John Reeves of LORE Motorcycle Education demonstrates an exercise in a steady rain in Topsham in 2015. More Mainer's took motorcycle rider education courses this year than ever before. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — Earlier this summer, Devin Allen didn’t know anything about riding the 2017 Honda CB300F motorcycle he’d just bought.

“Nope. I’d only just put it in first gear in the driveway,” Allen said.

Then, he took — and passed — a state-certified, hands-on motorcycle safety education course. Allen walked away from the two-day class with all the paperwork necessary to get his two-wheeler endorsement on his drivers license.

“I went in with zero experience,” he said, “and now I’m ready to ride the roads.”

Allen is not alone.

In 2021, more Mainers took motorcycle safety training courses than ever before. The number jumped a full 25 percent over a normal year, according to state officials. Just what caused the surge is unclear, though several factors are suspected by educators.

What’s more evident is, with hands-on training, mandated by the state since 2016, motorcycle crash rates are dropping, at least a little.

Slightly over 4,000 Mainers took a hands-on motorcycle training course this year, said John Kohler, Maine’s motorcycle safety program coordinator.

“Our numbers are typically right around 3,000,” Kohler said. “To see it jump that much in one year is very unusual.”

The trend was statewide. This year, Maine had eight rider education schools operating in 12 different locations, from April through October.

“From Biddeford to Presque Isle and from Jonesboro to Wilton,” Kohler said.

 A woman on a motorcycle speeds past a man delivering beer on Fore Street in Portland in 2015. The state’s top motorcycle education official says most fatal accidents come down to speed, alcohol and not wearing a helmet. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Educators said they’re not exactly sure what caused the spike in numbers. Most suspect it has something to do with a pandemic mix of stimulus money, free time and a desire for fresh air transportation.

“Reasons are varied and wide,” said John Reeves, who owns LORE Motorcycle Education.

Reeves said last year’s abbreviated classes, due to the pandemic, may have played a role.

“There may have been some pent up demand built into this year’s numbers,” he said. “Also people wanting to get out and try new things.”

LORE, Maine’s biggest motorcycle education outfit, is where Allen took his course. The company employs 14 instructors and operates at three locations. In 2021, LORE ran 101 classes and taught just over 1,200 students.

Reeves said most of his nine-person classes were full and his Biddeford location operated six days a week all summer.

“It was a fantastic year for us,” he said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d get to these kinds of numbers.”

In order to get a motorcycle license or permit in Maine, new riders must complete a two-day class with a company like LORE.

Courses are a mix of actual motorcycle saddle time on a closed course and classroom work. How well participants do on a 50-question written exam and a two-wheeled skills test determines whether they walk away with their full endorsement, their riding permit or nothing at all.

The program is meant to be rigorous. Not everyone passes.

Before 2016, riders only had to pass a one-day, classroom-only course to get a permit. Prior to 1992, riders over 21 didn’t need any education at all.

Reeves remembers getting his motorcycle permit in the 1970s.

“I just walked in, took a 20-question test and — bam — I got my permit,” he said.

Recent state efforts to better educate riders before they hit the pavement on two wheels is starting to pay off. Numbers are undeniable, though not dramatic.

Motorcycle crashes in Maine dropped every year since the hands-on training rules went into effect, going from 488 in 2016 to 432 in 2020. Fatal crashes have remained roughly the same, hovering at around 25 per year.

Kohler, who has overseen the state’s motorcycle education programs for almost 20 years, said reasons behind the less-than-amazing fall in crash numbers is complicated.

First, he points out, a number of people involved in motorcycle wrecks every year are riding unlicensed and illegally, with rider education playing no factor. Also, even with thousands of Mainers getting good training these days, thousands more, who got their endorsements before 2016, are still on the roads.

But the biggest factor, Kohler said, comes down to each rider’s own actions.

“There’s great value in trying to educate people but they have to make a choice to be safe,” Kohler said. “Most fatal accidents come down to a severe lack of wearing a helmet, alcohol and excessive speed.”

In Maine, helmets are only required in some instances. Riders with two-wheel permits, with less than a year of licensed experience and all passengers under 18 have to wear helmets. Others do not.

Though the numbers are falling slowly, Kohler said he expects the trend to continue as more riders take the road with better skills.

It’s also worth noting the volume of motorcycle-licensed Mainers rose steadily in the last 15 years, going from 92,000 in 2005 to 121,000 in 2020.

As for Allen, he said he’s glad he took the plunge this summer, after harboring motorcycle dreams for several years. He said he plans on using his new skills and education to stay as safe as possible on the roads next summer.

“Oh yeah, it was 100 percent worth the cost of admission,” Allen said, “and it was good training.”

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Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.