I remember being just as excited as I was nervous when I first signed up for the MSF course. Although I was always a big fan of motorcycles, I had never actually ridden one before – and was consequently worried I would have a hard time during the course.
Sure, I watched endless youtube videos explaining how to ride, but this could never compare to actually operating and testing on a motorcycle.
Luckily I found out that the course wasn’t as challenging as I expected, and with some preparation and determination, I was able to pass with confidence.
Although some parts of the course are challenging, it is not hard for a beginner to pass the MSF course. The course is designed with the complete beginner in mind and teaches you everything from the ground up, starting with the most basic concepts.
I actually had zero experience with motorcycles when I first took the MSF course. But with some exciting research and preparation, I was able to enter and pass the course with confidence.
For insight into some of the challenges beginners face during the MSF course, as well as ways you can overcome them, keep reading below.
What is the MSF Course and why is it essential for beginner riders?
First things first, it’s probably a good idea to explain what the MSF course is and why it’s important for beginner riders. After all, this is how I first got started riding motorcycles and after a few years on the bike, it is always the first thing I recommend to someone who wants to get their license.
Overview of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) Course
The MSF course – or BRC – is a motorcycle safety course offered by the state that teaches new and experienced motorcyclists how to ride safely and effectively. Successful completion of the MSF grants the rider a voucher for a motorcycle license without any further testing.
The course is designed with the absolute beginner in mind and goes over everything from basic motorcycle controls to defensive riding techniques.
Although each course varies from state to state, they all take place over the course of 2 days and consist of:
- Getting the right gear
- Reviewing the course materials
- Completing 5 hours of in-class study
- Completing 10 hours of training on the motorcycle
- The written test
- The final test on the motorcycle
For more detailed information on the course, check out this article on what to expect when you take the MSF course.
Importance of taking the MSF Course as a beginner rider
The MSF course is valuable for any rider regardless of their experience level, however, it is especially important for new and beginner riders.
In fact, if it were up to me, I would make the MSF course a necessary step for anyone wanting to get a motorcycle license.
There is so much value in the MSF course for a beginner rider that it is tough to go over in just a few paragraphs, however, here are a few of the most important reasons:
Building a Strong Foundation
The most important thing that the MSF course does is provide you with a safe and solid foundation upon which to build. And I put extra emphasis on the words “safe” and “solid”.
Riding a motorcycle can be counter-intuitive, especially for new riders just getting started. And if you get into a sticky situation on the motorcycle, your intuition can end up working against you.
The MSF does an amazing job of teaching you the exact techniques you need to not only survive the trials of riding but to avoid a lot of those scary situations in the first place.
Finally, those same techniques that keep you safe, also provide a solid foundation from which to build more advanced skills. Motorcycling is definitely a sport where you need to walk before you run. By going through the MSF course, you will be that much better than the riders who started doing advanced riding before they mastered the basics.
Professional Instruction from Experienced Riders
Another important aspect of the MSF course is that it allows new riders to learn from certified, experienced riders.
Not only are the instructors’ avid riders themselves, but they also have a lot of experience training riders from every age, experience, and background.
This is invaluable for beginner riders as they can observe and guide your learning journey in a way that is tailored to you specifically. And there is no better way to learn than from experienced teachers.
Understanding the challenges of the MSF Course for novice riders
It’s understandable to be worried about how hard the MSF course is. I remember researching every question related to the MSF course and I probably asked how hard it was 20 times.
After passing the course as a completely new rider, as well as hearing from some of my colleagues who did the same, there are a lot of common things new riders struggle with when it comes to the MSF course.
