Motorcycle Safety Course. Is it worth it?


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: 

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Commented on 10-15-2012 At 05:31 am

in Texas you have to take the MSF course to get a "m" indorsement. my standard reply is officer it is registered as an antique I didnt know I needed one.

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 06:00 am

In NY it's worth it to take the course for the fact that you just get your license without having to take an "official" NYS road test. Which is a complete bitch especially if you have a chop and they want you to do tight figure 8s with no feet down and you are rocking a 12 over springer. I brought the wife with me and she dumped their rebel 250 2 x but still passed

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 06:00 am

In NY it's worth it to take the course for the fact that you just get your license without having to take an "official" NYS road test. Which is a complete bitch especially if you have a chop and they want you to do tight figure 8s with no feet down and you are rocking a 12 over springer. I brought the wife with me and she dumped their rebel 250 2 x but still passed

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 06:54 am

Here (Vancouver BC)the courses are not mandatory (not sure about ppl under 21) but you get your license faster if you take one.I'm pretty sure they're less condensed.More like 5 days and it's theory before you get on a bike.They seem worthwhile to me,but they're also more than $250.

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 07:03 am

Cheaper insurance rates seals the deal for me.

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 07:04 am

I took the MSF advanced course back in 1992 and learned a lot. A couple of my friends are rider coaches with the MSF and I KNOW they are great riders and truly care about the people they are teaching I keep saying I'm going to take the Advanced class again but like everything else it has to wait until I finish this damn Flyrite Sporty ;-)

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 07:31 am

I took one here in San Diego and it was well worth it. Not only do you get a discount on insurance but skiping the DMV riding test is a blessing!!

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 07:55 am

I recommend them to everyone i talk to with an "interest" in riding. Just like was mentioned, i figure it's a good way to weed out the folks that can't really cut it.

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 08:45 am

For what it's worth, I told my insurance company I took that course and they gave me the discount without asking for proof. If they had, I would have photoshopped some proof.

But still... really good to hear they don't let horrible riders that can't grasp the method through.

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 09:20 am

I think it's worth the money, as others have stated, just to skip the DMV test.

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 09:26 am

In IL you can take a free course through the state. Worth it in my book. Gotta sign up early though.

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 09:33 am

i still cant beleive how slack your system for getting on a bike is... over here you do all that and at the end of it you can ride a 125 bike, but only if you have a big "L" plate on it to show you are a learner. then theres a huge and massively expensive bank or tests to do to get your full licence before you can ride anything bigger - looking at about $1500 to $2000 or there abouts to get a licence over here by the time you are done... $250 is cheap :)

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 09:53 am

The Military (or at least Fort Hood, not sure) mandates that any rider take the MSF basic course and then the advanced course to be able to get DOD tags and ride on post. Both courses are good at reinforcing the fundamentals and promoting a good mindset, but best of all, Uncle Sam picked up the tab.

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 10:43 am

I did mine in Buffalo Ny is was a riot! My buddy dumped the suzuki twice in driving rain, and one lady went over the bars! Great class and good fun bring a friend! An experienced friend went as well (part of our pledge to stop riding dirty). And he learned alot as well..funny how many bad habits ya can get.

PLUS like another member stated, NYS exempts you from taking the DMV test. You pass the course, you get the license!

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 11:38 am

great piece, no matter what the topic is, it's always pleasant read
keep 'em comin

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 12:14 pm

Funny that even the course booklet has an animated Sportster on it.

Am I the only one without a Sportster?!

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 12:58 pm

personally i think EVERYONE (!) who has a drivers license should take a msf class. . .

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 01:20 pm

My wife took the local course, the only thing that bothered me was that they never got out of second gear. At that low of speed, the bike IS essentially a bicycle. She had no idea that the bars needed to be "countersteered" to actually initiate a lean and turn in. We all know that a bike reacts totally different to rider input at 70 MPH than it does at 10 MPH. A true beginner would have no idea and assume that a left turn at 45MPH would require pointing the bars left.....not right.

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 01:36 pm

Well that settles it, I really AM an asshole. I still think it was a complete waste. Just my opinion.

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 02:31 pm

Knowledge is power friends. Take the course. Plus, you get to beat the shit out of someone else's equipment for a couple of days!!!

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 03:28 pm

I did one in Colton Ca put on by Honda. Totally worth the money! It saved my ass a number of times.

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 03:38 pm

Great and accurate description of the course. I have been an MSF Rider Coach since 2008. The basic course is very basic. I won't flip over you riding an old chopper with little gear or no front brake. That is your choice. I would let you take the Experienced Rider course on that bike as long as the tires were good, you wore the proper gear(liability), and you bike wasn't too long to make the swerves and turns as the course is designed. A BigDog Pitbull won't work. I know that for a fact. I actually would like to see how a rear only brake bike would do on the braking standard.

