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Top 10 Reasons to Take a Motorcycle Safety Course

Editor's note: This post was written by Cherise LaPine. At some point, many people flirt with the idea of riding a motorcycle. It's a noble goal, but not without plenty of obstacles -- and that's before traffic even comes into play. How can anyone learn to ride without a license -- or even without a [...]

Editor's note: This post was written by Cherise LaPine.

At some point, many people flirt with the idea of riding a motorcycle. It's a noble goal, but not without plenty of obstacles - and that's before traffic even comes into play. How can anyone learn to ride without a license - or even without a bike? What if the new bike shows up, along with a big box of expensive gear and riding just isn't a good fit? And truthfully, the whole idea - being among cars without the same protection offered by a car - can really be kind of scary.

For new riders, especially, a motorcycle safety course can provide a solution to most of these problems. Any search for motorcycle rider education or training will probably lead to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), which is a nonprofit organization supported by motorcycle manufacturers. The MSF offers the best recognized rider education program in the United States and the classes are held across the country.

The MSF says that riding requires both physical and mental fortitude, and the beginning rider courses are designed to develop and perfect skills in both areas. Keep reading to find out how a local motorcycle safety course can enhance the experience of riders of all levels.

10: Motorcycle Safety Foundation-based courses are reputable

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation's riding courses are the only such program in the world, and the organization carefully maintains its reputation and high standards. The MSF certifies its own coaches and provides certification programs. Many independent and state-sponsored schools use the MSF curriculum and employ MSF-certified coaches.

Course availability varies by location, but generally, they're held throughout the riding season. Motorcycle experience isn't necessary for beginning courses, but some schools recommend that students be comfortable on a bicycle so the riding posture and balance aren't totally new sensations. Course tuition also varies depending on location. In some areas, costs are subsidized by corporations (like motorcycle manufacturers), government safety or training programs, or other nonprofits (like safety awareness organizations).

There are some guidelines to follow when selecting a course; any high quality program should be happy to provide this information. Reputable schools use late-model motorcycles that are regularly inspected and certified according to local safety laws. At a good school, classes will be small so the instructors can pay attention to everyone. Schools' Web sites should provide the information necessary to prepare for class, such as what will happen during inclement weather, whether students need a motorcycle permit or if just a driver's license will suffice, any liability forms that need to be filled out, and whether the state licensing exam is available after completing the course.

Keep reading to find out how motorcycle safety courses can help improve your riding experience.

9: Motorcycle safety courses improve the hobby's reputation

Scary fact: More than half of all motorcycle crashes involve riders with fewer than five months of experience. Motorcycling doesn't enjoy a flawless public perception, but the sport's advocates believe that if riders hold themselves to a higher standard, some of the negative misconceptions about motorcycles - namely, that most riders are reckless and disregard the safety of themselves and fellow motorists - might diminish over time. To that end, the MSF's mission statement is "To make motorcycling safer and more enjoyable by ensuring access to lifelong quality education and training for current and prospective riders, and by advocating a safer riding environment." In practical terms, if word gets out that many new motorcycle riders complete rigorous safety training before getting licensed and going on the road, maybe they will be seen with more respect.

Although the MSF works hard to improve the perceptions of motorsports, the foundation emphasizes the point that, ultimately, motorcyclists can depend only on themselves, so it's essential to develop the proper skill sets. Even careful, responsible riders must face the realities of the sport's reputation. Getting injured is an ongoing concern for new and experienced riders alike. Although nothing can guarantee that a rider won't get hurt, the MSF curriculum is designed to prepare all riders to cope with a variety of situations and enjoy the road as safely as possible.

Aside from developing and administering the rider safety education programs, the MSF stays quite busy. Other work involves safety research, motorcycle education and awareness programs, and developing and maintaining communication with government agencies. A rider who is serious about the hobby should be properly educated and trained and ride appropriately, to avoid undermining these efforts.

On the next few pages, we'll discuss specific types of motorcycle riding courses.

