Mistakes happen, especially during MSF training. Here are 7 common student rider mistakes and how to avoid them

The Basic Rider Course that the Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers is a great tool for those looking to get a grasp on the fundamentals of motorcycle riding. As a Rider Coach, it is an energizing opportunity to share a passion for motorcycles and encourage a new rider’s knowledge and enthusiasm while they acquire the skills they will need on the road. As we go through the course, clear patterns emerge after numerous classes. We see what always works, what always doesn’t, and often the same few things that can interfere with a student getting the most out of a class.

KNOWING: Continuing Your Motorcycle Education

1) Bad Habits They Teach Themselves

I applaud those that seek to take the Basic Rider Course despite having prior motorcycle experience. It’s away to reinforce the techniques and theory they might already know, and they always end up learning something new in the process. The only possible downside occurs when students, consciously or not, introduce bad habits during exercises. For example, I have had more than one student try to only ever use the rear brake. The front brake was said to be “too dangerous” and never to be used. It is usually not until the second day of range instruction that the student is confident enough to consistently apply both brakes properly.

Some bad habits are not so obvious. Tunnel vision, poor body position, lack of situational awareness, lack of low speed confidence, and inconsistent safety checks represent just a small portion of all the little things that we can internalize without full realization. This of course, can affect not only your experience in the class but your life on the road as well. The best way to combat this is to treat the Basic Rider Course as a clean slate. Try not to go in thinking it will be boring, or that you’ve already got a handle on the early exercises due to your previous riding experience. Be open to making some adjustments to your riding and you will get the most out of it.

An instructor gives a new riding student some advice.

2) A Lack Of Comfort With The Friction Zone

The second exercise out on the range and the first exercise wherein the motorcycle moves under you is a critical one. This is all about developing a strong, positive and confident muscle memory centered around proper clutch use. Some students will acquire a decent feel for the clutch, but never attempt to perfect the transition between engaging the clutch and throttle roll on. Others will grasp the mechanics of the clutch and its attendant end result with the rear wheel, but fail to truly get comfortable with its use. Without this confidence, your learning can suffer throughout the rest of the entire course. I have seen a student struggle with the friction zone despite extra time and one-on-one coaching only to see that discomfort propagate and affect every subsequent exercise. It is that fundamental.

As a student, make sure that you ask loads of questions. Work on having a firm understanding on clutch theory in class. Analogies can help with understanding just what is going on in the transmission. Never be afraid to ask for a little extra time. Every Rider Coach understands how important it is that you learn and fully understand this and will be happy to extend the exercise to ensure using the friction zone becomes second nature.

3) The Need to Speed Up! (Or In Some Cases Slow Down)

Speed is a motorcyclist’s raison d’être. It is the core of why we do what we do. So you might be surprised to hear that many students can have a sense of hesitancy when it comes to throttle use. This is a huge roadblock. Students will often stay within their self-prescribed comfort zones, not wanting to use the throttle and letting an idling engine pull them along. This leads to a feeling of instability and reduces confidence. Others will use the throttle as an On-Off switch, upsetting the motorcycle’s stability while giving an unwelcome and fearful ride for a student. These behaviors have larger consequences, as a slow student can backup an exercise and compound the problem for the rest of the class.

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Trust your Rider Coach. If they signal for you to speed up, it is safe to do so. Get a feel for the feedback one gets with minute variations in throttle position. Take some time to practice rolling the throttle on smoothly as you engage the clutch. The second you trust the motorcycle to do what it is designed to is the second you can realize how stable it is at speed.

4) Too Much Tension Inhibiting Good Posture and Riding Habits

We all know to approach riding with a relatively relaxed posture and a vigilant attitude. Students can easily feel overwhelmed and too inundated with information to stay in that mindset. While fun, the expectation to perform something in a class setting that you’ve never really tried before can be stressful. I’ve seen students Superman through turns, arms rigid, locked and straight out in front of them. Their head doesn’t turn to follow corner exits, often forcing them wide. If you’re body is a tightly coiled spring of stress, you cannot react or learn easily.

Good posture makes a good rider.

This one can be tough to fix since we are adjusting attitude instead of technique. As hard as it might be, try to relax. Instructors and students alike are there to have fun, even if it is by way of practicing proper technique. Get some nervous energy out during the breaks if you can. Talk, laugh, or take a quick jog. Ask questions about anything you’re unsure about. That’s what we’re there for.

5) So You’ve Dropped The Bike…

It happens more often than you think. Students often drop a motorcycle after trying to balance at low speeds, or they forget to put the kickstand down, or end up braking a little too vigorously. Students have lost control and in a panic moment grabbed the front brake. Inevitably the bike meets the ground in more ways than can be accounted for in this article. What commonly follows for the student is hyper-intensive stress and nervousness. They feel like they’ve let down the class, the instructors and themselves. Cue the immediate departure of anything taught to the student the past few hours.

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Here is a little experiment for you. When you take the MSF Basic Rider Course anywhere as a student, take a close look at all of the bikes. Try to find one without scrapes or scratches on the handlebar ends, fairings, rider and passenger foot pegs, and exhaust. You will most likely come to the realization that these drops happen all the time! Your Rider Coach will be happy as long as 1) you are safe and 2) you managed not to run over him or her with the motorcycle.

6) The Dreaded Box

Ask past students of the Basic Rider Course which exercise they disliked the most. Ask which exercise was the most difficult to pass in evaluation. You’ll likely notice a trend with the box, a limited space maneuver where a student must make two U-Turns in a box 20’ wide without using their feet to stabilize the bike. This exercise can be a real confidence drainer if done improperly, and is also where a lot of drops are going to happen if they do.

The box is a great chance to pull together a lot of the techniques you’ve already gotten the hang of. When you enter the box and attempt the first U-turn, go as slow as you possibly can. There’s no time limit and no one is waiting. It’s just you and the box. Turn your head as far as possible, looking back past the turn to where you want to end up. Use the friction zone and throttle to give yourself enough power to pull the bike around, while making sure to counter-weight with your leg on the outside peg. You may need to slide your butt off the edge of the seat to get enough of a counter-weight on the peg. Keep those techniques in mind and practice as much as you can. It will click sooner than you think and you’ll realize you had nothing to worry about.

7) They Like To Call It An Evaluation

Let’s be honest about what is at the end of the Basic Rider Course range portion. It’s a big scary test. Every Rider Coach probably has his or her own little innocuous synonym for it, but at the end of the day you know it’s a test. Just from my own experience, examples abound of students who did brilliantly all day only to make simple and silly mistakes during the “Evaluation.” As with any test in life, stress can be there to edge you into a mistake.

Go that way really fast. If anything gets in your way, turn.

When you hear your Rider Coach mention an evaluation, you’ll find yourself on an idling bike waiting in line. You notice the very first part is the box. You start to freak out a little bit. Don’t worry, because you’ve done this all this before. Try to stay focused and relaxed. Don’t worry about what the other students are doing. Expect and accept a little bit of stress. Use that little bit of stress to reinforce the technique in your mind. Pace yourself and don’t try to rush through. Take your time and think only of what you need to do right then instead of everything at once.

Did you ever take the Basic Rider Course? How did you do in The Box?

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