In Maryland today, you can learn to motorcycle on your own.
You just go to a Motor Vehicle Administration office, pick up a study guide, learn the material and take the written test.
If you pass, you receive a learner's permit good for six months. It allows you to ride during daylight hours in the company of another licensed motorcyclist who has at least three years' riding experience. The permit is not renewable. After six months, if you want another permit, you have to pass the written test again.
Once you feel confident enough to take the riding test, set an appointment with an MVA center. Ride the bike through the circuit. No part of the test is taken on a road with traffic.
If you pass, you're given a fresh, new Maryland driver's license with a class "M" endorsement and you are a bona-fide motorcyclist. Good luck and happy riding.
But there is another way to learn how to ride. It is often referred to as "the only sane" approach. It is the Motorcycle Safety Foundation class.
The classes are based on the curriculum of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, an independent organization based in California and supported by a variety of motorcycle manufacturers.
A biker introduced R.D. Bingo Fournier to the safety classes before Fournier bought his first bike.
"If you're not certain biking is for you, the class can go a long way in helping you decide," said Fournier, a Gaithersburg motorcycle salesman.
There are three levels of motorcycle-safety classes: Basic 1, Basic 2 and Experienced.
Basic 1 is designed primarily for new riders. It includes classroom and riding instruction. Basic 2 eschews classroom instruction and allows students already familiar with motorcycling to work on riding skills. The Experienced rider class teaches a more advanced level of riding skills.
All training centers in the state, with the exception of those on military bases, follow the same curriculum, said Philip Sause, who oversees the state training program in Maryland.
The MSF basic safety course calls for 17 hours of instruction divided between the classroom and a riding range. Frequently, the classes are scheduled over four days: Thursday through Sunday.
Keep in mind that different locations may arrange the classes differently. For instance, Harley-Davidson dealers who offer the course in the form of "Rider's Edge" classes follow the same MSF course material as all class providers in the state, but typically take 25 hours of classroom and riding time to cover the material.
While motorcycles are provided, approved helmets, heavy boots that cover the ankles, full-fingered gloves and eyewear are the student's responsibility. And they are required for the course.
The MVA's Web site provides information on registration, locations, requirements and related issues. Visit marylandmva.com/MVAProg/moto/default.htm.