Learning to handle a powerful street bike through “trial by fire” isn’t appealing to Jason Herheim. Yet it’s the way many people gain their motorcycle riding skills once they hit the road.
Often, basic and even advanced rider courses are taught in parking lots, where speeds that the riders will experience on the street — and especially on the highway — are simply not possible, said Herheim, a motorcycle safety instructor with Motovid, a Delavan firm that offers riding classes on a paved racetrack.
The “Real World Speed Street Skills” program attempts to narrow the gap between basic rider education and what’s often learned the hard way in dangerous real-life situations.
Already this year, 15 people have been killed in Wisconsin motorcycle crashes. With warmer weather, the riding season is heating up, and more crashes are inevitable.
“I am a realist, so I know that we can’t stop everything…but we need more training at a higher level,” Herheim said.
On June 27, Motovid will offer its Real World Speed lessons for the first time at the Milwaukee Mile racecourse at State Fair Park.
Much more than slow-speed drills in a parking lot, the lessons will cover things like braking at highway speed and taking evasive action to avoid getting hit in an intersection.
Herheim, an experienced track rider, came up with the idea for Real World Speed training.
As a Motovid instructor and the motorcycle safety program director at Madison Area Technical College, he realized the benefits of skills learned at the track for road riding.
“My goals for developing the Real World Speed Street Skills class were simply to take what I was used to offering in Wisconsin to the next level. What were we missing? At the time it was two major things. We lacked any training outside of parking lot speed, and we lacked the ability for people to train with a passenger….This class solves both of those problems,” Herheim said.
Motovid has offered Real World Speed classes for $259 a student at Blackhawk Farms Raceway in South Beloit, Ill., and also has given high-performance classes at Road America in Elkhart Lake. Students must have their motorcycle license endorsement and a full-face helmet. They take the classes on their own street bike, of any size and type, including three wheelers.
“We really want to tune the rider to their particular bike, like a guitar player to their instrument,” said Motovid co-founder Michael Casey.
The Real World Speed program includes classroom sessions as well as time on the track, where there’s one instructor for every three riders. Safety personnel monitor all the drills. Instructors also use video cameras to record students’ performance on the track.
There’s no tolerance for reckless behavior like pulling wheelies or putting another rider in danger.
“If we see something like that, we nip it right away,” said Motovid owner Kathleen Casey.
Many people have been motorcyclists for years without a valid cycle license. Sometimes they haven’t learned the right way to handle things like navigating a sharp curve in the road or braking under difficult conditions.
Tony Sanfelipo, co-founder of ABATE of Wisconsin, a motorcyclist rights group, has been a motorcyclist for five decades and rides thousands of miles a year. Yet last year he took his first rider safety course to sharpen his skills.
“I started riding motorcycles in 1964, with my first bike being a Harley-Davidson FLH with a foot clutch and tank shift — not the easiest bike to learn on. In those days, we learned good habits and bad, by getting out and riding,” Sanfelipo said. “There were no rider courses to teach proper techniques, so we relied on the advice of other riders who had more time in the saddle than we did. After many, many miles of riding, I thought I was pretty good. But maybe I was just fooling myself.”
With the added incentive of visiting a shooting range the same weekend, Sanfelipo said, he enrolled in an advanced rider’s course offered by ABATE at the Fort McCoy military base near Tomah.
Even with his decades of riding experience, the course was challenging.
“Yes, I crossed over the lines attempting to do some of the fancy exercises inside the box that looked the size of a football field, and that shrunk to the size of a suitcase when I tried to stay within its boundaries,” Sanfelipo said. “Good is not good enough, and I humbly admit that I learned much more than I thought I would.”
Topics in the Real World Speed course include vision and perception on the road, smooth cornering at speed, and understanding how a passenger affects motorcycle handling.
“There’s huge value in repeatedly making laps and taking each corner to make it near perfect,” Herheim said.
As early as this summer, the Wisconsin Motorcycle Safety Program, managed by the state Department of Transportation, plans to offer a new Ultimate Bike Bonding Rider Course.
That course will be taught in a parking lot, but it will focus on high-level skills similar to the ones used by law-enforcement officers. Waukesha County Technical College will be a host site for the class.
It’s a course the Motorcycle Safety Program wants to offer statewide, said interim program manager Sarah Buzzell.
Melissa Juranitch, a motorcycle program specialist with the Milwaukee law firm Hupy and Abraham, has been riding for 15 years. She’s traveled around the world on two wheels, yet she intends to take additional training to sharpen her skills and reflexes.
Motorcyclists should learn how to handle difficult situations in a controlled environment so they take the correct action when similar things happen on the highway, according to Juranitch.
“In an emergency situation, it’s pure muscle memory,” she said. “That is what’s going to save you.”