Whether you’re a newly minted Riding Academy graduate or an experienced veteran with many thousands of riding miles behind you, continuing education – formal and informal – should always be a part of your overall riding plan.
One of the most important things you will learn, or should learn, in completing your New Rider Course – or any Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) certified Basic RiderCourseSM – is that you’re not required to immediately start riding on the street. In fact, it’s usually a good idea to work your way up to that.
Yes, when you pass the course you’re qualified to take your state’s written test and get the coveted motorcycle designation on your driver license. At that point, it’s tempting to think, “I’m done! I did it! I’m a rider now!”
To be sure, it’s a very important first step. But going from the parking lot to side streets to country roads to city streets to highways and freeways is a process that should be taken seriously.
And never rushed.
Think of graduating from the Riding Academy’s New Rider Course as a starting line on a journey of lifelong learning. You will have gained fundamental building blocks necessary to begin developing the mental and motor skills important for safe street operation, but only practice and experience will ingrain this knowledge.
There’s always room to improve. There’s always more to learn about safe riding – with great benefits for those who keep moving forward.
Take a moment to consider this paragraph from the Basic Rider Course Handbook. It’s
something that is always discussed as part of the New Rider Course curriculum, but often gets lost in the excitement of learning to ride:
“Successfully completing the Basic Rider Course is not a guarantee you will be safe on the road. Only you can choose the level of safety you wish to maintain. The course will provide you with the opportunities and experiences to acquire the basic knowledge and skills that enable you to continue to practice and develop your safe riding habits. Safe riding is also a matter of attitude, and only you can provide that.”
No matter how well you do in your class – in the classroom and on the range – riding in second gear in a parking lot with 11 fellow students is not the same as riding in real-world traffic. It’s great preparation but no substitute for actual experience. It can be intimidating to new riders the first time they find themselves “elbow to elbow” with moving cars in traffic. On the range the surface was consistent, traffic flowed logically, and no one was texting or eating lunch in the other lane.
Students are encouraged to continue doing the drills they have learned in a parking lot or other open area of pavement (get permission, if necessary). From there, work your way up to side streets, back roads, etc. (and be sure to get your license first!).
Consider starting on roads you’re familiar with, where you already know about the blind spots, curves, and the surprise stop sign at the bottom of the hill. Choose a time of day when the daylight and traffic will be in your favor, too. This will save you a lot of stress and allow you to focus on your riding and awareness (S.E.E.: Search, Evaluate, Execute).
Remember: One of the principles of the Riding Academy and other MSF-certified courses is learning the skills gradually. Students begin by simply mounting the bike.
Then they learn to “straddle walk” to get the feel of the rolling machine.
Then they learn to start it, then how to engage the clutch, etc. – little by little, one new skill at a time, only moving on when the student is ready.
Using this same approach in taking it to the streets will save you a lot of stress.
If possible, do all of this with an experienced rider; in other words, a mentor: someone who will help guide you through that transition onto the street and even beyond.
To find one, talk to someone at your local H-D® dealership. Some dealerships even offer remedial, or “additional practice,” courses that allow you to hone your basic skills under supervision.
Now let’s say you have successfully completed the transition from classroom to parking lot to “real world” riding and are ready to take your learning to the next level.
Where do you turn?
Of course, there’s always the Skilled Rider Course, or a similar MSF certified advanced riding class. This is a great option for anyone looking to sharpen their skills and learn more about safe riding practices.
But there’s no reason to stop there!
Thanks to the Internet, a literal world of continuing education is right at your fingertips. The MSF website (www.msf-usa.org) is a great place to start. Click on the “Library” link to find a vast array of articles, publications, papers, and other information about safe riding.
Back in the world of paper and ink, it is highly recommended to get a copy of the MSF publication Guide to Motorcycling Excellence. It contains a wealth of both basic and advanced information that will help keep you learning for a lifetime.
Finally, a quick word about the importance of maintaining a healthy mind and body as part of becoming a better rider. If you’re young and fit and full of energy, this may not apply to you – yet. But it’s important to realize that as we age, keeping our bodies healthy and our minds alert may take a little extra attention. The two go hand-in-hand: A healthy body helps keep your mind sharp – essential for staying safe on a motorcycle.
Also, if your physical condition becomes a distraction while you ride – if a bad back, excess weight, or some other ailment makes you uncomfortable – it can take away from
your ability to S.E.E. That is, to Search, Evaluate, and Execute as you ride.
By keeping your body well and your mind alert, while staying focused on constantly improving your motorcycling skills and knowledge, you will be a lifelong learner, better able to safely pursue and enjoy your lifelong passion of motorcycling.
A version of this post appeared in HOG® magazine.