My New Year's Resolution is to get my motorcycle license. I plan to take the MSF Basic RiderCourse as soon as one is available. What do I need to know before I go into the course?
First of all, congratulations on deciding to take the plunge. The MSF Basic RiderCourse is absolutely the best way to learn how to ride, and required if you are in the military. Passing it automatically get you the endorsement without the hassle of a trip to the DMV in many states. More importantly, it will teach you the techniques you need to control a motorcycle effectively—more than can be said of standard driver training.
You must also have a current driver's license and/or a motorcycle learner's permit if you are taking the class to earn your license. Your local course should tell you exactly what your state requires. You can expect a total of 15 hours of instruction, five in the classroom and ten on the bikes, which they provide. This time can be split up any number of ways depending on the organization providing the class. Mine consisted of two sessions of on-bike training during the weekend plus an evening in the classroom during the prior week. The classroom portion was pretty simple, concluding with a written test of everything I was just taught.
You must be dressed properly before you get on the bike. You're not required to invest in full riding gear before you get on the bike. They will provide a helmet and gloves if you need them, though you are welcome to use your own if you have them. You must provide your own long sleeve shirt or jacket, long pants, and boots that will cover your ankle. Again, these don't need to be motorcycle specific, but if you already own riding gear, wear it. This could be a perk to off-road riders trying to get licensed for the street who already have their own boots and pads. The lower standards for gear make it easier for non-riders to gain the experience, and you will only be riding at low speeds during the course. Bring your own food and drink for the day as well, though some classes may provide water. Speaking of water, keep in mind that the course runs rain or shine, so be prepared to ride in the wet. I took the first day of my course in a total downpour.
Beyond that, the best advice I can offer you is to go in with an open mind. Be a sponge. Soak up everything your instructors teach you. This can be difficult if you've already done some riding before the class. in fact, many people preach that you shouldn't even touch a motorcycle before the class so you don't pick up any bad habits. I admit that after my friend gave me his old Suzuki GS650L, I couldn't resist the temptation to take a few street rides before taking the course.
It can be a little tedious. The MSF loves its acronyms, like T-CLOCS and FINE-C, and expects you to learn them. You begin on-bike training by using clutch control to walk the bike across the range. If you have any experience with a clutch, even in a manual transmission car, this may seem superfluous and boring. Just remember that they're starting everyone from square one, and not everyone has the same experience. At some point, the course will catch up to and surpass your level of riding skill and experience, then take you along for the ride. Trust the instructors, and practice the techniques they teach you even if it goes against your previous experience. I'm looking at you, dirt riders, but this applies to anyone who has ridden before. As the great motorcycle guru Yoda said, "You must unlearn what you have learned."
Most importantly, have fun. It's a lot of training crammed into a short time, but you will use these skills every time you get on a motorcycle for the rest of your hopefully long riding career. Keep in mind, your training shouldn't end with the Basic Ridercourse. It will help you to constantly hone your skills with even more training, whether through the MSF or elsewhere.