Home - About Us - Riding Safer - Contact Us - Blog - Disclaimer - Links - Sitemap
Risk Hierarchy: Information - Rider Ed - Driver Ed - Conspicuity - Bike Defect - Ultra-Defensive Riding - Crash Avoidance - Injury Mitigation - Crash Scene

MSF Basic Rider Course - Some minor criticisms

As the state of research is so bad right now, it would be impossible for anyone to disprove any of the information in the BRC. MSF is information-driven, and does some small studies, but a crash causation study, because it requires the collection of thousands of items of data on approximately 1000 crashes, collected at the crash site in real time, costs something like $7M to $9M. That amount was about twice the MSF's entire annual budget in the 2000-2001 period when the current BRC curriculum was developed. In short, the MSF is information-driven, by the same poor and partial information we all have. The MSF and cycle training in general will be a beneficiary of the long-awaited crash causation study.

I think that the BRC curriculum and materials would probably meet the approval of any reasonable person who has studied the field. The teaching technique seems workable for a casual group of unmatched adults over a short period.

Following Distance

Two seconds is clearly inadequate for highway speeds.  In view of http://www.bikesafer.com/detail/braketime.html and http://www.bikesafer.com/detail/bike_time_space_window.html, I don't think that the 2 second rule works at speeds much above city traffic, and is totally inadequate for highway speeds. 

Following distance is the space cushion between you and the vehicle ahead.

Immediate path is the space ahead where you intend to travel and must react to events.

Anticipated path is the space ahead where you are actively scanning for potential issues.

To recap the MSF following rules: following distance, 2 seconds, immediate path, 4 seconds, and 12 second, anticipated path.

TEAM Oregon uses the old, pre-2002 MSF RSS numbers of 4 seconds following distance, 12 second immediate path and 20 second anticipated path. My calculations, based on Promocycle Montreal data, in the links above, indicate that even 4 seconds following distance is barely enough for highway speeds, for average riders.

However, the 4 second rule does not work for city traffic, as a cage will jump in the space if you leave 4 seconds and you end up traveling significantly slower than the traffic, which poses its own dangers.

We need a more complicated rule, maybe a sliding 2 to 5 second following distance depending on speed, the 12-second immediate path and the 20 second anticipated path. Perhaps following distance could be a second per 10 MPH of speed, with a 2-second minimum. This is just brainstorming, more research is probably needed, including some way of keeping the rule as simple as possible.

The problem is that the physics of the situation doesn't allow for a simple rule. This is clear from the basic Newtonian formulae for motion, which involve the square of time, and also because of the distance traveled during reaction time. This is important and should be looked at again by MSF.

Protective Gear.

helmrtThe classroom course, in manual pages 10 through 14, has a very reasonable discussion of protective rider gear, including a information about jackets, pants and riding suits. The Maids study from Europe confirms that, in all types of crashes, protective gear offers significant protection and, on average, reduces the level of injury, especially with regard to road rash.

The apparel requirement for students is: helmet and eye protection, long sleeves, long trousers, gloves with fingers and over the ankle boots. This is the same requirement as for the Rider Coaches.

You could make a case for not requiring course participants to make a major investment in protective gear prior to the course. We all want to avoid barriers to training.

There is a disconnect between what the rider coaches say in the classroom and do on the range. They are advocating proper protection verbally, but their example is that jeans and t-shirts are OK in practice. As the range exercises are the very definition of a teachable moment, failure to require a higher standard of protection for rider coaches creates a double standard.

We are asking the students to 'do as I say, not as I do'. As any teacher or parent will tell you, this sort of message dilutes the effectiveness of the entire lesson. It invites the students to consider the important classroom safety strategies as simply lip service required by some legal muse. As a fly on the wall, I watched the students react to this, and it seemed to me that this negative lesson was striking home hard.

