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home : news : local   April 29, 2016

7/19/2013 8:57:00 AM
Easy riders: Lessons in how to train your motorcycle

Kyle Backus (left), Luis Chavarria and others drive their motorcycles through an obstacle course  as part of the Motorcycle Safety Education Program in La Salle.NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
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Kyle Backus (left), Luis Chavarria and others drive their motorcycles through an obstacle course  as part of the Motorcycle Safety Education Program in La Salle.

NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
Lee Strubinger
Princeton Bureau Chief

There we stood in the sun in the middle of the afternoon in the middle of July.
Between our thighs were machines that could take us up to 50 to 60 miles per hour if we chose. We were a loose collection of thrill seekers, curious drivers and potential riders and we wanted our motorcycle license.
The black pavement was oozing some sort of liquid in the far off corner of the range, perhaps oil that settle in the pavement and could no longer take the heat — it hadn’t rained all weekend at this point.
For what ever reason, and there were many, the collection of motorists assembled in La Salle at the Motorcycle Safety Education Program through Illinois State University were looking to get one letter added to their driver’s license. Ages ranged from 16 all the way to over 65 and everywhere in between.
My purpose for taking the course was to further my education about how the road works, understanding how it feels to ride a motorcycle and something new do to over the weekend. One thing I got from the course I did not intend to get was a strong empathy for motorcyclists on the road.
“Try it,” said motorcycle safety teacher Mike Stark to those who might consider doing the program but feel reservations toward riding a motorcycle. “The course is designed for beginner riders who can ride a bicycle.
“Most of the other state programs, (cost) starts out at about 300 bucks,” Stark said. “For 20 bucks here, this is a good deal.”
This program is administered through the Illinois Department of Transportation, Division of Traffic Safety, and is supported by Public Act 82-649, the Cycle Rider Safety Training Act. The program was started 20 years ago.
The CRST program director Raymond Mucha called this course “the best deal in the state,” right now. Cost for the Basic Rider Course, the entry level class, is $20 that is refundable once the course ends.
“Theoretically, it’s free and we provide the motorcycles and helmets,” Mucha said. “A novice or curious person can get their motorcycle license after a full weekend of training and the only money they pay is $10 at the Department of Motor Vehicles to get ‘M’ stamped on their license.”
The state is not out of a penny because of the program, Mucha said, which makes the course a good deal for the student and the state. The more safe motorcyclists, the more safe the roads can be.
“If your neighbor hates motorcycles, they don’t have to worry about it because their tax dollars don’t fund the program,” he added.
The money that goes to the DMV is split two ways, $5 stays at the DMV and the other $5 goes back to the training program. Additional funding for the course comes from a portion of the yearly $37 sticker motorcyclists are required to have.
Safety is the mantra of the entire weekend. Mucha said the course is designed to make motorcycle riding safe, not “scary.”
“The person who takes the course and then hops in their car and drives away will know how it feels to ride a motorcycle and be more aware of the road,” he added. “A safe driver will ultimately save more lives.”
Mucha said several courses for the year still have openings. He said it would be a tragedy to leave a free seat open.
The all-in-one-weekend, 20 hour course is divided into two parts, class work and course riding. About eight hours of the course is devoted to book work, the Basic Rider Course handbook. There is one instructor per six students. The other 12 hours I spent maneuvering a maroon, 250cc Suzuki motorcycle in the back parking lot of the JC Whitney distribution building along Route 6, a few miles east of LaSalle.
In the world of Regal Raptors, Ducati 900 Supersports and Harley Davidson’s, a Suzuki 250cc is hardly a pristine machine, rather, it’s like the Ford Taurus of motorcycles. This did not phase me, I had never ridden a motorcycle in my life before this weekend. I was the prime target of this motorcycle course.
“Baby steps” are taken when the class first mounts their motorcycle, working with first gear rocking the bike back and forth easing out the clutch to get use to how the machine will pull once the gear is initiated.
The field course portion of the class is divided into (16 or 17) exercises designed to familiarize each student with how a motorcycle handles. Each exercise builds on one another. Then, finally came the first exercise where we got to lift our feet off the ground and ride in first gear. My balance was off because I stuck my knees out for balance.
“For this weekend I want you to pretend that that bike is your lady friend,” Stark said. “You want to hold on tight to her.”
This is an example of the colorful, yet helpful techniques instructors present to riders. I’ll never forget the advice.
In order to accommodate more students at the La Salle course, the class is divided into two sections — the early class and late class. Both classes get together on Friday night for four hours of bookwork at the Holiday Inn Express in Peru. One section will start Saturday morning at 7 a.m., and the other at 10 a.m.
There are advantages to both the early and late class. The early class starts on the field course in the morning when the temperature is cooler and the sun less harsh. But after about 5 hours of maneuvering a motorcycle, which I had never done before and wore me down, the class must sit through a few hours of bookwork after a lunch break.
The late class starts with the book at 10 a.m. and goes through that until noon. The late class gets the advantage of working through the course book on a fresh, well rested mind, and gets to take the book test before the field test. The, after lunch, out to the hot sun for several hours on a motorcycle on the hot pavement.
The motorcycle safety program through ISU covers several major municipalities in north-central Illinois. In the coming months, the program will have to have a new headquarters because the university is no longer reapplying for the grant.
Mucha said he knows very little about the future.
“I do know that (ISU) will not be the headquarters for the course come Dec. 1,” he said. “The funding is still there and we fully expect to have a new host. We hope to keep the same instructors and same locations with the same number of classes or more.”
There were some moments when the group of us 10 riders traveled around the field course with the hot sun beating down, riding at about 15 miles per hour and the breeze cooling us and I understood why bikers ride. There is a sense of momentary freedom on these machines, like constantly riding a pedal bicycle that’s going down hill. I firmly believe any malicious thought toward motorcyclists is jealousy in a different form.
“There are several sayings that bikers have. Riding a motorcycle is not so much about fuel economy, it’s about smiles per mile,” Brian Stockoff, the other CRSTP instructor I had for the weekend, said. “You’ll never see a motorcycle outside of a therapists office.”

Lee Strubinger can be reached at, by phone at (815) 879-5200 or by fax at (815) 828-0627.

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