PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - Think back to when you learned how to drive. How safe would you have felt if you got your permit and then set-out in your car... all alone... to teach yourself to drive? Kind of a scary thought isn't it?
Yes... but that's exactly how most motorcyclists in maine learn to ride. They spend a few hours in a classroom. They get their permit, and they hop on their bikes and hope everything goes well. That's how I learned to ride.
Obviously, the more riders are trained, the safer we'll all be on the roads. I recently went to an advanced motorcycle class... which made me wonder... how many riders out there could pass it?
Summer is here, and so are the bikes... by the thousands. Motorcycle registrations in Maine have risen from 27-thousand in the year 2000 to more than 50-thousand last year. The question is... are all these new riders really skilled enough to be on the roads?
One guy who really knows how to handle a bike is Joe Dela'quilla, a South Portland police officer and the only person in the state certified to teach this class. All of his students are experienced riders, and all of them are police officers. If they pass this class, they can become motorcycle cops. But that's a big "if".
"It's timing. timing and technique. It's wonderful when you have it, but if you don't have it, it's very frustrating.
This from a guy who teaches his own motorcycle courses in Auburn and Scarborough. This obstacle course though is like nothing Bud Caouette has ever seen.
"You would figure you know everything. so what are you doing here? Well... you never know everything, and I have to tell you it was a humbling experience when you first come through and you start doing some of these exercises."
The first and easiest (wink wink) is navigating your bike through these 7 cones. What makes it so hard is that you're going so slowly. You really have to be able to balance your bike... all the while riding the clutch right at the friction point That's the point at which you begin to accelerate. Its tough for all the students, but it's a breeze for the teacher.
Both Joe and Bud, and many others in the state, say they think motorcycle riders should have more training before they get out on the roads... training like this.
"I'd rather see someone go through that than go take a permit test and then go out and learn how to ride on their own."
Right now, that's what the majority of Maine riders do. For some, they get a permit without ever having actually ridden a motorcycle.
"I'm using my head and eyes to bring me up in this corner. So I'm looking up here. I want to try to ride along these cones as tight as i can so that i'm utilizing all my space."
The hardest of the day's challenges is this cloverleaf of cones. It seems impossible, and the first couple times through the students have real trouble. For joe? Well... he's done it a few times before.
You're probably wondering how I did on the course. I did manage to weave my way through the cones in the first challenge. Though i was a bit wobbly... not nearly as smooth as Joe. I had trouble with the second challenge, and didn't even bother with the third. I didn't want to scrape up my bike. Clearly I need a bit more practice to be on par with Joe. But let me tell you... I'm not alone.
One other thing Joe said that really stuck with me. So many drivers... especially now that they're on their cell phones and drinking coffee as they drive... so many drivers won't see bikers at all. So if you're on a bike, you need to drive defensively. Always be on the lookout for an escape route, and always assume some car is going to pull out in front of you. If you have that mindset, you'll be a lot safer. And other drivers out there... give motorcycles some space. A crash will hurt them a lot more than it will hurt you.