If you know how to ride a bicycle, you can probably ride a motorcycle with some coaching and perhaps a bit of bravado.
Unlike a bicycle however, when riding a motorcycle you can't simply take to the mean streets of Oregon. To ride an electric or gasoline-powered bike, you need a "Motorcycle Endorsement" from the Department of Motor Vehicles and training by way of Team Oregon, a statewide partner of Oregon State University and the Oregon Department of Transportation, a non-profit outreach founded with safety in mind. Only mopeds (50cc or less, or their electric power-equivalent) can be ridden without an endorsement in Oregon.
Steve Garets founded Team Oregon in 1984. Soon after, the state passed a law requiring all motorcycle riders under 18 years old (later changed to under 21) to take a safety course. In the 1990s, the DMV dropped some testing requirements for riders who took a Team Oregon safety course and today it's mandatory for anyone wishing to ride a motorcycle to take a course through Team Oregon. This isn't a lone concept either. All states require some type of endorsement or permit from their DMV and Florida, Connecticut, Maine and Texas join Oregon requiring mandatory training for resident motorcyclists before granting an endorsement.
That first year, Team Oregon trained 400 riders a number that now exceeds 9,000 students a year taught by nearly 200 instructors at 24 locations around the state. Hands-on and classroom instruction range from basic rider training which provides the "endorsement" to advanced training for the veteran rider wishing to hone his or her skills and become more adept on the road.
MotoSport sat down with Pat Hahn, communications and outreach manager with Team Oregon, and we discussed motorcycling, getting the endorsement and all that talk about the decline in ridership.
Number of yearly motorcycle endorsements: We issue approximately 8,500 Team Oregon completion cards for every 10,000 trained. Of those, 7,500 apply for their endorsement. Interestingly, about 1,000 do not - maybe they learned through the class that motorcycling is not as easy as it looks and they decide they're not ready for the responsibility. We consider that a win, too.
How many riders per class? Most of our courses are limited to 12 students with two instructors. Our advanced course is limited to 18 students with four or five instructors.
How many different classes offered? Six. Four courses satisfy Oregon requirements for a motorcycle endorsement and two for experienced riders. Three more courses for experienced riders are currently in development.
Cost: Basic courses for beginners or those who already know how to operate bike:
- Basic (learn-to-ride) courses - $199
- Intermediate (already know how) courses - $169
Both courses have an online classroom option called eRider™ to study at home for fewer class hours. These four satisfy Oregon's mandatory training requirement.
Courses for experienced riders who already have a motorcycle endorsement:
- Rider Skills Practice (RSP), a half-day advanced course - $99
- Advanced Rider Training (ART), a full-day course on the kart track - $179
1. To legally ride a motorcycle in Oregon, you can't simply go out, buy a bike and ride. Tell us the process a rider must take to be in legal compliance.
All new riders applying for a motorcycle endorsement must take an approved course, currently Team Oregon Basic Rider Training (BRT), eRider™ Basic, Intermediate Rider Training (IRT), or eRider™ Intermediate. They present their completion card at DMV when applying for the motorcycle endorsement, pay the fees and take the DMV knowledge test. Only once they've completed the process are they legal to ride.
2. Say I have never ridden nor do I even have a motorcycle. I don't even know where the throttle is but I want to ride. What do I do and how can Team Oregon help me? Do you have a bike I can borrow?
If you can balance and ride a bicycle, we can teach you to ride in a weekend. How cool is that? We provide the bike and helmet. But realize it's a basic course - you won't be an expert rider after just a weekend of training. You'll have the minimum skills to start practicing on the street, unsupervised. It takes a lot more work - a lifetime, sometimes - to actually become proficient at riding.
3. Do I need a regular driver's license first?
Yes. To be eligible to take a basic or intermediate course, you'll need a driver's license or driver's instruction permit. To be eligible for an advanced course, you'll need a driver's license and motorcycle endorsement.
4. If I don't have the motorcycle endorsement to ride legally how do I get my bike to Team Oregon training? It's illegal to ride there, right?
Fines for riding without an endorsement in Oregon are over $1,000 including court costs. Of course, they can always go to DMV and get an instruction permit to ride legally to class. But most students just use our training bikes. They're warmed up and ready to go in the morning and students don't have to ride home after a long day of training.
5. What can I expect from the endorsement classes? Is it all riding? All day?
Basic courses are about 15 hours over 2-3 days; intermediate courses are one day. Each are about half classroom and half practice riding on the range. Both courses cover the most critical information riders need to know before starting out on the street. In the classroom it's riding gear, riding technique, strategy and special situations. On the range it's getting underway, turning, shifting, and stopping on day one, plus emergency braking, swerving, cornering and traffic interaction on day two.
