Harley-Davidson enthusiasts eager for a ride on one of the company's new 500cc or 750cc Street motorcycles may find the quickest way to get on one is to enroll in Harley's Riding Academy New Rider Course.
Some of the first units of the new small-bore bike -- the smallest, most user-friendly motorcycle the company has produced in decades -- have already been sent to dealers, and in some states are already being used for rider training.
The company says that rider input from its previous Riders Edge course -- which trained 350,000 riders and prospective riders using the 500cc Blast built by then-Harley partner Buell -- indicated newbie motorcyclists needed a bike that was cheaper, smaller and easier to ride than the traditional Harley.
Harley says it is the only company that offers its own branded rider training program, which has trained riders since 2000.
It has been a successful part of the company's outreach program. More than 55% of Riders Edge students went on to buy a motorcycle after completing the course, and almost half them bought a new or used Harley, Harley's rider training manager Angela Thundercloud said.
The average cost of the riding course will be $250 to $400, depending on the dealership and the state where the training takes place. Some dealers offer a price reduction on a bike to students who complete the training. Some states waive the motorcycle riding test for riders who have completed a certified test like Harley's. Harley itself offers some financing incentives too.
But the real point is getting the next generation of riders introduced to Harley motorcycles and gear. Thundercloud says the courses will include exposure to Harleys of many different shapes and sizes, and to Harley jackets and other apparel.
The Riding Academy also comes with some inventive protections for the wary wannabe: The bikes are equipped with an "industry-first power limit calibration," which basically makes it impossible to get going too fast in the lower gears, as well as a "vehicle protection kit" that helps prevent damage to the bike in case a student drops it.
Harley's intention with the Street motorcycles is to attract younger riders and riders who might not have looked to Harley for their first bikes. The smaller, less expensive machines are designed specifically for young adult, female and urban riders -- as well as for riders in locations where big-bore Harleys don't typically sell well, such as Japan, China and India.
Harley is investing heaviy in the rider training program. About half of the first Street units made in America will be reserved for Riding Academy application. Thundercloud says the company intends to have about half its 600 dealers nationwide participating in the Riding Academy program over the next three years.