MSF Course a Must For Riders Old and New

Hi. I'm Patrick Beeson. And I'll admit it: I'm a rookie motorcyclist.

I got into motorcycling in the fall of 2008 because I was jealous of my brother's bike. I'm not new to two wheels in general having been a long-time cyclist of the non-motorized type, however. But as I've discovered: The motor makes all the difference. In this section of Handlebars, I'll attempt to cover issues important to newbies such as myself while splicing in anecdotes about my journey from citizen to motorcyclist.

It doesn't matter if you've been riding for 15 years or 15 minutes: the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Basic Ridercourse will make you a better, and safer, rider.
I took the two-day course, offered at two locations in West Knoxville, before I ever twisted a throttle. The reasons for my attendance were simple: My brother wouldn't let me ride his motorcycle without my having a license, and I could get my license after taking the course. Oh, and it's also a great way to spend a weekend learning about something exciting and new.

The MSF Basic Ridercourse benefits riders by breaking down the traditional skills and knowledge needed to operate a motorcycle in a closed course and classroom environment. We had two experienced coaches that offered tips, both by-the-book and real world, such as the non-verbal cue used by riders to indicate a police officer is ahead (patting the top of your helmet). Not that I need to know that one!

Day one of my MSF class involved spending only a few minutes of orientation in the classroom before being led outside to the course. There, we learned the following: straight-line riding, turning, shifting, and stopping. Later we branched out to cornering, swerving, and emergency braking.

The classroom was relegated to covering materials in the rider handbook. This included topics such as managing risk, ride preparation, and strategy.
And yes, there is a test.

But before riders can swing a leg over one of the many test bikes—mine was a late model Suzuki GZ250—they must be wearing the following clothing: jeans or riding pants, boots that cover your ankles, full-finger gloves, a long-sleeve shirt or riding jacket and a helmet. I didn't own a helmet at the time I took the course, but the coach lent me a three-quarter helmet that I combined with sunglasses for eye protection. They also had gloves for students without them as well.

Make sure you're somewhat comfortable in your choice of clothing because you'll be on hot tarmac from the morning to the evening riding an air-cooled motorcycle. You do get occasional water breaks, but if you do as I did and take the course in the middle of summer, you'll be sweating plenty.

The riding portion of the class starts slowly. You learn how to start the motorcycle and ride in a straight line. Everyone takes turns and follows procedure so as to avoid bump-ups caused by confusion.

Each riding exercise consists of a different task, such as negotiating around a circular course or a 90-degree bend. Rider coaches review the exercise with all of the students prior to commencement.

The most difficult exercise, for me at least, was the infamous "box" where riders negotiate a figure-eight while staying within a narrowly defined rectangle, and emergency braking. Fortunately, my prior years of experience riding mountain bikes came in handy for tackling the box, but a number of other riders had a lot of trouble.

The emergency braking exercise involved riding in a straight line to a defined stopping point when you are to apply both brakes sharply. I suspect my bike had a mis-adjusted rear brake because I could not stop from locking up the read wheel. A little adjustment from the rider coach helped, and I was able to improve after a few runs.

The conclusion of the Basic Ridercourse comes on day two, when you are given a comprehensive riding test. This brings into play all of the previous exercises and will determine, with the written test, whether or not you pass the course. The written test was very easy, consisting of multiple-choice questions covering material in the rider handbook. Several students, including myself, received perfect scores. Nobody failed.

Your reward for completing the MSF Basic Ridercourse is a packet containing several discounts at local motorcycle shops and the vaunted licence waiver. Simply take the certificate to the local Department of Motor Vehicles and upgrade your license without having to take the state test. Most insurance companies will also give you a 10 percent discount on your motorcycle insurance with a successful completion of the Basic ridercourse as well.

Even if you don't intend to become a motorcyclist after taking this course, it's a great way to spend a weekend trying something exciting.

Patrick Beeson dreams of a time when two-wheeled vehicles rule their four-wheeled overlords. But until then, he can be found playing nice with traffic in and around Knoxville on his yellow Duc.

MSF Basic Ridercourse info: