Safe Riding

Learning to Ride - The Right Way

Written by  March 31, 2007

Do you remember the first time you rode a motorcycle on your own? Were you a kid, adolescent, adult? Were you excited, scared, or maybe a little of both? Did you take a rider training course or did a friend or family member show you the basics and then turn you loose?

I remember the first time I rode a motorcycle, or I guess I should say a mini bike. It was the summer of 1969, and I was 8 years old. I can still remember the excitement as my dad lifted the shiny blue Honda Mini Trail 50 out of the trunk of the family car, kickstarted it, rode around the yard a couple times, stuck a helmet on my head, and then told me to hop on!

Unfortunately, there was no such thing as a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) rider course in those days, so instead, I received a two-minute DAD rider course, cranked the throttle, and off I went. The first couple of trips around the yard he ran along side while I was in first gear to make sure I didn't crash, and after that I was shifting gears and away I went! Thankfully, I had a good sense of balance from riding bicycles for several years, plus my shiny new steed had an automatic transmission. Therefore, all I had to do was shift gears, twist the throttle, and remember the two most important things; how to turn and how to stop.

Over the next several months I dumped my new bike a few times, and somehow managed to keep from hurting myself. Each time I fell over, I'd get up, swallow my pride if any of my friends were looking, get back on and take off again. I've owned several bikes and ridden a few hundred thousands of miles since then; however, I'll never forget that first ride on my first bike, and I'll bet you don't either. Although my first riding experience was a good one, I'm sure that's not the case for all new riders, which is why you should take a motorcycle rider course if you're new to the sport or have been out of the saddle for a while.

Most cities have at least one MSF training facility, and here in Kansas City we are lucky enough to have several training facilities conveniently located throughout the city. On the southwest side of town, Stan and Elaine Rogers run Midwest Motorcycle Training Center, up north, Metropolitan Community College (MCC) – Maple Woods offers rider training courses, and on the east side of town, Clarence and Pat Wildes operate Rolling Wheels Training Center. For those of you in the Topeka, Kansas area, Topeka Harley-Davidson offers Rider's Edge® training courses for new, skilled and group riders.

Basic RiderCourse - This course teaches you the basics, including what to wear, where the controls are located, how to start and stop, as well as how to safely maneuver your motorcycle in order to avoid collisions and how to handle special situations. This course includes classroom and hands-on motorcycle operator training in a controlled, off-street location. Although no experience is necessary, it really helps to have a good sense of balance and be able to ride a bicycle. Your training also includes a knowledge and riding skills test, and you must pass both tests in order to earn your MSF Completion Card and a licensing waiver if applicable in your state. In other words, if you pass the tests you can skip the riding portion of the licensing process at your local DMV. Some insurance companies also offer discounts for those who successfully complete a rider training course.

During the classroom portion of your basic rider training, you'll learn about the different types of motorcycles, their controls and how they operate. You'll also learn how to deal with normal and critical traffic situations. Your instructor will explain the importance of wearing a Department of Transportation (DOT) approved helmet and other protective riding gear. During the on-motorcycle portion of your training, you will learn techniques such as basic motorcycle operation, how to start your motorcycle, how to shut if off, how to use your brakes to slow down and stop, how to ride in a straight line, how to turn, swerve, shift and stop.

Experienced RiderCourse - This course is geared towards riders who have completed the Basic RiderCourse and have at least 1,000 miles or one year of riding under their belts. This course is great for fine tuning your riding skills, breaking bad habits and for experienced riders who are getting back in the saddle after a lengthy gap in riding. Riders will use their own motorcycles, must have a motorcycle endorsement (M) on their driver’s license, and have a current inspection sticker on their bike. Students will learn advanced braking, cornering and swerving techniques as well as other street-smart riding strategies.

Some facilities, such as Rolling Wheels Training Center, offers a variety of basic rider training courses such as their new Premium Basic RiderCourse , in which the riding portion of the course is approximately 40% longer than the Basic BRC, and the classroom portion includes more activities and a segment on group riding. They also offer an Additional Riding BRC, which is designed for students who have completed the BRC (pass or fail), and provides approximately 4-5 additional hours of riding instruction. This course gives students who did not pass the skill test during their original BRC the opportunity to earn their completion certificate if they take it within 30 days of their original BRC and pass the skill test.

For more information and to find a MSF or Rider's Edge® training location near you, go to www.msf-usa.org or www.ridersedge.com. Classes fill up quickly, you’d better get on the stick and register now!

In our May 2007 issue we’ll take you behind the scenes to give you an instructor and student’s perspective on the motorcycle training experience.

By Mike Schweder