Chris and Len hold court with their tales from the road.
Born to ride!” is the credo Harley-Davidson Rider’s Edge instructor Leonard Applebum has his students declare on the first day of class. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” was my initial thought. Whereas all eight of my classmates introduced themselves with tales of childhood glory on dirt bikes, peer pressure from bike-inclined friends and acquaintances, even vintage bikes being passed from grandfathers to fathers, my story included no such mysticism. I’m just a nerdy English major who likes sports, video games, and happened to land a job proofreading motorcycle articles for HOT BIKE and Hot Rod Bikes nine years ago. No one in my family or circle of friends away from the office rides. Born to ride? More like, born not to ride.
Harley-Davidson’s Rider’s Edge New Rider Course is a 25-hour program taught by Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) and H-D certified instructors that select Harley dealers offer to break in potential future clients to the two-wheeled way of life. These 25 hours are split between five consecutive days of both classroom study and hands-on riding on a private range, culminating in an MSF Basic RiderCourse Completion Card, an exemption from the riding portion of your motorcycle license test (depending on your state), and even a possible break on your motorcycle insurance rate (check with your insurer). Given my less-than-extensive background in the saddle, I was intimidated by this undertaking, but comforted in the fact that I was in the hands of professionals.
While day one of the course at Orange County Harley-Davidson piqued my interest, this two-hour, 15-minute classroom-only session also curbed it with all of the waiver forms, safety warnings, and acronyms you’d expect. Yes, S.E.E. (Search Evaluate Execute) and A.T.G.A.T.T. (All The Gear All The Time) are invaluable lessons, but I also quickly learned to fully respect this foray. Little known fact: you can seriously hurt yourself on a motorcycle. What had I gotten myself into?
“To ride a bike, you have to be yay high.”
On the bright side, it turned out there was no need to worry about an intimidating instructor. I’d imagined someone like Clay Morrow from Sons of Anarchy indoctrinating me into a life of gunrunning and bad-assery. With more than 12 years of MSF-certified instruction under his belt, Len was a welcoming tour guide into the world of riding. He was engaging, extremely approachable, and had a great sense of humor; and it turns out the gunrunning is optional. With the weight of this venture applying a proper amount of apprehension, Len did well to relieve it. A couple of fun facts: in Len’s estimation, his classes consist mostly of men in their late 40s, though about a third of his students tend to be women. My class was all male, most in their 20s or 30s, so all comers are welcome.
“It’s safe to say that by day five’s one-hour, 45-minute class, we were over the trappings of being biker noobs.”
Day two was another two-plus-hour classroom session at the dealership. Group learning is the preferred methodology, with our class being broken up into three groups of three to tackle the 54-page textbook collectively. We dove in, learning the tools we would need to navigate the practice range and outside world on a hog, or any motorcycle for that matter—the course is not biased towards Harleys, cruisers, or otherwise. With safety precautions and fundamental riding basics drilled into our heads, I nervously anticipated our next two days (gasp!) on the range.
Chris breaks down our next exercise. Flannel shirts optional.
Dy (the guy in our group who bought his Harley a week before class started) navigates the course with grace.
Dy (the guy in our group who bought his Harley a week before class started) navigates the
My study group, “The Mecha Seahorses” (don’t ask), listened intently in class.