MSF basic riding course skills test, no big deal or harsh grading?
March 7, 2010 7:39 AM   Subscribe

What does the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's basic riding course skills test consist of and i was also wondering how stringent the scoring is and if any graduates may have tips?
posted by j3nn1b0t to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't remember all the bits and details, but the ones I do remember are:

* Turn within a certain radius at low speed.
* Accelerate to XX speed and then stop within a certain distance.
* Accelerate to XX speed and then swerve either left or right (they tell you at the last second which way to go)
* Complete a course within a certain period of time.
* I think there was also one where you had to emergency stop while in a turn, but I'm not sure.

As I remember, you got some amount of leeway unless you dropped the bike, in which case you had to try again another day.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 7:59 AM on March 7, 2010

I took the course 12 years ago, so I don't remember the details of the skills test (which may have changed in the interim, anyway). What I do recall is that the standards were pretty darn high. One classmate was kept from even riding the test because she had gone far off-course during class sessions, and two others failed to achieve the passing score (80 out of 100, if memory serves). Neither of them failed in an obvious, drop-the-bike way; it was a variety of small/medium mistakes over the whole test. In a class of roughly a dozen people, this was a lot of fails, and the instructors indicated that a 25% failure rate was about normal.

As far as tips, be sure to wear appropriate attire. I would strongly recommend wearing riding gloves and riding-appropriate boots (high ankle with oil-resistant soles), since any accident you have is likely to be a low-speed drop. If you don't know how to drive a manual-transmission car, I'd learn that first. If it's a single-weekend class (mine was), expect to be extremely tired by the end. If I were doing it again, I'd take a longer-term version of the class.
posted by backupjesus at 8:12 AM on March 7, 2010

Hmmmm, it's been a couple years, but I think I remember one of the tests was to navigate a curve whilst staying between the lines. I don't remember emergency stopping in a turn on mine, though.

Have you ever ridden before? The best tip that I got for taking the MSF course was to just have fun -- I'd never even been on a motorcycle before I took the course and started off kinda slow since I'd also never had to shift gears on any vehicle I'd ever driven. I just enjoyed learning, stayed relaxed and optimistic, and at about the end of the first track session, something just "clicked" and I had the hang of it the rest of the time.
posted by Jinkeez at 8:34 AM on March 7, 2010

I just took it again last year in Indiana as a refresher. Previously I had taken it in 2002. According to one of the instructors, they had made a few changes since 2002 to make it even easier. Basically the whole course is set up to take someone who has never ridden before and teach them an extremely basic set of skills. Both times I took the class we had a few students who were just that, students who had never ridden before. If you show up and give an honest effort, you won't have any problems. You will get plenty of time to practice your skills during the class.

I would highly suggest as you are practicing, you push yourself as hard as you can. Don't be a daredevil or dangerous. But in their controlled environment, once you feel comfortable, you have a chance to practice with a bike you don't care about and really learn some useful skills.

Make sure you were your protective gear to class as backupjesus suggested, or you won't get to ride at all. I highly suggest investing in good personal protective gear and then never riding without it. You will ride a lot during the course and you will be miserable if you don't. Plus if you buy decent gear, you will be much more likely to use it when you are out riding. Also, bring lots of water to drink.

Dr. Enormous covered the exam very well. The certain radius turn he was referring to is an S turn which must be completed at a very slow speed because of tight the turn is.

Good luck and have fun. I had a good time. Anything else you want to know, please ask.
posted by Silvertree at 8:36 AM on March 7, 2010

I just did this course last week. Never ridden a motorbike so it was essential for me - Dr Enormous is mostly right, there was no emergency stop in the curve (although we did it as an exercise). The test also included breaking before a turn, completing the turn without rolling back on the throttle. You get points for each error, to a max of 21. It was a great course and I would certainly recommend it.
posted by poissonrouge at 8:41 AM on March 7, 2010

The main thing is to not drop the bike, if you do its technically an insta-FAIL however there was a guy who made a minor error and dumped it but they gave him an extra chance and he did fine. The main thing to keep in mind is a) Don't brake while leaning for a turn (EVER, even off the course) and b) Manage your clutch/throttle to make sure power is getting to the wheels. They will go over this quite a bit in the exercises leading up to the big test. If you pay attention and have an attitude of learning, you'll do fine. In my class it was the "badasses" who ended up doing poorly on the test.
posted by Scientifik at 9:07 AM on March 7, 2010

1) Don't panic.

2) Look where you want to go, not at what you are trying to avoid.

3) The bike is more competent than you are. It will make that turn or stop that fast, all you have to do is not get in its way.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 9:42 AM on March 7, 2010

I've taken it twice. It's really for beginners, from learning where the sweet spot in the clutch is by walking the bike back and forth to shifting to the basics of starting a bike — there are two acronyms I don't remember: one for checking your gear and making sure it's good (no flats, etc.) and one for all the steps you have to do to turn on the bike (turn on fuel, etc.) They assume you have never even ridden on the back of a motorcycle before.

Dr. Enormous has the basics. In my class, we also had to ride over 2x4s, learn how to pick up a dropped bike, and the class was held rain or shine, knowing that we'd have to ride in those conditions some day. A good portion of the class also includes in-classroom lessons on traffic laws, spotting hazards on video and learning to be more aware of cyclists when you yourself are in a car.

Be prepared, — someone in your class, maybe even you, WILL drop the motorcycle they are riding. But it will usually be at a very slow speed, so no big deal.

