MSF Advanced Rider Course
Learning what you already know
Although I have often considered taking the advanced rider course from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, I needed to be ordered to take it to finally make the decision. You see, I was called to Active Duty by the National Guard in May and in order to ride my pride and joy on the post the General said I had to take the MSF course. Being a Captain, I decided to take the course rather than risk being caught by an eager 18 year-old private with a gun and a shiny, new MP badge, salivating at the thought of catching an officer riding an unregistered bike on post. Our MPs here are more crusty than usual - I often wonder which General's daughter these MPs must have impregnated to be assigned to the gate at Ft. Irwin, only a few miles from Death Valley.
Since I already have a motorcycle endorsement on my driver's license, The Man allowed me to take the four hour advanced course. For those without an endorsement, the Basic RiderCourse is required and lasts two and a half days. When I signed up for the course I was given a checklist for the bike inspection that would occur before the class. Being on an Army post and knowing that these sorts of classes are often taught by retired or current non-commissioned officers that inspect things for a living, I was pretty nervous about the inspection. I went over the bike several times and even gave it a good scrub-down the morning before the class. Uncle Sam was good enough to give me the afternoon off for the class and I arrived a few minutes early. I was relieved to meet the instructors, a friendly couple and one of their friends. The inspection was not bad and was more along the lines of what I always do before I ride; like a quick check over the bike. Apparently, some people do not preflight their rides. I guess I was expecting something more like a trackday inspection but it was not at that level. They required gloves, helmet, glasses or face shield, long sleeve shirt and pants, and over-the-ankle boots. I wore my usual riding gear and wish I would have worn the minimum as I roasted the whole time (more on this later).
I went over the bike several times and even gave it a good scrub-down the morning before the class.
There were seven other students ranging in age from their early 20's through early 50's. The bikes were as varied as the riders, including a little Suzuki thumper dual sport, a beautiful , 800 pound, chromed-out Harley with the widest beach bars I have ever seen, a brand new Hayabusa, and a race-prepped GSXR 1000 on super soft DOT race tires, to list a few. Everyone was friendly and we enjoyed pleasant conversation while we filled out all the forms promising not to sue anyone if we high side at 10mph. The class began with introductions and parking instructions, along with explanations of a few hand signals used to indicate "park now, stop, go that way, go this way", and the like.
The first period of instruction was an explanation of why I roasted. It is inherently more difficult to control a motorcycle at low speed according to the MSF, therefore you will never exceed 25mph for the whole course. Heck, most of it is less than 10mph. This would be fine in appropriate clothing but I was wearing an armored jacket and pants, with Sidi boots, and the Gixxer dude had his leather jacket and race boots. We were cooking while the posers in the beanie helmets and t-shirts were feeling good. My biggest gripe with the course is that it seems to be some sort of low speed trials event.
The first exercise is to stop-and-go without putting your feet down (just in case you hadn't done that five times on your way to the class), then accelerate to the next line, and slow to a near stop. Then you progress through a slow roll between two lines using the clutch to keep moving at 1-2 mph without crossing the lines, using the brakes, or putting your foot down. After this we turned and weaved through several sets of cool little motorcycle cones. The slow roll could be compared to moving slowly through traffic to a stop sign, although I wondered anyone would wait in line and not split the lane (Not everyone can live in Cali, Jed.--Ed.) The cones were fun and I really enjoyed them as I could get a little air flowing through my clothes. They were an excellent exercise in looking where you want to go and avoiding target fixation. The instructors did a great job of teaching us to look up, ahead of the current cone to the next one in line. This has direct application to riding safely on the street for obstacle avoidance and is probably the most important thing taught in the MSF course. Everyone knows you go where you look, and this is a good way of teaching and reinforcing that concept.
The next exercise was learning to U-turn in as short a space as possible while counterbalancing the motorcycle and keeping your feet up on the pegs. Anyone who has ever ridden a dirt bike knows all about this, but it was totally ridiculous trying to do it on a street bike with limited steering lock and gearing good for 70mph in 1st. I can not think of any rational correlation to this exercise and riding safely on the street. The poor Harley dude was hitting the beach bars on his legs, with his ass 3/4 off the bike with his head turned almost completely over his shoulder, trying to turn that thing around in a 20 foot box, floorboards grinding away. I hope to heaven that the General was not watching us do this stupid exercise because almost none of us could do it and it looked ridiculous as heck. The funny thing was, we asked the instructor to do it and it took her three tries on the little DR before she could do it, which made us all feel better. I had a daydream of taking that little thumper, burning a big donut and doing a wheelie out of the box down the street... the heat was getting to me. We took a break and chugged some Gatorade, wondering how a place as windy as the Mojave Desert could be completely calm and windless as the sun baked us incessantly.
After our hydration, we had some instruction and headed out for the next exercise. This time we were to accelerate to 25mph, shift into second, and stop as quickly as possible between two lines while downshifting into first. The problem is that by shifting into second you are lugging along and pretty much need to idle just to keep the bike under 25mph. Panic stops are fun, but stoppies were definitely discouraged (ahem, sorry). Good information was discussed about using the front brake for most of the braking power, and using the back to settle the chassis. After we could demonstrate adequate controlled stops, they threw in a "stop when we wave" as opposed to stop between the lines. If they would have left out the stupid requirement to shift, this would have been a useful exercise. However, everyone I know has at least tried panic stops, whether from necessity or practice, so I am not sure why I needed someone to watch me do it.