Karel and Howard head up ProRider, the Ride Forever training provider for the Upper North. It’s a substantial beat, stretching from Waikato to Cape Reinga and home to a large chunk of the country’s population. But in the six-or-so years that ProRider has been going, there’s been plenty of opportunity to hone the operation to deliver a consistently high standard of training.
As the first woman to win a national level championship, Karel became a legend in New Zealand motorcycle racing. So what made her move into training? She describes it as a natural progression: “I’ve spent my entire life around motorcycles, and always wanted to combine my love of bikes with earning a living. At the time I was running a bike shop in Nelson, and people were buying bikes who needed to learn to ride. So it was a way to use my skills, knowledge and experience.”
Karel had also already been instructing. “I was teaching yoga! And it’s actually the same skill set you use to instruct someone in riding a motorcycle. You have to be able to engage people, and physically show them how to do something. Explaining it, showing it and encouraging others to do it.”
Howard, a past Vice President and one of only ten trained rider-mentors for Ulysses, stresses the importance of demonstration. “It’s essential to be able to show people whatever you want them to learn,” he says. “It’s something all our instructors are drilled in. No matter what the skill, from low speed manoeuvring to braking technique, we have to be able to do it in a way that makes sense for the rider and helps them learn.”
Karel and Howard have put immense thought into their training techniques. They understand the different ways people learn, and adapt the training to suit. One interesting concept they discuss is the idea of ‘gaining permission’ to teach.
“It’s the credibility factor,” says Karel. “We’re engaging with people who already know how to ride. So our knowledge and our skill levels have to be at a demonstrably higher level. That way we gain credibility and are given permission to train people.”
As experts in improving people’s riding, Karel and Howard have developed a whole playbook of ways to do it. At the start of most courses there’s a video component, written tips and a role for the instructor in conveying information about the day. But the bulk of the learning is always on the bike.
On and off road
As well as the road-based training, Karel and Howard offer a series of off-road skills courses. From riding gravel roads on a road bike to pure off-roading on Trail and Enduro machines, the pair take riders everywhere.
That includes off road but on tarmac: at the track. “For those who’ve done a bit of advanced road riding, the track’s a great place to learn”, says Howard. Karel, of course, has done a lot of track training. “Obviously, with my racing background I’m really comfortable on track and I see it as a safe learning environment”, she says. “It’s fun stuff!”
Accident scene management, commuter skills and other courses are also part of ProRider’s offering, but the Ride Forever syllabus is now their biggest commitment.
Walking the talk
Karel and Howard played a big part in the birth of Ride Forever training. Their expertise was called on from the early stages, with input on designing the course for each level.
Today, they deliver those courses. So what are the challenges? “There’s always a barrier to overcome, to get people into training,” says Howard. “It’s partly the Kiwi DIY mentality, where basically people taught themselves. Terrible, really, because often people started with bad habits and they just kept reinforcing them. The old licensing system didn't help because there was so little expectation.”
And the answer? “People have to want to train”, he says. “They have to come to that point themselves. And when they do, it’s our job to make people feel more confident and safer; to make them feel empowered by the skills they are learning and putting into practice.
We talk about hazards, because it’s essential to be aware of them, but not so anyone freaks out. When riders are equipped with the skills, they can cope with the hazard because they know how to control things. It’s all positive. A lot of people who haven’t trained before sometimes find it hard to imagine. They worry about people criticising their riding or feeling inadequate. Really? It never happens. It’s always a positive experience. And with the Ride Forever courses at $20 or $50, why wouldn't you take advantage?”
Karel and Howard have been involved in training for some time, yet they both show a refreshing keenness and enthusiasm for what they do. “It’s not hard to stay motivated”, says Karel. “We get as much out of it as the riders we train. First off, we make it fun: a pleasurable day with a sense of achievement. And remember, every day we get to refresh and test our skills too.”
“The best rewards are when you get great feedback”, says Howard. “Especially when someone gets in touch to say how the skills they learned have kept them safe or increased how much they enjoy riding. It’s knowing that what we’ve done means they’re riding better, or they've started track riding or racing, or it’s even saved their life.”
If you want to take your skills to the next level Karel and Howard, and their hand-picked team, cover the whole Upper North Island. Book yourself on a Ride Forever course here.