I remember being just as excited as I was nervous when I first signed up for the MSF course. This would be my first experience with a motorcycle and I was determined to pass. After a lot of research and persistence, I was able to pass the MSF course with confidence and have these tips for new riders who hope to do the same.
To pass the MSF course, study the course material and MSF Handbook, practice key skills, and wear appropriate gear. Pay attention to instructors, ask questions, and apply feedback. Stay calm during final tests and use tips such as maintaining the friction zone and looking where you want to go.
For a more thorough breakdown of how you can pass the MSF course, I add a little more information on each step as well as some tips that helped me pass.
Familiarize yourself with the course material
When you first sign up for the MSF course, the course provider will give you a paper or send you an email that goes over the course material.
By reviewing the course material from the provider as well as any recommendations from the instructors, you can really prepare yourself for the course and improve your chances of passing.
The course material that you receive when you sign up for the class includes;
Date, Time, and Location
Most important is the date, time, and location. You need to be aware of this before the class so you can make sure you show up on time and are prepared for the class. If you show up late or unprepared because you were running late, you have a chance of being dropped from the class.
The course material will also include information on what gear you need for the course. This is equally as important as showing up on time because you can be turned away if you show up to the class without the right gear. To help you prepare, check out this article on what gear you need to wear to the MSF course.
Recommended Study Guides
Most course material will include a list of recommended study guides. This is actually how I found out that the official MSF Study Guide is available online for free. There is even a $20 course you can take before the course that can help you better prepare. By reviewing and using these guides to study, you can almost guarantee that you’ll pass the written portion of the MSF course.
How to Prepare for the Course
Some instructors will also send additional information on how you can prepare for the course. Not only with these be resources on study guides but can also be helpful tips like getting a good night’s rest and stretching.
How to Contact the Instructors
Finally, the course material will include the contact information for the instructors in case you have any questions or need any further assistance.
Just by reviewing the course material, you can get a lot of helpful information and tips to better prepare for the course. And being prepared is one of the easiest ways to go into the course with the confidence you will need to pass.
Make sure you have the right gear
Another way to improve your chances of passing the MSF course is to make sure you have the right gear.
I mentioned this in the point above but this really deserves a little more explanation.
In addition to learning the course material, new riders are also learning how to wear motorcycle gear and deal with the physical challenges of riding a motorcycle.
Having the right gear will allow access to the MSF course but will also give you the confidence and feel you need to pass the MSF course.
To better explain, here is the list of gear you need for the MSF course along with some tips to help you pick the right gear.
The MSF course requires that you wear a DOT-approved Helmet – which is easy to find, but I recommend taking things a step further and visiting your local Cyclegear or motorcycle store. This will give you the opportunity to try many different helmets and you can also work with a store employee to get fitted. This is actually really important for new riders who are taking the course. Adjusting to the weight and fit of a motorcycle helmet can be a challenge, especially if you end up with a helmet that is too heavy or too tight, or loose around your head. If you are struggling with your helmet during the course, you can be easily distracted or have trouble turning your head to maintain good vision.
If you choose not to wear a full-face helmet to the course, you will need to make sure you have some sort of eye protection. Most courses will allow anything from goggles to safety glasses so it’s important to check your course instructions. Just keep in mind that you will be relying on your vision a lot during the class, so make sure you choose eyewear that doesn’t impair your vision in any way.
Next, you are going to need a set of full-fingered gloves. You can get away with wearing just about any type of glove but I recommend wearing motorcycle-specific gloves. Also, try to wear a “lightweight” glove. While your hands are getting used to gripping the throttle, clutch, and brake, you can make the maneuvers easier with motorcycle gloves that are designed for the bend in the fingers. As well, having lightweight gloves will allow you a better feel and articulation so you can get used to the friction zone and brake feel.
Over-the-Ankle Boots or Shoes
The MSF course requires you to wear over-the-ankle boots or shoes. And for this one, I recommend wearing lightweight motorcycle shoes or boots you are very familiar with. As a new rider just learning the feel of a brake and shift lever, your boots need to be easy to maneuver but also provide enough sole support to not get sore from the pegs.
Long-Sleeve Shirt or Jacket
You are also required to wear a long-sleeve jacket or shirt. You can wear almost anything you want but pick a good shirt or jacket for the weather. The last thing you want is to be out there sweating bullets or freezing in the cold while you learn to ride a motorcycle.
Jeans or Sturdy Pants
Finally, make sure to wear a comfortable set of jeans or pants. Again, this will depend on the weather but you can never go wrong with a good pair of jeans.
If you are looking for more information or some recommendations, check out this article on what gear you need for the course. Just remember that the gear you choose can play a role in how well you do in the MSF course, and if your goal is to pass, make sure you pick the right gear for you.
