Start Riding or Refresh Your Skills at Moto U: An Interview With Gabe Ets-Hokin

Posted on: May 12th, 2013 by Road Rider MCA No Comments


After perusing the new Motorcycle University website and talking with one of the founders of the school, I found myself taking a stern look at my own riding skills. I would describe them as both incidental and mediocre. Mediocre because I have a few miles and a few bikes under my belt. And incidental because since learning how to shift gears and weave around orange cones on a 250cc in a parking lot ten years ago, I haven’t done much to directly advance my skills. Have you?

I think that’s the response that the riders behind Motorcycle University, the Bay Area’s newest riding school, are hoping to inspire in motorcyclists who are considering taking a class. They want beginners and experienced riders to view motorcycling as an organic skill that needs to be fed from time to time; that our lives depend on a regular and conscientious intake of training. And just as our training begins with day one on a bike, it doesn’t stop as our experience progresses. Moto U is a great place to dose up on motorcycle training because the instructors are veterans of the art of teaching beginners, experts, and everyone in between how to ride in a host of different situations. But they also believe that keeping riders alive and well doesn’t all come down to the rider. In addition to a commitment by the motorcyclist to developing and maintaining fresh and healthy skills, it takes instructors and schools with a proactive approach to developing the best and most effective curriculum and instructional methods. Such was their thinking when Gabe Ets-Hokin and his co-founders decided to bring Motorcycle University to life.

Ets-Hokin spent the greater part of his life immersed in the business of motorcycles and the people who ride them. In his current capacity as Editor in Chief and Co-Publisher of City Bike magazine, he keeps his finger on the pulse of the Bay Area’s riding community, but he’s a bit of a pacemaker too. So when the man founds a motorcycle school, we pay attention. Shortly after Motorcycle University’s launch, we asked Ets-Hokin to give us the skinny on motorcycle skills, and talk about why it’s important for both beginners and seasoned riders to seek out the tools and training to build them.

Road Rider: Do you think a lot of experienced riders want to improve their skills and safety on the road but they just don’t find the opportunity?

Gabe Ets-Hokin: Absolutely, though I think only about 10% of experienced riders ever get formal training beyond the [Motorcycle Safety Foundation] Basic Rider Course, because it’s expensive, or it’s time-consuming, or it’s inconvenient.

RR: What do you see as the most common mistake beginners make when they are just starting out negotiating traffic on the road?

GE: Riding a motorcycle that other people have told them will be appropriate for them to learn on. They quickly become overwhelmed by the bike’s size/weight/power and can’t focus on the road and traffic conditions. Commonly, they ride less than a few hundred miles and then quit riding for good. A quick search of Craigslist for low-mileage, late-model sportbikes and cruisers (only dropped once, in driveway. Scratches will buff out!) will show you evidence of this.

RR: What is a riding skill that both beginners and more experienced riders neglect to develop?

GE: Countersteering. Both beginner and experienced motorcyclists either fail to understand how it works–or argue that it’s not a real phenomenon. That the majority of single-vehicle motorcycle fatalities occur in turns is proof we need to teach riders both how it works and how to do it.

RR: As your experience with different motorcycles, riders, and situations has grown over the years, have your own riding habits changed in a significant way in terms of safety?

GE: Sure! Your safety is related to your levels of confidence and caution. When I was young, my caution melted as I grew confident and more skilled–which only led to crashes at higher speeds! After 25 years, I find myself being both confident and cautious, though I still occasionally ride like a jackass when I feel anonymous.

RR: Besides a helmet and gloves, what is the most indispensable piece of riding gear?

GE: At Moto U, we believe that though protective riding gear is essential, reducing the severity of injuries and improving the rider’s quality of life during and after a crash, but the most important thing to have with you when you ride is knowledge–being fully informed of the risks of riding, knowing to never ride impaired, and knowing the right speed to ride to match the conditions of the road, your motorcycle, and your abilities.

That and my lucky astrology mood watch.

RR: What size of bike do you think is best for beginners?

GE: The one that fits their ability and experience at the moment they’re riding it, not how they’ll ride in a year. An appropriate-sized learner bike doesn’t need to be freeway legal, should have a low seat and center of gravity and a very low power-to-weight ratio. Folk wisdom places too much value on engine displacement alone, which should only have meaning to tuners and racing-rules committees. We use Kawasaki Eliminator 125s and Honda Rebel 250s and they are both suitable for learners.

RR: Does Moto U help beginners become licensed riders?

GE: We don’t license riders–we let the independent and impartial staff at the DMV do that. We don’t think it’s a good idea to skip that step. Would you let a surgeon licensed by a medical school with lax admission and graduation requirements cut you open? Or have your sky-diving instructor declare, “Okay! You’re ready!” and toss you out of the plane?

Instead of force-feeding you what should be six months of learner time in 15 hours, we give students the opportunity to learn and practice in a safe, mellow and slow-paced environment, giving them the tools to practice on their own–and get licensed when they know they’re ready, not when some guy with a clipboard says the class is over.

[Editor's Note: Moto U is offering a variety of levels of classes for all riders. The beginner classes are for riders who are starting out or returning to riding with or without a license. Beginner classes are separated into modules so the rider can take them one after another, or take each module when he or she is ready. Moto U’s experience and research has shown them that the best and safest riders develop when their education at all the beginner stages is paced for the individual. Moto U also spends twice as much time teaching basic operations as many other beginner schools.

The Total Control Advanced Rider Course takes more experienced riders to the next level of bike handling on the road. It is for riders with at least 3000 miles of experience, who are used to handling their own bikes, and who are competent and safe riders, but are interested in being even more in control of their bikes. The main focus of Total Control is cornering, and students will work on body positioning, as well as throttle control, low speed maneuvers, and other skills. Novice, intermediate, and advanced track riding course are also available through Moto U.

Check the Motorcycle University website for more detailed information about all the classes offered and to sign up. And if you ride in Oakland or San Francisco, or even if you’d rather take a hundred mile detour so you never have to, don’t miss the valuable information found in the Motorcycling in Oakland (Course 118) and Motorcycling in San Francisco (Course 117) pages of the website.]

Click HERE to visit the Motorcycle University website.

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