Anyone new to riding, or even veteran riders, have 2 options when getting their motorcycle endorsement within the United States:
Take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s (MSF) Basic RiderCourse℠ (BRC)
Take a written exam and skills test at their local DMV
Those who choose to take the MSF course may have to invest a bit more time into getting their endorsement compared to a written and skills test at the DMV, but for most riders who aren’t experienced with operating a motorcycle, the MSF option is generally the better option since you’ll gain a foundation of riding skills.
Taking the written and skills test could vary state by state, but this generally requires that you study from your state’s motorcycle operators manual, take a timed written exam, obtain a temporary permit (TIP), schedule and take a basic skills test once you have had your permit for a certain period of time and/or passed the written exam.
Reasons for choosing the MSF course over the skills test at the DMV:
- You may have minimal or no experience operating a motorcycle on sanctioned roads
- You want instruction and guidance on operating a motorcycle
- You want more confidence when riding or performing low speed maneuvers
- You have never operated a motorcycle
- You want to combine all testing and training into one weekend
What is the MSF?
“The Motorcycle Safety Foundation® is the internationally recognized developer of the comprehensive, research-based, Rider Education and Training System (RETS). RETS curricula promotes lifelong-learning for motorcyclists and continuous professional development for certified RiderCoaches(SM) and other trainers. MSF also actively participates in government relations, safety research, public awareness campaigns and the provision of technical assistance to state training and licensing programs. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation is a national, not-for-profit organization sponsored by BMW, BRP, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Indian Motorcycle, Kawasaki, KTM, Piaggio, Suzuki, Triumph and Yamaha.” - msf-usa.org
Signing up for the Basic RiderCourse (BRC)
The courses offered by this foundation follow the same structure state by state. The course spans 3 days in total for weekend classes including a scheduled 4 hours of classroom time that will fall on the Friday evening of the weekend you’ve signed up to take the course. The BRC course is generally offered through larger dealerships and public colleges. Signing up for a class through your local community college will likely be the cheapest route at around $50, but these classes fill up fast in most areas so you will need to plan ahead and sign up once enrollment has opened. Signing up for a class through a Harley Davidson Dealership, or other large powersports dealer, could range from $200-$300 depending on availability and demand in the area.
One advantage of taking a class through a dealer is that you will probably be on bikes that the dealership offers, whereas taking the course through a community college, or other community education center, you will be on bikes that most might view as less impressive. Regardless, don’t expect to be put on a big cruiser or liter bike. You will be on a smaller, more maneuverable, easier to handle at low speeds, 250cc or 300cc bike.
What to Expect
This info is based on my experience taking the MSF course. There may be some slight differences depending on where you take your class, but my understanding from talking to instructors is that the course is designed to be uniform across the country.
Before you start the weekend you will be required to complete an e-course from the MSF. This can be done at your leisure once you have enrolled, but be sure to complete it before attending any classroom time, and especially before the practice range. It is now required to be completed before entering the classroom at the beginning of the Basic RiderCourse℠.
The e-course takes approximately 2 hours, but can be completed in short segments. This portion of the BRC is essentially a video course that will test you at the end of each segment, and the information is very similar to the motorcycle operator’s manuals available from every state.
The Friday evening class will not be on the range. During this time you will likely be in a larger group with only one or two instructors. Plan on sitting through portions of a Powerpoint presentation with pop quizzes, or short tests. You will do a few different exercises in smaller groups that might involve electing a leader to do some presenting in front of the class.
You will not need your riding gear for the classroom time unless stated otherwise by your instructors or during your enrollment process. Plan on bringing a pen, paper for notes, snacks and water.
What you need for the range
- DOT or Snell certified helmet
- Eye protection (if wearing a helmet without a shield)
- Full finger gloves
- Boots that cover your ankles
- Pants that cover your entire legs
- Long sleeve shirt or jacket
Any current DOT or Snell certified motorcycle helmet is adequate including: full face, dual sport, MX, ¾ and ½ shell helmets. Just be aware that your eyes need to stay protected at all times while on the motorcycle. You can wear sunglasses, and prescription eyeglasses will count as eye protection, but a face shield is encouraged.