The two classes I've taken (one was a refresher after I spent 3 years overseas and not riding) were not strictly graded. If someone messed up on the driving test they got a second chance, but that was all. You had to score an 80. I don't think anyone failed. This is on both the written test and the driving test.

Experts say a weekend-long class is the equivalent to 2 years regular riding experience. Highly recommended, if only for the confidence you'll feel on two wheels afterward. In Texas, you also get a discount on your insurance, and you can ride helmet-free (I don't recommend this), if you've taken the class.
posted by Brittanie at 9:42 AM on March 7, 2010

Not directly tested, but useful for general motorcycle riding skills:

Don't undervalue skills related to handling the bike when it's not running. I think they cover some of that in the course -- on probably a very lightweight bike. Any other motorcycle you plan to ride should be given the same introduction.

"This thing is heavy. How the heck am I going to deal with later it if I park it here?"
posted by GPF at 10:14 AM on March 7, 2010

Do some off road practicing (empty parking lot) before you take the course... have a basic feel for the bike. Most folks will do just fine with the test if they are paying attention and accepting the advice of the instructor... folks who think they already know it all have a bit more of a problem.
posted by HuronBob at 10:20 AM on March 7, 2010

I took it a couple of years ago. I had some prior experience. Everything for me was easy, I did fine, except for the figure eights. I pretty much failed those, and thought I failed the course, but then they passed me. So I think at least with the folks who taught it here in SF there was some discretion.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:29 AM on March 7, 2010

The basic one I took was a classroom session, followed by pushing the bikes unpowered in neutral, then learning how to work the bike like shifting and stuff. Stopping precisely at a pre-defined line, navigating pylons, very slow speed turning in a very small circle. Some more stuff I don't recall at the moment.

The more advanced courses, or refreshers, you get to ride around more, at one point in a group, but some of the tests get more difficult. This is usually all done in a parking lot, and they'll usually provide a bike if you don't have your own, especially for the basic course.

In Ontario, where I got my full license (graduated licensing that they're qualified to do the tests for) through, had to go through a random street route, demonstrating residential speed control, stopping, turning, looking both ways, highway speed. They followed in an SUV, I was equipped with their headset for instructions on where to go, and nag when I made a slight mistake.

It's definitely the way to go, not only for your own safety, but for other drivers and pedestrians, and you'll be a very lot less likely to drop your bike while riding, which can be expensive to fix. Didn't drop mine (well did tip it over twice while it was stopped before I gained some respect for the 500lbs), but did have to it have repaired from previous owners, to make it look good.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 10:52 AM on March 7, 2010

It's fun, it's pass/fail, and if you did fail: so what?

FYI, I dropped my bike during MSF training and passed anyway.
posted by chairface at 12:55 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Drink a lot of water, both before you go, and during - you'll be outside all day.

Keep in mind that taking and passing the class is only the beginning - you're learning the basics of bike control & general safety principles, nothing more. Once you get your license and start riding the streets, that's where the *real* learning begins.

I found it worked best for me when I realized that it was no different than when I got my driver's license at 17 - despite 15 years of driving, riding a motorcycle on the streets was *new*, and required a whole new set of perspectives and adjustments. It takes time.

Have fun!
posted by swngnmonk at 3:49 PM on March 7, 2010

I took the course a couple of years ago, right before they instituted the policy that you could take the MSF class and immediately get the M endorsement on your license (so I still had to get a learner's permit after passing both the road and written parts of the class, which was silly). This might have been a Virginia-based policy, however.

Anyway, the course is for beginners, so don't worry about getting on a bike beforehand. I had never been on one, nor had I really understood manual transmissions...a friend had tried to teach me stick once, but I didn't get it. Taking the MSF course and reading the coursebook/asking the instructors questions about shifting really helped me understand what it was all about.

Also, I wouldn't bother with purchasing fancypants riding clothes yet...unless you're super serious or have money to spend. But as others have said, do make sure you wear proper attire, or they won't let you ride. I just wore jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, hiking boots, and some suede shearling gloves. My outfit was crazy but I was able to ride, no problem.

The written part of the course is multiple choice, and the riding skills test is pretty much you either complete the maneuver/skill or you don't. The figure eights were fairly frustrating for most of the people in my class, but ample practice time was given and we all managed to pass. For those that didn't execute the figure eights properly the first time around, another go at it was allowed. Practicing the emergency stops when going at a faster speed was also quite intimidating, especially when one of the instructors wound up flying off his bike over the handlebars during a demonstration...but once again, we all did fine and had lots of runs for practice.

As suggested earlier, bring water and also, bring snacks! The weekend can be long but they give lots of breaks.
posted by trampoliningisfun at 3:52 PM on March 7, 2010

To answer your headline question, yeh, no big deal for the beginner course. You're walked through it, they're used to it, that's the point of being a beginner. Book early, they usually fill-up fast once spring arrives. I'll echo bringing water/gatorade and a lunch. Don't drink much alcohol the night before, it's work. But you'll be a better rider, and driver, from the experience.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 8:04 PM on March 7, 2010

I've taken the equivalent course in the UK. The 'skill' aspect is not that hard - if you have averagely good coordination you should have no problem. The hard part is not losing concentration. Near the end of the day you can be very tired. So I guess my advice is to get plenty of sleep the night before and try to take advantage of any breaks for lunch etc. to sit down for a bit.
posted by primer_dimer at 3:04 AM on March 8, 2010

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