Riding a motorcycle for the first time can be intimidating. There’s a lot to process, from balancing the bike to clutch pull to throttle control to bringing it to a stop. This doesn’t even address the topic of turning. Videos showing inexperienced riders doing the “whiskey throttle” tango only adds to the trepidation of hopping on a motorcycle. Luckily, the Discover the Ride program breaks down those stigmas in a fun, controlled environment as it lays a foundation for potential new riders.

Discover the Ride is a multi-faceted attraction that travels around the country as part of the Progressive International Motorcycle Shows (IMS). In its second year, a primary objective is to promote ridership and propagate the ranks of motorcycle riders. Discover the Ride achieves this by letting people actually ride a motorcycle, an electric Zero FXS, on a short indoor track under the watchful eye of experienced professionals. No motorcycle license is needed to participate, and is there a better way to fuel the fire in new riders than by giving people that first taste of the two-wheeled life?

Discover the Ride’s New Rider Course takes the “walk before you run” approach to learning to ride. Before climbing on the back of a motorcycle participants first spin a few laps on a Yamaha electric power-assist bicycle. Why a bicycle? One, it serves as a “balance test” because the course emphasizes “The first step to riding a motorcycle is good balance.” It demonstrates a person’s comfort level and competency on two-wheels. It also gives them an opportunity to feel the bicycle moving under its own power, a first for many, as riders gradually increase the level of pedal assistance as they lap around the oval track.

Once the two-wheeled initiation is complete, it’s time to learn about proper motorcycle gear and riders are fitted with a motorcycle helmet, jacket, and gloves. The importance of operating a motorcycle with proper gear can’t be overstated, a point not lost on the Discover the Ride team. Riders are also required to wear long pants and closed-toe shoes before climbing aboard.

Next, it’s time for an introduction to the Zero FXS motorcycle and its controls. The Zero FXS is lightweight and easy-to-handle. It doesn’t have a transmission, eliminating the need to shift gears, anti-lock brakes is a standard feature, and it doesn’t release any emissions, making it the perfect indoor training tool. Power output is also governed to a maximum of 12 mph, limiting the chance of “whisky throttle” mishaps. Once riders have been familiarized with the Zero motorcycles, it’s time to spin some laps with an emphasis on learning “the basics of riding a motorcycle, how to accelerate, turn, and brake.” Laps are done on a concrete oval and the importance of looking through a turn is stressed. A blinking cone mid-way in the turn serves as a focal point while teaching the look-through-the-turn technique. Total Control instructors, teachers of advanced riding clinics, keep a watchful eye on everybody, eager to lend a helping hand or words of advice if needed.

Lightweight and easy-to-handle, the Zero FXS is emission-less and has no tranny so there's no need to shift gears, all attributes that make it the perfect vessel for Discover the Ride's New Rider Course. 

At the Dallas IMS we caught up with two Discover the Ride participants, one who had never ridden before and one with years of experience, to talk about the program.

“I am not an experienced motorcycle rider,” said Laura Atzeni, who was also attending her first IMS. “So, if you told me I could learn how to ride a motorcycle in 15 minutes, I wouldn’t have believed it. Yet, after Discover The Ride’s New Rider experience, I was (slowly and wobbly) rounding the corners of a small track on a Zero.

“The process itself was super easy. We took a couple of laps on the Yamaha power-assist bikes to refresh our bicycle reflexes, then headed to the fitting station where we geared up with a helmet, jacket, and a pair of gloves. Then Robert Pandya (Discover the Ride Program Manager) gave us an overview of how to steer and control our Zeros. The last step was to enjoy the experience. I can now officially say I rode a motorcycle,” said Atzeni.

We also chatted with Brandon Shallenberger, who grew up riding a Suzuki DR100 in the woods and currently rides a Honda CB300F. Shallenberger had nothing but praise for the program, even though he’s been riding for a long time.

“The whole Discover the Ride experience was very well put together. Signing up was super simple; one waiver and one wristband later and you are ready to go for all the activities. The staff was eager to help new or inexperienced riders along throughout the entire process. I'd recommend it to anybody even remotely interested in riding a motorcycle, even as a passenger,” he said. “The way they start you out on a pedal-assist electric bicycle is a smart choice, making sure you are able to keep a two-wheeled vehicle upright as you go around the course. These bikes were way more fun to ride than I expected!”

