FAIRMONT - For motorcycle enthusiasts, there's nothing like the freedom of the open road. But on a motorcycle, that freedom carries a high risk of injury or death without proper training.
To obtain the motorcycle option on a driver's license, a certified safety course must be taken and passed, but until Brent and Debby Jass began the "Ride Safe, Ride Smart" program, the closest safety instruction class was in Mankato.
"I started as a coach for the Minnesota state motorcycle program in 2002," Brent Jass said. "My wife, Debby, also became an instructor in 2007. But it was in 2008 that we opened our own program."
A “Ride Safe Ride Smart” class watches as Brent Jass demonstrates how to maneuver the skills course on Saturday in Fairmont.
The couple live between Fairmont and Windom and have been offering the Ride Safe Ride Smart program to the two communities for the past three years. Ride Safe Ride Smart is licensed by the Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services and recognized by Motorcycle Safety Foundation.
"We'd love to move into other communities, such as St. James or Jackson," Jass said. "But we need a proper amount of space for the time on the bikes, at least 200 feet by 100 feet for the riding and skills practice."
In Fairmont, the former Kmart parking lot provides adequate room for demonstrations and practice. The course is a two-day affair, with classroom and bike time. Along with the fee, participants also need a motorcycle permit. A participant can bring their own ride, but there are motorcycles provided for the training.
"We started buying them on eBay or Craigslist," Jass said. "We've had a couple upgrades since then. Not all the bikes we started with are still used now."
Along with giving southern Minnesota a closer option for motorcycle safety training, Jass said their program offers more bike time.
"I think we give a little more time and hours on the bikes, about twice as much as with the state program," he said. "Once you get the permit, you can take the class, and we have a skills test at the end - and if you pass the skills test, you can opt out of the state skills test."
Jass said about half the students they teach have never have been riding on a motorcycle before.
"Our maximum class size is eight, and we like having about six, because then the students learn from each other," Jass said. "If it gets less than that, then the student starts to feel like they're under a microscope. But in a size of six or seven, you usually get one really good rider, and that one will be a role model for the other students. ... The class is aimed for beginners, those who have never ridden. It's fun to see those who have no experience on motorcycles, to see how much they can learn in one weekend."
But the classes are good for experienced riders as well, including Jass himself.
"I learned what I'd been missing out on, and it also showed me what bad habits I had," he said. "The classes focus on mental skills, the physical skills and the gear work of the motorcycle itself."
The busiest time of the year for the Ride Safe Ride Smart program is April and May, but classes go through the summer and occasionally fall.
"In April and May, we are doing a class every weekend, and in the summer it's more like every other weekend. In the fall, it depends. By that point most people are putting the bikes away and decide to wait until spring," Jass said.
Registration for Ride Safe Ride Smart can be done online at the website ridesaferidesmart.com, or by calling (507) 630-0551 or sending in a brochure available at the DMV offices in Fairmont or Windom.