It's immeasurable, how beneficial the course is to new riders. The one I took at Saddleback College is an 8 a.m.-to-5 p.m. Saturday-and-Sunday class that teaches the fundamentals of riding mechanics and safety. It's split into two parts per day: a classroom learning session, complete with a study booklet and snazzy educational videos, and a riding session in Saddleback's massive parking lot, near the tennis courts.
In California, the class counts as the riding portion of your DMV license test, which, according to many, is a bitch and a half; but to take the training course you don't even have to start any paperwork with the DMV. All you need is $150 if you're 15 1/2 to 20 years old, $250 for 21 and older, pants, boots that cover the ankle, a long-sleeve shirt or jacket and a willingness to learn and have fun.
The prices vary from location to location, but so does availability. I signed up about nine days in advance for the course with no problem, but some places are full for weeks or months before you can get a spot.
|Photo by Cerise Ostrem|
Instructors supply small and extremely forgiving 125cc and 250cc bikes and helmets, though you're allowed to bring your own if you already have them. However, larger bikes may be difficult to use, especially with the slow-speed and tight-turn exercises. And there's nothing cooler than showing off your sexy new sport bike on the course and dropping it while doing a 3 mph U-turn.
The course is designed for absolute beginners to the scene, so if you have some basic knowledge, then the first few hours may seem tedious while the riding coach goes over things such as where the brake lever is and what it does.
However, the course opened everyone's eyes (some veteran riders included) to how very small and hard-to-see motorcyclists are on the road. It teaches you to pick a spot in the lane that will get you out of the blind spots of a car in front of you, and how to predict and react to possible dangers several seconds down the road while you're riding.
Gear advice, including that one should always wear a full-face helmet or at least goggles with an open-face helmet, was also provided. Eye glasses and shades, despite covering the eye from the front, will still allow air and dirt into your eyes underneath, thus making it hard to see while riding.
There was extensive lecture and training on how to properly use the clutch and throttle together, so as to find that nice middle ground between stalling out and having the bike loop out from under you during a takeoff. If you drive a manual-transmission car, then it's pretty much the same concept, but you'll be using your left foot to shift and left hand to clutch.
|Photo by Cerise Ostrem|
And the instructors taught us things that would have been painful to discover on the open road--pointers such as never, ever slam on your brakes while leaning into a turn because, as our coach John put it, "The bike is inherently lazy and will want to lie down, no matter how fast you're going." That "laziness" could cost you a skin graft if you make that mistake.
Most of the class went from tentative, stone-cold newbies to putting around the parking lot very naturally by the start of the second day. The same level of comfort and understanding could have taken a long time, if not for the course.
Despite the slight wallet molestation, the course can help pay for itself over time, because many insurance companies offer discounts if you complete it.
There's also a sweet, one-time, 15-percent discount at Cycle Gear on Lake Forest Drive in Laguna Hills for those who finish the course. As the Cycle Gear associate, Brandon, told me, it's best to use it on one big purchase to get the maximum discount. For example, get a helmet, gloves and a jacket together in order to save some serious coin.
The store also boasts a lowest-price guarantee: if you find an item you want at a lower price somewhere else, Cycle Gear says they'll beat it. This sport can get really pricey really fast, so take advantage of a good deal whenever you can.
Previously in Easy Writer:
The Newbie Motorcyclist's Journey Begins