© GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY
Instructor Aaron Glode signals the direction that one of the Gearing Up motorcycle training program students should take at the last minute to avoid an imaginary collision.
It’s early Saturday afternoon on a not-so-fine late spring day, and the steady onslaught of rain is slowly puckering every inch of the drenched skin of a dozen sodden but eager-to-learn motorcycle riders.
Each has ditched a perfectly good, warm and dry vehicle to sit astride one of the many makes and models of motorcycles in the Stonepark Intermediate School parking lot for this season’s inaugural offering of Gearing Up, which is Canada Safety Council motorcycle training program.
And, for many, it’s the very first time.
“The progression from the beginning to the end (is amazing). A lot of people show up who don’t even know how to start the bike, but by the afternoon they’re doing 30 or 40 kilometres an hour around the parking lot with a smile from ear to ear. That’s what it’s all about,” says Aaron Glode, who along with Paul Poole and chief instructor Fraser Cameron, is teaching this particular 18-hour session of Gearing Up, which has been presented on Prince Edward Island for more than 15 years by Safety Services New Brunswick, a non-governmental charitable organization dedicated to the prevention of injuries.
To date, more than 25,000 people in the two provinces have been trained.
“What I always tell people is that riding a motorcycle is not necessarily intuitive. Anybody can get on it, make it go, twist the throttle and apply the brakes and stop, but there are really more techniques than that,” says Bill Walker, president and CEO of Safety Services New Brunswick.
“You learn about how to sit properly and when to hug your gas tank (with your knees) and that kind of thing. You’ll learn about counter steering and the collision avoidance and emergency braking; those are the things you need to be taught and you need to practise those skills. That’s why we feel it’s so important that people take training as a very first step when they’re learning to ride a motorcycle because if you learn them from the onset you will improve upon and develop them over time.”
On average, about 100 Islanders each year enrol in this national program, which is now in its 40th year.
“Over the last 10 to 15 years I’ve had about 70 per cent women taking the course. It’s now pretty much 50:50. A lot more guys are taking the course,” says Cameron.
“Most of the riders are new to it. There’s only maybe 25 per cent that have experience. A lot of them are new riders, and they find that this is the best way to decide if riding a motorcycle is for them. . . . We do have the bikes so they can come for the weekend — two-and-a-half days — and see if this is something they would be interested in pursuing further.”
After a two-hour theory session the night before, where this Gearing Up class was presented with information such as bike equipment, proper gear and clothing and where on the road is the proper and safest place to ride, on this day the students were taken from basic skills such as balancing the motorcycle, the correct use of brakes and proper procedures for starting a motorcycle to the use of the clutch and control of the motorcycle at slow speeds.
“We all have to start somewhere. That’s why (on the first day) we start off basically with how you get on it, and then from there how to push it and then how to coast it,” says Poole, who is now in his eighth summer of teaching Gearing Up on P.E.I.
“When you think about when you get on or off it, you’re going to do the same thing every time; repetition-repetition. It burns it in.”
That layered way of teaching things increases the level of confidence in the riders, especially the more timid ones.
“I hate (doing) figure eights,” laughs Stephanie Roberts of Charlottetown, who earlier on this day had fired up a motorcycle motor for the very first time.
This former backseat rider decided to move into the driver’s seat after her boyfriend bought her a motorcycle of her own.
“He thought taking the course was a safer route than teaching me himself,” she adds.
Cameron says one of the most important things for new riders to learn is clutch control.
“The standard transmission does pose a bit of an issue and as the years progress I find that more and more people don’t have experience with a clutch because most four-wheeled vehicles are now automatic,” he adds.
“So we do have to spend some extra time on (the first full day) to make sure people are familiarized with the clutch operation and shifting gears . . . . The ability to operate the clutch and the throttle and the rear brake simultaneously as well as be aware of everything that is going on around you becomes a critical element.”
The youngest in this skills study crowd, 17-year-old Liam MacArthur, actually has pretty much been riding for more than half of his life already.
“I’ve been dirt biking since I was eight years old, but I’d like to be able to drive to the dirt pits instead of loading them up on the back of the trailer and driving them there. (Taking the safety course) was my parents’ idea. The rule was if I got a (road) bike I had to take the safety course,” he adds with a smile.
Terry Gaudet of Summerside has been riding on and off for three decades now and recently decided to get back into it after a five-year absence with a new-to-him Harley Road King.
“It’s not that I’ve lost (any skills), I’m just here to gain as much as I can. (I had some bad habits), but I never had a course; you don’t know what you don’t know,” he says.
“It’s nice to have the instruction. You’re in the saddle for a long time; 17 hours in two days. That’s like going farther than Toronto. And it’s a big plus using their bikes and they’re smaller bikes, too, so it’s easier with 300-pound bikes as opposed to 600 or 800 pounds.”
As confidence increased, the students were introduced to the use of the transmission and corner negotiating techniques. They also learned how to avoid collisions through the correct application of emergency braking and counter steering techniques.
The most common comment from people who have taken the class is how much the habit of shoulder checking has becoming ingrained into their driving habits in general.
“People have come up to me after and said, ‘I was in my car. I did shoulder checks and there was somebody in the blind spot. I didn’t know they were there and I would have had a crash had I not done the shoulder check,’” Cameron says.
“As far as riding goes there have been people who have said, ‘Gosh, collision avoidance and emergency braking, it happened a month or so after the course. I was in a situation where I had to stop in a hurry and boy I was sure glad you spent all that time going through how to do it, how to get stopped.’ It just gives them the confidence.”
The number of students stayed steady at a dozen until midway through the second day, at which time one participant chose to leave the program.
“Our pass rate is approximately 95 per cent and that being the case there is usually one person every weekend who doesn’t (complete) the program, and that’s OK. It’s not for everybody,” Cameron says.
Sherry Oliver-Crockett of Charlottetown, who was also a newbie to the riding world, was struggling a bit on the first morning, so one of the instructors took her aside to work on specific skills until she had them down pat.
“I just wasn’t comfortable enough with the shifting and weaving in and out of things,” she says. “I love it now. It’s like, ‘yahoo I can do it!’ It’s just the confidence. The instructors are just so awesome and patient; they just build it into you and send you on your way.”
Tension leading into the test was high, but the mood afterwards for most of these newly graduated riders was into the stratosphere.
The next step for many will be to eventually take their motorcycle driving test from the P.E.I. Department of Motor Vehicles.
“My hands are shaking. I had to do it twice,” Roberts laughs after being told she’d passed.
“The first time I was just going a bit too fast. I put it in third and I got scared . . . . But for the second time I took a breather, I just sat there and breathed and thought ‘You can do this, Stephanie. You got this.’ And I did it! I screamed (when I got the thumbs up). It just feels so good knowing that I got it! Now I’m ready (to ride). I can’t wait.”
AT A GLANCE
The Gearing Up motorcycle training program is designed for the new, novice or experienced rider and is instructed by certified motorcycle instructors. It is the only nationally-recognized certified program of its kind. The course includes both a theory component and a practical riding component and candidates are presented with a certificate upon successful completion of a written test and a practical riding test.
The course is offered in P.E.I. in Charlottetown. Motorcycles are provided but students must have own safety gear. See the registration form for requirements.
Contact Safety Services New Brunswick at 1-877-762-7233 or visit www.nbsafety.com for more information.