Study the MSF Handbook
One of the best ways to improve your chances of passing the MSF course is to make sure you study the official MSF handbook. You can easily find this for free online, along with different practice tests and similar guides.
The MSF Handbook goes over all of the same questions and topics you will find on the final written exam. By studying and understanding all the lessons in the study guide, you can virtually guarantee that you will pass the written portion of the MSF test.
This is actually a huge confidence booster, as you will easily follow along during the classroom study and can focus more of your attention on learning the motorcycle drills.
Review the MSF Course Exercises
While you’re on the MSF course website, you can also find additional resources that clue you into what to expect.
A great way to improve your chances of passing the MSF course is to review the official list of drills and exercises on the MSF website. By reviewing these exercises, you can better understand what you will be doing on the motorcycle and better prepare yourself.
The drills can be intimidating, even for experienced riders. And for new riders, it can feel like the class is moving at a fast pace. To help you better prepare and improve your chances of passing the course, here is a list of MSF course drills and tips for helping you master them.
Motorcycle Familiarization and TCLOCs
One of the first drills you will do on the motorcycle is a familiarization with the controls as well as a pre-ride inspection assigned the acronym TCLOCS. If you reviewed the MSF handbook before the class, you should already know all of this. Extra points if you watched a Youtube video on motorcycle controls.
Using the Friction Zone
The first riding drill will be introducing you to the concept of the friction zone – which is basically the bite point where the clutch starts giving power to the back wheel. The drill will have you walking the bike around the practice area using the friction zone and a little bit of throttle.
A lot of newer riders struggle with this step and end up stalling the bike or giving it too much throttle. A good tip for learning the friction zone is to keep the throttle steady and focus on the smooth movement of the clutch lever. Give the bike a little bit of throttle and keep it steady, then start slowly releasing the clutch lever until the bike starts moving. If it feels like the bike is going to stall, you may just need a sliver more throttle.
Although you practice the friction zone in one drill, you will be using and mastering the friction zone throughout the entire course. A tip for getting good with the friction zone is to practice with it any chance you get – when you finish your drills, when you’re waiting your turn, or when you’re awaiting instruction.
Anytime you are on the motorcycle is a good chance to practice with the friction zone. I did this in between drills during the whole course. I would just rock the bike back and forth using the friction zone and brake, getting more and more familiar with the friction zone.
Starting and Stopping Drill
The next few drills will begin introducing you to braking on a motorcycle. This is where a lot of new riders can be nervous, especially when they find out that the front brake is the main braking force on a motorcycle.
There was actually a student who dropped the motorcycle twice during the class I took and both times were during a braking drill. But don’t worry too much, there are actually two really easy rules to follow when it comes to braking so that you can avoid falling and actually improve your chances of passing.
To avoid dropping the motorcycle and actually improve your ability to brake, only brake when the front wheel is pointed straight and remember to apply the brake slowly and smoothly for the first 1-10% braking pressure.
Just like being smooth with the throttle and clutch, having a steady and smooth braking hand is the key to being able to pass all the braking drills. Because once you get used to applying the first 1-10% of braking smoothly, you can start to brake more aggressively and effectively.
To better understand what I’m talking about, check out this video from the pros at YCRS.
Shifting and Stopping
After practicing starting and braking, its time to get enough speed to learn how to shift.
Shifting can be a challenge for new riders but is actually really easy to get used to. If you watch a few videos on how to shift a motorcycle, you will have a pretty good understanding of how to do it.
By the time you get to this drill, you have already practiced with the clutch and throttle enough to be comfortable learning how to shift the motorcycle.
My course didn’t really go over shifting until it was needed during one of the drills.
Basic Skills Practice
The next portion of the course will have you going through a series of slow-speed maneuvers. This part is usually not too challenging and typically consists of riding and stopping within certain lines. You may even make a few loops around the riding area.
This is a great time to start practicing looking where you want to go.
Looking where you want to go requires you to turn your whole head instead of just your eyes and just like learning the friction zone, you will be mastering your vision throughout the entire course.
This is actually one of the most important things to keep in mind throughout the course. Looking where you want to go will give you confidence and will also make it easier to complete the exercises.
The next few drills will involve riding the motorcycle at faster speeds through a series of turns.
These drills introduce you to the concept of countersteering and the process of pressing on the bars to start and adjust lean.
Countersteering can really throw you off, as it seems counter-intuitive but is actually really natural in practice. If you’ve ever ridden a bike, there’s a chance you are already familiar with this.
In fact, you can really benefit from riding a bicycle before your MSF course. You will get familiar with countersteering as well as other skills that will help you on the motorcycle.
