Backseat Betty No More: Taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Class

— by Caroline on Crack

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Ever since that first Honda scooter back in high school, I’ve wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle. It was on my bucket list along with becoming fabulously fluent in a foreign language and roadtripping from L.A. to New York. But I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to finally take that class at Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF).

What got me off my lazy butt was winning that Vespa last year. I’ve been in permit limbo where I had to carry a paper permit around in my wallet until I got my actual M1 class motorcycle license.

Driving the Vespa once a week for eight months never really made me a good enough rider to take the DMV skills test. So I figure it was time to just ante up the $250 already and take the MSF class and then not only would I be able to skip that scary DMV test but I’d develop the skills I needed to be a safe motorcyclist. But it wasn’t the cost of the class that was holding me off but rather having to dedicate a whole weekend to it.

A Basic RiderCourse is comprised of one day in the classroom for the written test and then two days of driving on a riding range. All days are equally grueling. I’m not so much a fan of the classroom. I just wanna be an expert already! Fortunately the classes were in my ‘hood: Westside Pavilion for the written test and the V.A. parking lot in Westwood for the riding range. And I even ended up knowing one of the RiderCourse instructors: Jim O’Connor, who teaches on the riding range, and I used to work together back in the day.

OK, so the first day was five hours in the classroom reading a booklet, watching cheesy videos and finally taking the test. We learned things like T-CLOCS (a pre-ride inspection checklist) and what to do if there’s a dog running toward you while you’re riding (hint: don’t kick it). Needless to say, thank gawd for those cheesy videos which basically repeated what we learned by reading the booklet. They really helped break up the monotony of the class.

So next day was where we actually got on motorcycles. You don’t have to bring your own bike as the school provides them for you as well as helmets and gloves. You do, however, have to wear long-sleeve shirts, durable pants (jeans) and ankle-covering shoes like hiking boots.

And I could have used my Vespa in class but 1) I didn’t want to risk dropping it or taking a spill and 2) I wanted to actually learn how to ride a motorcycle what with all its gears and clutch.

For my ride I chose the Honda Rebel. They had sport bikes like the Ninja available, too, but I’m more attracted to the traditional setup. Plus I don’t like my butt in the air like that.

They didn’t let us actually start the bikes until we learned where everything on the bike was located. Most important feature? The kill switch. So if anything screwy happens, like if you accidently give the bike some throttle while you’re trying to just park it, flip the switch before you hit that wall.

Eventually we got to fire up the bikes and we learned how to find the friction zone where you use the clutch for control. We did some start-stop exercises, cornering…and before we knew it we were learning how to swerve in the case of a semi suddenly stopping in front of us. Crazy! OK, yeah, that was over two loonnng five-hour days.

It’s just weird to think that I actually started from the basics like T-CLOCS to learning how to be so comfortable on my Vespa that I now have no qualms about driving it outside of Santa Monica. I can actually drive it home now.

Learning to drive on your own just isn’t good enough. You’d never be able to figure out the limits you can push something on your bike for fear of taking a spill and scratching up your ride. While at the MSF course, those bikes have been dropped all in the name of education. You can learn how far you can lean while making a turn, what happens if you try to brake and clutch during a U-turn and why you shouldn’t try to make a tight turn at low speeds.

It’s definitely the best $250 and weekend I ever spent. Now, I’m thinking of getting a new ride. Hmm, Ducati Monster?

BTW, when taking the riding course, make sure to pack yourself a lunch and bring a ton of water. The breaks are short and there’s nothing nearby to get something to eat.

Westside Motorcycle Academy
Click here for class schedule