These are the best of times and the worst of times for new riders. They’re the best because there’s more choice than before for decent motorcycles that look good, perform well, don’t cost too much and are easy to ride. They’re the worst because our insurance system sucks and discourages newbies by overcharging for most machines and riders.
(They’re also the worst because of the polar vortex, but we’re pretty much all screwed by that. Although I saw a guy leaving Bat Out Of Hell – the Musical this week all dressed up with somewhere to go, when it was minus-18C in downtown Toronto. His girlfriend, in a regular winter coat and clutching a helmet, didn’t look quite so keen. Hope he lived close by. But I digress…)
It helps, though, that we have a wide variety of training schools for new riders, all of which were selling their services this past weekend at the enormous Motorcycle Supershow near Toronto airport. There’s a training school now available at pretty much every community in Canada that’s medium-sized-and-up, so potential riders don’t have to travel too far to learn the ropes. The structure is generally the same, wherever you are: there’s a Friday evening theory course, followed by a weekend of riding in a parking lot, and they usually cost around $500.
The rules for passing your test vary from province to province, as Zac told us about last year, but the training doesn’t vary much. Nor should it. A rider should be as prepared in Edmonton as in Edmundston.
I used to teach at a private motorcycle safety school in Toronto, which I’ve always thought of as a cowboy outfit. It went out of business after a couple of years when its owner went bankrupt for mismanagement. (The owner, Steve, was an enigmatic, Svengali kind-of-guy to us young instructors. He disappeared after the bankruptcy and was later found selling colonic irrigations in Las Vegas. But I digress again…) We could always tell in the first hour which students would be the ones who’d drop the bike, and who would dominate all our time, and who would pass the test at the end and who would fail.
I say we were a cowboy outfit because we’d set up a giant road course in our parking lot at Victoria Park Avenue and the 401 and then, on the Sunday afternoon, try to get the students to crash. I’d ride around on one of the Honda 125s and pull alongside and chat to a student, then swerve across his path or cut her off around a curve. Steve would pull out in a car into the students’ path to teach them to stay alert and to always be prepared for an emergency brake. It was very effective, but he stopped doing this when a student hit the side of the car at speed and was thrown right over the hood. Did I mention the school went bankrupt?
That school was not licenced to test riders for their provincial licences – people who passed our testing would be met at a provincial test facility and provided with a motorcycle for the test. These days, however, any school that’s recognized by the province and permitted to conduct testing for a motorcycle licence can be considered reputable.
If you’re new to riding, or you’re getting back after a few years out of the saddle, you must recognize that getting your licence is only the official part of the process. The most important part is the training, which comes with both education and experience. Sign up for a course (and don’t delay, because they book quickly at this time of year), pay your money and get ahead of the game. Spend the rest of this winter looking forward to it, and then turn up on the day with the right equipment and the right attitude.
Then, when you do get out on the road, enjoy yourself but always be looking out for Steve in that car, pulling out from a driveway. I heard the colonic irrigation business dried up and he might be back in Canada.