Common difficulties faced by beginner riders in the MSF Course
Here are some of the most common things new riders struggle with during the MSF course and I can confirm, as these are all things I encountered as well.
a. Looking where you want to go – Riding a motorcycle requires you to look where you want to go. And in a big motorcycle helmet, this requires you to rotate your entire head in a way that new riders are not yet used to. Instead, new riders tend to look with their eyes alone, which can severely limit your ability to maneuver the motorcycle as well as your overall confidence on the bike.
b. Clutch and throttle control – Another thing new riders struggle with is the interaction between the clutch and throttle. Getting the motorcycle moving requires the rider to balance their clutch and throttle inputs in a way that the bike starts and stops smoothly. Since new riders are still learning how these controls work, they can often make the mistake of giving the bike too much or too little input, causing the bike to feel unsettled and out of control, sometimes even stalling the bike.
c. Shifting gears – Shifting gears is another challenge for new riders as it involves more advanced manipulation of the clutch and throttle while adding the process of moving the gear selector up or down with your foot. Kicking the gear lever up or down isn’t really the hard part, it’s the fact that new riders are still adjusting the clutch and throttle, which have to be familiar before you start shifting the bike. Still, some riders can find it hard to find the gear lever and move it in a natural way.
c. Counter-steering – Counter steering can be a challenging concept for new riders to understand, as it seems completely counterintuitive to how you think a motorcycle works. The concept is that once a motorcycle gets over a certain speed, it actually turns best by slightly turning the handlebar in the opposite direction of where you want the bike to go. If you have any experience on a bicycle, you are likely already doing this naturally but for new riders who are just now learning the nuance of motorcycle riding, it can really throw your brain for a loop.
d. Emergency braking – Emergency braking is one of the drills that new riders struggle with the most because it is completely unfamiliar and can lead to a fall if done incorrectly. Most new riders don’t realize that the front brake is your main braking force. Add to that the fact that you can fall if you apply too much brake too soon or while the wheel is turned and riders are scared away from emergency braking altogether.
e. Slow-speed maneuvers – New riders struggle with slow-speed maneuvers for a few reasons. On one hand, they are still learning how to balance and loosen up on the bike. On the other hand, slow-speed maneuvers require the rider to look where they want to go and have a good grasp of the throttle and clutch. As you can imagine, this causes a little trouble when the rider is learning all this at once.
c. Asking questions and seeking clarification – The MSF course can feel like it is moving at a fast pace, often times new riders are too nervous or embarrassed to speak up if they miss something or if they need further clarification. When I took my course, I remember being lost on the steps for one of the drills. Right before we started doing the drill, one of the other students raised their hand to ask if the instructors could demonstrate the drill again. I then watched as almost everyone else in the class agreed that they didn’t know what to do – we were all too nervous to speak up. Had that one person not spoken up, we would have all struggled to do the drill.
The physical and mental demands of the MSF Course
New riders can also be surprised by some of the mental and physical demands that come with taking the course. I was taken aback by some of these things during the course of my first day.
a. Being Tense and Stiff – Even with the smaller size of the motorcycles for the course, new riders can feel a little intimidated wielding such a heavy piece of machinery. This nervousness often translates to them being more tense and stiff on the motorcycle. Telltale signs are the death grip on the handlebars, straight arms with little to no bend, and stiff posture on the bike.
b. Preparing for the physical challenges – You would be surprised how sore you can get from learning how to ride a motorcycle. Your fingers and forearms will be sore from operating the clutch and throttle. Your back and core will be tired from supporting you on the bike and your neck and shoulder muscles will be burning from supporting the weight of a motorcycle helmet. Overall, you are going to be a lot sorer than you expect.
d. Stay hydrated and take breaks – Learning to ride a motorcycle can be demanding on your body. In addition to getting a good night’s rest and eating a good breakfast, you should remember to take breaks and stay hydrated.
c. Staying focused during class and practice sessions – The MSF course can feel like it is moving fast, especially once you start doing the drills on the motorcycle. Some riders can get easily distracted or lose focus, this can be a huge issue if you miss the instructions or freeze up during a drill.
e. Maintaining a positive attitude – Finally, new riders can struggle with keeping a positive attitude. While you’re learning, it is normal to make mistakes. If a rider makes too many mistakes or gets too nervous, they will start to develop a negative mindset, which will ultimately impact how well they do and feel during the course.
While each rider is unique and will struggle with different aspects of the course, these are some of the most common. If you are heading into the course as a complete beginner, check out this article on what to expect when you take the MSF with no experience.
How to prepare for the MSF Course as a beginner rider
If you are wanting to do your best during the course and even have a little fun, you should try to prepare for the course as much as possible. I actually have an article that will help you get fully prepared for the MS course but here are a few things you can keep in mind as well.
