Getting legal, and safe, on your motorcycle - Albuquerque Journal

Getting legal, and safe, on your motorcycle

Phoenix LeDoux, riding academy director for Santa Fe Harley-Davidson, gives motorcycle riders some pointers during an endorsement course. (Courtesy of Santa Fe Harley-Davidson)

Chris Quintana rode his first motorcycle when he was in junior high some 45 years ago.

But it wasn’t recently that he’s doing it legally.

“I was familiar with riding,” Quintana said. “As the kids got older, I was able to buy a bike again. I got right back into it. I had been doing it and taking the risk of getting pulled over.”

Quintana, 59, of Velarde, was among the many motorcyclists in New Mexico riding without a motorcycle endorsement for his driver’s license.

“It is estimated that about 30% of motorcyclists do not have a motorcycle endorsement on their license,” said Debby Pearson, one of the owners of Santa Fe Harley-Davidson. “To operate a 500-plus (cylinder-capacity) motorcycle, it is state law that the operator take a written and motorcycle road test to prove proficient in their riding skills.”

New motorcycle owners are guided to beginner courses that essentially introduce the riders to the basics of riding a motorcycle – starting with how to safely climb aboard – to more advanced techniques, said Phoenix LeDoux, riding academy director for the store.

“From the program’s perspective, the beginner rider course is for an individual who has never been on a motorcycle before ever,” she said. “It’s for those who have never even sat on a motorcycle so let’s teach them how to get on a motorcycle without it rolling away.”

But for experienced riders, sitting through such beginning instructions is not only a painful waste of time. It can be frustrating for the new riders, as well, said Dan Orchowsky, state director for the state Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

“When those students are in with the basic students, the basic students get intimidated and both groups get frustrated,” he said.

So last year, Orchowsky helped introduce a new course designed specifically for experienced riders.

“The course is designed for riders with 1,000 miles riding experience,” Orchowsky said. “They have the riding experience but they don’t have an endorsement.”

The curriculum has been pared down from a three-day, immersive class to a one-day, eight-hour classroom-and-driving-range session, at the end of which riders are qualified to receive the motorcycle endorsement from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

“We use the same (road) exercises we do in the basic course because they’re going to get tested on the same things” Orchowsky said. “We test for their ability to perform the exercises, but they also get a higher level of coaching.”

And no matter how experienced a rider, getting some tips and pointers from riding experts, not to mention a few safety refreshers, is not such a bad thing, Quintana admitted, especially if it means becoming street legal at the same time.

“It helped me get legal in an affordable manner,” he said. “It was nice refresher at the same time. I talked with several other guys in the class and we were all in the same predicament. It was nice to know that I wasn’t the only one out there in the same boat.”

Although he’s also a truck driver for a living, Quintana said he went into the class with an open mind and it paid dividends.

“They were helpful,” he said. “I learned a lot of new things, things I wasn’t aware of and things that I had forgotten. They explained things in detail. I used to be an owner/operator truck driver, but there were signs out there that I never really paid attention to. I got grandfathered in on my on my CDL (commercial drivers license). But they explained a lot of the signs on the road that are helpful for riders and what the signs mean.”

The course also involves road tactics and maneuvers that are crucial for motorcyclists to know when facing dangerous situations.

“They showed us how to be aware of escape routes when you get in a bind and watching for escape routes if something goes wrong,” Quintana said. “They taught us how to look out and pay more attention when riding toward the sun and how to hide behind the shadows and avoid blind spots.”

Sometimes experienced riders come in with an attitude of knowing it all, but patience and a little humor coupled with sound knowledge goes a long way to defusing that attitude, LeDoux said.

“We have had a few of those people,” she said. “One guy said to me, “I’m just here to get my license. I know everything there is to know.’ …When we got him in the later exercises, halfway through he said, ‘Oh my god, I never knew that.’ I try to make the classroom and range portion fun and I’m able to connect with the student a little more.”

As more motorcyclists become aware of the experienced riders course, the hope is the state can significantly reduce the numbers riding without a license endorsement, Orchowsky said.

“It’s amazing how many people we have in our classes and they’ll say, ‘I’ve been riding a long time and I just thought it was time to get my endorsement,'” Orchowsky said. “It’s fairly common. This fits better. It’s a great course for people to get their endorsement and be street legal and be safer and prevent motorcycle mishaps.”

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