Motorcycle classes are for novice, experienced riders

Johnny Sutton does not look like the stereotypical biker.

He doesn't have long hair, a beard or any tattoos. He describes himself as a dad who rides a motorcycle.

Sutton teaches motorcycle safety for Rowan-Cabarrus Community, Central Piedmont Community, Gaston and Mitchell colleges, for both novice and experienced riders.

Classes last 20 to 22 hours. Friday night is instruction in the classroom, and Saturday and Sunday are a combination of riding and classroom work. For details go to

Students have to be at least 16, with a parent's signature, to take the courses. Sutton said his oldest students have been in their 80s.

Sutton said about 70percent of the students have never ridden a motorcycle.

Funded by the state, the colleges and sponsors, Sutton said, motorcycles with engines of 125 to 250 cubic centimeters are furnished for the basic class. He starts out teaching where the controls are, how to operate the clutch, and then builds from there.

Many students become "real riders after this class," he said.

Some, however, "leave the course and decide motorcycling isn't for them," he said. "For some, it's too hard. It takes coordination, both hands and both feet. It's mentally challenging until you develop muscle memory."

At the end of Sunday afternoon, students take a riding skills evaluation. If students pass both that and the written test, they get a waiver card to excuse them from the road test when they go to the Division of Motor Vehicles to get their license

Sutton's own bike is a 2006 Honda Gold Wing. "I bought it because I inherited money from my father. He wanted me to so do something with (the money)."

A couple of years ago, Sutton had a student who was the stereotypical biker: beard, tattoos and chains. The student brought his girlfriend to class because she wanted to get her own bike.

"My radar went up with a guy who'd been riding 40 years in a beginner class," Sutton said. "Within the first two hours of class, the guy said the class should be mandatory. He learned so much."

One student has taken the basic course every spring for seven years but has yet to buy a motorcycle. That student considers the course a treat to himself to ride for a weekend.

One of Sutton's students was not at all happy to take the course. The Highway Patrol forced him to take it because he was caught riding a motorcycle with no license. At the end, however, he said he had learned a lot and enjoyed his sentence.