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.