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the mentor gap

The Mentor Gap

Big Brothers (And Sisters) Needed For Ridership Movement!

Generalization: The more skilled a rider you are, the more “moto-snobbery” keeps you from stooping down to help new riders to elevate their game by improving their skills and experience.

Experienced riders and racers by nature don’t have patience for back markers — they want to go longer, faster and harder than newcomers. Seems like those of us spending the most time on two wheels have the least time to spend with those of lesser skills and experience. The downside is that newbies can become frustrated and quit altogether. I call it the “Mentor Gap.”

Other than close family members, we cluster with riders of a similar skill level. Rather than sharing their secrets, riders with greater skills and experience prefer to wheelie off into the sunset. Who wants to show a newer rider how to counter-steer, apex properly or pack for an overnight adventure trip?

One of my past “Confessions” columns entitled “It’s Not About Your Damned Motorcycles” created a stir by pointing out that physical “dream machines” are actually secondary to the human experiences they create. It’s truly all about (drum roll) the people, friends, family and the human experience of riding these vehicles…together. You can be a club rider, racer, family rider or Helge Pedersen riding solo around the globe, but it all comes back to people and places in the end — friends you meet and scenes you see at the beginning, along the way or at the end.

Wikipedia’s definition of “vehicle” is a mobile machine that transports passengers or cargo. The key word to me is “transports” not “machine.” Unlike planes, trains and automobiles, powersports machines truly transport the human experience into another dimension of existence. Moving through space and time with such freedom, exposure and exhilaration is enlightening to the self. Our mind is truly transported to another level simultaneous to the physical transport of our body to the ultimate destination. Without beating a metaphoric dead horse, the motorcycle journey itself is the reward — better than the machine under you…or the ultimate destination.


The problem is, dealers and current riders need to learn to share our transportable discoveries with newcomers beyond the simple selling or acquisition of the machine. MIC statistics reiterate this problem: The average annual mileage ridden for a street motorcycle is under 3,000 miles per year. The touring average is higher and the dual sport average is lower. There is no need to buy another “dream machine” if the first one is less than one-twentieth worn out and its battery is dead. Craig’s List and eBay are littered with “dreams gone stale.” On the other hand, I know other newcomers to the industry who already have three different bikes in their first 18 months of riding. What’s the difference in their experience from those who lost their fire?

My “Mentor Gap” theory states there are too few Big Brothers in our industry. Riding is a lifelong progression for those of us already hooked on it. The trouble is, many newcomers don’t stay long because it’s challenging to make the leap from newbie to veteran without some outside help from a friend, riding neighbor or a caring dealer. And the vets are too hung up on (selfishly) riding for themselves.

I am more selfish… and guilty than most — I need to change that and begin giving back. Riding has been an escape for many of us ever since we could twist a throttle so the more we grew up in the school of hard moto-knocks, the less we wanted to share our experience with someone who hadn’t paid their dues. My 30-something kids don’t even ride because I never wanted to worry about them hurting themselves — how’s that for selfish?

Riding is close to addictive behavior, isn’t it — the ultimate in selfishness? It’s difficult to develop the patience to teach and encourage newer or less experienced riders because there is only so much time in the day to roost toward the horizon and get back for work and family. Escape, adrenaline, adventure — I love it all, but it’s not quite as thrilling when dragging along an unprepared or skill-lacking newbie.

This same awkward feeling gets portrayed at the parts counter and on the sales floor in your dealership. “Assumptions” of customer expertise get thrown out into the conversations with new riders who are reluctant to stop the conversation and ask, “What’s a Supermoto?” Big Brother attitude needed here.

Motorcycle training courses enlighten more than 600,000 new riders a year. But as we all know, that’s just the primer — the classroom and parking lot training isn’t the real world or the real thrill. Track Day schools are terrific too, but there tends to be an “intimidation leap” between street skills and track skills. How does one find his or her way from being a basic training graduate to becoming an accomplished road or dirt rider without some form of real world, intermediate mentorship? Big Brother attitude needed here.


A patient friend? A private coach? Dealer clinics? These are few and far between. We hire SCUBA instructors, music teachers and personal trainers in our society — why not hire a private riding coach to teach us some new higher level riding skills? I just dropped $300 on a private fly fishing lesson.

Encourage your newer riding customers to take a 1-day Advanced Rider Course on their own motorcycle then coordinate a track day. Make it a social event — not a test of manhood and machismo. Not only will your customers learn some new riding skills, they will also become much more familiar with their new motorcycle’s capabilities and their newly transported self. Big Brother attitude needed here.

Can your dealership staff take a bit more time when handling a newcomer to motorcycling? The “dreamers” are at the fragile stage and thus need to have the inspiration and mentoring to achieve that dream. Don’t just sell them the machine, sell the how-to sizzle too. Twice in the past six months I took the time to mentor some new riders and it was incredibly satisfying. I not only have the satisfaction of sharing my “knowledge and feelings about riding,” but I’ve gained two new riding friends. And reciprocally, I am enrolling in a track day to learn a few new tricks myself. Can dealerships do more of the same? Big Brother attitude needed here.

My life isn’t racing as much as it used to — literally. Slowing down a bit and taking some time with my friends… or customers… makes the entire riding experience more fun and longer lasting. Bringing home a new friend has overshadowed bringing home a cheap trophy. So let’s all make it an industry goal to keep those dream machines from going stale in garages across America.

Bump up the national average to 4,000 miles a year while adding some new butts on seats as well. We’ll sell more of everything–bikes, accessories, replacement parts, not to mention enjoying ourselves more. Big Brother attitude is definitely needed here… mentors!

Mind The Gap
Mentor others on how to “jump the gap” toward their own new motorcycling experience
Man enjoying his motorcycle
Keep that smile going and going…

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