On The Front Lines

Steve Lita American Iron Magazine Editor

Steve Lita, American Iron Magazine Editor

RIDE TO WORK by Steve Lita, Editor

If you don’t know how to ride, you probably also don’t know who to ask

Who was your first point of contact when it came time to really get serious about motorcycle riding? I’m not talking about when you were a kid, riding in the back of mom’s station wagon (remember those?) and seeing a cool biker on the highway. I’m talking about when you finally said: “Yeah! That’s what I want to do! I want to be out there, on two wheels, in the open air, riding my own bike!” Who did you turn to and ask: “What’s my first step? How do I learn to ride?”

Perhaps you were a teenager, and it was a classmate or a neighborhood friend. Or, if you were lucky, it was a family member who rode and guided you when you were young. For me, it was a bunch of car guys. You see, I got into hot rods and street machines before bikes. And hanging around at the local cruise nights we would all talk about everything four-wheel related, from cam specs to gear ratios. Lucky for me, these guys I was sipping coffee with also rode motorcycles. So, when the topic turned to two-wheel tech, I listened and learned. It wasn’t long before someone said, “Hey, Steve. You should get a license and a bike and come riding with us sometime.” Well, he didn’t have to make that suggestion twice. It started with verbal instructions from the car guys with correlations to car controls: “there’s no clutch pedal, it’s a clutch lever”; “you shift with your foot”; “there’s no gas pedal, you roll on the throttle.” It wasn’t long before someone lent me his dirt bike in an open field. Luckily, I suffered no broken bones and found plenty of soft pasture to fall on.

Fast forward to today, and I’m a certified MSF Ridercoach helping newbies learn to ride on the weekends. And while the buddy-taught method is what got me started, there have been many formal training days in my past. I was fortunate to have my inner circle of hot-rodding multi-transportation-talented friends. Some folks might not be as lucky as me. If you don’t know how to ride, you probably also don’t know who to ask. So, where does a total newbie start?

I’m thinking that some folks might just walk into a local motorcycle dealership to see what’s being offered. That makes the dealership salespeople newbies’ first points of contact.

I conducted a little experiment recently. I walked into a motorcycle dealer and kicked some tires and asked the salesman, “So where do I go to learn how to ride?” His response was fairly generic: “Well, you have to take the class.” He gets partial credit.

In my home state, a training class is mandatory to receive a motorcycle license, but the salesperson couldn’t give me any details. It was just some mysterious class, somewhere at so and so, where things get taught. Right there my heart sank for the next prospective motorcycle rider that walks through that dealer’s door. I was happy to bring him up to speed and give him some flyers with detailed contact info for our state’s motorcycle rider education program. He appreciated the info, and I was confident when I left that the next newbie through the door would get some good advice. I can’t fault the dealership. I often see advertisements for dealers hiring showroom staff. It seems to be a revolving-door position at a lot of bike shops. But as I left, I thought to myself, “Great, just 296 more dealerships to visit.”

Then there’s the dilemma of dealerships that are located close to state borders. Neighboring states might not recognize the same training or testing methods. So those dealers might want to familiarize themselves with training procedures from neighboring states. And who knows what the Department of Motor Vehicles employees tell people who ask about getting a motorcycle endorsement.

My bottom line here is if you know the folks at your local dealership, please encourage them to steer prospective riders in the right direction. It’ll benefit all parties in the long run when the new rider comes back to buy gear, parts, and a bike!

And in case you didn’t know, a good starting place for beginners to find out how to get a motorcycle license is MSF-USA.org.