Ride safe, ride smart with FDTC Motorcycle Safety Class

Members of the Basic Motorcycle Safety Class take a break with their instructors at the FDTC campus. Photo by Jana E. Pye

Members of the Basic Motorcycle Safety Class take a break with their instructors at the FDTC campus.
Photo by Jana E. Pye

By Jana E. Pye, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Five people walked into a motorcycle safety classroom on a recent Friday night at Florence Darlington Technical College (FDTC), and after two long days of instruction on bikes, emerged Sunday with a new-found confidence.

The course is designed for a dozen students, so that six can be doing exercises while the other half of the class observes. FDTC is so committed to the program, however, that the class is held, even if there are only five students.

“Look at the magnitude of personal attention they are getting,” said John Petrach, head of the department for the past eight years.

“We struggle sometimes with the economics, because you can easily envision a small class is much smaller compared to a full class of twelve, the expenses are no different. Fortunately here at Florence-Darlington, our VP of Continuing Education, Max Welch, who is responsible for this program, is extremely supportive. If we continue to provide a valuable service to the community, he will continue to support us. And small classes like this are just fine.”

In South Carolina, the state’s technical colleges offer the classes using the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) approved instruction and course designs, along with four Harley Davison Academy locations in the state. After successful completion, students of the Basic class receive a MSF Completion Card.

Of the five students, only one has had extensive experience riding a motorcycle, Sharon Ard of Darlington. “But I picked up some really bad habits.”

Wiliam Strom, of Darlington, rode dirt bikes as a youth. “I haven’t rode since I was about 18- and I am over 50 years old now,” he said. “I’ve already learned a lot. I’m glad I took this.”

Jacqueline Ryan really doesn’t have a lot of experience around motorcycles; “My kids are grown, and I want to do something just for me.” She plans to purchase a bike after she takes the course.

Ayjuana Greene has ridden with her husband many times, and he recently bought her a bike of her own. “I want to learn to ride safely,” she said. “And I don’t want to mess up that bike!”

The last rider was also the youngest in the group, Steven Wynn. “I’ve never even been a passenger on a motorcycle,” he said. “I was a little nervous at first, but the coaches are great.”

The lead instructor for the day is Kevin Adams, a fellow Maine-native (from Biddeford) and was the inspiration for this story. We met at the Darlington Walgreens parking lot after he commented on my “lobstah bumpah stickah” on my “cah”, and struck up a conversation that led to his telling me about this class at FDTC holds, that he is passionate about.

“I’m the Pee Dee Regional Chapter Coordinator of SC ABATE- A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactment. That is the state’s way of saying it. I use a Brotherhood Aimed Towards Education,” says Adams. “The ABATE group I’m a member of paid for me to be an instructor. And I facilitate as much free information as I can to help out any fellow rider. We are doing a rally for Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month on Sunday May 3rd at noon on the steps of the State House across from WIS. Gov. Haley came down two years ago, she is pro biker, she is actually a card-carrying member of SC ABATE as well”.

Adam’s wife is also a rider, and joined the Motor Maids all female riding group, the oldest in the country. “My wife has been riding for over two years, and has already racked up 12,000 miles. She says it’s the most liberating thing she’s ever done.”

The other instructor, Debbie Spinks , has been riding a motorcycle for about five years, and grew up riding dirt bikes. The biggest difference she sees between dirt bikes and motorcycles is obvious. “Because now you are on the road, you are not on a knobby tired little dirt bike, and you are on the road with 2,000 pound bullets all around you,” she said. “ Your only armor is your protective gear, your helmets. We have the second worse driving record in the country, and no helmet law. You are responsible for you. We are going to teach them, give them the skills they need so that even if someone else is doing something stupid they are still protected.”

Debbie Spinks lines the class members up, with more experienced rider Sharon Ard as the leader. "You can be my rockstar," said Spinks.

Debbie Spinks lines the class members up, with more experienced rider Sharon Ard as the leader. “You can be my rockstar,” said Spinks.

Debbie shouts out positive comments to her students, and finds that humor helps keep them focused. “Sometimes it’s just diffusing the situation. Sometimes the students can really overthink things, and get wigged out over stuff, so most important thing for them is to relax and they find that everything kind of comes together a lot easier- like most things in life.”

Petrach says there are several incentives for the class.

“There’s a handful of benefits- first, you are simply a better rider. And when you are a better rider, you enjoy it more. There is an insurance discount with the SC Code of Law, which varies by insurer.”

The college provides training bikes as part of the program, which are all 250 cc or less, including Honda Rebel 250, Nighthawk 250, Yamaha VStar 250, and Kawasaki 125 Eliminators.

“They are forgiving. You make an error and the bike is light enough and forgiving enough that you can recover That motorcycle there, “ pointing to his motorcycle, “That weighs 900 lbs. It doesn’t forgive. It just doesn’t.”

The fastest growing segment in motorcycling is women, and FDTC has had a large number of women take the course, and youth.

Minors under the age of 18 years of age must have written consent from their parents.

“The class is designed to take an individual who has a desire to ride a motorcycle and can ride a bicycle. That tells us that is you have the physical stamina, and motor skills enough to balance a single track.”

So, it is not just balance, it’s learning a new skill set?

“It’s a combination of motor skills that require balancing, easing in and out of the friction zone, rolling the throttle on and off, in equilibrium with each other too much or too little of one or the other undesirable things happen. The interesting thing is riding a motorcycle successfully is only 10 – 20% about the motor skills part. The other 80 – 90% is the mental processing part and that is where we teach them, ‘Pay attention’. You can’t be talking on your cell phone and be riding a motorcycle at the same time. You need to be extremely aware of your environment at all times. That’s the harder part of riding a motorcycle safely. And some of the exercises particularly in Level II are actually designed to create situations where you have to look out for each other.”

He stresses that riders learn to “ride their own ride,” not follow along at the speed of a more experienced rider.

“These are the handful of basic techniques that you need to have a grasp of on which to build to get enough experience to become a decent rider,” he continues. “Being able to navigate changes of direction you have to be able to turn, and turn at a variety of speeds lower and higher speeds; you need to be able to brake and brake well, both in a straight line or in a corner, two different techniques; you need to be able to swerve, you’ve got to be able to dodge something, like a pot hole in the road. Those are the core skills. And all of the exercises, whether explicitly or implicitly, build and groom on those basic skills. If you can do all those things, you can pass the test. It’s easy.”

MSF is used by all states (except Oregon, Idaho and California) and in over 25 countries around the world, and is the standard for the U.S. military all over the world.

Classes include:
Basic Rider Course (BRC):
20 hours of instruction; 5 hrs. classroom, 15 hrs. riding exercises.
Skill Builders: a tune-up for the experienced rider.
Custom Courses: for groups from 8 to 12 registered riders at a 10% discount.

Information for motorcycle courses:

Course curriculum for all levels of safety training is in compliance with the MSF. All Rider Coaches are certified by the MSF.
Student riders are required to have the following items:
• Eye protection (sunglasses, prescription lenses OK)
• over ankle footwear
• full-fingered (preferably leather) gloves
• long pants and long sleeve shirt or jacket
• a DOT certified helmet (Full face helmets are preferred; half helmets not permitted. The helmet MUST completely cover the ears. Loaner helmets may be available for use.)
To register or learn more about Motorcycle Safety Courses at Florence Darlington Technical College, call: 843-413-2715 or visit their Facebook page: FDTC Ride
Mobile and tablet users, please click to see more photos: FDTC Motorcycle Safety Class

Author: Jana Pye

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