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First day riding at MSF course

Okay, a little off topic, I know, but I just rode a motorcycle for the first time today at the MSF Basic Rider Course, and I don’t belong to any motorcycle discussion groups to share this with. A few thoughts

1) It was fun making that little cycle go where I wanted to and do what I wanted it to do. Even though I am very risk averse, I felt very safe in the course. If you want to have a good time and learn something new, I recommend taking the course, even if you think you’ll never own a motorcycle. (I don’t know whether I’ll ever actually take the plunge or not).

2) I wish I had learned to drive a car this way. The MSF course is very step by step and skill building. When I learned to drive a car, it was like, “Okay, take it on the road [with traffic] and practice.”

3) Motorcycles are complex beasts–it’s tough to operate all those levers, and I had a real hard time manipulating that throttle. Most of the students had riding experience, and I was the dunce of the class (other than the young woman who washed out after the first exercise). The hardest was the stopping exercise at the end of the day–clutch, downshift, and both brakes all at the same time. Probably fatigue had something to do with it at that point, too–five hours is a long time to practice any skill. We’ll see how I do tomorrow.

4) I don’t know why any beginner would want a big motorcycle–that 250cc is more than enough motorcycle for me just now.

5) After the class, my car felt absolutely dead–no sensation of speed or responsiveness. It took a while to get used to the car again.


Congratulations. Sounds like you had a fun day. You’ve chosen the correct way to learn motorcycle riding skills. Keep in mind, however; it’s one thing to ride a motorcycle in a controlled environment, and it’s quite another to be out in traffic.

I gave it up years ago, before I got hurt. I can deal with traffic in a car, but it’s too scary on a motorcycle. You can do everything right and still get killed by a person in a car or truck who doesn’t even see you.

Again a Congratulations is in order. If you stick with your riding you will gain more enjoyment for your dollar than just about any other type of commuting. Think about this…you have to spend $80,000 to $100,000 on a car to get the same if not more amount of performance from a $10,000 motorcycle.

I agree with what most of what Mr. mcparadise says. The traffic is a concern. You Are more likely to get Hurt on a motorcycle of course but you also need to be more vigilante with your traffic scanning and planning of your emergency evasion when something goes wrong. Like someone not seeing you…which will happen.

Been riding for over 15 years and won’t give it up until I have to. Recently started going to the track(past 3 years) and my street riding has gotten much better. I seem to be more comfortable with where the limits of a motorcycle are, no matter which bike I am riding. I ride a Goldwing on the street and a 600cc bike on the track.

P.S. you can do everything right in a car and still get killed also. I guess its all a matter of perspective.

Good for you for taking the course. I first took it in 2005 and I had so much fun I bought a motorcycle the day after I finished the class. I bought a 750 CC bike, which is now considered reasonable for a beginner. A lot of guys usually trade up for something around 1,200 or 1,300 CCs. I, however, am still riding the same bike. You don’t say if you are a man or a woman, but many women end up with something between 550 CCs and 750 CCs. I guess displacement is a macho thing. If you want to buy a 250 CC bike to start with, that is fine. There are nice models made by Honda and Suzuki. I think, though, after you are ready to step up from side roads to interstate highways, you will want something with at least 750 CCs. 750 Honda Shadows make good starter bikes because they have a low center of gravity and wide handlebars, which makes them easy to control in spite of their long wheel base. With the liquid-cooled engine (as opposed to air/oil cooled) and shaft drive (as opposed to chain or belt drive), it is reliable and easy to maintain.

Have fun tomorrow.

  1. Yes, there’s no greater sense of mechanical control than riding a motorcycle. Those MSF courses are great. Just remember, the risks on the road are other drivers. You can’t be too vigilant.
  2. I just completed a ‘Driver’s Ed in a Box’ course with my 16 year old. It also has a very staged approach, similar to what you’re doing.
  3. Riding requires a completely different, and more complicated, hand-eye-foot coordination than driving a car. Once mastered, it becomes second nature.
  4. Used to be 250cc was average, 500+ cc was large. There are certainly 250cc bikes that make great beginner bikes, and 500cc bikes that you could ride happily for years. Stay away from sportbikes and cruisers until you have lots of miles.
  5. See 1-4! There is no greater sense of involvement than riding. Pass a farm, smell the smells, nothing like it!

I can honestly say the only place I’d feel safe riding a motorcycle these days is on a race track. I miss riding, and I’m often tempted to buy another bike (especially a classic, like an old BMW or a Norton), but I’ve reached the point where I’m just not willing to take that much of a chance anymore.

Sign of old age perhaps.

