Sunday, August 02, 2009

Training: The Experienced Rider Course by MSF

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation or MSF, through T3RG Motorcycle Schools here in Colorado, put on a regularly scheduled Experienced Rider Course or ERC this morning. Up front, I will tell you this course was made complimentary for me when I offered to review it for them in this article.

From the website, prior to taking the ERC:

Recommend 6 months or 3000 miles of recent riding experience) (the bolding is mine)
(Passengers are permitted)
  • One day course
  • Use your own motorcycle and helmet
  • Qualifies graduates for insurance premium discounts with some motorcycle insurers.
Even if you've been riding for some time, there's always something new to learn. Increasing numbers of seasoned riders are utilizing the six-hour Experienced RiderCourse to hone their skills and fine-tune the mental skills needed for survival on the street.
There was four of us students for today's course. 3 men and one woman, two cruisers, one Beemer and one Triumph. The cruisers were a Yamaha VStar 1300 and The other was a Honda 750 Shadow. All were really nice looking motorcycles, I probably should have spiffed up Brigitta some before the class but oh well.
The instructor was a retired Air Force senior noncommissioned officer by the name of Dave Miles. He's been a motorcycle instructor since 1992 and come to the class well prepared and with a great sense of humor to put all us students at ease. His ride is a Kawasaki Voyager XII, first one I'd seen, comparable in size to a Goldwing or a Beemer LT I'd say. He sure made that thing look nimble as he demo'ed the exercises to us.
The ERC is basically a great refresher course of the stuff one learns in the BRC or Basic Rider Course. There's your offset weave through cones, similar to the ones at the BRC but in one part you place your left hand on your leg and then do the weave through the straight portion of the course. That was different, but it showed you the importance of hand inputs to your motorcycle's control.

There were other exercises I remembered from my BRC back in 2006, showing you could stop suddenly whether going straight or leaned over in a curve; swerving left or right at command, negotiating curves smoothly, you get the idea. It's a refresher.
The difference? You're more experienced (hopefully) and can address issues you've found with your riding to the instructor for guidance. You're on your own motorcycle and not that little Honda Rebel or some such that the BRC provides its students.

Dave and the other students, during a water break

I was the first to show up in the morning, ended up being always the first of us four students to go through each exercise. I did OK through most of them, once I got a bit of coaching during the first iteration from Dave, I usually got it right the next few times. One of the students was probably not as experienced as he should have been, and Dave spent some additional time with him to try and get him squared away.

Hopefully, that student will get some more road experience and practice; I hope also he is able to take away from today all the good information passed out by Dave, the instructor. Dave's training style and confidence inspiring coaching reminded of outstanding NCOs I've had the fortune to work with or for me, he is just a great trainer.

I won't bore you with descriptions of the exercises we had demo'ed to us by Dave and then executed under his watchful eye. You can go here and download templates on how to lay out a course. Find yourself a parking lot, cut up some old tennis balls to use as your cones, and practice, practice, practice!

One thing that was new to me, was that one should use the motorcycle's engine cutoff switch to turn off the motorcycle, THEN turn off the ignition key. As Dave put it, removing your hand from the right grip means you've just given up control of both your go and stopping ability. I am guilty of this, I am going to have to work on that perhaps.

I do tend to put Brigitta in neutral before shutting off the engine, then leaning over to turn the key off since it's on the left side of the headlight bucket. Maria, my 1150RT on the other hand, I just put the sidestand down and that kills the engine. Something to think about I guess.
Some of the instruction is worth repeating however:

To properly negotiate curves. The saying is: Slow, Look, Press, Roll.
Slow down enough so you're not going too fast into the turn, better to slow too much and have to roll on more throttle than not slow down enough and have to use brakes while in the curve and leaned over!

Look as far ahead into your turn as you can, gives you better chance to spot hazards, takes your eyes off the dang road immediately in front of you, look where you want to go and your motorcycle will go there.

Press down on the inside hand grip to lean your motorcycle over into the turn, keep your eyes up and looking into the turn.