Again, remember to look far into each turn by turning your whole head. This will make your turns smoother and more confident.
Tight Turns from a Stop
One of the most challenging drills for new riders is making tight turns from a stopped position.
These drills are challenging because they require commitment, good vision and good control with the friction zone.
I struggled with these drills a lot because I would focus on the cones as opposed to where I wanted to go. I was also a nervous nelly and wouldn’t fully commit, making my movements more jerky and affecting my confidence.
To help you master these drills, trust the motorcycle as well as your control of the friction zone. As long as you keep giving the bike throttle, it will want to stay up right.
As well, make sure you are looking where you want to go instead of the cones below you. You will find that you will naturally end up riding the motorcycle where you are looking.
Stopping Quickly and Safely
The course can start to feel like it is ramping up, as you will now start practicing emergency braking
This is where a lot of students get nervous because of the risk of falling. In fact, one of the students in the class I took ended up crashing twice during these braking drills.
I already mentioned this in an early step, however, you can really improve ability to the safely and quickly stop a motorcycle by sticking to these 4 rules
- Remember that the front brake is 80% of your braking force
- Only apply the brakes when the front wheel is pointing straight ahead
- Never apply the brakes and throttle at the same time
- Apply the brakes in smooth 1% increments until you can build up more pressure.
Rule 4 is really the kicker, you can actually apply quite a bit of braking force but you have to make sure your initial inputs are slow and smooth so you can load the tire and suspension.
Again, for a better demonstration of this, check out this video from YCRS ChampSchool or this one from Motojitsu.
Limited Space Manuevers
The next set of drills will have you going through another set of limited space maneuvers.
This is another one new riders struggle with because it features the dreaded Figure 8 drill.
Luckily you can really master these drills by using some of the same tips I mentioned earlier as well as a few new ones.
- Stay in the friction zone – the motorcycle will be more stable and controlled
- Look where you want to go – this will make it easier to maneuver the motorcycle
- Drag or Use the rear brake to regulate speed – using the rear brake during slow speed drills will help you better control your speed and will make you feel more grounded on the bike
Just as I mentioned, you will be mastering vision and the friction zone throughout the course but I added a secret tip with dragging the rear brake. I will develop on this more below but keep this in mind for the slow-speed drills.
Stopping in a Curve
If the emergency braking drills make new riders nervous, the next drill is an absolute nightmare.
These drills will teach you how to stop in a turn – which consists of straightening the motorcycle out before applying the brake. Remember the rules for using the front brake.
Sadly, this is the drill where one of my peers fell his second time. He accidentally applied the front brake while the front wheel was still turned, causing him to lose traction and fall.
You can easily master this drill by applying the same techniques you did during the emergency braking drills, just remember to straighten out the motorcycle and front wheel before you start to apply the brakes.
Multiple Curves and Lane Changes
The next set of drills will take you through multiple curves and the etiquette for changing lanes.
I always viewed this as a “break” from all the more challenging drills as it’s really easy to complete, especially if you seem to understand the drills before this one.
Still, remember to look by turning your whole head, you should act as if your eyes can’t move and you must look by turning your head.
Crossing an Obstacle and Swerving
One of the last drills you will do will be learning to swerve and cross an obstacle in the road.
These are actually really natural, especially if you have a lot of experience riding bicycles.
Swerving will require you to counterbalance the motorcycle, something you have been mastering during your slow-speed drills.
Crossing an obstacle is a new one and will require you to slightly raise your butt off the seat using your legs as “suspension”.
Practice Skills on a Bicycle
Believe it or not, you can actually improve your chances of passing the MSF course by practicing riding a bike for a week before the course.
Riding a bike will allow you to learn a few skills that work the same on a motorcycle
Countersteering works the same on a bicycle as it does on a motorcycle.
Try to get your bike up to speed and start taking turns. You will notice that you don’t actually turn the handlebars to turn the bike, instead, you press on the handlebars to initiate and adjust your lean.
You can also practice counterbalancing on a bicycle. This will help you feel more confident during slow-speed drills on the motorcycle.
You will naturally counterbalance the bike when you are riding at slow speeds but you can supercharge this skill by trying to do trackstands.
A trackstand is where you keep the bike upright without pedaling or putting a foot down. By practicing these on a bicycle, you will be a master at counter-balancing by the time you get to the MSF course.
Looking where you want to go
This is an easy one but still, one to be mindful of.
Riding a bicycle can help you improve the habit of looking where you want to go.
This is one of the skills you will be learning throughout the entire course so it can be a huge help to get some practice in on the bike.