Nothing I’ve ever done has focused my attention like riding a motorcycle. If you’re not paying attention 100% to what’s going on around you you shouldn’t be on a bike. I liked that, and I’m happy I had the opportunity to ride for a few years without getting hurt.

Motorcycles are a great way to save some gas and have fun at the same time. I congratulate the OP for taking the initiative to learn the right way. Wish I’d had a course like that when I first started to ride (1978). Back then we just got on and figured it out, maybe with the help of some magazine articles or books.

Good luck in your track endeavors. Looks like great fun.

Brief followup: I passed. (So did everyone else, except that one person who washed out on the first day). I got five points knocked off for taking the cornering too slow, but other than that, no points deducted. The second day seemed a bit more relaxed pace than the first–a lot was review–and they really went over that stopping drill–something I personally needed sorely. My low point of the day was when I was having trouble with the cornering drill–both of them coached me, I was out there practicing while other students were on break, and one of the instructors even tried showing a movie of me on his cell phone to show what I was doing wrong. Some of the things they said seemed to help a little though, and I worked through it.
It seemed like the faster the drill, the easier it was to do–the slower, the harder. That U-turn was ugly–fortunately not too many points rode on it.

The only time I felt apprehensive was during the stop in a turn drill. It seemed to me that the instructors stood uncomfortably close to the path of the curve–and I was a little apprehensive I might take one of them out if I screwed up.

During the test they told us putting a bike down in a test or a deliberately unsafe act would flunk us. So I was sure I didn’t put that bike down in the U-turn–and I just idled that motorcycle from one staging area to another.

A word about risk. On my safety standards of a year ago, I would never have thought about motorcycling–just way to risky. But now I look at it this way: about one-third of us will die of some form of heart disease–I’d guess way higher than the average lifetime risk of even an avid motorcyclist. Most of those deaths are entirely preventable through exercise and a moderate diet. So–isn’t someone who eats a cheeseburger fries and shake, or someone who skips a workout taking at least the risk of someone who takes a ride? Anyways, we all die of something someday–and if I do take up riding I will take every precaution possible.

And, to the person who asked, I’m a guy–about 200 pounds.

Congratulations! And don’t feel bad about the difficulty you had with the slow turns. I grew up riding motorcycles, then, as a 21 year-old, went to get my motorcycle license in California, and FAILED! They wanted me to go through the obstical course at a walking pace. I had never ridden that slow!

Good job. First, that figure eight in the box is a convenience skill. In everyday riding, you will probably never need to make a turn that sharp, and in most cases people just slow down and put their feet down for a turn that slow and sharp. You should still master it if you can, but MSF instructors often overemphasize the importance of that exercise. Second, on the turn, I don’t agree with how the MSF does it. It is a really sharp turn (about 75 degrees or less) and even after riding for 3 1/2 years, I am not comfortable taking that turn as fast as the MSF thinks I should. So in my book you got a perfect score. It always strikes me as funny that they want to see you brake to slow before the turn, and they want you to maintain a steady throttle or slightly accelerate through the turn, but when I do those things, I never go through the turn fast enough for a perfect score. I either lose points for not braking enough or not going through the turn fast enough. I can’t win!

Since you are a 200 pound guy, I think if you buy a motorcycle, you should start with something in the 750-850 CC range. Try one and repeat the first couple exercises from day one (the rocking back and forth and power walking) to learn how the new throttle and clutch react. You will be comfortable on the bigger bike witin a matter of minutes. If you buy anything smaller, you will outgrow it within a week and then you will be faced with the cost of trading in a relatively new (or new to you) bike for another new (or new to you) bike, paying the dealer profit and initial depreciation twice.

Happy motoring, and be safe!

Congratulations on your excellent choice of a first motorcycle.

Sadly, practical “standard” motorcycles such as the Nighthawk 750 are a dying breed in favor of flashy cruisers or sportbikes.

Now that you’ve had your first taste, let me suggest you consider a similar class for dirtbikes. Forget about what you see on TV flying through the air, thats less than 1% of off-road riding. On single-track trail riding you will bust your ass using more skills than you will ever use on the road, threading a 30 to 45 HP motorcycle between trees, up hills, and (hardest) along the side of hills. And may not average more than 12 MPH your first year.

Off-road skills are very useful for street riders. Now you are addicted to what the bike feels like when the tires have traction. You have little idea of what to do when the tires break loose. Off-road the tires are almost always sliding. You will fall off-road, many times. Everyone I know off-road wears far more gear than most anyone on the street. Speeds are slower, bruises are not uncommon. Serious injuries are uncommon.