Requirements for taking the MSF Course
a. Age and licensing requirements – Most states require that the rider be at least 15 years old to apply for the MSF course. Riders between 15-18 will need permission from a guardian in order to take the course. As well, riders who sign up for the MSF course but have yet to get a driver’s license will also need to test for the Class D license upon completion of the MSF. Older riders or riders who already hold a Class D license have the least requirements and can get their motorcycle endorsement without any further testing.
b. Safety gear requirements – The next most important requirements for the MSF course are the safety gear requirements. Your course website will provide this but you can also find the list on the official MSF website, here are what they are:
- DOT-compliant helmet
- Eye protection
- Long-sleeve shirt or jacket
- Long, non-flare pants made of denim or equivalent or more durable material
- Over-the-ankle boots (sturdy, not canvas)
- Full-finger gloves, preferably leather
Again, your course usually provides all this information on its website or in its welcome email, however, it doesn’t hurt to check out the official source. And if you are looking for even more information, check out this article on the gear you need for the MSF.
Pre-course preparation tips for beginner riders
In addition to making sure you meet the basic requirements, you can also prepare by:
a. Reading the welcome email/course overview information – Your course will typically provide a welcome document that goes over the course requirements, itinerary, and even a link to the official MSF Handbook. By reading this document, you can often get a headstart on preparing for the class.
c. Study your state’s motorcycle handbook – As I said, you can easily get a copy of the MSF handbook online – the same handbook that you study and test on in the class. By reading this before the class, you can go in with a lot of confidence on each topic. This is what I did and I passed the written test with ease.
a. Familiarize yourself with the basic motorcycle controls – You can get this information from the handbook but I actually recommend that you watch a Youtube video that goes over the basic motorcycle controls. By visually seeing all the buttons, controls, and locations, you will already be familiar with the motorcycle during the class and can focus more on the drills.
b. Practice balance and coordination through activities like bicycling – Believe it or not, a lot of the skills you learn while riding a bike will apply to riding a motorcycle. You learn things like balance, vision, coordination, and even countersteering. By taking the time to do some slow-speed maneuvers on a bicycle, you can really prepare yourself for some of the MSF course drills.
d. Connect with other riders and ask for advice – Finally, you should seek to connect with other riders to get their advice and perspective. There are a lot of nuances to the sport of motorcycle riding and by connecting with other riders, you can get unique and helpful information you wouldn’t otherwise know.
Again, if you are looking for a more complete guide to get you prepared, check out this article on how you can completely prepare for the MSF course.
Tips for passing the MSF Course as a new rider
If you made it this far then you have not only earned my respect, but I have a feeling you will most likely pass the MSF. And to help you improve your odds, here are a few tips to help you pass.
Before the Course
a. Review the Registration/Confirmation email – This email usually contains all the information you need to prepare for the course. It has things like when and where to arrive, what gear you need, and even links to the official MSF study guides and practice tests.
b. Get the right gear – Getting the right gear is essential, in fact, you could be turned away if you arrive at the class without the right gear. The required gear list is provided during registration but for a complete guide, check out this article on what you should wear to the MSF course.
c. Get a good night’s rest – There’s a good chance that you already know this but make sure you are well rested. You don’t want to be tired and unfocused while learning to ride.
d. Bring enough food and water – Keep yourself hydrated and make sure you eat enough food. The MSF course is surprisingly taxing, you will need to eat more than you expect just to keep your energy up.
e. Study the official MSF handbook – This is a common theme throughout the article and for good reason. The more time you spend reviewing the official MSF study guide, the easier it will be for you to pass the MSF written test.
Review the official course info – Take it a step further and review the course info while you’re on the MSF website. Not only will you find additional resources to help you prepare for the class, but it also details all of the drills and exercises you will be practicing – including the ones you will be tested on.
f. Bicycle practice – My final tip for this section is to go out and practice on a bicycle if you can. A lot of the same concepts you learn during the course apply when you are riding a bike. Things like looking where you want to go, counterbalancing, and even countersteering. It can also get you prepped for being back on 2 wheels again if it’s been a while.
