27 July 2011
Getting a Motorcycle License, Part 2 – the MSF Course
Our friend Sarah has earned her motorcycle license! In Part 1 of this series, she got her permit. A month later, she took an MSF course. By passing the two tests during the course, she earned a voucher to take to the DMV to exchange for a full motorcycle license. Below is her account of her class.
Last weekend I took the 2.5 day MSF course after having my permit for one month and not spending a single day on a motorcycle! I went in on Friday night about ten minutes late. This caused me to miss the initial introductions but I soon came to know my nine classmates. There were four women and six men—most of us had no or very little experience. I was surprised to discover that three men with absolutely no experience has already bought their bikes—one guy is having his custom Harley delivered next week (just in the nick of time)! Two of the women had taken private lessons the week before but both went on to fail the course, so I have mixed thoughts on how necessary that private class is!
The ten of us spent three hours on Friday going through the first half of the booklet we had been given and went over some of the material that had been on the permit test. I walked away on Friday night without feeling that I had learned anything new but more confident for riding the next day.
Class started at 7:30 AM on Saturday and the parking lot was filled with shiny black Suzuki 250s. I was relieved that my feet could touch the ground and that I could manage the 300lb bike quite easily. We started by learning how to step astride the bike properly and then spent some time playing around with the levers and throttle.
Then we were off! Sort of… We put the bikes into first gear and kept our feet on the ground while we crept around the parking lot. I felt relieved because I knew how to drive a manual car and understood a clutch and this felt just like the Honda I had ridden before.
The rest of the day consisted of switching up into second, light braking and some light weaving. After the morning class we spent the afternoon discussing and studying a riding manual and had to take a test after. I was worried about the test but it was incredibly easy and everyone got above a 90%. I was very excited for Sunday morning’s class and practical test.
The teachers must sense your confidence because first thing Sunday morning they managed to break mine down within ten minutes. The first drill of the day was practicing U-turns within a narrow box and the objective was not to cross over the line. I crossed over those lines and then some!
One of the most important things to do when riding a bike is to look ahead and when turning to look where you want to turn. With a U-turn you pretty much have to pull a move from the Exorcist and I truly believed I was going to die if I looked that far over my shoulder while riding.
After four dreadful attempts of doing this without the proper technique I finally decided to give it a go and lo and behold I managed to do a U-turn. It never ended up being the prettiest maneuver that I did but I am pretty sure I will survive my first U-turn on the road. After the U-turns my legs were shaking and I was nervous about what might be coming next.
What came after ended up being my favorite parts of the whole weekend. We got to ride over 2×4’s, stop during corners, manage turns and weave at 20 MPH (20 MPH seems really fast to beginners). I could spend all day weaving in that parking lot; it was without a doubt my favorite thing to do. The weaving eventually came to an end and it was time for our evaluation.
The first evaluation was fast braking—cruising in second gear and stopping as quickly as possible after the instructor waves to you at random. Fast braking can be difficult for beginners because you have to remember to use both brakes hold in the clutch and go into first gear all in what seems like a split second. Not to toot my own horn but I had the best braking time of the class and stopped 5 feet short of the goal. The second exercise was my beloved U-turn and while I did it poorly I did not put my feet on the ground. Even so the U-turn ended up being the only exercise that I had points deducted on.
After the U-turn we did a fast maneuver exercise which has you start at one end of the parking lot and accelerate briskly before swerving sharply at the last second out of the way of an obstacle. Swerving is fun for me so no problem there. The last exercise was cornering which required us to slow down before a turn and accelerate through it, all without using our brakes. This was an exercise that I enjoyed doing during practice so it was pretty smooth sailing during the test.
After the final assessment we waited in the trailer for our scores. The three people who had struggled the most all weekend did not pass. One girl who had also struggled received a 20—the lowest passing score. The Harley guy and his friend both received 8s and I received a six along with the experienced rider and another beginner.
I took away many things from the weekend but some important things I would point out to new riders would be to practice driving a manual car so you get used to the idea of a clutch; try borrowing a friends scooter or small motorcycle and spend a few hours in a parking lot getting used to the weight and balance of a motorcycle; don’t always listen to experienced riders advice when you first start out—they are sometimes doing things that you are not at the skill level to do yet.
If you are thinking of buying a motorcycle I would highly recommend taking an MSF course. The lone experienced rider in my class had learned some pretty bad habits having learned on his own and taking a class will help keep you from developing bad habits or get rid of them if you already have them. It is also fun to meet such a random group of people—none of whom you would see in the grocery store and think, “man I bet that person rides a motorcycle.”
In a month we all plan to meet up for a drink and to discuss our adventures on the road at which point I will check in with you and let you all know how it feels for a beginner to ride in the real world rather than in a parking lot. I already have grandiose dreams of selling my car and getting a motorcycle but I will try to keep it to baby steps for now. Ciao!
To schedule an MSF course visit the MSF Website.