Despite these challenging times, Harley-Davidson Rubber City in Cuyahoga Falls, OH, has yet again certified an entire class of motorcyclists. Believe it or not, I’m lucky enough to be one of them! What was meant to be a class of about a dozen people in the first week of April 2020, became a class of seven in the middle of May, due to the coronavirus outbreak and new social distancing guidelines.
Riding Academy coach and manager, Cathy Gustafson, was able to find a time that worked best for the whole group of riders as quarantine in place restrictions were lifted, making sure we had everything we would need for success before our first day of class.
The New Rider Course was broken into four days, although the dealership offers some classes that can be done in a shorter amount of time. The first two days are in the classroom, followed by two days on the range with an individual evaluation to wrap up the course.
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One of the things Cathy suggested I do before the class was come into the dealership and try their JumpStart program, so I could get a good feel for the bike. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Why would I make a trip just to sit on a bike that won’t go anywhere?” To my disbelief, Cathy was right. Being able to get on a Harley Street 500 JumpStart bike, finding the friction zone and switching through the gears was an essential part of this program for new riders, like myself. I was able to get most of my nerves out this day — being that I had never been on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle before.
The first day of class started as one would expect: icebreaker introductions, an overview of classroom rules and the distribution of studying materials. Rubber City has almost two dozen certified coaches. Joseph Boal and Kenneth Rayl were my coaches for the weekend.
As a new rider, I haven’t spent much time in a dealership until I took this course. My instructors gave our class a tour, where we learned about what makes Rubber City Harley-Davidson tick.
The first thing I noticed was the storage room. The dealership offers winter storage to their customers. Not only do they promise a safe, climate-controlled space for a bike during winter months, they also conduct a 23-point inspection, wash it before you pick it up in the spring, check for any open recalls and even add fuel stabilizer. The dealership also has a service department full of highly trained technicians who are able to work on your bike while it’s in storage by making an appointment and sometimes even accepting same day services, too.
Back in the classroom, the instructors taught exercises from inside the course guide booklet and gave us a few pages to study for that night. My coaches then handed out the written portion of the test for us to take home and complete. For somebody who has always struggled taking written tests, this immediately gave me some relief. My coaches were happy to help me with any question that I had, to make sure I was prepared for the final exam at the end of the course.
In the past, the coaches have used group activities and games in the classroom to entice learning, but with the new COVID-19 compliance rules, we were unable to complete those on our second day. Instead, we reviewed the course booklet, watched some training videos and spent time getting to know other riders in the course, which was both encouraging and relieving. We were all there for one reason: to see each other succeed.
It was a very foggy Saturday morning on the third day of the Riding Academy course. When I arrived at the range, Joe and Ken had everything ready for us. There were plenty of chairs, a cooler full of water, boxes of snacks and two rows of Harley-Davidson Street 500 bikes lined up for us. Once everyone arrived, our coaches checked to make sure everybody had the proper riding gear, they read aloud the range rules and then step-by-step showed us how to mount and start our bikes. Slowly but surely, we started going through the motions, practicing drills through cones. Personally, I was having a hard time finding the friction zone on the bike and kept stalling out when trying to accelerate. At one point during the day, I honestly thought to myself “maybe riding isn’t for me” and told Joe I was unsure if I should continue because I was becoming so flustered. He looked at me and said “Now, I know you can do this, just breathe and stop worrying so much. Just ride.” I took a deep breath and realized Joe was right. I kept going and before I knew it, riding was seamless. Once the day was over, I could feel this new addiction coming on. I could have rode all night long!
With a fading cloud of rain the next morning, my riding group successfully finished the practice drills, and went right into the final exam. One-by-one, we lined up and went through the four-part evaluation. Ken and Joe were no longer our coaches, but now our judges. They both kept record of each one of our scores so one copy could be turned in to the state and the other would be for our records to know how we did. After the exam, Joe and Ken directed us to park the bikes and then announced that the entire
Back at the dealership, my instructors passed out the evaluation sheets, our certificates and they even personalized another certificate for each rider. I was presented with the award for “My Bike and I Are One” and that felt good. After a pep talk from my coaches to give me the confidence to continue, it was relieving to receive this certificate from my coaches to let me know that they saw my improvement.
This experience is one I will never forget. The level of trust that Cathy, Joe and Ken had in each rider from the very beginning of this process was unbelievable yet so amazing. I cannot thank them enough. The planning that went into this course made the most out of our time and put us all in the best seat to succeed. Without a doubt in my mind, I would recommend the Harley-Davidson Riding Academy course to anybody who is new to riding or even wants to sharpen their skills.
If your dealership is looking into ways to bring in new riders and customers, consider partnering with your OEM and state to host a new rider course. From first-hand experience, this could open several doors to lifelong customers who will be back to buy their first or fifth bike from