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Thread: What to Expect from a Beginners Course (The Novella)

  1. #1

    What to Expect from a Beginners Course (The Novella)

    So. One day, you are in your car and you look up and ZOOOOoooommmm, a motorcycle zips by. As you watch the chrome twinkle and fade you look out over the hood of your non-denominational crud coated car and think to yourself, 'I want to do that.' Which slowly becomes, 'I can do that, I mean really? How hard can that be?'

    PRESTO-DIGITALIS! You've decided to become a motorcyclist. Later, after dinner and a relaxing beverage, you decide it's time to tell your--(circle one please) Wife-Husband-Girlfriend-Boyfriend-Companion-Longtime Companion-Passed Out Roomie-Stray Cat That Snuck in the Window-Jay Leno (he'll understand!)--that you're gonna get a bike.

    'Not on your life!' Spits a finger waggling Stray.

    'But I'll take a class!' Says you (wondering how a pizza thieving tabby became your "In Case of Emergency" contact).

    'What are THEY gonna teach you?' Says the Stray as it rifles through your empty pizza boxes and all those Jack in the Box wax papers you've nibbled a little past wax to get all the cheese.

    Good question! What are THEY going to teach you?

    Allow me to illuminate.

    The VAST majority of training in the US uses the Motorcycle Safety Foundation cirriculum. The beginner's course is called the "Basic Rider Course" and usually starts on Friday night with classroom component, continues Saturday with Range (on bike) training for 4 hours, 4 more hours of classroom, then completes on Sunday with 4 hours of riding and a short classroom session. (BRC student manual is here: Times may vary from state to state and from provider to provider. As always, there's a test at the end...2 in fact; a Knowledge Evaluation and a Skill Evaluation.

    The Evaluations is where the fear and confusion start. Allow me to disallow you of some illusions by addressing some common misconceptions about ANY sound motorcycle cirriculum:

    1. The MSF/BRC is NOT designed to get you a license. It just isn't. It's designed to teach you sound fundamental operation of a motorcycle. On point, the MSF:BRC is designed to:

    A. Teach that motorcycling is a risky business--AND you manage that risk.
    B. Teach you basic operations. Starting, Shifting, Braking, Cornering, Swerving.
    C. Teach you baslc Street Strategies; things like "See and be Seen", lane positioning, space cushions, traction issues, SEE (Search, Evaluate, Execute)...
    D. Allow you to practice riding and emergency manuvers in a controlled environment.

    2. The MSF/BRC IS designed for complete newcomers. It just is. The design is so you actually learn how to SIT on a bike. This is ground-up, first time, never done it before training. You will find people in your course who might have some level of experience but the COURSE is designed with utter, total, complete rookies in mind. You do NOT need any prior coaching, private lessons, or riding experience to be succussful in the BRC. The only thing you need to do before your course is any pre-reading that your course supplier sends to you or directs you to.

    3. You do NOT need to buy gear or anything special to take Beginner training. You've probably got what you need in your closet:

    A. Long sleeved shirt or coat.
    B. Long pants (over the capris!).
    C. Over the finger gloves. A pair of leather work gloves will do.
    D. Sturdy, over the ankle shoes. Some will let you go with a pair leather hightops, the best? Maybe a lightweight hiking boot. If you're not sure? Bring them with you to your first classroom session and ASK. (Better to find out Friday night than Saturday morning.)
    E. Eye protection. Sunglasses are usually acceptable.

    One question you'll hear a lot is: "Do I need a helmet?" Quick answer? NO. Every place I've ever seen or heard about has 'loaner' helmets they will let you use. Don't be upset if they ask you to wear a hair net when you use it...they're not worried about you--it's the last person that wore it they're worried about...

    4. Chow. You will be given breaks. Bring something to eat. Yeah, it's only 4 hours on a bike but that's gonna be 6 to 10 miles of riding. Potentially in hot or cold weather. Bring snacks and a sports drink if you want one. The course provider will have water on hand but not much else. Like riding, you take a lot of responsibility for yourself. In my case, as an insulin dependant Diabetic, I make sure I have everything I need: insulin, snacks, hydration, glucose monitor--you're going for a long motorcycle ride in a small parking lot--might as well treat it for what it is.

    5. Passing or Failing the course. Here's the tough one. What does passing really mean? What does failing really mean?

    Passing means--you performed well on the evaluation! You did it. You proved some proficiency at operating a motorcycle. Many states have decided that passing the MSF:BRC evaluations (both Knowledge Eval and Skills Eval) is good enough to waive a state skills evaluation, you will probably still need to take the state's written examination. This is where some of the confusion starts for this WHOLE adventure. The MSF:BRC isn't designed to get you a waiver--it's designed to equip you with basic skills and strategy. The Skill and Knowledge Evaluations test is to see if you RETAINED those skills. States, seeing you've retained those skills and that knowledge (retained them for about, what? An hour?) often waive thier skills test.

