With gasoline prices remaining stubbornly high, it is no surprise cash-strapped drivers are ditching their cars for a cheaper alternative.
For many that means riding a motorcycle or scooter for the very first time.
Enter Angela Lytal, a self-admitted "biker babe" and owner of California Rider Education, which holds classes in Alameda.
The Vacaville woman went from being a full-time homemaker and mother to running a business that now employs 15 coaches and teaches the rules of the road to 24 bikers each weekend. Her students range in age from 15½ to 80.
Lytal's program has a contract with the State of California to provide rider education and training and is part of the California Motorcycle Safety Program.
While many students are new riders, others are experienced ones who seek to refresh their skills. Many veteran riders, she said, learn when they take the class how many bad habits they’ve acquired over the years.
Almost 50 percent of her school's students now are women. When she began the classes, she said, there were very few. She attributes some of that uptick to the evolution of motorized scooters.
“Scooters are a huge market right now,” Lytal said. “They are automatic, you don't have to shift them. They have changed from little tiny things you might have jumped on just to go to the store to ones that now have big engines you can ride on the freeway and travel on over long distances.”
In its latest retail sales report, the Motorcycle Industry Council reports motorcycle sales among major brands rose 7.2 percent in the first quarter of 2011.
The scooter segment saw the biggest gain, up nearly 50 percent. Sales of dual-purpose bikes, built for on- and off-highway use and generally among the most fuel-efficient motorcycles, increased by almost 25 percent. Tire sales, a strong indicator of motorcycle use, were up as well during the first three months.
The cost of Lytal’s training course, which is held in the parking lot next to the on Alameda Point, is $150 for those age 15½ to 21 and $250 for anyone age 21 and above. The fees are set by the State of California.
You do not have to have your own bike to take the course. Students train on Lytal's 30 motorcycles and two scooters.
“It’s a great way to sample riding and see if it is right for you,” she said. It also provides a venue for riders to talk with each other about the types of bikes they ride and to network with one another.
Defensive driving skills are taught in the class and the use of protective clothing is emphasized.
Formal education is incredibly important according to Lytal. “It is by far safer than having a friend or a family member teach you,” she said.
What advice does Lytal have for people toying with the idea of buying a motorcycle or scooter?
“Come take a class first and see if it is really a good fit for you,” she said. “Go to a dealership and find out about all the different bikes out there. Tell the dealer how you will be using the bike. It is important to make a list of what you are looking for and sit on different bikes to see what best suits you.”
Lytal encourages would-be riders to call her at 1-800-966-3844 if they have questions about what her school has to offer. But she also recommends that would-be riders check with the California Department of Motor Vehicles about licensing and insurance requirements. “The licensing laws can change at any time,” she said, “so it is best if people go to the source and check for themselves how the law applies to them.”