If you drive Fruitville Road, like I do, you’ve probably wondered about those people taking motorcycle lessons in a parking lot outside Robarts Arena. What’s up with that?
It turns out that the state of Florida requires a BRC — Basic Rider Course — for anyone riding a motorcycle or scooter with more than a 50cc engine.
When the Ride Safe USA students took a break, Mary McMillen caught my eye.
She was the 68-year-old divorcee from North Port with orange hair beneath a red-white-and-blue helmet with a bald eagle painted on the side.
“Oh, this heat,” she groaned, pulling at her blue jean jacket. “I’m dying, just dying.”
Last month, McMillen bought her own motorcycle. It was on her bucket list. The next step was sweating through a riding course in Sarasota.
“I must be crazy,” she said, gulping a sports drink. “I’m having so much trouble. It’s using them all at once — the hand brake, the foot brake, the clutch.”
Jim Gillett, a former law enforcement officer, leads Ride Safe groups through 2-day lessons. Most students pass and receive what’s called a motorcycle endorsement for their driver’s licenses.
Classroom instruction leads to riding practice outside Robarts Arena. Students maneuver through sets of little green and orange cones. One daunting test is riding a figure-8 through a limited space.
“Sometimes people have difficulty,” Gillett said, “but it’s really just two U-turns.”
Easy for him to say. Gillett enourages students to wear a helmet, gloves and boots. His favorite part is watching them improve on their second day of riding. Classes goes on even in the heat of the day or the deluge of an afternoon thunderstorm.
“If it rains,” Gillett joked, “we ride until the cones float away.”
The class I saw had 10 students — seven men and three women. The men pretended they weren’t nervous, while the women shared their worries and fears.
“You can do this,” they told each other. Taking the class was an emotional experience for Amanda Kraft, another woman rider from North Port. She saw her father killed in a motorcycle accident, but wanted to return to riding. “I figured I’d come out,” she said, “and get my confidence back.”
In October, Kraft hopes to take a motorcycle trip to Daytona Beach for Bike Week. McMillen looks forward to riding the country roads around Arcadia. She has a cross-Florida trip planned, too.
“I want to go to Key West,” she said. “That’s first. If I can do that, I’ll be happy.”