Women Riders

Learn to Ride

Written by  April 30, 2004

Last month we covered what is needed to prepare for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation class. This month we will talk about the actual training class and curriculum required by the Missouri Motorcycle Safety Program.

I met with Clarence Wildes after one of his weekend Experienced Riders Classes. Clarence and his wife, Pat, own and operate Rolling Wheels Training Center, LLC, which is located at US 40 & Noland Road in Independence, Missouri.

Actually, Clarence and I go back about five years, but did not realize it until I set up the interview. He was one of my instructors when I took the MSF class at Maple Woods Community College. Although he has met hundreds of students over the years so trying to remember them all or even a few is almost impossible. My class was an exception because we were dubbed, “The Class from Hell.” I can’t say for sure, but I’m reasonably sure I did not contribute to the “hell” part. There were two students injured that day; a broken ankle, a broken wrist, plus several dropped their bikes. I think Clarence and Neil Meyers, the other instructor, were pretty well stressed out by early Saturday afternoon, and we still had another day to go! When Clarence introduced me to his wife during my interview he said, “She was in the Class from Hell.” Pat looked at me, shaking her head up and down and said, “Oh, that class!” I guess we left quite an impression, or one not to be forgotten!

Rolling Wheels is the only commercial training center of its kind in the State of Missouri. After being laid off from Sprint in 2001, Clarence found himself in the job market. He tried being a Stockbroker for a while, but for fear of getting “Martha Stewart “like clients, he moved on (just kidding)! He worked for Time Warner Cable and a couple other jobs, but never found his niche. The question that kept him going, and probably kept him awake many nights, was “How can I make a living teaching MSF classes?” He knew he could make a profit, but could it support his family. This is something he had always wanted to do full-time, so he began the search. His biggest obstacle was to determine if it was feasible. First, he enrolled in the Kauffman Foundation Entrepreneur program, Fast Track to give him guidance and knowledge on starting his own business. He then searched out under utilized shopping centers and talked to owners. Settling on a strip center in Independence, his dream became a reality when he opened Rolling Wheels in January of 2002.

Rolling Wheels offers weekday, weekend, and evening classes. The cost is $200 per person, which is paid in advance for a 15 hour course. There is a limit of 12 students per class and they can choose to enroll in the Basic Riders Class (BRC) or the Experienced Riders Class (ERC). They provide the bikes for the BRC, however, you must provide your own bike for the ERC. They also offer Personal Coaching that consists of 4 hours of training at a cost of $50.00 per hour. MSF Group Riding Classes are 2 hours.

If you are thinking about buying a bike, have already purchased a bike, want to learn just for fun, or are just getting back into motorcycling after being out of it for a few years, you have come to the right place because you will find everything you need at Rolling Wheels Training Center.

Clarence is certified by MSF in the State of Missouri and has six year experience in teaching prior to opening Rolling Wheels. His school is State approved and he is one of three Rider Coach Trainers in the State of Missouri. Coaching others on the safety of riding is his passion. He explained that coaches are recruited out of a pool put out by the State of Missouri. Other training schools and classes get their instructors from the same pool.

When I asked him what made his training center different from the others, he replied,
“We offer superior quality. We follow all principals of BRC and adhere to the State requirements.” Clarence has 28-30 instructors who are independent contractors, four employees; a range aid, a bike coordinator, and two office support staff. Rolling Wheels has a 93% pass rate, 5 % who don’t pass the test and 2% failure rate on the skills testing.
They use 250cc bikes for training with 30” seat heights and weigh approximately 400 pounds. Don’t let the weight frighten you girls; it’s all in the balance! If you can balance your career, family, and outside organizations, you can surely balance a bike! They do not use any kick-start bikes, thank goodness! The Training Center owns ten bikes and Dell’s Honda in Blue Springs and Olathe Suzuki donate the other bikes used for training.

I asked Clarence what the biggest change he has seen in the training industry in the past five years and he said, “The curriculum and volume of people taking the class. It used to be majority of females taking the class; now it is half and half. There are more men willing to get training before taking the risk of riding. MSF decided to do a new course based on new principals and gathered the expertise of others to come up with a new curriculum. The curriculum has changed to an adult learning environment, where the student is the focus. There is less classroom time and the coaches act as facilitators rather than teachers who stand up in front and lecture on the topics. There is more interaction between students and they are doing the learning. The range (riding course) has changed to focus on motor skill development. Before you get your speed up, learn control of the motorcycle first. We coach on refining their skills; we don’t teach riding through curves anymore, they just do it. We also see an increased pass rate from the change. Another change is in proper riding attire. You must now wear a flat or low heel boot. Clarence said he has sent several to Wal-Mart or K-Mart for new boots before the class started because they came with 2” heel boots. This is a safety factor so your heel does not get caught under the peg. He is adamant about this and will not let you participate without the proper riding gear.

Clarence said they are also seeing an increase in groups and organizations who are signing up for the Experienced Riders Classes. I asked him if there are people out there who should not be riding, regardless of how many times they take his class, and he replied, “Yes, if they are a danger to themselves or to others, they should not be riding. Also, if a person does not want to be here, they will not do well in class. I have had many men come in with their spouses or girlfriends and say, “You need to learn to ride and get your own bike. Again, you must have the desire to learn to ride to succeed.”

