Motorcycle classes at Carroll Community College reflect lure of the open road

For many, class is quick ticket to state license

July 29, 2011|By Katie V. Jones

Although her four daughters and seven grandchildren didn't have a clue what she was up to, Phyllis Hare was busy on a recent Saturday morning in Westminster checking off another item on her "bucket list" —challenges she's determined to try during her lifetime.

She was taking motorcycle lessons — in a class for women only — at Carroll Community College.

In the parking lot of the Washington Road campus, with a fleet of motorcycles and bright orange cones laid out across the course, Hare, 63, said she was setting an example for her daughters and grandkids.

"I'm going to show them you can do whatever you want," she said.

But first, she had to pass the class.

"You don't get bragging rights until you pass," she said.

The college has been offering motorcycle safety classes for 15 years. While the classes are not a requirement to get a Maryland motorcycle driver's license, instructors Frank Lee and Mike Smith strongly encourage taking the class, no matter the rider's skill level.

"Some have rider experience; some have never been on a motorcycle," Lee said, watching the class of eight women put their bikes in neutral and power walk around cones. "We start small, adding additional skills."

The class provides motorcycles for students to use. Participants are required to wear proper clothing, including boots above the ankle, long-sleeve shirts, long pants, gloves, eye protection and a helmet compliant with federal law.

The course includes classroom sessions, then a two-day "lab" where students get hands-on experience in the parking lot.

Students who pass both the written and driving tests will receive a certificate to take to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration allowing them to receive their Class M (motorcycle) license.

The college is one of 19 sites around the state that offer motorcycle safety training. More than 7,700 participants enrolled in Maryland's rider training program in 2010, with 5,600 receiving certificates, according to Philip Sause, manager of the motorcycle safety program for the MVA.

While people can receive training at other sites — or even out of state — only at the MVA-approved sites will they receive a certificate for the Class M license.

Anyone under the age of 18 is required to take the riding lessons, Sause said. Older riders can go through the regular licensing program, though like Lee and Smith, Sause recommends the classes.

"Statistics tend to show that those who took rider training have more exposure and ride more," Sause said.

"The result of that is … a better attitude about riding," he said. "They're more responsible and more likely to wear protective gear and ride within their limits."

State legislation created the classes in 1983, with pilot riding courses beginning in 1985, Sause said. Full-scale classes started in 1986 at seven training centers. In October 1997, the law changed, creating the license waiver allowing the training centers' tests to be equivalent to the MVA tests.

"Once that happened, demand increased greatly over the next few years," Sause said. "In 2008, we had the most enrolled students — 9,800."

Numbers have fallen off since than.

"Most riders are casual, weekend riders," Sause said. "We haven't seen demand go through the roof because of gas prices."

Revival at the pump

David Phelps, co-owner of Brown's V Twin Cycle Repair in Westminster, agreed that most motorcycle riders are weekend riders, but has seen a slight increase in riders seeking cheaper transportation than four-wheel vehicles.

"A lot of people are digging out their bikes from the back of their garage to bring them to us to get ready," Phelps said. "An average rider puts 3,000 to 4,000 miles a year on their bike. Other people ride every day to commute.

"They're a fearless group," Phelps said of motorcyclists. "You do have a few … who quit riding because of traffic situations. Most people are pretty watchful while riding.

"The bulk of it is mostly for pleasure."

Richard Gerber, manager of In Step, a leather store in Sykesville, sees riders of all ages, from children to the elderly, buying helmets, gloves and other apparel throughout the year.

"There are people who ride all year. The sun is out and it's 30 degrees and they go out for a ride," he said. "They may be a little cold when they ride, but that's what chaps are for — and we have them."

A rider for more than 40 years, Gerber acknowledges he did not take a training course.

He strongly recommends the courses, however.

"It teaches you all the safety things," Gerber said.

Roadside manners

The class at Carroll Community College caters both to new enthusiasts and weekend riders, and Sause said the class stresses a key element for all motorcyclists: "Share the Road."

While car drivers need to be aware, motorcyclists can do their part, too, by wearing reflective clothing to be easily seen; not riding in a car's blind spot; keeping the headlight lit; and choosing a lane position where the rider can be easily seen.

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