Prepare Mentally and Physically
In addition to preparing for the motorcycle drills and study material, you also have to prepare mentally and physically.
You don’t want to underestimate the mental and physical demands of taking the MSF course, as they can actually play a huge role in your success.
Mentally Preparing for the MSF Course
Just like any big learning experience or test, you have to mentally prepare yourself and your mindset.
Learning to ride a motorcycle can be challenging and it’s easy for students to get nervous or feel discouraged. By entering the course with a determined mental attitude, you severely increase your chances of passing. Not only will you be able to fight through any challenges, you will also have a better level of focus.
Staying focused is also another good aspect of mentally preparing for the MSF course. You will need to listen to instructions, remember processes, and take feedback. Making sure you are focused on learning will help you master each drill and improve your chances of passing.
Physically Preparing for the MSF Course
Believe it or not, learning to ride a motorcycle can take its toll on your body. From the weight of the helmet to the act of constantly playing with a clutch and front brake all day, you will definitely feel sore in places you never expected to.
If you are in decent enough shape or if you’re pretty active, it may not affect you as much. But for us couch potatoes, you will be feeling it long before the day is up.
To help prepare yourself physically for the MSF course, you can do all the things like getting a good night’s rest, eating a good breakfast the day of the course, and making sure you stay hydrated, but you can also do some more specific things like riding a bike, doing some hand and forearm exercises and learning to stretch your neck and shoulder muscles.
Learn from the Instructors
An unexpected but equally as important aspect of passing the MSF course is being able to learn from your instructors.
Remember that they are avid riders themselves and have likely trained many students from all backgrounds. Not only that, they are able to demonstrate each and every drill with ease – something I bet some “experienced” riders would still struggle with.
Here are some tips to help you learn from the instructors and pass the MSF course:
Listen carefully to your instructor’s guidance
Make sure you are always paying attention when they are explaining any drills or concepts. You don’t want to end up doing the exercises wrong or looking like you’re not taking things seriously.
Also remember to follow instructions mid-drill too, like if they ask you to speed up or look further out.
Ask questions when you need clarification
This is one that even I struggled with. There were times when I felt like the course was moving a little fast or I missed something when they were explaining the drill.
Don’t be afraid to speak up or ask questions when you need further clarification.
You are always better off getting a better understanding versus struggling or missing something in the course.
Apply the instructors’ feedback during the course
Finally, remember to listen and apply the instructors’ feedback during the course.
Again, they are there to help you pass and learn a lifelong hobby. Don’t take anything personally or get discouraged, most feedback is there to help you pass the course.
Stay Calm and Confident During the Final Tests
The last step to passing the MSF course is making sure you remain calm and confident during the final exams.
Even though you have been training for 2 days, it is easy to get nervous when it comes time to actually test on some of the things you learned.
By remaining calm and confident, you will have better control over the motorcycle and can more easily avoid mistakes.
Tips to help you pass
I mentioned some of these throughout the article but they really deserve a separate mention. Here are some of my favorite tips for passing the MSF course and learning how to ride.
Drag the rear brake
Dragging the rear brake helps you regulate your speed during low-speed drills and can help you and your motorcycle more grounded. Fortnine has a great video on this where they compare dragging the rear brake to pulling a trailer behind the motorcycle.
Not only will it make you smoother during slow speed drills, you will feel a lot more confident on the motorcycle too.
Look where you want to go
This is one we all struggle with but it’s one of the most important rules to riding, always look where you want to go.
The motorcycle will naturally go where you are looking, this can either work for or against you. New riders have a habit of looking at the ground directly in front of their motorcycles and it can really get you in trouble.
By looking where you want to go and trusting the bike, you can severely improve your confidence and understanding of the motorcycle.
Practice friction zone any chance you can
The friction zone is your best friend when you’re doing slow-speed maneuvers – it keeps the motorcycle stable, helps you maintain control of the bike, and allows you to develop a smoother hand when it comes to riding.
By practicing with the friction zone any chance you get, you can really improve how well you handle the motorcycle. This also allows you to perform the rest of the motorcycle drills better as well.
Keep the motorcycle in the friction zone
Piggybacking off that last tip, remember to keep the motorcycle in the friction zone when you are doing slow-speed maneuvers.
The motorcycle will be at its most stable and you will have better control, making it way easier to complete all the drills.
As new riders, it’s easy to get nervous and pull in the clutch or completely let off the throttle. This dramatically unsettles the motorcycle and makes it that much harder to control.
By staying in the friction zone, you will always have control over the bike and can make it perform more smoothly and predictably.
In conclusion, you can really improve your chances of passing the MSF course by completing some of the recommendations in this article.
With just a little preparation and determination, you could be on your way to another lifelong hobby.