A wistful poet once said: “Get your motor running. Head out on the highway.”

Yes. But that was back in the dope-smoking ’60s, when all a man had to do to get his motorcycle license was to vow eternal love to Dennis Hopper and promise to be good.

Times have changed. Before you sit your butt in a motorcycle seat these days, you’ll have to sit that butt in a classroom.

It took me three weeks of research to wend through the nebula of motorcycle licensing, but I think I can condense it for you here in a couple paragraphs. Everything I do as of late is condensed. Time spent here talking to you, after all, is time I could be out on the road.

First, take a Basic Rider Course, which is a weekend of instruction broken into half classroom study, half wheeling around in a parking lot on someone else’s bike. Impress the instructors after 15 hours of study, you walk away with your license. Fail and you have to take a road test with an examiner from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

There are a handful of these courses scattered across the state. Come late winter, competition for remaining seats becomes as heated as an American Idol showdown, so you want to look into it far in advance, possibly around the same time you’re taking the Christmas tree down.

Or, take the Maine Motorcycle Safety Education Course, which is half the work in spite of a title that is twice as long. In this eight-hour course, you will park yourself in a seat and listen to an instructor, watch films with atrociously bad acting and, in the end, take a 50-question test to determine whether your permit will be granted. No riding in a parking lot, no weaving around cones.
Pass the test and you will be issued a permit after a quick stop at the BMV.

That’s a permit, Knievel. That means riding with a helmet, staying off the roads and no passengers. You might be impressive as hell to the ladies, stud, but you can’t offer them a ride until you get your license.

If you get your permit through the MMSEC, you will next have to take a road test in order to obtain your license. That means riding around the city streets while some surly BMV examiner drives behind you in a car, honking to make you turn this way or that way and assessing your performance. Good riding skills and a degree of sucking up are important here.

Might I say for the record that all motorcycle driving examiners are among the most intelligent and good looking people on the planet and I would gladly bring any of them a shiny bottle of their favorite thirst quencher? I don’t know what it is, I just love them all to pieces.

To get my wheels on the road, I opted for the MMSEC course for a variety of reasons. I have some riding experience and didn’t feel I needed hands-on training. More importantly, I’m a tightwad – the Basic Rider Course is in the area of $300. The shorter class is $60.

For the motorcycle course at Roy’s Driving Academy, you sit in actual car seats for the duration of the classroom work, and for eight hours on one day all you talk about is bikes. The instructor, Phil Bilodeau, was like a magician in that he made eight hours seem like two. At the end of the course, I banged out a 98 on the written test. My overachieving wife, who took the class with me, aced the damn thing.

But enough of this. The paperwork is done and it’s time to ride.

Subhead

The way I see it, people who gravitate to motorcycles can be broken down into neat groups.
• Young people who realize that nothing short of being a glitzy vampire from a trendy movie will attract the opposite sex quite like a motorcycle. A bike will add a solid four points on the scale of attractiveness and compensate for the fact that you blog for a living and still live with your mom.

• Men and women in the thrashing foam of a midlife crisis. Their looks are fading. Saturday nights consist of Yahtzee and Netflix. They drive minivans to shuffle the kids to and from band practice. In a desperate bid for a late-inning rally, they buy a gleaming motorcycle in an attempt to recapture the glory days of youth. It works too, I’m sure of it.

• Career bikers who were born with leather gloves upon their hands and bandanas across their heads. These are the Easy Rider types who look upon the rest of us with amusement and a trace of scorn.

• The elderly. They figure, if not now, when?

I may be of the midlife variety, although I’m still barely 20, as far as you know. And to accommodate this mental breakdown, as well as to show confidence in the economy, I went out and bought a Suzuki DR650, the Swiss Army knife of bikes. Fast, versatile, nimble both on and off road. God, I love that bike. If archaic and discriminatory laws forbidding polygamy and machine love were not on the books, I would marry it.

I’ll never forget how joyous it was to watch the dealer load my new ride onto the truck and promptly drop it over the side.

No, really. It happened. Blinkers, mirrors and various parts snapped off and flew across the parking lot. The dealer fell in a twisted heap of shame as the bike tumbled down on top of him. I immediately rushed to the aid of the wounded and determined that only superficial wounds had been suffered.

I’m not sure how the dealer made out. I kind of forgot about him.

But now all is well and I’m on the road. Here are a few things I’ve learned or remembered about riding.

Subhead

• Everyone is out to kill you. The girl who makes a sudden left turn in front of you wants you dead. The old man backing from a driveway into your path is out to smite you. Drivers who pass you on the right as you turn in that direction are clearly intent on snuffing you out. They don’t see you, don’t think of you or just don’t like you. Remember at all times that all other drivers want to run you down.

• The low wave, so long a standard greeting between bikers, is apparently something you have to earn. The simple fact that you are on a bike is not enough. I put a hundred miles on the DR over a weekend and got just one low wave. It happened at 3:15 p.m. on Pleasant Street in Lewiston. It was a very special moment.

• There are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who will congratulate and envy you when you roll out your new ride. They’ve always wanted to ride and never got around to it. They will look lustily over your bike and cry a little as they watch you ride away.

The other group is quite different. They will remove their hats in a solemn display of mourning. “You are going to die,” they will assert without any room for discussion. They will write your obituary that very night, because this side of the population is convinced that anybody who climbs aboard a motorcycle is doomed to die on one.

• I ride with a full face helmet. This could save my life. But I will tell you right now that if a bee ever flies into that helmet – or up a pant leg, as those lascivious bees are known to do – you will read about the bike-riding newspaper reporter who voluntarily rode over the side of the bridge and into a river in a misguided attempted to free himself from the winged monster.

As I remember, riding is more fun than just about anything. Few things are as liberating and life-affirming than hitting the road on two wheels. You can be the lone rebel, riding solo through the landscape of you youth, midlife or golden years. You can ride in packs, like those cool, leather-clad studs in “Any Which Way But Loose.”

Either way, neither way, I say go for it. Get a bike, take a course, ride, baby ride.
Just don’t bring your wife to the class, Fonzie. She will smoke you on the written test and brother, that’s just embarrassing.

mark laflamme’s motorcycle

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