During Classroom Study
a. Take notes during class – Feel free to underline or notate anything you learn when you’re going through the class workbook. You can save a mental note of anything that stands out so you can review it later.
c. Participate in class discussions – Another helpful tip is to participate in any class discussions. You can get a better understanding of certain concepts and even solidify some you are unfamiliar with.
e. Ask questions during class – If you having trouble understanding something, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions. It can save you worry and help you pass when it comes to the final test.
During the Motorcycle practice drills
a. Look with your head, not just your eyes – Remember to rotate your head so it is facing the direction you want to go. This can feel unnatural and tough to remember at first but will give you a lot more confidence and will also drastically improve how well you complete the drills.
b. Practice with the “friction zone” – The friction zone is the point where the clutch begins to engage and deliver your throttle inputs to the back wheel. It is just a few millimeters of travel on the throttle lever but is actually really important for keeping the motorcycle smooth and controlled. The class has you practice with this during one of the first drills but you can also practice in between drills by “rocking” the bike back and forth. This is another one of those things where the better you are with it, the better you will be during the rest of the course.
c. Stay in the “friction zone” during slow speed maneuvers – A lot of new riders have the habit of using too little throttle and either no or too much clutch during slow speed maneuvers. This makes the motorcycle even more unstable, making the rider lose confidence. By keeping the motorcycle in the friction zone, you are also keeping the motorcycle at its most stable point. Along with this next tip, this will give you a crazy amount of confidence during slow-speed drills.
f. Drag the rear brake – In addition to staying in the friction zone during slow speed drills, dragging the rear brake is another way to improve your control and confidence on the motorcycle. By dragging the rear brake, you can “ground” the motorcycle in a way that makes it feel more connected to the ground.
d. Braking smoothly and effectively – During the course you will learn that your front brake is the majority of your braking force. Your front brake can stop you a lot better than you expect but you can’t be “jerky” with your inputs and you should only brake in a straight line. If you are smooth with the initial pull on the brake lever, you can actually end up applying more brake than you expect – and with confidence too.
d. Ask questions about the motorcycle drills – Just like the classroom, remember to ask questions and get clarification on the drills. And don’t be afraid to speak up if you miss something.
Mistakes to avoid during the MSF Course
a. Not paying attention in class – The course can feel like it is moving fast at times. Make sure you are paying attention because you could struggle with the drills or the instructors might not think you are taking it seriously.
b. Focusing too much on speed rather than technique – Being smooth is the first step to becoming fast. Make sure you prioritize learning the techniques first so you can safely and confidently build your speed and skills.
c. Not wearing the right gear – I know I already touched on this but this could make or break you. Not only can you be excused from class by not wearing the right gear, you can also struggle during the course if your gear doesn’t do its job. I actually dive deeper into this in my article on what you need to wear to the MSF course.
d. Comparing yourself to other riders – Some people come from different backgrounds or learn at a different pace, don’t compare yourself to them. Enjoy your own learning experience and only worry about improving your own skills.
e. Becoming overly anxious or frustrated – Again, you don’t want to start feeling anxious or frustrated during the course. Your mindset can play a huge role in how well you do. Give yourself a headstart and make sure you keep a positive mindset regardless of what happens.
Here are a few other things to consider when you’re thinking about taking the MSF course.
Is the MSF Course required to get a motorcycle license?
The MSF Course isn’t always required for a motorcycle license, as requirements vary by state. However, taking the course offers valuable safety training and skill development. Alternatively, some states offer other licensing options like state-specific courses or testing directly at the DMV.
What if I don’t pass the MSF Course on my first attempt?
If you don’t pass the MSF Course on your first try, don’t worry! You can often retake the course or specific test portions. Seek extra instruction or practice outside the course, and remember that failure is a natural part of the learning process, helping you become a safer rider.
What should I expect after completing the MSF Course?
After completing the MSF Course, expect to obtain your motorcycle license or endorsement, buy your first bike, and continue developing your riding skills. Consider joining local riding groups and participating in motorcycle events to enhance your experience and expand your motorcycling network.