You are really only required to be covered and this does not mean by leather or full riding gear, so going out to buy full leathers is not necessary. A simple long sleeve cotton T-shirt is fine and might be all that you will want to wear during really hot weather. You will not be allowed to roll up your sleeves while riding. Wear some comfortable jeans that aren’t restricting since you’ll be hopping on and off the motorcycle for hours each day.
For gloves, you will want something that is comfortable without restricting your dexterity. Expect lots of braking and pulling the clutch.. If you are going to go out and buy any riding gear solely for taking the BRC, get yourself some riding gloves and a helmet. You don’t need specific riding boots for the course. Work boots and hiking boots are just fine. Just keep in mind that you will be shifting and braking a lot, so do not wear boots with giant heels or platforms. These will restrict your movement when operating the motorcycle.
Range Day 1
Range time starts promptly as scheduled. You will get accustomed to the basic structure of each segment, learn the instructor’s hand signals, and eventually be assigned or pick out your bike for the weekend.
You won’t be expected to hop on the bike and be tested on everything you’ve covered in the e-course and classroom. Half of the first day is really just easing you into basic motorcycle controls. Lots of practice with the friction zone, shifting into 1st, braking in a straight line, walking the bike etc. The first day is really all very basic lessons that give you a foundation for more challenging stuff the next day.
The Written Exam
At the end of your first day is when to expect your written test. If you paid any attention leading up to this point, then you’re good. The exam will be very similar to the exam needed for obtaining a temporary permit.
Range Day 2
Day 2 on the range is way more exciting. At this point you and the rest of your class, assuming they made it, have developed confidence in operating the motorcycle. Much like day 1, day 2 involves a similar number of exercises with lots of repetition and guidance to ensure that you progress to the next lesson. Plan on a relatively brief classroom-type portion before you begin lessons on the motorcycle. Day 2 involves some more complex drills that build from previous lessons.
You won’t be hitting the roads at all during the Basic RiderCourse, but you’ll be doing more and more in 2nd or potentially 3rd gear depending on the bikes. Every exercise is done on a closed parking lot.
One of the most notorious lessons is known as “the box” which involves entering a rectangular area roughly the width of one lane on a road, and a length equal to roughly 2 lanes or less. Once inside the box you need to turn the motorcycle performing a U-turn, ride back toward the corner you entered, and performing a second U-turn in the opposite direction. This exercise is particularly difficult because it involves sharp corning at low speed where keeping the clutch in the friction zone is used to maintain smooth transitions all while balancing and redirecting the motorcycle in tight quarters.
Other exercises involve emergency braking, emergency swerving, corning, emergency stopping after cornering, signaling etc. Towards the end of the second day each exercise starts to combine everything you’ve learned into one obstacle course.
The MSF BRC Skills Test
Once all lessons are completed, riders are required to pass a skills test in order to obtain a certificate of completion, which is what you present at the DMV to get your motorcycle endorsement. As you might guess, the skills test is a summary of all the exercises you have already performed on the range. You will perform each maneuver individually during the skills test rather than as a group like you would during the lessons. Keep in mind that you may be graded or passed/failed on other factors beyond simply performing the maneuvers during the skills test. Safety precautions and rules that apply during the lessons could be factored into the final skills test.
MSF Course in the rain?
The MSF Basic RiderCourse is a rain or shine ordeal. Practicing operating a motorcycle in the rain in a parking lot is really a best case scenario since rain happens and you could find yourself having to brave the rain at some point.
My personal experience: it rained. Hard.
Saturday was hot and sunny, but Sunday afternoon for about the first hour of day 2 on the practice range was a torrential downpour. Classes that day definitely received extra coaching due to the slippery conditions. Fortunately there was no thunder and lightning, which would have resulted in rescheduling the class, including the skills test, to a later date.
This article is based on my recent experience. It is in no way meant to review or criticize the class.