Hello, Wind-blown readers and riders. I am excited to introduce you to a new segment here on the site that will be dedicated to motorcycle safety. I have been presented with the wonderful opportunity of becoming a MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) Ridercoach for a local community college. My intention is to share my experience of becoming a Ridercoach with you, as well as pass along some of the knowledge that I gain while experiencing and instructing the course. Hopefully, I can do my part to make the roads just a little bit safer.
A few weekends ago, I had my first experience with MSF’s BRC (Basic Rider Course) program. I’m not sure how it is in other states, but in Iowa, you don’t have to take any sort of course to get your motorcycle license. Although the BRC is an option, you can simply show up at the local DMV on your bike and run the skill evaluation there. If you are good enough to pass, you get your license to ride. This was my experience. I figured I had been riding long enough with my buddies (maybe a month), and if I was good enough to pass the skill evaluation at the DMV, I was good enough to be on the road solo. I passed the evaluation about ten years ago, and have been riding since.
So, here is my perspective of the MSF BRC from the point of view of a ten year veteran rider.
First, I need to get out of the way the fact that I felt I already many of the skills that were taught in the course, but that shouldn’t be a big surprise after riding for ten years. However, I certainly did not have those skills when I first started riding on my own. Right there is the main benefit of taking some sort of a Basic Rider Course, you gain skills and knowledge much faster than if you are haphazardly weaving your way around the roadways. You have a chance to make mistakes where there are limited threats. You can lay a bike down, and not have to worry about the repair cost. You can put your feet down, and power-walk to your heart’s content without having to feel ashamed or embarrassed by your lack of skill or confidence.
Learning is all about reflection, and self-reflection and assessment are at the basis of the BRC. Run an exercise, make a couple of mistakes, get better at the skill you are focusing on, and reflect on what you did to improve throughout the exercise. Because of its rider-centric focus, even experienced riders can benefit from the course. Switching from a heavier, more powerful machine to one of the 200cc to 250cc BRC bikes gave me the opportunity to focus more on developing good habits and improving technique. I could play around with my lean angles in corners, and work on performing tighter maneuvers without having to worry about tipping over a big sport tourer or the like.
The main difference between learning at the BRC and learning on the street, is your mistakes are much less likely to get you into trouble in an empty parking lot during your weekend at a BRC, than if you are cruising public roads with your pals. Not to mention having an experienced and educated coach to give you feedback, and help you to correct your mistakes as you are making them.
The environment and attitude at a BRC is so much more accessible and new-rider-friendly than what I went through. My training on a motorcycle was essentially chasing more experienced riders. When I was learning to ride, I constantly felt rushed, nervous, and embarrassed. I was always on edge, and I was trying to ride at a skill level that was far beyond what I possessed. Luckily (emphasis on luck), I never got hurt, or hurt anyone else, but it could have easily happened.
Had I taken a BRC to begin with, I’m sure I would have spared myself a Goldwing-sized-load of anxiety. My riding skills and confidence would have been boosted tremendously, and I would have been exposed to more safety-minded motorcyclists (None of my friends at the time wore helmets, or any gear really. Want to guess what I wore?).
Fast forward ten years, and my riding habits aren’t even comparable to when I first began riding. For one, I ride fairly conservatively now, rarely speeding or pushing anywhere near the boundaries of my skill level. I can’t claim to be 100% AGATT (all gear all the time), but I am darn close. I certainly never get on the bike without a helmet. Lastly, I am much more choosy about who I ride with, and I always ride my own ride; meaning I don’t try to keep up with people who are riding in a dangerous fashion, or consuming ridiculous amounts of alcohol. Now, would I have adopted all of these habits immediately if I would have taken the BRC? Probably not. But I’m guessing I would have warmed up to them a heck of a lot faster.
So, what did I learn during my weekend in a Basic Rider Course? I learned that I did it the hard way. I learned that being a novice motorcyclist doesn’t have the be a nerve-racking, anxiety riddled experience. I learned that motorcycling is meant to be fun, but you can be safe and have fun at the same time. I learned that there are lots of responsible riders out there who are devoted to being safe on the roads. And finally, I learned that I want to be one of those people who help new riders become safe and responsible.
If you’re a new rider, and haven’t yet, please sign up for a BRC near you. You can use the MSF website to locate a nearby course location. And, check back in to Wind-blown’s new Safety section, where I will share more of my learning experiences with the MSF.