MSF Basic RiderCourse Review: From the Archives

By Bill Windsor

Pulled from the Ultimate Motorcycling archives, this retro review stands the proverbial test of time. Windsor’s words still speak truth about the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic RiderCourse.

MSF Basic RiderCourse Test
MSF Basic RiderCourse Review (from the archives)

It’s amazing that many of us made it through those tenuous moments of releasing the clutch for the first time. Back in the bad old days learning how to ride usually involved an enthusiastic friend with some history of riding experience, a quiet street or parking lot where an out-of-control motorcycle wouldn’t do too much harm, a bike that had put on some of its mileage while fully horizontal, and, of course, lots of luck. Little method or study was involved, and the same could sometimes be said for even rudimentary safety gear.

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But this was how many of us started out back in the 1960s and ’70s. Those of us who made it through the gearbox without stalling or hitting anything of substance continued to ride and learn. Some turned motorcycling into a lifelong passion and perhaps later turned out to be the aforementioned enthusiastic biking friend with some history of riding experience.

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Fortunately for motorcycling, and for men and women with an interest in making that decisive first engagement of clutch, things completely changed 30 years ago. In 1973, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation offered its alternative to the back alley, Hail Mary approach on learning how to ride. The MSF turned riding a motorcycle into tuition-based learning by applying logic, discussion, chalkboards, and a graduated, step-by-step approach.

Certified instructors replaced the well-meaning neighbor. Well-paved, marked-up, orange-coned practice ranges replaced the grocery store parking lot. Small, low, easy-to-manage entry-level street bikes replaced whatever motorcycle just happened to be available. Knowledge, training, and practice replaced dumb luck.

Over the course of three decades, MSF classes improved through years of scientific research, field experience, and critical review by the experts. More class types were added to cater to a wide variety of riders, from complete novices to veterans needing a refresher course.

MSF Basic RiderCourse Review: School Was Never This Much Fun
MSF Basic RiderCourse Review (from the archives)

More than 2.5 million students have graduated from MSF schools, leaning far more about motorcycle safety than they would have on their own, or would have 30 years ago. Today, there are more than 3,000 MSF-certified RiderCoaches training at nearly 1,300 sites in all 50 states.

Just as it was back in 1973, the riders of today need training, but the age of the average rider also has climbed into the early 40s. Often, that rider is coming back to motorcycling after years away.

More women continue to take an interest, with nearly one-third of MSF students being female. The growing popularity of motorcycling among many demographic lines has made it challenging for training classes to keep up with demand. But the facts supporting rider training are clear. The MSF once estimated that 90 percent of riders involved in crashes had no formal training.

“Whether you’ve never ridden before or rode years ago and are starting all over again, we can’t stress enough the need for proper training,” said Tim Buche, CEO of Powersports Safety and Trade Associations. “Riders will come away with more knowledge, better preparation and dramatically improved odds for street survival.”

There are two street classes offered by the MSF. For those who have never before ridden, the first choice is the MSF Basic RiderCourse. With the amount of information provided, and the total seat time, this is a thorough class that requires a 15-hour commitment over two or three days.

Before even starting to literally push the motorcycle across the closed course riding range to get a feel for the weight of a rolling bike, there is plenty of chalk talk, explanation, and visualization all about proper operation. Students progress to real riding only after gaining familiarity with the machines, by sitting on them, paddling them around and sampling all the controls.

Skill-building drills, with well-versed instructors watching and coaching, ensure that the students get comfortable with basic maneuvers such as starting, stopping, turning and swerving.

In many states, the MSF certificate of completion means the DMV will waive the skills test when applying for a license. After passing the Basic RiderCourse and the DMV’s written exam, the student is ready to take the first rides in the real world, armed with all the knowledge they’ve absorbed.

MSF Basic RiderCourse Review
MSF Basic RiderCourse Review (from the archives)

Training isn’t just for first-timers, and that’s where the MSF Experienced RiderCourse comes in. Every airline pilot goes back to the flight simulator on a regular basis in order to stay sharp, remember skills that may have not been put into practice, and further prepare for emergencies. It’s a good idea for veteran motorcyclists to take refresher courses, too, and to do it throughout their lifetime of riding.

The Experienced RiderCourse is a four- to five-hour session that usually has the student bring his or her own motorcycle. Combining classroom sessions and drills out on a small riding range, this course helps to shake off bad habits, improve bike handling and provide important reminders about life-saving street strategies.

At most of the beginner class sites, everything is provided, from the practice bike itself to all the necessary safety gear. When it’s time to buy a bike, students are well advised to start with a smaller, lighter-steering bike and work their way up to larger, more powerful motorcycles. Whatever the size of bike, wearing all the right safety gear is absolutely critical.

Learning more about riding technique and proper gear and getting the right start in motorcycling is click away at MSF.