Life on two wheels is something that many develop early on in life or is a decision that seems to come out of mid-life crisis. A shiny Harley-Davidson motorcycle becomes a sought-after goal of many a baby boomer.
In either case, knowing how to ride safely and learning the rules of the road for a motorcyclist, is part of making the transition. Like driving a car, it is a learned skill, often best obtained through an experienced teacher.
When that experienced teacher has already mastered teaching biomed, it’s not a stretch to teach motorcycle riding. Roger Bowles, Ed.D, CBET, is a professor in the Texas State Technical College Biomedical Equipment Technology Department. For the past six years, he has also taught safe motorcycle operation.
“I’ve been teaching this since April of 2012. I first became interested in teaching motorcycles in 2008 when I went through the basic rider course for the first time. I had been riding, but I didn’t know I needed a separate license endorsement to ride on the street. I took the course and enjoyed it and the instructor mentioned that the state was looking for instructors. I didn’t pursue it until 2011 and it took about a year to get fully qualified to teach,” Bowles says.
When he applied, he was assigned a mentor and given assignments. He says that he went through the basic course again and then started hanging around most weekends; learning cone placement on the range and getting more familiar with the course.
“The state of Texas has a nine-day intensive course to become a certified Motorcycle Safety Foundation RiderCoach. I have since completed certification courses for teaching dirt bikes (dirtbikeschool.org), three-wheel motorcycles and the total control intermediate riding clinic,” Bowles adds.
Years of Experience
To teach a skill, it helps to be well versed in it yourself. Bowles has plenty of experience sitting in the seat of various motorcycles.
“I first started riding when I was about four-years old on a little pull-start minibike. From there, it was a Yamaha YZ80 and a couple of other dirt bikes. I got my first street bike, a Honda 250, in 1985 when I was in the Navy,” he says.
“I took a break from riding when my kids were little. My second wife’s dad is a Harley guy and had three in the garage. I went riding with him one day and re-caught the riding bug. I went out and bought a 1987 Harley Softail. Over the years, I have owned several Harley-Davidsons; a 2008 HD Fat Bob, a 2010 Road King, a 2012 Road Glide Ultra, and a couple of Kawasaki KLR 650 dual-sport bikes. Right now, I have a 2017 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra, a 2015 Harley-Davidson Police Road King, a Suzuki DR650 dual-sport and a Honda CRF250X trail bike. I also own two Kawasaki 140 trail bikes for training,” Bowles adds.
He says he doesn’t do much in the way of long-haul riding, although he would like to.
“I don’t do as much touring as I would like. We did go to the Tennessee Motorcycles and Music Revival last year and we plan to go to Sturgis and Daytona when I’m not working every weekend. As it is, most weeks, I ride to work — which is a 30-minute commute so that is nice,” he says.
“I’ve got many long rides on my bucket list, but right now, my priority is to build my business. For the business, I will be teaching the total control intermediate riding clinic (for riders with their own bike and some experience) and the dirt bike school. I will still fit in a weekend a month, or maybe every other month, to teach a basic course for Harley-Davidson,” Bowles adds.
The Basics: What’s Required?
There’s an old saying about once you have ridden a bike, you can always ride a bike. That may be true of the non-motorized variety, but motorcycles are a breed apart. Then, there are differences among sports bikes, dirt bikes and big touring bikes. For anyone seeking the know-how to get on that first motorcycle, Bowles explains the first steps.
“First things first, he or she needs to be able to balance and ride a bicycle. If that is no problem, they can sign up for a basic rider course. In most cases, they can just Google ‘motorcycle training’ in their location and get a list of providers,” Bowles says.
“For the basic (entry-level) street course, there is an ‘e-course’ that must be completed before coming to class. The cost varies from state to state and provider to provider but it ranges from around $175 to $300. This is usually a two- to three-day course with about 10 hours spent actually riding on the range and around five hours in the classroom,” he adds.
His suggestion is to get started on a dirt bike.
“A person can learn the fundamentals in the dirt bike school and then practice off-road before taking the street course and dealing with traffic,” Bowles says.
“Yes, the street endorsement can be earned in one weekend, but learning to ride a motorcycle is a lifelong endeavor. You can always be better and those basic skills have to be practiced in order to keep them and improve on them,” he says.
As Bowles settled in to teaching these motoring skills, he learned what is required to teach people to ride safely and responsibly.
“It took me a year or so as a coach to become really good at observing students and pointing out things that can help them improve their skills. One issue I see a lot is people not really having the ability to balance or the physical stamina to ride a motorcycle,” he says.
“We occasionally get older riders who want to fulfill their bucket list but haven’t ridden a bicycle in decades or have physical issues. Sometimes it is very young riders who say they have ridden a bicycle but neglect to mention it was one or two times when they were six years old. But overall, if someone wants to learn the skills bad enough, they can be successful — maybe not the first time they take the class but after a couple of times,” Bowles adds.
He has found also that communication skills are paramount and he has honed his instructor skills through feedback.
Are there any interesting stories he can relate about his experience teaching novices to ride a motorcycle?
“Oh, yes there have been a few. The incidents are very few and far between but I have had a couple go off the range and hit a curb; one that ended up getting ‘bucked off’ of the motorcycle because of improper hand placement on the throttle and no clutch control; and a couple I have had to send home because they showed up under the influence. My job as an instructor is to keep these incidents from occurring by seeing and correcting basic control mistakes early before they become an issue,” Bowles says.
What does he suggest for those who want to try their hand at entering the world of two-wheel transportation?
“Start with a smaller weight and a smaller displacement, used bike. Yes, most salespeople will tell you that you will quickly outgrow it; and that may be true. But, it is important to develop the skills on a smaller bike, and then gradually move up the scale as your skills improve and your confidence grows,” he says.
“People do not learn to drive, fly a plane, or even play football or baseball in one weekend, so motorcycling is really not that different. Building skills takes time, practice and observed practice. Don’t let the first course you take be the only course you take. The basic course is like kindergarten. In order to improve skills and be a safer, more skilled rider, a person has to realize that motorcycling is a life-long learning endeavor,” Bowles adds.
“I wish more parents would buy dirt bikes for their kids and themselves and make it a family effort. It really can be a rewarding, memory-making pastime and those dirt bike skills do pay off on the street,” he adds.
Apparently, those skills teaching the biomed profession also pay off when teaching people to transition to a motorcycle. Roger Bowles is proof of that as he turns novice riders into safe motorcyclists.
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