When I discussed this with Vickye of cyclesafety.net, she pointed out that the course is taught in all weathers, and the rider coaches would not be comfortable. This may be true, but it is possible to find safety apparel that will work in any given weather. It is an extra step for the instructors, but they would only have to don the gear for the 17 demonstration rides, a few minutes each time, and the example of the trainers pulling on their Stich suits or jackets before getting on the bikes would be a powerful lesson in safety. Safety gear is always a chore to put on, but, like T-CLOCS, it is a preparation step we should all at least think about every time we ride. Like the BRC manual says.

I took a course this summer with Lee Parks on a hot July day in Tennessee. There was an MSF Experienced Rider Course being run on the other side of the lot. Lee and his instructor pulled on full protective gear every time they got on a bike, as did the students. The contrast between the shirt-clad MSF coaches and students, and the adequately clad Parks participants was startling, and the MSF guys looked pretty lame in the comparison.

I recall that when I took the MSF BRC at the same venue about four years ago, I lowsided my bike by locking the front wheel during the quick stop exercise. I came down on my right knee, but was uninjured because I was wearing overtrousers with knee pads. You can hurt yourself while training, and protective gear is almost 100 percent effective for injury prevention at parking lot speeds.

We should also be looking at moving towards all course participants having some additional protection while riding. Participants should be encouraged to bring gear. The logistics of providing gear for all participants, given the hygiene issues, would be a nightmare for course organizers. I don't know what the solution is, perhaps velcro-attached hard pads, or something that is easily maintained.

T-CLOCS: the pre-ride checklist

toolsThe importance of a pre-ride safety check can't be overstated. I have taken this point to the blog, here, as an open letter to MSF, and here's the Bikesafer site page.

A pre-ride check is vital. I think it is telling that most of the bikers I know who always do the pre-ride check are police riders, track racers and bike messengers. These are professionals who ride every day, and they know that their lives depend on their bike being right. If they skip their pre-ride check, a bad crash is only a matter of time. Leisure bikers, in my experience, mostly skip T-CLOCS, even though bikes that sit in the garage all week probably need it more.

The issue is that T-CLOCS needs to be replaced with a simpler, more focused checklist card, which can only come from the bike manufacturers.

I get the need for a pre-ride check, but a more practical, quicker checklist that bikers might actually find the time to perform more often might save some lives.

That said, everyone should do a T-CLOCS check every day they ride.

Head Checks

When thinking about the BRC, and comparing with training in other countries, the most dramatic difference in emphasis is probably the head check. In the UK, for example, motorcycle trainers refer to the head-check as the 'Lifesaver' and it gets a huge amount of emphasis in the training. The BRC course refers to head checks twice on page 35 of the manual, and it doesn't get much special emphasis.

We are not aware that motorcycles violating the cage right-of-way is a major issue for crash causation, but it stands to reason that bikes have a blind spot easily big enough to hide a car, especially one two lanes away that might be getting ready to change into the same lane we plan to. The head check is one of these things, like the pre-ride check, that bikers can control.

The European training and testing does include a lot of road work, while there is little opportunity on the BRC bikes (which don't even usually have mirrors) to practice the 'lifesaver' on the range. Also, streets in Europe are often tiny and crammed, so the environment is a lot more threatening to bikers over there.

Nonetheless, we feel that the BRC could take a leaf form the Euros and put more emphasis on the head-check prior to lane changing and turns.

Ongoing training

The central message in Bikesafer.com is that skills training and strategy development is an ongoing, lifetime process. The trainees have made the life-enhancing decision to get basic training, but this is only the start. New bikers are, even with a BRC pass, very likely to be involved in a crash in the first year of riding.

Other jurisdictions have much more onerous requirements for new riders, and this is not an option for most US-based training vendors. But when hundreds of thousands of riders decide to take basic training, they are declaring an interest in safe riding.

Given the state of information technology and social networking sites, it is my view that MSF should be doing more to follow up with BRC course graduates. If they had been doing this since the BRC was introduced in 2002, they'd have a mailing list of over two million riders. This, with appropriate web support, and the exploitation of available channels like twitter, RSS and email, could be the basis of a huge safety network, pushing advanced training information to bikers nationwide. It is a training tool and a ready market for more advanced training offerings. MSF's failure to exploit these new media is inexplicable and overdue, especially as it is also a potential source of revenue for research and training.