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 05:24 pm

definitely worth it. i think anybody will learn something new. In Ct you get an insurance discount and completion of the course replaces the road test portion.

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 05:39 pm

Situational awareness is the key. Doesnt matter if your in Kandahar or on the Freeway, thinking about what the fucks going on around you will make your day a lot better. Anything that helps young minds understand that is a good thing.

Commented on 10-15-2012 At 06:11 pm

Here in NorCal it's also possible to take a civilian version of the basic Motor Officer training course from the Alameda Co. Sheriffs dept..& it's an eyeopener
in a number of ways.

Commented on 10-16-2012 At 12:22 am

I have nothing bad to say about the MSF courses. In fact I always encourage people to go to them!

Commented on 10-16-2012 At 06:15 am

In Ohio you can take your test after having your permit for a certain period of time, but 90% of the peoople who take the actual riding test do so on a scooter or very small bike. Not so easy on a 2" stretched sporty. I was able to take my class through the city and only paid $25, but I had to register about a year in advance. I 100% agree the class is worth it, almost necessary. Granted I had only been riding for 3 years when I took the class, but I learned some things I had never even though of before. I would never recomend the $250 classes put on by a moto dealer, but if you need to get endorsed quickly it might be the only option.

Commented on 10-16-2012 At 06:16 am

Good write up Bill. States are trying to keep riders safe. I'm all for that. Take all the knowledge you can. It's a jungle out there.

Commented on 10-16-2012 At 06:41 am

I took the course in Illinois, and was shocked by the people who "ride". We had a couple who wore matching outfits, and shit, could not control their bikes to save their lives, and almost went down every time they got on the bikes. The guy said he had a Busa, and the woman had a gsxr600 or something. They'll be dead soon. Then there were the "old biker" types 2 or 3 of them who had been riding "forever". I'm surprised they were still alive.

The basics are great for a beginner, and some of the tips are good for a more experienced rider. If nothing else you'll get a refresher in common sense.

Bonus, in Illinois it's only like $20 to take the class.

Commented on 10-16-2012 At 06:48 am

Took the advanced rider course to ride on base. It was easy with my old Shadow. I wonder how I'd do with my sportster... If they would even let me.

Commented on 10-16-2012 At 07:05 am

Dead never looks good, it pays to be safe.

Commented on 10-16-2012 At 06:49 pm

I'm in CA to and I got my license by taking the course after riding with a permit for a few years. They do put out good info there and taking the course is WAY easier than taking the test. My dad's been riding 40+ years and failed the test before. They make you do figure 8's and whatnot in a basketball key sized rectangle (not too bad on the 250s they give you in the course but hard on a rigid chop).

Commented on 10-17-2012 At 10:29 am

I'm in CA, signed up for the course last night, $150 if you're under 21...I happen to be 20, pretty sweet deal

Commented on 10-17-2012 At 03:57 pm

I also love the TW 250. I understand they're amphibious. Some day I'll get hammered and find out.

Commented on 10-17-2012 At 04:53 pm

I was able to convince my folks to support my decision to get a bike by taking the beginner course. I had no experience on two wheels and a motor anyway, and had never even sat on a bike until the 2nd day of class. All I knew was I wanted to ride!

It was a state funded course so it only cost me $25 to ride someone else's bike on someone else's gas and learn all the basics. I had other friends starting to ride at the same time, and I felt way more prepared than them! Also, I got like 20% knocked off my insurance, so the cost was negligible. State funded courses fill up fast, so check out your state's programs if you're interested. Unfortunately, many states are cutting their rider ed programs due to budget cuts; it is a real shame because I feel I'm a much better motorist all around after taking the course.

Commented on 10-18-2012 At 11:53 am

I have been teaching the MSF course for 5 years (riding for 40 plus) . Yes, it can be boring if you've been riding a while. Yes, it's worth the money, yes it really has a lot to offer like how to brake and corner properly. Fatalities were down 50% in the military after they got the MSF involved in training the troops to ride. If you value your kid or your old lady or you just want to be a better rided come give it a shot. A lot of veteran riders get suprised by what they learn. I know I did.

Commented on 10-18-2012 At 07:38 pm

In the military we have to take the courses and have a re-fresher when we come home from deployment. The MSF Coaches are great guys and have a lot of experience. The course gave me good habits about looking through the corners and paying attention to my surroundings. I think it's worth it.

Commented on 10-20-2012 At 08:48 am

In Ohio it's $25 and if u pass then you get your endorsement
Learned alot too I recommended it.

Commented on 10-20-2012 At 01:11 pm

I have to take the msr course every 3 or 4 years and it is a good refresher to get some instructuction and remember some of the things that you get complacent on. Even though it is boring and very basic I feel you come out a better rider.

Commented on 10-20-2012 At 08:42 pm

Definitely worth it. Took the course 10 years ago

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