Jon St. Aubin knows he has limitations as a motorcycle rider. He wants to learn how to deal with them and be safe on the road.
“I rode when I was younger, but I haven’t been a rider for 25 or 30 years,” said the 51-year-old, just before embarking on another practice session as part of the motorcycle safety class he’s taking through Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC).
“I don’t feel like I used to,” he continued. “I’m just trying to be as safe as possible.”
St. Aubin just bought a Yamaha Tour Deluxe motorcycle and wants to enjoy it this spring. With warm weather finally here, motorcycle riders are finally hitting the road again, and safety should be on the minds of not only the riders, but all other motorists sharing the road. May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month.
“There are so many factors in motorcycle crashes,” said Bob Massey, a rider for 40 years and a safety instructor for 16 years.
One of the major factors is the failure of a car or truck driver to see a motorcycle. He said most collisions between a motorcycle and another vehicle at an intersection are the result of the motorcycle’s right-of-way being violated.
Massey’s job with riders like St. Aubin and Sue Sarauer, 49, of Bloomer, is to teach them about what they can control.
“I’ve been a passenger on my husband’s bike for 10 years. Now I want to be on the front end of it. It’s about time,” Sarauer said. “They teach you safety here. They teach you things to look out for.”
Lena Messing, 45, or Thorp, is also a newcomer to the sport, wanting to share the hobby with her husband, a veteran rider.
“I’d never driven one in my life before class,” she said. “I want to get my own motorcycle someday. My husband’s is way too big for me.”
“Statistics show the new rider is going to be a safer rider if they’ve taken the class,” said Massey. That should be reason enough for new riders to enroll, but there’s more.
Those who pass a motorcycle safety class do not have to take a road test with the DOT to get a cycle endorsement on their driver’s license. Since cycle road tests book up fast, that’s a big advantage. Also, most insurance companies offer discounts on rates, and some manufacturers offer discounts on new cycles for passing the class.
But Massey is hoping he can lead people to enjoy motorcycle riding and prevent them from suffering serious injuries or death.
“No one crashes a motorcycle without getting injured,” he said. Some are fortunate enough to escape with minor injuries, but the chances of serious injury are quite high in motorcycle crashes. Massey knows he can save a lot of suffering if he could just get the people in his classes to wear proper gear when riding. That’s why he has a box of damaged helmets, riding jackets and other items. He asks the students to imagine the results had the riders not been wearing those items.
“There are about 100 deaths a year from motorcycle crashes, on average, in Wisconsin. That could be reduced by 25 percent if everyone wore a helmet,” Massey said. “I had one student who decided to take the class after a deer hit him. The crash broke his helmet. The most frustrating part of the class is getting them to wear their helmets.”
Students can also learn a lot about how to handle a motorcycle. Massey said about 30 percent of crashes are due to a rider going too wide on a turn.
“There are a lot of reasons for that to happen. Not being trained is probably the biggest,” Massey said.
Simply logging hours on a motorcycle makes people better riders, Massey said. The class helps with that, consisting of six hours of classroom instruction and 10 hours on the driving range.
“If you haven’t ridden before, it’s the best way to log hours,” Massey said. “In training, you develop muscle memory. Muscle memory is why you never forget how to ride a bicycle. We try to develop that muscle memory before they go out on the streets.”
Relying on family members to teach you how to ride a cycle may not be the best move, Massey said. “Uncle Pete may have been riding for 40 years, but he may have been making the same mistake for 40 years.”
CVTC also has motorcycle riding classes for experienced drivers, with the requirements being at least 3000 miles and one year of riding experience.
Motorcycle enthusiasts are mounting an excellent campaign asking other motorists to look out for them, and respect their rights on the road. Greater care from those motorists will help motorcycle riders be safe, but the riders themselves must take responsibility for their own safety, too. Massey and his fellow instructors are anxious to teach them how to do that.