    Yeah, passing means you're parking lot devil. You've NOT been in traffic. You've NOT traveled more than 25mph and you're NOT ready for that big crosscountry adventure. You're ready to ride around in a parking lot where everyone goes the same direction...

    You do have a basic skill set to build on, a firm foundation to launch a motorcycling career on. You're off to a good start.

    What does failing mean? It could mean many things! It could mean you had a bad day. It could mean you panicked during the evaluation (better on the range than the road). It could mean you need more practice.

    Failing does not mean you're a bad person.
    Failing does not mean you're a loser.
    Failing does not mean you can't learn to ride.

    What failing means is that you may need another whack at the apple. You CAN retake the course. You can look for one on one instruction. Heck, you might even realize that you're a passenger--not a driver. Most importantly failing the course means you need to get inside your own head and figure out what you really want to do--then chase it.

    A word of caution in all this: if you're taking training from someone who guarantees you'll get your license? Get out. It's in thier interest to lie to you--to tell you that you're ready when you're not. Would you want a Doctor cutting on you who had gone to a school that guaranteed everyone who entered would graduate? Me neither.

    Everyone learns to ride for their own reasons. True story: Last year I was giving a lady the 'good news' that she had passed the skills eval. I asked her "what next, getting your license?" She answered:

    "No, I was looking at a list of things I had written down; a list of things I was going to do before I was 40. Learning to ride a motorcycle was one of them. My 40th is next week. Now? I've learned to ride! Thanks!"

    Nice lady. Good day.
    Last edited by CaptCrash; 03-15-2010 at 10:19 PM. Reason: Coherency...or sumthin'
    Author of "Motorcycles, Life and..." & "The Elemental Motorcyclist"

  2. #2

    Part II: Inside YOUR Head...

    I thought about calling this: "YOUR emotional needs" but decided against it. There are 3 basic emotional/coaching expectations you SHOULD have when you start a beginner's course.

    1. You are a person. You do deserve respect. You shouldn't be yelled at, belittled, or called names. You WILL be spoken to in a loud voice--yeah, you're wearing a helmet, there's running motorcycles around, traffic may be passing nearby and Instructors need to speak in a loud voice so they can be heard. Don't freak out because an Instructor speaks loudly. (Heck there may be a hearing impaired rider in your class. That said, they shouldn't be calling you "worthless & weak" and telling you to drop and give them 20.

    2. Individual Attention & Support. Yep, they're supposed to be paying attention to what your doing. Like Santa they are watching and should see if you're naughty or nice. They SHOULD be telling you "Good Job" or "Get your eyes up" and they can't do that if they don't watch you. Behind those wraparound sunglasses they are paying attention.

    3. Honest, CLEAR Feedback. If you're having trouble you should know it. If you don't, someone should tell you in no uncertain terms. A bad habit formed in training is a bad habit that might kill you later. Coaching should be clear, concise and on-point. If you don't understand? Ask a question.

    Here are three common problems that you can help avoid.

    1. Don't be NEEDY. There are up to 23 other people in the classroom with you and as many as 11 on the range at the same time. If you expect the Coach/Instructor to spend his or her entire day running alongside your bike saying "you can doooooo it!" you're wrong. A Coach or Instructor is responsible for watching every rider every time as they go by or perform an exercise. They will watch you. They will give you feedback but they can't get into a long discussion about motorcycle rake & trail during a braking exercise they have 25 minutes to complete. You should stay on task as well. Some questions should be saved for a break. OH, and trust yourself a little. If you're really screwing it up? They'll tell you.

    2. Don't feel entitled. You paid your money, you got your ride; that doesn't mean you get an automatic pass. You may NOT be a rider. You MAY need more saddle time. If you don't get it? Let the coaches help. Each exercise builds on the last so there's time to re-mediate problems later in the show. Don't feel like you've got that 'eyes up while braking' thing down tight in the first braking exercise? Don't worry there'll be another AND you can practice 'eyes up' during the cornering exercise. Didn't pass the class at the end of course? That's OK--would you rather be lied to and sent out on the road with a killing habit or missing a key skill? Sorry, but riding's not for everyone.