After getting outfitted with a full complement of gear, Shallenberger said, “They set us up on Zero motorcycles, each limited to 12 mph, which was more than enough to have a fun time zipping around the small track, but not enough for anyone to get themselves into trouble. The blinking cone at the mid-way point of the turn was a great beacon to focus on while practicing the turning technique, and I never felt like I was at risk of losing control of the bike. This was a blast, and it was great to finally get my hands on a Zero motorcycle, even if it was only for a quick jaunt.”

Giving people who’ve never operated a motorcycle before the opportunity to ride is just one dimension of Discover the Ride as other “experiences” are offered as well. The Dyno Experience gives people a chance to hop on a motorcycle that’s tethered to a dynamometer so its rear wheel spins in place on a drum but the motorcycle doesn’t move. This way they can actually start the bike up, pull in the clutch, and shift through some gears. Since the rear wheel is spinning when they give it gas, participants can get a good sense of the pull and power of a motorcycle. This station was particularly beneficial to prospective rider Atzeni.

“The Dyno Experience seemed like all learning and no play, but boy, did I learn. As an inexperienced motorcyclist, this should have been my first stop. I sat on a Yamaha MT-07 where I learned what I would assume every student would learn in their first day of getting their motorcycle license. After starting the engine, I was able to experience the movements of gripping the shift and throttle (not too tight, not too loose), learning when and how to shift, and feeling the reaction when shifting the right, and wrong, way,” she said.

The New to 2 is another aspect of the Discover the Ride directive. It is a combination of live presentations and videos aimed at further indoctrinating new riders into the world of motorcycling. Presentations are hosted by Monique Filips and Jordan Diggs while guest speakers enrich the New to 2 program. The Kids’ Zone has also been a big hit with the youngest IMS attendees. Similar to the New Rider Course set-up, Kids’ Zone features a small indoor track and Stacyc battery-assisted balance bikes for children to spin laps on. The balance bikes come either with a speed-limited electric motor or without one, depending on skill level, and Kids’ Zone provides a prime opportunity for little ones to get their first taste of riding a two-wheeler.

The final Discover the Ride dimension is the XDL Wheelie Experience. Under the guidance of professional XDL stunt riders, participants climb aboard a Zero motorcycle that’s secured to a platform but is rigged so it can pop wheelies in place. This gives riders a chance to feel the unmuted power of the Zero motorcycles and to work on both balance and throttle skills. Fun is the motivation behind the XDL Wheelie Experience, and based on the reactions of Shallenberger and Atzeni, it hit the mark.

“I'd say the standout experience for me was the wheelie machine,” said Shallenberger. “I got to try out both the hydraulic set-up and the actual bike set-up. The first familiarized me with the basic concepts of a wheelie: throttle moves your wheel up further, letting off or applying a bit of foot brake brings it down. The real fun was on the set-up with a real bike, though. I really enjoyed the challenge of finding that sweet spot of balance. I was being too jerky with the throttle and brake for the first few tries, but with the help of the instructors, I was able to nail a pretty good wheelie in my last attempt. I don't think I'll be trying it out on my bike anytime soon, but it sure was a blast to throw the front wheel up in a controlled environment.”

Think she's having fun at the XDL Wheelie Experience?

“Before going into X Games mode, we were able to try the wheelie simulator, a stationary motorcycle that readied you for the angles you would be thrown into and helped find the right grip on the throttle to keep you balanced in the upward position,” said Atzeni. “Once it was my turn, I gripped the throttle, twisted to about 5 mph, and was thrown into the air. I was told to crank the throttle as hard as I could even though my worst fear was losing my grip and being tossed off the stage. But after a small jerk, I was on one wheel. I bobbed back and forth, never really finding my perfect balance, but I’ll get it next time.”

In the short span of a year-and-a-half, Discover the Ride has exposed thousands of potential new riders to the joys of motorcycling. As they say, action speaks louder than words, and Discover the Ride takes a pro-active approach to fostering new riders by putting people behind the controls of a motorcycle for the first time. There’s still three more Progressive International Motorcycle Shows in 2020, one in Cleveland this weekend, followed by a show in Minneapolis the following weekend, and wrapping up in Chicago Feb. 7-9. If you’ve got a friend or family member who’s shown interest in learning how to ride a motorcycle, take them to a show and let them get the full Discover the Ride experience. You might just fuel the fire and inspire a new rider.