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About On The Mark

Having piloted a motorcycle for many years, Mark has many thoughts floating in his helmet and he's ready to share them with us.

Name: Mark Byers

Current Rides: 'Honestly, his stable is in such a constant flux that we can't keep track of it. If you need to know, just ask him.

Favorite quote:

If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.

- Winston Churchill

License to Learn

There’s a gap – a huge one – in the motorcycle rider-training continuum. I realized it when I rode with my protégé after she graduated from the MSF Basic Rider Course. It was a topic of discussion at the Backroads Summer Squeeze, when Ken Condon of Riding in the Zone spoke. The MSF course teaches people to ride in a parking lot and most more advanced schools, like Condon’s Riding in the Zone and Pridmore’s CLASS, require a rider to have a fair amount of on-road experience before they will train them. The problem is that there isn’t anything to bridge that critical gap between the parking lot and the more advanced schools. We take riders who have done slow-speed cone weaves and figure eights on an antiseptic, protected range and turn them loose in the real world.

And, the “real world” is a real problem. A new rider, who may be conservative with speed, is cast into a place where they are tailgated by a two-ton SUV piloted by a harried soccer parent, texting as they hasten to deliver their progeny to the next activity. New riders enter a world where congestion dictates that they make quick starts into the flow of traffic without stalling and dropping the motorcycle. There is very little, if any, kindness and patience out there for a rider who is less than assertive or confident. Even if a new rider tries to keep to less-traveled roads, eventually they will have to contend with any number of hazards and situations for which they are ill prepared by standardized drills on a closed range.

I still recommend to every prospective rider who asks that they take the MSF course as an entry point to their license. The classes are a structured way to take someone from zero experience to a level where they can at least operate the controls of the motorcycle; however, those courses are far from what one really needs to succeed on today’s congested, high-speed roadways. It’s hard, because the regulatory bodies try to strike a balance between demand for training services and the limited supply. At one time, Maryland had a waiting list for the courses offered at the local community colleges. I have a notion that the course has been tailored for throughput, perhaps not for the better, but there are many wonderful people out there doing courses for long hours at low pay, trying to provide a good entry to motorcycling. There’s a limit to what they can do.

So, what can be done to fill that chasm between “Congratulations, you have a license!” and “Welcome to advanced training?” Not everyone has the advantage of an experienced professional motorcyclist as a mentor. Husbands tend to be lousy mentors for riding spouses. Some mentors may actually foster bad behaviors and negative training. Some new riders abandon riding after they have an incident or are scared senseless by a close call. The saddest case is when a newly-minted rider gets a case of “whiskey throttle” or “target fixation” and ends up in the hospital or morgue. There is nothing like experience, but the school of hard knocks has a jerk for a professor.

There is no substitute for riding, but how and where to ride to gain the experience to transition to more advanced training is critical to the success of a new rider. Whom to ask for help is just as important, lest the new riders be filled with false lore or bad advice. Riding, especially at the neophyte level, is also a perishable skill. Like pilots, who need “proficiency flights,” riders need to have recent experience. The worst case would be someone who passes the test in the fall, then has to put the bike away until spring. I would treat that situation like a rider with no experience at all.

As fellow motorcyclists interested in the success of our comrades, I think we need to go out of our way to invite neophytes on rides with us, alone or in VERY small groups. We need to keep our speeds to levels at which a new rider is comfortable, but not so low that we make hazards of ourselves. We need to choose roads that are less congested and stop frequently to allow our protégés to both rest and ask questions. And, like flight instructors tell their students who just passed their tests, we need to tell them that their motorcycle license is a license to learn.