One sign of spring is the vroom vroom of motorcycles, and for enthusiasts, there's nothing better than hopping on the bike.
And each year, first-timers take up the hobby of motorcycle riding when the weather gets warm. That means more people who need to learn the rules of the road.
To that end, there are motorcycle schools for those considering taking up riding for the first time -- and even for those who have been on a bike for a while.
"When you're on the back roads on a sunny day, just cruising, going through the gears, it's fantastic," says Blue Point resident Maureen Guest, 52. A national accounts sales director at Arizona Beverage Inc. USA, Guest took private lessons at Big Apple Motorcycle School in Hicksville two summers ago and rides a Honda Rebel 250.
"We trained more than 1,500 for their licenses last year, and 30 to 35 percent were women," says Big Apple Motorcycle School owner Diane Ortiz. "All ages; from 18 to 78. The 78-year-old was a gentleman who had never been on a motorcycle before."
There are even many new motorcycles now geared for the entry-level rider, including those with a lower seat made for women or men of smaller stature.
THE BASIC COURSE
To ride a motorcycle on public streets, you need a motorcycle license in New York State, which involves passing a road test, just like for driving a car.
Most schools teach newbies the Basic Rider Course designed by the internationally recognized Motorcycle Safety Foundation. It involves about 5 hours of classroom instruction and 10 hours on a bike (which is provided by the school).
While the course is not required to get a motorcycle license, it can only help. Graduates receive a waiver for the Department of Motor Vehicle motorcycle road test.
"You may think you know how to ride a motorcycle," says Jim Barr, president of American Bikers for Awareness, Training & Education, a local not-for-profit group dedicated to making motorcycle riding safer. "But you have to learn defensive driving. Especially here on Long Island."
There is a way the mind sees motorcycles that's different from seeing cars, Barr explains. In fact, the majority of motorcyclists who are killed are hit by a driver making a left-hand turn coming from the opposite direction, according to the Hurt Report on motorcycle safety.
To take the course, students should be able to ride a bicycle (for balance assessment) and have a driver's license or motorcycle learner permit. On-bike sessions are taught in the safety of a parking lot and include the basics of safety but also how to turn, balance and use the gears on the bike -- consider it the two-wheeled version of the classic driver education course.
Steve Bertolini, owner of On the Road Again driving school in Selden, says riding a motorcycle is analogous to flying a plane.
"Would you buy an airplane and learn to fly it by yourself?" he says. "I consider motorcycle riding as flying on the ground."
Many say riding motorcycles is being part of a special community and a culture. Wherever bikers go, they show respect for each other, regardless of the type of bike.
"It's the most diverse group of people sharing that common bond," says Bertolini.
"If doesn't matter if you're on a cruiser or scooter or sport bike," Ortiz says. "When you see someone else on a bike, you give a little wave."
WHERE TO TAKE LESSONS
Motorcycle safety courses start soon at the following schools, most of which teach The Basic Rider Course for $350. Steve's Motorcycle School does not follow the MSF model, and charges $400 for a private-lesson package.
Big Apple Motorcycle School
66 N. Broadway, Hicksville
Courses taught in parking lot of Dowling College.
On the Road Again Motorcycle School
Courses taught at Suffolk County Community College, Selden Campus. Also gives dirt bike lessons.
Steve's Motorcycle School
105 Rte. 112, Patchogue
Courses taught in Patchogue and Ronkonkoma.
Trama's Auto School
515 Central Ave., Massapequa
Courses taught in parking lot of Nassau Coliseum.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said did not say graduates of the Basic RiderCourse receive a waiver for the Department of Motor Vehicles road test.