I did it! I took and passed my Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic RiderCourse this past weekend, with American Motorsports Training and on this adorable little red Honda Grom. That means I am now a fully licensed motorcyclist in Pennsylvania. It also means I am definitely eying a Grom for a fun around-town bike someday because it was really enjoyable to ride…all nine horsepower of it.
Those of you who have been following my riding journey know that this was my second attempt to get my license, after a disastrous first round with the Total Control Beginner Riding Clinic. I said then that I didn’t believe that class was intended for truly beginner riders, and after taking the MSF class this weekend with a different curriculum, I still think that’s true. In this class, we spent much more time on basic operation of the bike, including more detailed classroom discussion and written material, and actually performing pre-ride inspections and being guided through operating all of the controls before ever starting the engines. Even though I’ve spent the last few months learning how to ride from friends, it was really reassuring to know that this class was more set up for someone who didn’t know where anything was or even how something so foundational as a throttle is supposed to be operated. There was also more detailed individual coaching here, at the cost of repetitions, but I think giving all of us more to work with after class.
It turns out that not all beginner classes are created equal, whether in motorcycling or any other field. Slightly different curricula, not to mention who’s standing up in front of the classroom or beside you as a coach, can make enormous differences. It’s why trying again and taking nominally the same class again can be so helpful and important. Everybody has a unique way of explaining and showing things, and different details that they focus on based on their personal experiences and the experiences they’ve had as an instructor. Even if someone is expert and an excellent teacher, they might not have the right language you can understand, or the right lens to see where you’re having issues or how to fix them. That’s okay.
The other reason that additional training, or lots of practice with specific guidance about what and how to practice (not to mention why), is helpful and necessary is that it’s impossible for a student to learn and remember everything they get in a single class, especially a beginner class. When you’re new, everything is new and it’s extremely difficult to absorb the fountain of information that’s headed your way. With topics that are physical and mental all at the same time, it’s extremely challenging to integrate all of the things you need to remember and apply them together as you’re supposed to. Just getting a motorcycle from a stop to a start requires letting off the brakes (one operated by by one hand and the other by one foot), slowly letting out the clutch lever with the other hand, while carefully twisting the throttle with the hand that was just operating a brake – and you have to get both feet on the pegs as you start going, all without losing your balance or stalling the engine. That’s a lot to keep in your head, not to mention actually perform in the proper, overlapping sequence. And then you have to stop…
So yeah, I got my license. But that doesn’t mean I’m done learning or done practicing. In fact, like every other license or permit or certification or even degree, that piece of paper is just the beginning. All it does is show that you’ve taken the very first steps to become acceptably competent, not even necessarily that you are competent yet. Much like getting a state concealed carry permit to tote a gun around with me, all my motorcycle license does is tell the world that I have met the minimum requirements set by the government. It removes certain legal restrictions from what I can and can’t do, which simplifies my life – not the least by which I don’t have to remember what those restrictions are anymore. But practically speaking? It changes nothing. The class taught me a few small things and gave me a handful of repetitions in some of the skills considered basic. It did so in a controlled environment, with instructors available to support and coach every moment. The stamp on my permit that indicates that I passed the knowledge and skills tests says no more than that.
Now, like every other beginner in the world who’s taken a class or two and gotten a certificate, it’s on me to get out and ride safely and within my limits, expanding them only as fast and as far as I safely can. I can’t wait!!