6. Of course, it's not all rider compliance with the law. Veteran riders also take classes. What can someone who has been riding regularly for 10 years get out of Team Oregon's courses?
In our advanced courses, we focus on judgment, precision, and emergency handling skills: Strategy, risk awareness, braking, swerving, and most of all, safe cornering. Riders who take an advanced course say they enjoy riding more and have fewer "uh-oh" moments. That's a huge compliment - we feel like we're making motorcycling better with our efforts.
7. What is eRider™?
Our courses with online classroom offer a unique motorcycle training experience, unlike anything else in this country. It's highly interactive, with compelling videos and activities to develop mental skills like risk awareness, hazard identification, judgment and decision making.
8. Do you teach "How to crash"?
We've all heard someone say "I had to lay 'er down." We don't teach that. "Laying it down" is the same thing as crashing. Instead, we teach riders how to use their brakes and stay in control of their motorcycles. The bike will stop much faster upright, on its tires, than sliding along sideways in a shower of sparks and plastic.
9. What can't be taught?
The biggest challenge in motorcycle safety, nationwide, is getting riders to come back for more training after they've gained some experience. When they take their basic course, they think they're done. The problem is, that attitude limits them to a life of basic skills. Once they have some experience and operating the bike becomes second nature, there are techniques, strategies and skills we can teach them to up their game. Most riders, unfortunately, don't realize how much better at riding they could be if they took an advanced class.
10. In what situation would you need to pull a would-be rider aside and tell them they shouldn't ride?
When we counsel students out of the class, they often seem relieved. Like they wanted to quit, but didn't think they could. We watch for extreme nervousness, balance problems, lack of concentration or coordination, and how they respond to coaching. If they can't practice safely on the range, they're going to be in bigger trouble on the street.
11. So, is all this training working?
Crash and injury rates have gone down since the inception of rider training in the US, though the actual number of crashes and injuries tracks more closely with the number of registered motorcycles. the injury rate is less than half of what it was in the 1980s, and the fatality rate about two-thirds. In Oregon specifically, fatalities dropped as the number of students increased however starting in 1998, motorcycle registrations, and injuries and fatalities, started growing as motorcycling became popular again, particularly with Baby Boomers.
Oregon Motorcycle Fatalities vs. Students Training from 1984-2016. Red line is fatalities; blue line is riders trained
12. What's the biggest mistake a rider makes out on the road?
The biggest mistake riders make is overestimating the danger posed by other drivers and underestimating the danger they pose to themselves. Three-quarters of fatal crashes are caused by riders, not other drivers. Believe it or not, we don't lose most riders to other drivers at intersections - we lose them in curves. There are still lots of injury crashes at intersections, but the three biggest culprits in fatal crashes are speed, curves, and alcohol - all things within the rider's control.
13. What's the biggest misnomer the non-riding public has about motorcyclists?
Too many non-riders perceive motorcyclists as maniacs, going too fast and zig-zagging in and out of traffic. It's understandable. What they remember is that one guy who yes, did ride like that. But they missed the other responsible 99 percent of riders who were minding their business, behaving courteously, carefully, and lawfully. They're invisible.
14. Lots of talk about the industry slowing down with baby boomers getting older and younger generations not interested. Do you see that in class enrollment or is motorcycle riding healthy and robust in Oregon?
The Boomers who were going to get back into riding have done so and demand for both bikes and training has slowed considerably. Our training numbers are about 80 percent of what they were three years ago. The average age of our students is still about 35 though - young or old, there's an overall fascination with motorcycles that doesn't seem to be receding.
15. A number of companies, like Zero, are manufacturing electric bikes. Do you see these as the future and are they showing up at Team Oregon classes?
Electric bikes are one of the coolest new additions to motorcycling I've seen. One of our instructors has one but we haven't been seeing them show up to classes yet. We're prepared for them, but right now it seems like the type of rider who'd like to own one doesn't have the money and the type of rider who could afford one isn't ready to switch over.
16. What percentage of riders are on sportbikes vs. cruisers?
As near as we can tell, 16 percent of Oregon riders own sportbikes, compared to 37 percent who own cruisers. Another 22 percent own touring bikes, and 14 percent own dual-sports.
17. If there is just one thing a rider rides away from after taking a class, what would Team Oregon want that to be?
A lot of students come to our class thinking all they need to do is learn to work the clutch and shift. It's our job to impress upon them there's more to motorcycling than that. We like to say "Motorcycling is not like driving a car - you have to think like a motorcyclist." Our students are amazed at how much more there was to know about riding - even the experienced riders are surprised by the content in the basic course.