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Risk Hierarchy: Information - Rider Ed - Driver Ed - Conspicuity - Bike Defect - Ultra-Defensive Riding - Crash Avoidance - Injury Mitigation - Crash Scene
MSF's Experienced Rider Course, reviewed by ET
I took the Experienced RiderCourse (ERC) in June, 2008 with Cyclesafety.net, in Memphis, TN, at the Macon Road campus of Southwest Tennessee Community College.
The ERC is the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) intermediate motorcycle safety course. It is aimed at riders who have completed a Basic RiderCourse and have had six months or 5,000 miles of riding experience. As such, it is misnamed, it is really an intermediate course.
At our local training center, they run BRC most weekends in spring, summer and winter, sometimes two simultaneously, but the ERC is presented maybe twice a year, and the course did not make when it was recently offered. The ERC is not a hot-selling product for MSF or Cyclesafety.net.
The course takes a day, and the cost varies from state to state. I paid a fee of $75. Riders bring their own bikes. There were ten riders present, and the motorcycles ranged from my Honda 919 right through to a chopper, with sports bikes, a Beemer tourer, v-twin cruisers and everything in between. The riders ranged from young guys to some old geezers, and there were three women.
The day started bright and early with the ten riders milling around outside the classroom at 07:30 AM. The two instructors arrived and we got down to business. The students and RiderCoaches introduced themselves and the participants discussed their objectives for the course.
The classroom part of the course proceeded, and took about three hours. Here are the MSF cards on PDF with the course content. The course was accompanied by slides and several video presentations.
The first subject is the T-CLOCS pre-ride inspection, with a mercifully abbreviated checklist compared to the BRC version, and this expanded to discussion of bike fit, mental readiness to ride and protective gear. Risk management is reviewed, and then a discussion of stopping distance, space-time window and the Search - Evaluate - Execute defensive riding strategy.
RiderRadar, which is what MSF tags it's concept of situational awareness comes next, and the inadequate 2-4-12 second intervals for following distance, immediate path and anticipated path. (here's our analysis).
Crashes at intersections, with scan tips and advice to leave an escape path, are discussed, followed by single-bike crashes on curves, caused by poor cornering skills. While these are major occasions for crashes, I think that this section borrows a lot from the old Hurt research, which is no longer the final word on crash causation. Still, important strategies.
A quick note on traction, and a rehash of the alcohol and drug issues, with a final note on the 'Safety Oval' space/time rider/bike/traffic factors trade-off.
My general take on the classroom content is that it is largely a rehash of the Basic RiderCourse classroom content, and, while the format allows for more classroom discussion, that the impact is very dependent on the skills of the instructor and the level of participation of the students. In our case both were fine, but if you read WebBikeWorld's review, there are some students who report real problems with this issue.
I can see how this is a valuable revision opportunity for fairly recent BRC graduates and maybe others, but some attempt would be welcome to plug students into more advanced media for further study. They could give out a reading list, for instance, and David Hough's 'Proficient Motorcycling', maybe Lee Parks 'Total Control' and possibly 'Motorcycle Roadcraft' by Coyne might be candidates for the list. More advanced material on a website or disk might be a good way to go. The level of material is about the same as the BRC and is inadequate for an advanced course. In three hours, it is not possible to cover a lot of new material, but this is an opportunity to introduce the students to additional material to study later.
At the same time, it had been a while since I took the BRC, and I was ready to go over the material again, and I wish I had done it maybe one year after the BRC, when the repetition would have had more of an impact.
After the classroom section, we headed out to the range and ran a T-CLOCS pre-ride check on our bikes. 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, and for the BRC participants. This gear requirement is totally inadequate. See our criticism of the BRC for more on the gear issue. As the students have had to invest in motorcycles by the time they take the course, it would not be unreasonable for the MSF to require proper riding gear for both RiderCoaches and students. This has always been a pet peeve of mine.
Preliminaries over with, down to riding. The exercises include a cone and offset weaves, one-handed and two-handed, quick stops, emergency stops on a turn, U-turns and figure 8's in a 20 foot box, S-turns and lots of 90, 135, and 180 degree turns, obstacle avoidance, swerve and quick stop combinations, and a small course with four 90's and an S turn on one of the straightaways.
The exercises follow closely the second day of the BRC - exercise 10 onwards in our review, with a few additional cone weaves and figure-8s and a different test. There are a few additional features. Towards the beginning, the coaches recommend running through a cone weave one-handed, to demonstrate countersteering and how it can be done with the one hand pulling and pushing on the right grip.
Some of the longer bikes and the chopper had problems with the box maneuvers and some latitude was given here. The box is 20 feet, smaller than the 24 foot BRC box. And in various ways, the maneuvers were a little more challenging, more a matter of details rather than real new material.
There was a final test, with corners, weaves, swerves and quick stops. In our state, Tennessee, having a completion certificate from this course gets an insurance discount, and the certificates were distributed after the range session.
My overall take on the course is that it is a handy refresher of the BRC, which riders might take six months or a year after the BRC. Re-doing the exercises on your own bike is revealing. But you could get the same benefit from re-reading your BRC course materials or more by studying Bikesafer.com. The range exercises could easily be done on any parking lot using our 'skills practice' page. But there is a benefit: if you, like many riders, have developed some bad practices, then the eagle eyes and constructive criticism of the RiderCoaches will help you develop better form. And, if you have a new bike, it is probably useful to re-take the course, as the first six months on a new bike is an especially dangerous period.
The course is dated. The crash causations implied by some of the material are less important than they were in Hurt's day. Some of the material is cursory and lacking in detail. Important areas, like conspicuoty measures and head-checks, are not given enough importance. The MSF has some annoying preferences, like not allowing brakes to be covered, which might be OK for a range but, in some circumstances, such as approaching a busy intersection, might not be the safest. The duck-walking they want you to do on take-off is annoying.
Although I did not notice this problem, some of the reviewers I mention above comment that, in the hands of poor instructors, the classroom content can be boring, and it is true that the range exercises are uninspiring and not very real. Interestingly, MSF itself has come up with a fix, in the shape of their new ARC-ST advanced riders course. (reviewed here). We will be looking out for a chance to take the ARC-ST soon, and, when the roll-out is complete, the ARC-ST might be a better candidate for ongoing training.
In summary, the ERC is a valuable refresher course for new riders who took the BRC six to twelve months previously, have bought their own motorcycles, and have ridden maybe 5000 miles or thereabouts. It should be viewed as a review of the skills learned in the BRC and a chance for remedial tutoring if needed. If you have major form issues that needed remediation in your first ERC, maybe you might take another in a year or so. But most riders, after an ERC, should be ready to do ongoing independent study and occasional skills practice. They'll be ready to move on to more challenging training - like Lee Parks Total Control, the MSF's upcoming ARC-ST or Jerry Paladino's 'Ride Like a Pro' after another year or two of experience.
Training is important, it should never be boring. It is very hard to make riding boring, but the ERC. as it is taught in some centers, comes dangerously close. The MSF needs to do some work on this offering.
ET signed up for this course online and paid the $75 course fee.
(Photo courtesy of sportsriders.com).