    3. Be responsible for yourself. Own it. The Instructors cannot ride your motorcycle for you. If you're not there yet? Focus. Be patient. Stay out of your own head. Ask "How am I doing"? When you get the answer, believe it. If a RiderCoach says "you're coming along--remember to keep your eyes up". KEEP YOUR EYES UP. DO NOT let that into your head as "YOU SUCK". You don't. You just need to keep your eyes up. A Coach will pat the bottom of their chin to remind you to get your eyes up. If they do give you coaching ACCEPT it; it's not a insult. Take the coaching to heart and listen. If you fail? Don't blame the coaches but DO take ownership. Figure out where things went wrong. OH, and don't hog the day demanding where you're in trouble. Ask during a break or stay after and talk about it. Coaches DO want you to succeed, they will try to help.

    Finally, a beginner doesn't deserve to pass just because you took a course and paid the fee. Some of us just aren't riders. It's more technical than some can handle. There's too much information to process well for others. Some? Just find out they don't like to ride. Bottom line? Learning is just that--LEARNING. A voyage of discovery. Some discover they are riders. Some discover they are passengers. Others discover they can do something they didn't think they could.

    I hope you enjoy your journey. Start it right with some formal training!

    Be Safe.
    Author of "Motorcycles, Life and..." & "The Elemental Motorcyclist"

  3. #3
    Flirting With The Redline 6000 Posts! ds5160's Avatar
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    Good points. The only thing I would add is to really LISTEN. Not just hear the coach's voice and nod your head. Really honestly listen to what they are saying, and as soon as it is practical and safe, ask if you are confused. Also, when beginning and exercise, really listen to what the instructor is saying, especially during the skills test. If you are the slightest bit unsure what you are supposed to do, do not go out and wing it, get your question clarified. The coaches read from cue cards the exact instructions, but in both my BRC and IRC, I found myself explaining the exercise goals in between when the demo was given, and the time we rode.

    While you are sitting out and the other half of the class is practicing, don't just sit there and BS. Watch the other groups, try and listen to what the coaches say to the other riders. I'm the kind that learns through observation, so this was invaluable to me.

  4. #4
    RiderCoach 10,000 Posts! SoCal LabRat's Avatar
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    *stands and applauds*
    Quote Originally Posted by Bugguts View Post
    Hey, at my age running hot and loss of spark is a common problem.
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  5. #5
    RiderCoach We've stopped counting... LoDownSinner's Avatar
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    Excellent writing, as usual!!!

    One thing I'd like to add is that the only way you can actually fail the course is to walk out knowing less than you knew walking in. It is, however, possible to not successfully complete the evaluations. That does not equal failure.

    Now, aside from the fact that a few people walk into the class thinking they know everything, this makes failing something that's pretty difficult to accomplish...
    Quote Originally Posted by OBX-RIDER View Post
    put the whiffer in the dilly

  6. #6
    Flirting With The Redline 2000 Posts! Suomi's Avatar
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    I would add one thing: Relax out there! I was so nervous when I took my course. Being really tight and stiff isn't going to make learning to ride any easier. Just taking deep breaths and relaxing the arms makes it so much easier, not to mention enjoyable.
    2011 Triumph Sprint GT

  7. #7
    Carving the Corners wolfram's Avatar
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    Yay Crash!...One thing I would add is that in some states (CO is one), passing the BRC and getting the certificate WILL get you the motorcycle endorsement for your driver's license. You just take the cert, go to the DMV, pay up, and they will issue you a new license with the endorsement. The advantage here is that the range work you're doing consists largely of practicing the maneuvers that are on the test. When you test on the last day, you have performed (successfully, we assume) these maneuvers repeatedly.

    Also, if you know someone who has recently taken the course, ask them about their instructor. I was fortunate to have a really good one, decades of experience, weekend racer, owned a whole stable of bikes. He really did stress the risk management aspect of riding and was careful to give individual critiques to each rider as they attempted a new maneuver (for me, it was 'use second gear in the box' and 'don't lock your back brake in the emergency stop'). He taught at the CO Powersports Store in Thornton and I think his last name was Hutton. You want this guy!
    2001 BMW F650 Dakar

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Suomi View Post
    I would add one thing: Relax out there!
    Author of "Motorcycles, Life and..." & "The Elemental Motorcyclist"

  9. #9

    Nicely done!
    Well deserving the The Sticky!
    “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.”
    - William Gibson, 'Neuromancer' author

  10. #10
    Flirting With The Redline ShawnKing's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wolfram View Post
    Yay Crash!...One thing I would add is that in some states (CO is one), passing the BRC and getting the certificate WILL get you the motorcycle endorsement for your driver's license. You just take the cert, go to the DMV, pay up, and they will issue you a new license with the endorsement.
    Same as Tennessee where I took my BRC.

    Great write up, Crash!
    Shawn King
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