I would have to admit that I am very comfortable in ‘my box’ and ‘thinking outside of the box’ or ‘stepping out of my box’ is something I don’t do very often. So when the opportunity came to take a motorcycle riding class at Smokin’ Harley-Davidson of Winston-Salem, you’d think I’d have said, ‘I think I’ll pass on that one,’ but instead the words ‘Why not? Sign me up!’ rolled right off my tongue and stepping outside of ‘my box’ was soon to follow.
Getting ready for the Riding Academy was easy and very informative. Taking the online course through MSF Basic RiderCourse, I learned more about being a responsible driver – car and motorcycle – than I ever had before. With my course completion certificate in hand, and riding equipment loaned to me by my friend Karen Young, I was ready to hit the pavement (figuratively not literally).
Day One – Safety and History
My first day in class was about 4 hours of classroom time reviewing the rules of the road for motorcycle riding and the responsibility of the rider, as well as those in other vehicles, for keeping the roads safe for everyone. My instructor for the weekend was Sy Desloges, a native of Canada, who became a Harley-Davidson riding instructor three years ago and has established a reputation as being one of the best. Sy shared with us a little bit about himself and how he came to be an instructor. “I started riding as a young kid around 9 or 10 years old on my older brother’s little Honda. I became an MSF Rider Coach about seven years ago and then a riding coach for Harley-Davidson 3 years ago. I enjoy watching the progression from my students struggling on Saturday morning to later seeing when they realize they can do it. It gives me great joy to see new riders who can barely use the clutch move to riders who can now control their bikes in challenging exercises. That look on their face is priceless,” said Sy. To maintain his certification, Sy continues to take classes himself to grow his coaching abilities and knowledge of safe motorcycle riding.
Day Two – Day Three: Learning the Basics and Much More
I have to admit that arriving at the range where we would get on the motorcycles and actually learn to ride intimidated me. I have always had a fear and respect for motorcycles, so even standing next to my bike for the day made me apprehensive. Each of us was assigned a Harley-Davidson Street 500 model bike with advanced safety equipment to ensure a safe day on the range. Sy’s instruction was exactly what experienced riders in the class needed, as well as those like me who had ridden on a motorcycle a total of 20 minutes in their lives. Going step by step, knowing and having an understanding of the motorcycle, its parts and how it all comes together to work, is where we started. With a clutch and changing gears, I was already challenged, having only driven an automatic car my entire life, but Sy was patient and worked with the group and then one on one, when needed, to make sure we felt confident before we ever started the engine. Nothing was left unexplained, and within two hours, I was actually riding the motorcycle with an appreciation of the machine and what it can do. Our exercises continued, building on the skills learned to give us a base to move on from as the day progressed.
As the class continued, the students’ skills and abilities increased, as did their perception of just how important knowing what you are doing on a motorcycle is when riding on the open highway. There is so much to think about as a motorcycle rider, like management of risks, maneuvering in limited space, cornering judgment, swerving and stopping on straights and curves, and surmounting objects. By the end of the weekend of instruction, students were ready to proceed to get their motorcycle license at the DMV. Along with the skills I learned, my biggest takeaway was a respect for those on motorcycles and how I can be more aware and keep me and them safer on the roads.
The Harley-Davidson Riding Academy is very committed to train responsible and safety conscious riders. As Sy said, “The Harley-Davidson Riding Academy uses the best training bikes on the market with some of the most advanced safety vehicle protection kits installed to provide the safest learning environment. Harley-Davidson goes above and beyond to make the Riders Academy an amazing learning program to make the best riders on the road.”
Smokin’ Harley-Davidson is located at 3441 Myer Lee Drive, Winston-Salem, NC. For more information on the Riding Academy, call 336-722-3106 or visit smokinharley.com.