8: The most popular motorcycle safety courses are designed for novice riders

Basic courses are recommended as the first step for all new riders, and the cornerstone of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation curriculum. This level provides expert instruction and observed practice in a safe and comfortable environment, so new riders will be less overwhelmed when they finally hit the road solo.

Basic courses generally consist of about five hours of classroom instruction and discussion, followed by about 10 to 15 hours of practical (on-bike) instruction on a closed course. Class instruction covers laws and rules of the road, best motorcycling practices, and basic bike operation. Students can expect to ride 10 to 15 miles (16.1 to 24.1 kilometers) during the bike instruction, during which the class will cover skills such as starting, accelerating, slowing, stopping, shifting and matching gears to speed, turning, and learning to anticipate and accommodate a variety of traffic situations. Students will also learn how to properly mount and dismount a motorcycle (a feat not to be overlooked). However, the MSF says that balance is the one essential skill that cannot be taught - if a student can't keep upright on a bicycle, the course probably won't be very helpful.

The basic course also focuses on the skills needed to pass the state licensing exam (which, of course, varies by state). As we'll discuss later in the article, students in some areas may get a bonus when it's time to take the license exam, simply from completing a basic motorcycle safety course.

If instruction at this level sounds, well, too basic, there are a lot of other options for more experienced riders. Keep reading to learn more.

7: Refresher courses help with forgotten or neglected skills

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has developed a variety of courses for riders with some experience, but desire a bit of professional attention. Perhaps it's been a while, due to an injury or illness, because the weather's been bad or because the bike had to be sold. Maybe life just got in the way and took the focus off riding. Better to seek help and regain the necessary confidence than to take a risk with stale skills.

In such cases, any basic-level instruction would be better than none, but the MSF curriculum is designed to get right to the point. One such refresher option is a basic course for riders with an expired permit or license, to get them back in shape to retake the exam. Other courses focus on redeveloping or correcting those same skills, but without spending time on the exam-related portions. Whatever the reason, a motorcycle safety course can help whip a lapsed rider right back into shape.

6: Experienced rider? Try an intermediate course!

Eager to recapture the thrill of those early days on a motorcycle? In an intermediate class, designed for experienced riders, instructors will examine skills with a fresh eye, offer new techniques to enhance the riding experience and provide feedback to correct bad habits.

Specific course offerings vary by school and location, but the suggested Motorcycle Safety Foundation curriculum has several options for experienced riders. There are a few different levels of basic skill enhancement, as well as courses designed specifically for street riding.

Many schools require intermediate students to bring their own motorcycles to the class - that way, instructors can focus on refining skills and students won't be distracted by operating an unfamiliar vehicle. Any of these courses (or similar courses offered by a local school) will improve the quality of life for a motorcycle enthusiast. There's always room for improvement, after all.

5: Some motorcycle safety courses offer specialized skill training

Thanks in part to high gas prices, scooters are rising in popularity. Scooters are different from motorcycles mainly because most of them feature automatic transmissions and they're designed to be easier to ride. According to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and the insurance industry, though, a scooter may as well be a motorcycle. Some of them are even considerably more powerful than an average bike. Since scooters are especially popular in urban areas with heavy traffic, it's important to learn to ride properly. Some motorcycle schools will teach the basic course to students on scooters, if arrangements are made in advance. Other schools offer scooter-specific training courses.

Many schools offer advanced courses for general, yet in-depth, refinement of skill and technique. However, with a little research, interested riders may be able to find courses specifically for racing, dirt biking and stunt riding.

And for those who live and breathe the mission of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, why not share the knowledge? Ask a local school if they offer training and certification to become a riding instructor.

On the next pages, we'll discuss some of the other benefits of investing in a motorcycle safety course.

4: It's a smarter investment than blindly buying a bike

On a hot summer day, the sultry lean of a Triumph parked at a curb can be enough to get the gears turning, inspiring daydreams of open-air motoring. It's a lot of fun to browse eBay and Craigslist, so it's understandable that many new riders have selected a few potential bikes before, say, getting a grasp on the state's licensing requirements.

