Pima Community College’s Motorcycle Safety Training Program boasts a new award after 40 years of riding
By Katelyn Roberts and Michela Wilson
Photos by Katelyn Roberts
“Safe” often isn’t the first word that comes to mind when discussing motorcycles.
Yet Pima Community College’s motorcycle program was recently lauded for its safety, gaining the Community Safety Leadership Award through the Southern Arizona Chapter of the American Society of Safety Engineers.
Missy Blair is the manager and one of nine RiderCoaches in PCC’s Motorcycle Rider Training Program.
“When I bought my first motorcycle, I rode 40 miles – in my cul de sac,” Blair said.
Initially, Blair’s husband thought riding a motorcycle would be too dangerous, but over time, he wanted to learn to ride as well. The couple took the course at Pima, and two years later, Blair began coaching the same class.
“We do it to pass on the information and help others,” she said. “We don’t do it for money. We do it because we’re passionate.”
The program originally was envisioned by Mark Grushka.
Fresh out of a master’s program in safety management, Grushka, who rode his first motorcycle at 16, approached Pima with his idea for a motorcycle safety course.
“They did a very unique thing, instead of getting us bogged down in a lot of bureaucracy, they said ‘Let’s try it,’ ” Grushka said.
Pima held the first class at the El Con Center in April 1977.
“There was a grand total of four students and two instructors,” Grushka said. “It had very humble beginnings.”
Pima’s openness to the program set the tone for things to come. Motorcycle dealerships in Tucson were happy to support the program, supplying small bikes that were easy to train on.
To generate interest, Grushka hosted a motorcycle safety conference in Tucson, where he invited a famous academic, Harry Hurt, who had released a landmark study in motorcycle safety.
“Harry miraculously accepted our invitation,” Grushka said. “We were able to get a grant to expand the program, which made the cost very reasonable. We were very fortunate we had this excellent curriculum.”
Today, the coaches still follow Motorcycle Safety Foundation curriculum, and Pima serves as an outlet for students or members of the community to take the MVD-friendly classes.
The three courses offered by PCC are:
• Basic RiderCourse: This entry-level course is designed for new riders. It incorporates classroom discussion and hands-on practice. Motorcycles and helmets are provided, and a licensing test is included. The course costs $270.
Basic RiderCourse 2: This is for people who are already riding but want to learn and practice more advanced skills. Participants are allowed to bring their co-rider. BRC2 costs $119.
Advanced RiderCourse: This is a challenging course for more experienced riders and costs $135.
The Arizona Motorcycle Safety and Awareness Foundation offers scholarships for BRC and BRC2. The scholarships reduce the cost of the programs to $100 and $50, respectively. They’re available on the AMSAF website at 7 a.m. on the first Monday of every month.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Motorcycle Safety Program, “operator fitness, experience and training, and licensing” are key in preventing motorcycle crashes before they occur.
The PCC Motorcycle Rider Training Program focuses on the training portion. The experience part may take some time.
“Oftentimes, when we use the mental side, we stay away from having to use the physical side,” Blair said. This is learned in the classroom.
Blair believes the class time required by the MSF curriculum is necessary in training riders how to mentally ride their motorcycles.
“We’re not here to make you an expert rider. There are other schools for that,” Blair said.
Eighty percent of motorcycle crashes result in injury or death, whereas that’s only true with 20 percent of passenger vehicles, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Motorcycle Safety Program.
Grushka says that bikes have become much safer over the years, with antilock brake systems, lighting systems that make them more visible and better tire quality.
“It can do amazing things,” Grushka said. “You can stay out of trouble in the hands of a skilled and knowledgeable rider. It’s the safest vehicle, until you get in a crash.”
Although the RiderCoaches have no way of knowing how many lives have been saved with the program, Blair is confident at least hundreds of crashes have been prevented.
The program, however, has seen a decline in enrollment.
“I don’t know if people don’t have the money or different priorities, but the number of people seeking training has declined,” she said. The program still attracts many new riders as the Basic RiderCourse is offered several times throughout the year.
At 5:30 a.m. on Oct. 29, Vic Paladini showed up to the designated range near the north lot at West Campus.
An hour later, students showed up for their second day of BRC. Just like the day before, the first thing they did was get on the bikes and ride.
While other Arizona vendors have MSF-approved ranges, Paladini says they’re compact. Pima has a full-size range, which he says is better for the students.
“They get a lot more riding time. At the end of the day, they will probably have 20-24 miles on a motorcycle. That doesn’t seem like much, but every 100 feet, they are doing something. They are learning safety, which is really key.”
Students not only become better riders, but Blair says the courses improve their overall awareness as drivers.
“We get it all the time. They say, ‘Now, I find myself being more aware of the road’” on and off the bike.
“I wish we could have every licensed motorcycle rider in Arizona go through one of these classes. That would eliminate a lot of the injuries and fatalities,” Paladini said.
For more information on motorcycle safety courses, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
RIDER PROFILE: Jacqueline Castillo-Larriva
By Katelyn Roberts
One of the five riders during the Oct. 28-29 class was Jacqueline Castillo-Larriva. When she decided she wanted to ride a bike, her wife told her to go buy one.
Castillo-Larriva came home with her 2017 Honda Rebel and without a license.
“My wife said she would only ride on the back of my bike after a year,” she said. Until then, Castillo-Larriva’s wife would experience her first ride on the back of their friend’s bike.
Castillo-Larriva was disappointed.
“We don’t get to share that many firsts. We’re old! I was like, ‘You’re gonna waste that opportunity?’” Castillo-Larriva said.
During the second day of BRC, Castillo-Larriva rode like a natural under the instruction of Vic Paladini.
“He kind of reminds me of the sting ray from ‘Finding Nemo.’ I was surprised and grateful for the way the class was set up,” Castillo-Larriva said.