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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Getting There: Testing for motorcycle endorsement gets tougher

Training instructor Barb Fincher works with a pair of students during a basic rider course Wednesday at Westside Motorsports. (Dan Pelle)
Training instructor Barb Fincher works with a pair of students during a basic rider course Wednesday at Westside Motorsports. (Dan Pelle)

Shaun Albritton stood on the warm asphalt at Westside Motorsports waiting for instruction.

Albritton, of Spokane, is taking up motorcycle riding and wants to learn the right way.

“There’s nothing like the feeling of going fast on two wheels,” he explained.

He and a man from Ephrata, Wash., were in the middle of a two-day basic training class that would lead to a test for the required motorcycle license endorsement.

Students spend two half-days studying in a classroom at Westside and the other half-days practicing starts, stops, turns and other techniques for safe riding at the Westside training course.

The course begins with instruction on the proper way to mount a motorcycle. It may seem elementary, but the goal is to establish good habits from the start, training coordinator Mandy O’Connell said.

“Learning in a controlled environment is the best way to go,” she said. “Trial and error when you are on two wheels is not the best way to go.”

In August, Washington state turned over motorcycle training and testing responsibilities to private vendors like Westside at 4201 S. Grove Road. Previously, Westside was a training facility but not a test site.

In addition, the state is implementing a more stringent test based on findings from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

The state subsidizes almost half of the cost of the training course. Washington residents pay $125 for the two-day basic course while the full price for nonresidents is $225. Military personnel get a discounted price of $98.

According to the licensing department, the new test was designed to address issues discovered by studying motorcycle crashes around the country.

Washington officials volunteered to introduce the new test first, said licensing spokesman Brad Benfield. Other states will make the change next year.

“Through analysis of motorcycle crash data it was learned that the majority of riders were injured or killed in accidents that occurred in curves,” Benfield said in a news release.

The new exercise involves driving a motorcycle at about 20 to 25 mph in approaching a curve and then keeping the wheels within a narrow, curving lane marked on the test course.

“It’s a defined curve where you have to stay in your lane,” said Scott Schmidtman, Westside’s owner.

A year ago, Schmidtman built his own test facility at his dealership, which is visible from Interstate 90 near the Geiger Boulevard interchange.

In addition to basic training, the motorcycle facility offers one-day classes aimed at intermediate and experienced riders.

Westside also offers the written examination needed to earn a motorcycle endorsement.

As many as 80 students a week pass through Westside classes at the start of the riding season in the spring.

Motorcycle riding has grown in popularity over the years. Sales are up at Westside, which was busy with customers last week. More women are riding, and motorcycles offer the advantage of less fuel consumption.

One of the students sharing the class with Albritton said he was surprised at how difficult it was to take in all of the instruction and put it to good practice.

“It’s best to have those skills in your back pocket when you need them,” O’Connell said.

Riders do not have to take training classes prior to taking endorsement tests, but can test based on their acquired skills and knowledge.

Spokane Motorschool, 11630 N. Fairwood Drive, also offers motorcycle training and testing.

I-90 delays in Snoqualmie Pass

With the summer driving season coming to a close today, the state Department of Transportation predicted that 45,000 motorists would cross Snoqualmie Pass on their way home today. Delays are likely, they said.

On Tuesday and Thursday, Interstate 90 near Hyak on the east side of the pass will be closed for one hour at 7 p.m. for rock blasting as part of the big widening project along Keechelus Lake.

Other highway work

The new southbound lanes of the North Spokane Corridor have been opened from Freya Street to Farwell Road, but workers have been installing markers and striping, which have been forcing lane restrictions. Also, the new southbound roundabout at Freya is open to traffic.

On U.S. 195, a pavement repair project may slow down traffic south of I-90.

At Kettle Falls, the bridge over the Columbia River on Highway 395 will be closed at night on Wednesday and Thursday. At other times, the bridge is reduced to one lane of traffic with a traffic light to control movements. Loads larger than 8.5 feet must detour during the work to repair the bridge deck.

On state Highway 20, delays of up to 20 minutes are possible from the Sherman Pass summit to the Columbia River. Flaggers will be directing traffic during work on utility lines.

A headline in an earlier version of this story was incorrect. The state does not require training classes prior to testing for a motorcycle endorsement.
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