Google+ Two-Wheeled Tourist: My experience with the MSF Basic Rider Course (Range Portion) - Part 2 of 2

6.12.2011

My experience with the MSF Basic Rider Course (Range Portion) - Part 2 of 2

Continued from Part 1 (Classroom Portion)

Yesterday (Saturday) and today were the two sections of range exercises for the MSF Basic Rider Course. During this time, the class is on actual motorcycles practicing the fundamentals of basic operation and maneuvering.

Time to choose your ride! Lucky for us, the rain subsided right before class began today.
For the first day, I got to the practice area around 8AM. There were 24 students that reported for this session to be split into two sections of 12 riders each, divided by which classroom session we took earlier that week. The bikes were all lined up in rows and all the students were instructed to select a motorcycle that fits them the best. At this course venue, we had the ability to choose from four models of bikes: Suzuki GN125, Suzuki GZ250, Yamaha TW200, and the Honda Rebel 250.
Suzuki GN125
Suzuki GZ250
Yamaha TW200
Honda Rebel 250
For my bike, I went with the Yamaha TW200, a dual-sport motorcycle with wide tires and a very upright, dirtbike-like posture. I was tempted to the Suzuki GZ250 as it had been bike I used in my basic rider course many years ago (and became my first owned motorcycle), but with noticing the number of (short) women that were choosing their motorcycles, I went for the taller bike. It was a little tall so backing up and pushing it forward was a bit taxing in the early exercises, but its nimbleness made it so easy to maneuver it in the later drills.

Here's "my" bike for the weekend, a 2009 Yamaha TW200
During the first day of class we participated in multiple drills that focused on the many elements of basic motorcycle riding. These exercises increased in complexity as the day progressed. As an entire group, we began with the basic safety check of the bikes and familiarizing oneself with the controls (handlebars, throttle, clutch, brakes, engine cut-off, fuel switches, etc.). After splitting up into our two groups of 12, we continued on with several, slow drills to understand the clutch's friction zone. That then graduated to manueverability, braking, and shifting exercises. Lastly we focused on smooth turns and quick emergency stops.

Our bikes are lined up for one of the early drills on Day 1
As fun as the day was, this class did have a few incidents, however; two riders went down during today's drills in my group, one of them deciding to withdraw from the class after falling quite hard and sustaining a hand injury. The other rider who fell over continued with the class and did fine for the rest of the day. After seeing the two incidents, I thought about the many inexperienced motorcyclists who purchase bikes and ride them without ever taking a BRC. If falls like this can happen on bikes this small in a parking lot, what about those who purchase the larger bikes sight unseen and ride them down streets and country roads?

Ten people returned for the second day of class and we immediately dove right into U-turns within a box, an exercise focusing on counterbalancing, lean, and proper throttle and clutch control. We then continued with other drills that focused on maneuvering in tight weaves, managing curves, and riding over road obstacles. The final portion of range exercises consisted of swerving to avoid an obstacle and maximum braking without locking up either the front or rear wheel. At the end of the day we were tested in four different areas and scored on a point system: U-turns/counterbalancing, maximum braking, swerving, and managing curves. In the end, all but one person passed this final test and successfully completed the entire Basic Rider Course.

In comparison to my experience with the class I took nearly eight years ago, this new curriculum does exactly what I wish the other one did - emphasize the importance of the clutch and of maximum braking technique. I also really liked the wide variety of entry-level motorcycles used in this location's BRC because it accommodated the entire gamut of students. Lastly, I appreciated the fact that since I had mentioned that I was taking the class to become an MSF instructor, I received a few extra tips from the instructors themselves about protocol and what to observe while on the range.

My only real criticism of the course was that some of the drills could have been broken up into smaller groups to allow for more room to ride the bikes. There was one drill in particular that all 12 bikes we rode in a giant oval while practicing shifting from 2nd to 3rd gear with some speed, and a good number of riders were traveling well below the speed necessary to justify shifting into 3rd gear on the little bikes during a particular drill. I also found myself compensating for other riders' speed by implementing advanced riding techniques such as engine braking as to maintain a safe distance with the riders in front of me.

These range exercises reflect some of real-world situations that motorcyclists will deal with on a day-to-day basis. The on-the-range course provides a safe area to practice the fundamental skills needed to operate a street legal motorcycle properly. The nice thing is that many of these drills are simple can be replicated in a parking lot for additional enrichment after the class is over. The BRC is not an end to motorcycle training but rather a well-organized beginning to what I hope to be lifelong learning on two wheels. Many of the people that did pass were deemed parking lot worthy after testing but definitely needed a lot more time and practice to be ready for the road.

As I mentioned in the last post, if you're even thinking of riding a motorcycle, take the MSF Basic Rider Course and learn to ride with the right fundamentals. It is worth the three days and you will acquire skills that will be a part of your riding repertoire for as long as you're on a bike. And if you're an absolute newbie, I do suggest taking the MSF Dirtbike School as a prerequisite for the BRC for extra practice with clutch, braking, and just getting used to balancing yourself on a motorcycle. So get out there and learn to ride!