Like your first day of school or your first kiss, getting your bike licence is a rite of passage in Bermuda.
Buying the bike, the helmet and the rain gear is all part of the process — Antoine Richards is hoping the Bermuda Motorcycling Academy will become another part of the equation.
The former professional racer who trains motorcyclists at Southside, hopes to instil “confidence and competence” in new riders, and ultimately change Bermuda’s culture.
It picks up where Project Ride ends.
“It gives them confidence, but it doesn’t necessarily give them competence,” he said of the government programme aimed at high school students.
“They’ve never shared the road with a car, but they’re licensed. It’s entirely up to them to learn, from observation and trial and error, before they get on the real road.
“What bad skills are being passed down from one person to the next?”
He noted that there are no motorcycle instructors listed in the phone book despite there being plenty of options for people wanting to learn to drive a car.
“Expats who come to the island, when they get on a bike, solutions out there have been not as useful,” he said.
Mr Richards trained to become a Royal Society of Prevention of Accidents-certified instructor through a partnership with local insurers Argus, and started the programme with Road Safety Council chairwoman Ali Bardgett last year.
The 10-hour training programme is built of three parts — the classroom, a closed circuit and the roads.
Pillion training is included; emergency braking is key.
Students receive riding instructions while on the road via radio. Meanwhile, they are filmed with GoPros to watch their errors.
“When they see themselves riding from a different perspective, it completely changes them,” Mr Richards said. He recalled one student who would “make a show” of his riding, dipping to the right to turn left and dropping to the left to turn right.
“I let him do it and then I showed him the video, without me saying something, he caught it.
“I was 16 once so I can fully appreciate if a young man wants to do a little bit of showing off.”
The bike he rode as a teenager “was crazy fast” and “had bald tyres”. He clearly remembers the day that almost got him into trouble.
“I mean it when I say I can understand the mentality of these crazy young men,” he said. “It was pouring down rain. I was late. Traffic was backed up and I was on the opposite side of the road blasting, probably doing about 85 on a soaking wet road with tyres with no threads whatsoever.”
He turned the bend to see a bus coming straight towards him.
“The traffic was nose to tail. I get on the brakes hard and the bike is sliding. The bus is not flinching.”
Fortunately for him, he was able to swing into a small enclave. He didn’t come off. The Road Safety Council’s statistics show road injuries spike at 16 and 17, Mr Richardson chalks that up to “inexperience”.
“The fatalities tend to be older — 25 to 40. They’re now set in their ways. They’ve crashed four or five times; they’ve survived. Statistics catch up with you. If you don’t know what you’re doing you will maybe get around that corner 999 times, but then that thousandth time comes and you’re on the road,” he warned, noting the nine road fatalities this year.
“We need to plant the seed early. Confidence plus competence equals a better outcome when they’re 30, 40 years old.”
Tailgating is his “number one pet peeve”.
“Without knowing it, a lot of Bermudians put themselves at massive risk with that,” he said.
“The best thing you can do is position yourself to react to what’s happening. I teach them about spacing, having a braking zone. Keep yourself in a safe zone where you can give yourself a margin of error from other [road users].”
He calls this defensive riding.
“If people start off with good habits, we would see a real change in riding habits because they don’t have to unlearn. We’re trying to set a new normal, a new standard, we’re trying to change the riding culture.”
The hope is to bring on more trainers as demand grows.
Fees are $500 for 16 to 18 year olds and $800 for adults.
“We’re hoping that people see it as worth the investment early on,” he said. “The riding exam itself isn’t sufficient. Every parent should be able to recognise that.”
He said it is common for students to arrive with a bravado that dissolves after two hours.
“My job as a riding instructor isn’t to knock it out of them, it’s more to create a framework around it. By the end of it they’re able to do things they couldn’t do before.”
He said parents too come in with a false sense of confidence in their children. “Everybody sees getting a licence as the celebration point, but that’s just when it begins for us.
“The end goal is to, in ten years’ time, see a dramatic difference in our road statistics. This would be the start of a training culture — a new rite of passage. This needs to be a part of becoming an adult.”