Motorcycle class keeps riders safe

Mike Newton celebrated his 50th birthday earlier this year by fulfilling a lifelong dream: buying a motorcycle.

“I always wanted a bike, all my life,” said Newton, who lives in Forestdale. “I waited until I turned 50 and thought I would go for it.”

To learn more about biking, Newton enrolled in Motorcycle Safety Foundation training at the Alabama Traffic Safety Center. The class was taught May 29-31 on the University of Montevallo campus.

“I want to know how to get the most enjoyment out of the bike, and keep myself out of trouble,” said Newton, who teaches English at Wenonah High School in Birmingham.

About a dozen people took this weekend’s basic rider course, designed for people who have limited or no riding experience.

“The last thing I want to hear about is somebody wrecking, especially due to lack of training,” said Rick Randolph, program manager at the traffic safety center.

Randolph retired from the Air Force a few years ago and has taught vehicle safety at Maxwell Air Force Base.

“Motorcycling is just like a baby learning to walk,” Randolph said. “They learn by mistake — they fall. Rarely do they get up and dosado.”

An avid biker, Randolph said the course quickly helps people decide if motorcycling is really something they want to do.

“If someone is entertaining the thought of riding, take the class and find out,” Randolph said. “You don’t want to spend $7,000 on a motorcycle and realize this is not your cup of tea and then have payments for years. This may not be something for you; it isn’t meant for everyone.”

Eddie Zedaker, a 22-year-old Auburn student, enrolled in the class hoping to ride with his father.

“My dad just purchased a second bike; I want to ride with him,” said Zedaker. “This is my first time to ride. This helps you with just getting the feel of it.”

The traffic safety center also offers classes for more experienced riders. The advanced training focuses on cornering, braking, emergency maneuvering and carrying a passenger.

“I hear people say, ‘Dude, I’ve been riding for years, and I don’t need that,’” Randolph said. “I rode for years, but I was an uneducated rider. I thought I knew what I was doing, but I wasn’t always trained in the best way.”

Randolph said proper training is more essential now than ever before.

More and more people are turning to motorcycles, commuter bikes and scooters due to great fuel efficiency, Randolph said.

The state witnessed a 51 percent jump in motorcycle registration from 2000 to 2007. But more bikers on the roadways also mean more fatalities, accidents and property damage, Randolph said.

Alabama is the only state that doesn’t require motorcycle drivers to pass a skills test to earn a license. Currently, 38 states use the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course as their skills test.

Passing the course often earns drivers a discount on their motorcycle insurance, as well as better driving skills.

“Every time you ride, when you dismount safely, that’s a great ride,” Randolph said.

For more information about the class, including dates and price, call Randolph at 665-6740.