by Brenda Henry
My knees wobbled as my forty-something, five-foot-fourish body rode the elevator up to the fourth floor of a South St. Paul building. I was about to begin the four and a half hour classroom portion of Comprehensive Safety Systems, Inc. Basic Rider Course. Expecting to see a room full of men in black leather, my moist palms dried up when I discovered that our class of nine contained five females, and none of the men wore cowhide.
Big Steve, our instructor, had each of us introduce ourselves and explain why we came. The high gas mileage of many bikes appealed to some, but most wanted to earn their license for the sheer fun of biking. I went because I wanted to ride a scooter up at the lake. I stopped fidgeting when I realized none in our group hoped to become motocross champions. After getting acquainted, Steve led my classmates and I through a video-assisted workbook. After a full evening of enlightening discussion, we departed with a much better idea of how to keep ourselves safe out on the road.
When we arrived at the motorcycle range early on a Saturday morning for the first five-hour skills session, we could still see our breath in the crisp morning air. Another instructor, also Steve, greeted us with, “Choose your bike.” Relief flooded over me when Big Steve directed me to a manageable 125cc Kawasaki. “It’ll be easier to ride,” he advised. I jumped on that advice, and then onto the bike—after they taught us the right way to get on.
They insisted we all wear a snugly fitting DOT approved helmet, long sleeves and pants, a face shield, full fingered gloves, and high top shoes or boots. Not doing so was grounds for dismissal. Even though the Steves were nice guys, tolerating improper garb landed outside their scope of leniency.
Next, we power-walked our cycles back and forth across the range. They taught us the proper method of starting our bikes, FINE-C, and the next thing I knew, we circled the lot in first gear.
By late morning, they had us performing proper braking, gear shifting, sharp and wide turns, and quick stops. We weaved through orange cones like nobody’s business and even maneuvered through a set of very narrow blue lines painted on the asphalt. Though we each worked alone with frequent cues from the Steves, we quickly became cheerleaders for each other.
When 6:00 Sunday morning arrived and I had to drive across town for another five hours of training, my aching calves complained about the previous day’s power walking. I forced them to come along anyway, and together we finished the Basic Rider Course. We learned to ride safely over an obstacle, do a tight U-turn (my biggest challenge), swerve right and left, and use our blinkers properly.
At the end of the morning, our tired little group of nine lined up for our official skills test. One by one we rode the course as Steve directed us, and Big Steve scored our skills. We hooted a collective holler when they informed us we’d all done well enough to pass and receive our motorcycle license.
Since I had almost no experience riding, this Basic Rider Course, taught in a non-intimidating fashion, was extremely valuable to me. By the end of it, I felt not only comfortable and safe riding, but really into it. Comprehensive Safety Systems, Inc. does a great job of building safe riders and encouraging the sheer joy of riding. I know I’m hooked. Now if I could remove this helmet, I’d feel even better.
CSS, Inc. offers Basic Rider Courses and courses for more advanced riders. For more information, check out www.comprehensivesafety.org, or call 651-552-0682.
The CSS, Inc. course conveniently suited my schedule, however there are other options for motorcycle safety courses in Minnesota as well. Two of these include the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center (MMSC) and Harley-Davidson Rider’s Edge. MMSC offers courses at twenty-nine Minnesota State colleges and universities. They can be reached at 1-800-407-6677 or at www.dps.state.mn.us/mmsc. H-D Rider’s Edge courses are held at Harley Davidson dealerships in Elk River, Faribault, and St. Paul. Most classes, regardless of where you take them, run from mid-April to mid-October. All require that you hold a valid Minnesota driver’s license and a motorcycle permit prior to taking the course.