Rider's Edge Academy of Motorcycling - Rider... Interrupted - Technique

Journey To The Rider's Edge-And Back

Fifteen years ago I was a California girl living a life of leisure, learning to ride dirtbikes and ATVs in the sand dunes. Then I landed a job as an ad salesperson for Motorcyclist magazine, ensuring a future on two wheels. But after one cross-country relocation, 11 years of marriage and two kids, visions of twisty roads turned to conference calls and stroller derbies. So when the opportunity arose to enroll in the Harley-Davidson Rider's Edge Academy of Motorcycling, I took it.

Rider's Edge (www.ridersedge.com), Harley-Davidson's proprietary rider education/certification course, was established in 2000 and is offered in 40 states at authorized H-D dealerships. Three levels are offered, based on rider experience: the New Rider's Course, the Rider's Edge Skilled Rider's Course and the Rider's Edge/MSF Guide to Group Riding.

Preparation and pre-requisites are simple: You need to know how to ride a bicycle and show up with appropriate gear, meaning a DOT-approved helmet, protective eyewear, long pants, over-the-ankle boots, full-fingered gloves and a long-sleeve shirt or jacket. Students also need a motorcycle learner's permit, which I obtained after a quick cram session and written test at the DMV.

The New Rider's Course was the obvious choice for me and my partner-in-crime Cat Boland, associate media director at Buell's advertising agency, Laughlin Constable. The riding portion of the class takes place on 492cc Buell Blasts, and more than one student said the more powerful bike was the key factor in their choosing Rider's Edge over the standard 250cc MSF trainers. Considering the quality of the instructors along with all the comforts and conveniences, the $325 price tag seems well worth the investment.

Our husband-and-wife instructor team, Thom and Nancy Sislow, are both Rider's Edge and MSF certified, as are all the school's instructors. The emphasis in the classroom and on the range was on skill development in an ever-present framework of safety. Classroom instruction included a steady stream of acronyms such as the proper pre-ride checklist-TCLOCS (for Tires and wheels, Controls, Lights and electrics, Oil and other fluids, Chassis and Stands)-as well as the MSF's SEE (See, Evaluate and Execute) strategy.

The riding curriculum was divided into 16 lessons, from simple cornering to swerving to my personal nemesis: the figure-8 U-turn inside a 20-foot painted square. Each lesson had a strategy, a purpose and a real-world application. After each run-through, students got one-on-one feedback. After each session, we had a group debriefing.

That practice prepared us for two riding exams on Sunday afternoon, starting with a four-part assessment of basic skills: the U-turn, swerve, quick stop and the 135-degree turn. The road test is similar but more challenging than the Illinois DMV test. I felt very prepared, even if I wasn't too confident in the painfully slow first-gear U-turns. Before leaving the range, Thom and Nancy took us through some of the state test as well.

When the first three students failed on their first attempt, I started to worry. All three were competent riders and had easily passed Sunday's exams. Nerves and cold bikes lead to minor mistakes, and you're only allowed 10 points worth of stalls, missed cones and such. Drop a bike and you're done.

My "ride the clutch" strategy paid off. I passed with 5 points off for going out of bounds once. I was thrilled! Students have the option of coming back on Monday morning and taking the test again. Back in the classroom, we took the 50-question MSF Written Exam, a multiple-choice test on the MSF Basic Rider Course Handbook, plus films we'd watched throughout the weekend. The course culminated with a cake in honor of our MSF Rider Course completion cards. The payoff for the four-day journey came the next day, when most of us received our motorcycle licenses.

After a decade and a half in this business I can finally call myself a motorcyclist. I'm still a newbie, but the switch has been flipped, and I won't be turning it off any time soon.