But hold on! Looks (and exhaust note) aren't everything. It's easy (and fun) to believe the best way to get experience is on a newly-purchased motorcycle, but in fact, the opposite is true. Most motorcycle safety courses provide helmets and motorcycles for the hands-on instruction segments of the entry-level class (but of course, check with the school first - students sometimes need to bring their own gloves and other protective equipment). For new riders, taking a course is an inexpensive way to try riding, without making the full investment in a bike and gear, not to mention maintenance and insurance.

After completing a motorcycle safety course, it's easier to make a more educated decision about buying. Riders will gain some insight about what kind of motorcycles they'd prefer to own, and the school's instructors might be willing to provide valuable advice. Some schools have a variety of bikes in the fleet, so students can switch it up and try different types, and the class instruction segment of the course sometimes covers the basics of choosing a motorcycle. It'll be easier to go shopping after completing the course, since motorcycle dealerships won't allow test rides to prospective buyers without motorcycle licenses. And an investment of several thousand dollars, or more, is not insignificant - there's little point in buying a motorcycle up front, only to find out that riding it isn't as appealing as you imagined.

3: Possible insurance discounts... and other benefits

Some insurance providers will give a discount on motorcycle insurance after completion of a certified motorcycle safety course. The discount usually ranges from five to 20 percent, depending on the particular insurance carrier. Motorcycle insurance isn't cheap, so these savings can be substantial. Sometimes, a rider will break even on taking the course. And the discount isn't only for new riders. A motorcycle rider who takes a course might still be eligible for this benefit - it's always worth asking the insurance agent.

Sometimes, there are other financial benefits to completing a motorcycle course. Since the Motorcycle Safety Foundation is heavily sponsored by motorcycle manufacturers, some brands offer perks to compete for new riders, usually in the form of a refund or discount on a new bike. When shopping for a brand new motorcycle after completing an MSF course, ask the salesperson or check the manufacturer's website to see if any such bonuses are being offered.

Motorcycle insurance won't be very useful without a license, though, so keep reading.

2: It's a faster path to a motorcycle license

The local motor vehicle registration office is rarely a pleasant experience. Imagine strolling in to take the motorcycle licensing exam, trudging out to a parking lot and working it like a show pony while the examiner yells out commands. Kind of intimidating, right?

Now consider that in some states, successful completion of a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course or other recognized programs can allow a rider to bypass the written or riding portions of the motorcycle license exam, and in a few states, riders qualify for a motorcycle license immediately and automatically after passing the course. Some schools work with the state to offer the riding exam on site, under the same conditions as the course's instruction, and students are allowed to use the same motorcycles. That should give a boost of confidence to nervous riders!

Some schools require students to hold a current motorcycle permit (in many states, available based on the completion of a written test); others require only a valid driver's license. But that's the easy part. Since state laws vary widely, it's always best to do some research. Both the state motor vehicle registry and local motorcycle schools' websites should provide the information necessary to understand all the steps involved in obtaining a motorcycle license.

1: Get confident... and in turn, make riding a motorcycle more fun

A motorcycle safety course might actually be fun - after all, riding is supposed to be fun - but that's not the program's primary goal. According to testimonials on many schools' websites, new riders often describe the course as intense and rigorous. But the results demonstrate that the intensity pays off. Generally, schools estimate that about 80 to 90 percent of students pass the beginner course on the first attempt.

Though a motorcycle safety course teaches skills in a highly-controlled environment, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation says that the techniques are applicable to any situation. And even though the offerings of a school's beginner fleet might not satisfy the dreams of future cruising, learning on smaller motorcycles still provides the techniques to master a bigger bike, according to the MSF. That confidence will pay dividends in the long run, because well-trained new riders will be less distracted and more able to concentrate on developing those skills and techniques.

So, which sounds more appealing for a first solo cruise? The thrill of flying blind brings with it unnecessary and extreme recklessness. But venturing out, with the assurance gained only from being taught and observed by qualified instructors, will allow a new rider to enjoy more pleasures of the experience of riding.