My son is about to turn 18 and has a regular driver's license and expressed interest in getting his MC endorsement. In California, if a rider is under 21 years of age they are required to take a motorcycle safety course and the course eliminates the need to take a riding test at the DMV. Over 21 it is optional. Since my boy was signing up for one, there was no way I was gonna let him do it alone. I've had more friends go down than Ellen this year, so a safety course seemed like something that couldn't hurt and there was an off chance that I'd actually learn something.
This is how it worked for us and this particular course. Yours may and probably will vary. The boy's cost was $150 (under 21) and mine was $250. We met for class in a parking lot at 7:00AM and after a little sign-in and safety brief we got right on the bikes. All the machines are supplied. All are well-hammered, 250cc mini cruisers like Suzuki Eliminators and a couple DR250's. I ran straight for the lone TW250 with the goofy fat tires. I dig those bikes and was stoked that I nabbed it. Flynn fit perfectly on the Rebel-sized 'Zuki, but some of the dudes were over six feet tall and looked pretty awkward on the dimunitive freedom machines. The riding portion lasted a full five hours, and we went from total introduction to motorcycles: "This is the clutch. This is how you get on and off the bike, etc." to riding around the big lot doing all sorts of low-speed work. The only requirement for the class was that you posses the skills to ride a bicycle. While I think everyone should learn from as much dirt bike riding as possible, this class can take a total beginner who has never been on a motorcycle and teach them the most base elements and some good habits.
Once the five hours of riding were over, we had a quick lunch break and reconvened in a hastily-assembled indoor classroom. After five more hours of team-based, workbook and video learning (which seemed like about twelve hours worth of curriculim crammed into a short amount of time) we ended with a written test. The instructor did his best to be outgoing and funny, but also hammer home a lot of good points and answer questions along the way. I was pleased that we both aced the test with 100% scores and we hauled ass out of there.
The next day started early again and we immediately hit the bikes. What had been fifteen riders the day before turned into ten on day two. Two guys didn't show up (not sure if they failed the written test or just failed to show up) and three riders who just didn't seem to "get it" were given passes to come back and repeat the course, but asked to sit out the second day of riding. One particularly motivated (if unskilled) dude sat and watched the entire next five hours of riding in case there was something to be learned. I was pleasantly surprised that these guys were weeded out rather than pushed through in a "everyone is a winner" kind of way.
The Sunday session moved at a faster pace, since theoretically everyone knew the clutch from the brake by this point. We did a series of exercises to make sure everyone could do tight, higher-speed maneuvers, ride over some objects, stop in the middle of a turn, learn to look where they wanted to go, etc. At the end of the day, we did a multi-segment riding test and again, we aced it. I think everyone did, so not like it is some exclusive accomplishment, but I was glad to have completed it.
So the obvious question is, "Is it worth it?". The answer is a firm "yes". Frankly, I didn't really feel like I learned anything major. There were no big epiphanies, but there were no "wrong" ideas taught either. I've been riding nearly twenty years and I like to think I'm fairly good at it. I ride fast and aggressively but am very defensive, and pretty situationally aware while doing it. I think any athlete would say that re-training on the fundamentals is as important to the game as fine tuning the details. Sure, I was a bit bored and lots of the course was tedious and it definitely was expensive, but I figure making safety front of mind again can't be a bad thing. For my kid, it was good for him to hear the gospel from someone other than just his old man. Would the instructor flip out if he saw me railing down the freeway on an old rigid shovel with one brake and a novelty helmet? Of course, but those decisions are my choice. Just because I choose to ride something that has zero nanny-controls doesn't mean it isn't safe, it just means I have to be a better than average rider and going over fundamentals helps keep that edge. As for the boy? I never would have made him do ten hours in a parking lot, but I think it was good for him to be forced to do the basics. As a parent, it's nice to have your lessons validated when trying to teach your kids something and it's also valuable to let them sink or swim on their own, which the attrition rate of this course proved was real.
If you are considering taking a course, I'd say go for it. At the very least, it can't hurt. You might learn something or at least be made more aware of the things you are already doing right. There are also more advanced classes where you can bring your own machine. If I get the time to do one of those and can find a bike that passes the safety inspection, I will report back. (About that graphic at the top, yes I doodled in my workbook.)
The course we did was administrated by: http://www.riderite.net/