Clarence said sometimes people have an aversion to written exams, so they will take them out of the classroom and give them a verbal exam. They have even had students who can’t read, who take and pass the course. “You don’t have to be able to read to drive or ride,” Clarence stated.

When I asked him what has been the most challenging experience in coaching, he said,
“I have had to throw two people out of class because of bad attitudes. One cussed out the instructor and the other was just a know-it-all and didn’t want to follow instruction. The majority of students are very good and eager to learn.”

I asked Clarence if he has had many injuries since he started, “Just a few. Two injuries occurred with the coaches! A student took off and focused on the cart that held equipment, hit it and it hit a range aid who was sitting in a chair. Another coach got hit in the staging area, and one student with 2” heel boots (before the boot change) couldn’t get her foot off the peg and on the ground in time, so she , fell over, and for some reason she turned and twisted and ended up breaking her ankle. If she would have just stayed where she fell she would have been okay.”

Recently, Patty Busse enrolled in the Personal Coaching class with Clarence, and shared her experience with us. “First, I asked my circle of friends and family where I could go to get private lessons. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have the “M” endorsement on my driver’s license, and I have taken the MFS class twice. I have my own bike; well actually, I have had three bikes, but have not ridden enough to be comfortable in the city. I felt like I needed something more. I needed a big dose of self-confidence. That’s when I found Clarence and Rolling Wheels Training Center. I called to sign up and Clarence talked to me for a bit to see just what level would work for me. We decided to start with a three hour private lesson.

WOW! Was that intense! With private lessons, you are always first. No resting while you wait in line for someone else to mess up so you can look good; not that it has ever been a problem in my riding world. We managed to go through about a 5-6 hour class in 3 hours. Like I said, intense! We worked on basics and what Clarence called the “life saving drills.” I found that I love to turn left and hate to turn right, which makes for a great circle, but not much other travel. I learned to practice drills on my own for only about ten minutes. Long enough to try a drill several times, but not long enough to get frustrated and make it worse. I found that I knew several maneuvers better than I thought, and learned what drills I would need to practice on my own. Did I get my monies worth? You bet I did. Do I feel better about riding? Yes. Did I find that dose of confidence I was looking for? Yep, sure did. It was perfect for me and was arranged to fit my schedule. Clarence has literally a class for anyone and everyone. I can’t say enough good things about Clarence, the class, or the training facilities. It was money well spent and oh, did I mention, it was a Blast!”

Larry McAdams of Lee’s Summit took the BRC early last spring and bought a Harley in June. He had this to say about Rolling Wheels: “I thought it was a great class because a lot of us just get out there and ride. There are things you don’t normally think about until you take the class; like the dangers of using the front brake by itself, turning your head, focusing and looking where you’re going. I would like to take the ERC because when you ride for a long time you sometimes get into bad habits, and taking the class would probably get you back on track.”

Clarence said, “The main focus of our business is MSF training. That is the only reason we are in business and we are doing it full-time, year round. We even had classes in the winter months. Snow plows cleared the parking lot, temperatures dropped to 17 degrees, and I was out there in his snowmobile suit coaching away!” There was such a demand for winter training they are going to open up more classes next year.

I asked Clarence where his students come from, and he told us: “A lot of referrals from the motorcycle dealers, with hope that when the students complete the MSF course they will buy a motorcycle from them. I advertise in the Pitch magazine, and we have 200 radio ads starting soon. We also give a free tee-shirt to the student who does the best on the range per class. They wear our tee shirts and that is free advertising for our business.
Most people who have owned and operated their own business know you do nothing but eat, walk and sleep the business. Clarence and Pat are no exception, because they don’t have the time to ride like they used to with their Gold Wing Chapter, or go on trips. Clarence said, “I don’t wear any clothes that don’t have the Rolling Wheels logo on them!” Once the season starts, he is busy maintaining bikes, hauling gas in his truck, and organizing the classes. They are planning a couple business trips this year, the Gold Wing rally in Branson, Missouri, the International Drill Team Competition in Nashville, Tennessee, and a State Directors Administrative meeting. That will get them on their bikes, away from the training center, but never out of the business! The joys of owning your own business!

Those interested in enrolling should call immediately, because they are a full month out on taking new students. It was also noted, if it is raining on the skills test day, the students bring rain suits to complete the course because they only reschedule if it is unsafe to ride. If raining, it gives the students good practice in inclement weather, which is something we can all use.

I asked Clarence where he sees his business in the next five years, and he said, “We hope to have more than one training site location, even though it may not be in Missouri. We will continue to schedule more classes and add additional training coaches.” It’s obvious that Clarence has a passion for coaching others on the safety of motorcycle riding and we at Cycle Connections wish him the best of luck.

Rolling Wheels Training Center is located at 4804 Noland Road in Independence, Missouri. Their phone number is (816) 478-3677 or you can visit their web site at www.rollingwheels.org.

Story and photos by Goldie Arnold

Goldie’s Tip of the Month: The universal symbol for a motorcyclist needing help is to place your helmet facing out (face shield/visor) on the roadside.