Roll on the throttle once you're executing your turn and leaned over, it stabilizes your motorcycle's suspension and smoothness really does count when making turns. I was pretty heeled over on some of the curves, it seemed to me anyways, it was enjoyable to get it right.
For the swerving exercise, Dave saw I was leaning slightly into the swerve's direction and coached me so that I was able to do the next swerve maneuvers remaining straight and upright. Yes, it's better that way. Also, hold your initial swerving press of the grip longer than your reverse press to get you back in line with your original direction of travel. This puts more space between you and the perceived hazard.

I did OK on the limited space turns exercise. Basically the dreaded U-turns within the confines of a rectangular box painted onto parking lot's pavement. I managed to stay within the lines each time but I did not go as fast or as smoothly as Dave, the instructor and I did dab my foot down once during one U-turn. The other students on the cruisers did pretty good as well with just one or two breachings of the box's borders. The remaining student, will need more seasoning and practice, let's leave it at that.
The last exercise had us riding in a line, in what the MSF calles the "Multiple Curves" course, where everything we'd discussed, practiced and learned was put together. That was fun and everyone seemed to be much smoother. Like I mentioned, I was always first in line so I could not see much of #2 and #3 student's style. I would come up on #4 on most of the exercises and so watched him sometimes struggle through part of an exercise. Still, he kept plugging away at it.
The last 40 minutes or so were review of concepts such as TCLOCS, the Risk Ladder, SEE and other such mneumonics designed to help you remember to do such things as:

Check your motorcycle and wear proper gear

Scan agressively ahead and behind you, Evaluate your options and course of actions/Execute the plan

Be aware that doing everything to increase the amount of space and time you have to react to outside factors, the better. This means, proper following distance, looking out 12 seconds so that things don't surprise you, be prepared to stop and assume that cager will turn in front of you or do something likewise stupid. That last sentence is my opinion, not the MSF's.

So is this one my opinion: You ARE invisible on the motorcycle, ride like you are and position yourself where the chances of you being hit by a clueless cager are minimized.

The instructor was queried on lane positioning. He reminded us all that the best lane position is the one where you can be seen, not the left third or the center or the right third. Position yourself to be seen, it boils down to this: the situation dictates the best lane riding position.
He also reminded us, after one student's question, that even though you may have the right-of-way and the other guy doesn't, you will still lose in a collision since you're on a motorcycle. Don't be DEAD right. Try and be unhittable.

All in all, a great way to spend five hours of one's time. I re-learned concepts and skills that I'd acquired at the BRC and they're now closer to the surface of my brain, helping to keep me safe on the road. I can see now why some riders choose to repeat this course every year, specially if they don't ride in the winter.

I highly recommend, if you're really an experienced rider, that you consider taking this course if its been a long while since the BRC or if you're a re-entry rider. Training is good stuff, and the folks at t3rg motorcycle schools know what they're doing.

Finally, when's the last time you ran TCLOCS on your motorcycle? I thought so. Here's a TCLOCS checklist you can download from to aid you in doing this as often as possible. The MSF says you should do it each time your ride but reality is I am doing good if I do it once a week.

LINK to TCLOCS checklist


Rob said...

I need to take this course!

Jeffry said...

My stepson Neil and I took an ERC last Sunday. As an instructor, it was very interesting riding my own bike through the exercises versus the program bikes.

Canajun said...

Ditto Rob. I need to take this course too. As an ex-instructor I fall into the trap of knowing it all - been there, done that - but in reality we can all continue to learn to be better, more competent riders.
Thanks for the post.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Domingo):

I was delighted to learn that you got this course "on the arm" as attending press... Well done. That is a technique that takes some years to learn.

It sounds like you got a lot out of this course... Which makes a good value if you had paid double for it. There is always something to be learned from a good check pilot.

Fondest regards,
Jsck "reep" Toad
Twisted Roads

KEN PHENIX said...

Excellent! The MSF school in my area will schedule an ERC whenever 4 or more riders request it. I need to send a few emails and make time to take this course.