MOUNT VERNON — Unusually warm weather last week has produced a sight that’s not common this time of year — motorcycles on the road. And although the normal riding season for motorcyclists remains a distant dream, the state of Ohio is already gearing up for spring.
Beginning today, the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s Motorcycle Ohio program will begin the registration process for its 2012 Rider Education courses. Nearly 200,000 riders have taken advantage of the state-sponsored courses since they were introduced in 1988, and it’s safe to say that the training has prevented many accidents.
A convergence of dangerous conditions faces motorcyclists early each year, and the result can be tragic. There is a winter buildup of slippery sand and gravel on roadways. Riding skills of even veteran riders are a bit rusty. Motorists haven’t gotten reaccustomed to sharing the road with two-wheelers. And a fresh batch of new riders, many young and all inexperienced, takes to the road.
Riders under the age of 18 in Ohio are required to pass a skills test from Motorcycle Ohio or the Motorcycle Safety Foundation in order to obtain a motorcycle endorsement to their driver’s license. They can obtain a permit that is good for one year by passing a knowledge test.
Even though formal training is optional to new riders 18 and older and for riders who are returning to motorcycling after a hiatus, the two-wheeled community actively endorses safety training.
“We absolutely encourage new riders, and also returning riders, to take a course,” said Jason McClung of Mid-Ohio Suzuki-Honda-Yamaha-Kawasaki. “Guys who have been riding 20 or 30 years usually aren’t interested, but for new riders and people who have only been riding for five years or so, it’s a great idea. You can never learn too much about motorcycle safety.”
McClung said that manufacturers also get in the act, periodically offering incentives to their customers. For example, American Suzuki will cut a check for $100 to customers who buy a new Suzuki street bike and complete a certified training program.
When motorcyclists take advantage of formal training and wear appropriate safety gear, and if motorists are alert to the presence of vulnerable cycles on the road, more rides that begin pleasantly will end the same way.
Ohio’s estimated 700,000 motorcyclists are required to wear eye protection, and those under 18 are required to wear helmets. Riders on permits are also required to wear helmets, and they are not permitted to carry passengers.
Mandatory helmet laws have long been a source of controversy, but most biker organizations that oppose the laws, notably the Pickerington-based American Motorcyclist Association, nevertheless advocate voluntary helmet use.
There are presently no rider education courses from Ohio or the MSF offered in Knox County. Motorcycle Ohio course sites include the Delaware Area Career Center, North Central Technical College in Mansfield and Columbus State Community College in Columbus.
MSF training sites include Mid-Ohio Raceway in Lexington, the John Hinderer Honda Power Store in Heath and A.D. Farrow Harley-Davidson in Sunbury.
The MSF launched its national rider safety program in the early 1970s. It initially focused on developing trainers and then began offering rider ed courses as the trainers were brought on line. More than 6 million riders have participated in its courses for beginning riders, returning riders, experienced riders, off-road riders and ATVers. The MSF has a formal relationship with 41 of the 50 states, including Ohio, and uses more than 3,700 training sites around the country.
Motorcycle Ohio offers its Beginning Rider Course free of charge to riders under 18 and there is a fee for older registrants. Motorcycles and helmets are provided by the state, and also by the MSF for its beginner courses.
The typical course for beginners totals five hours of classroom work and 10 hours on the range. Trainers focus on the unique skill set that is needed to operate motorcycles properly and enjoy them fully.
The majority of motorcycle accidents are caused by automobile drivers, but more often than not the motorcyclist suffers the consequences. Consequently, rider ed courses place heavy emphasis on defensive riding techniques and strategies.
Riders and prospective motorcyclists will find details about Motorcycle Ohio at www.motorcycle.ohio.gov or by calling 800-837-4337. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation website is www.online2.msf-usa.org and its toll-free number is 800-446-9227.