Start At The Beginning: Basic Rider Course
There are a lot of different courses available, and they vary from state to state. They may be sponsored by different government agencies. The one you will hear about the most is the MSF course. MSF stands for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. When someone starts talking about the “Motorcycle Course” this is usually what they are talking about. Here is what they say on their web page.
"...The Motorcycle Safety Foundation® is the internationally recognized developer of the comprehensive, research-based, Rider Education and Training System (MSF RETS). RETS curricula promotes lifelong learning for motorcyclists and continuous professional development for certified Rider Coaches and other trainers. MSF also actively participates in government relations, safety research, public awareness campaigns and the provision of technical assistance to state training and licensing programs..." (from the MSF web site).
They have a pretty cool web page by the way, which has a ton of information. Also, they have a fun “Interactive” motorcycle challenge where you are the driver, and you must make some quick decisions on how to handle different traffic problems. Check it out!
There are basic courses, advanced courses, and instructor courses available, in your community no matter where you live. Your local motorcycle shop is a good place to get the inside scoop on these classes. Ask them where the courses are offered, where do you sign up? How much do they cost?
In addition to the MSF course, there’s a Harley Davidson version of the same thing only it includes a little HD advertising thrown in (captured audience I think). Also, the AMA (American Motorcycle Association) has some useful information, check out their website.
Most of these courses cost $200 to $300 per student. But there are different deals in different states and communities. I understand that in Pennsylvania, there is no charge as the state is subsidizing the cost of the course through a motorcycle driver’s tax.
The Basic course is usually a weekend deal starting with a Friday evening registration class followed by a Saturday and Sunday classroom and hands-on riding. There is a test on Sunday at the end of the day. Written and riding, with no guarantee that you will pass. It’s a real test and passing it is a real achievement, Failing is a real bummer.
There were about fifteen people in the class that I took, mostly beginners but some very experienced riders in there also. We had two and then three instructors during the course over three days.
They provided the motorcycles and helmets. This is a wonderful opportunity to find out what size helmet your head likes. Because these helmets are usually on a donation basis, they had a little bit of everything from about every manufacturer and every distinct size. Spend some time and try a lot of them on. When you find one or two that fit good, write down the details so you have a head start when you are out actually shopping for your own helmet. Oh yeah, make sure to use the helmet liners (a cloth skull cap) to keep all the "cooties" off your head from the previous rider students.
You are assigned a small motorcycle, usually a 250-cc street bike. These are not showroom motorcycles but good running even though they have the scars of dozens and dozens of previous student riders on them. It is pretty rare to see any turn signals as they have long ago bitten the dust.
The actual riding activity takes place in a huge parking lot with course outlines made from parking cones. My class was at the local university.
Why take a course? Well, the obvious answer is to learn. Don’t be a skeptic, even the seasoned pros learn something in the Basic course. But in addition to the improved skills and knowledge available, graduates of the Basic course may find that there are some licensing test wavers available. I took mine in California and by showing the DMV my diploma, they waved the actual motorcycle driving test. I still had to take the written test but no driving test.
Also, most insurance companies offer a monetary discount to graduates of the course, just ask your agent, and see what they offer. Hey, it all adds up!
Some dealers and vendors offer discounts to graduates of the course. Look around.