun and two days of great work.”

Rod’s brother, Clark, also teaches the course! He explains, “My Brother got me into being an instructor after he had been doing it for a while. His conviction on just how much one could benefit from the course did it for me. After taking the class myself, I realized that I wasn’t the rider I thought I was. Always room for improvement!”

If you have no experience on motorcycles, even as a passenger, don’t let that deter you from taking the class. One such student stands out in Clark’s memories as an instructor:

This student came in with nervous enthusiasm. She knew in her heart she was going to get that Ducati monster after getting her permit. She insisted on a bike that was a bit taller than we would have liked but handled it with determination. She did well all weekend and had a near perfect riding exam. When we handed her the permit and gave her her score she gave us a huge smile and said, “So I did ok for never having ridden before?!” That weekend was the first time she had ever sat on a bike!!

Maryann was also inspired by a family member to become a riding instructor in Northern Virginia:

I have been riding since my college days. The summer of 1969. We used to go hill climbing when we weren’t in class. I had a 3 gear 120cc Suzuki. It had a shifter that would cut the gear ratio in half for trail riding. I raced TT Scrambles in Lodi, CA – on a 100cc Hodaka. I didn’t ride after my oldest son was around 2 until my kids were grown. Then it was only street riding. My son-in-law was the one who wanted to become an instructor. I went along because it sounded like fun. And it was! We taught a lot together. Lots of mother-in-law jokes. It’s a great course. Within 3 days I watch people who have never been on a motorcycle become decent and safe riders. That is the most fun. Watching the light bulb go on. Changing from someone who is afraid to lean the motorcycle to someone who can ride a curve, or swerve, with good form.

Anyone else in the area looking for more information on this class can go to nvcc.edu, and search for the basic motorcycle rider course. No matter what state, once you do some investigating, you’ll find a course convenient to your location to suit you along with awesome teachers like Ruth, Rod, Clark, and Maryann. One thing these four instructors have in common is their advice to new riders. All of them stress the importance of practicing basic skills and riding your own ride. In other words, don’t get pushed past your comfort zone by other riders as you gain experience.

These coaches have also mentioned that a big part of what makes teaching fun is when a student is successful, and they see the rider “get it” for the first time when it comes to learning a new skill. Be that student! Worried about looking “foolish”? Check out Ruth’s recollection of a student who stood out for the wrong reasons:

My most memorable event as an instructor was when a student came back to class Sunday morning with a hangover and still a little intoxicated.  While attending a party, he had passed out in a theater and wasn’t sure what happened to his riding attire. He came to class wearing Shakespearean tights, mismatched socks, colorful slippers, and a see-through mesh shirt that didn’t quite cover his belly.  He said he grabbed clothes from the costume closet.  He fully expected to finish the course in that state and seemed stupefied that we sent him away.  

After that example, I think it would be more foolish to stay home and not take a chance on yourself and reaching a new goal. I might see you on the range too, looking back on the fun I had in my own class, this might be the year I take my first refresher course!

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