It's difficult to describe the freedom and rush of riding a motorcycle to someone who's never had the opportunity.
That was the consensus Saturday morning for Tony Waiswilos, David Smith and Joel Florida, three riders taking the intermediate motorcycle safety class at Aiken Technical College.
But as most motorcyclists know, that freedom comes with a risk. It doesn't take a physicist to understand that riding a 600-pound vehicle with two wheels and no safety belts in the open air is far more dangerous than riding in a car.
That's why rider coach Steve Rudy at Aiken Tech and other instructors across the state teach beginning, intermediate, and expert classes to nearly 2,000 riders every year. Rudy often reminds his students that motorcycles aren't as visible on the roads, so riders always have to SEE: Search, Evaluate and Execute.
"I've had my ankle turned around backwards, flew over a car, had (his motorcycle) slammed sideways," said Smith, who lives in North Augusta. "If you're going to ride, you're going to wreck."
He's been riding for 15 years and only signed up for the class because his license didn't transfer over properly from Georgia, and he didn't want to take the test at the Department of Motor Vehicles. At the end of the eight-hour training session, where Rudy estimated each rider would accumulate 23-28 miles, evaluations were held to determine whether riders could get the paperwork required for a full license.
But before they hit the parking lot, they spent four hours in one of the college's classrooms Friday night. In a relaxed atmosphere that allowed for plenty of feedback, Rudy shared some safety tips, including when and how to brake and the appropriate following distance (two seconds).
Fatal motorcycle crashes went down by about 2.4 percent nationwide in the first nine months of 2010, according to preliminary data from a study done by the Governors Highway Safety Association. Georgia went from 112 in the first nine months of 2009 to 98 in the same time frame in 2010, while South Carolina went from 91 to 80, making them two of nine states to report a double digit decrease.
Still, motorcycles aren't going to be safer than cars anytime soon, and that's part of the reason Waiswilos stopped riding 30 years ago. But his passion was renewed recently when his son bought a motorcycle for the first time.
"He didn't know how to drive it, and I drove it home for him and I got the bike back again and ..."
"Here I am."