Taking the MSF Course With No Experience

motorcycles on side of road

I remember being pretty nervous about taking the MSF course. Although I mountain biked frequently, I had absolutely no experience with any type of motorcycle. Luckily, I found out there was nothing to worry about, even though I was a complete beginner with no experience.

It is fine to take the MSF course with no experience as the course is designed for beginners that have no experience with a motorcycle. The course teaches everything you need to know about how to operate a motorcycle as well as how to think like a motorcyclist. It can be a good thing going into the course with no experience, as you will not have to unlearn any bad habits.

New riders do not have to be nervous about taking the MSF. Keep reading if you want to learn what to expect when you take the MSF with no experience.

The MSF Course is Designed for Absolute Beginners

A lot of aspiring riders will be nervous when it comes to taking the MSF course. On one hand, it can be exciting to ride a motorcycle for the first time. On the other hand, having no experience can make you worried that you will mess up or fail.

The good news is that the MSF course was designed for the absolute beginner – meaning you do not have to have any experience with a motorcycle or dirtbike before taking the course.

In fact, it can actually be a good thing coming into the course with no experience, as the instructors don’t want you to have to unlearn any bad habits.

This is why the course starts with the most basic understanding of a motorcycle and its controls. They want to start your learning from the ground up, so they can reinforce the best and safest habits from that start.

The goal of the MSF is to help riders get started with safe habits, even if they have never seen a motorcycle in real life.

What to Expect

As I mentioned before, the course is designed for the absolute beginner and will progress accordingly. But if you’re looking to be as prepared as possible, check out this guide on preparing for the MSF course. Here is what you can expect when taking the MSF course with no experience.

Before the Class

After signing up for the course, you will receive a confirmation email that lists where the class is, what time to be there, along with the gear you need to participate. Pay special attention to any rules or requirements, especially when it comes to gear. You can be turned away if you are not wearing the required gear for the class.

This email should also include a list of study material, with the most important thing being the Official MSF Handbook.

Make sure you study the MSF Handbook before you take the class. This will give you a good understanding of what it takes to ride a motorcycle safely but will also prepare you for the written and study portion of the class.

Finally, the email will give you better details on what gear to wear. Again, make sure you follow the rules set out by the course as you can be turned away for wearing the wrong gear.

Classroom Instruction

The MSF course starts in the classroom where you will meet your instructors as well as your other classmates. They will have everyone introduce themselves and will then start passing around the paperwork. This is also the time when they will check to make sure everyone has the appropriate gear.

Once you get done signing the paperwork, you will start learning and studying from the MSF workbook. This is where you will learn the safety skills you need to know as well as how to think like a motorcyclist.

One of the first things you will learn is how to identify the different motorcycle controls along with their functions. Before you step foot on a motorcycle, the instructors want you to feel comfortable finding and using these controls.

They will then take you out on the field with the motorcycles, so you can learn how to start and stop a motorcycle. This will be your first experience on a motorcycle but will be short-lived as you go back to the classroom to review and prepare for the riding drills.

At some point over the 2 days of the course, you will also be expected to complete the written test. It is based on what you learned in class.

Drills on the Motorcycle

After the classroom instruction, you will finally be ready to hop on a motorcycle and start going through the course drills.

While some schools have a fleet of the same type of motorcycle, it is more common that your course will have a mix of different types of motorcycles – typically a mix between cruiser-style motorcycles and dual-sport style motorcycles. And although they will all be 125-250cc’s, the style of motorcycle you choose can have an effect on how well you do during the course.

Cruiser-style motorcycles are lower to the ground and less intimidating to learn on. Dual-sport style motorcycles are better suited for taller riders, but can also be easier to maneuver through the drills. Whichever motorcycle you choose, make sure you are happy with it, as it will be the motorcycle you use for the rest of the MSF course.

As far as the actual drills on the motorcycle, you will start with the basics and eventually work your way up to the more complicated maneuvers.

It can be a little intimidating at first but the instructors will explain the drills, demonstrate the drills themselves, and will then line the students up to complete the drills in single-file order.

During the drills, they will also be observing and coaching each student. Try to take advantage of this and give each drill your best shot, this will help you prepare for the test portion where there is no room for error.

The drills start simple and build on the previous skills. Here is a quick breakdown of the drills you will do and how you will progress from there.

Motorcycle Familiarization

The first drills you will do on the motorcycle will be all about familiarization. This will include your pre-ride inspections, how to mount and dismount the motorcycle as well as the basic controls. This is all about making you familiar and comfortable with the motorcycle. This will prepare you for the next set of drills where you will be driving the motorcycle.

Using the Friction Zone

The next drill teaches you about the Friction Zone. This refers to the balancing act between the clutch and throttle and will involve “walking” the motorcycle around the course area. There is a point where the clutch disengages and stops putting power to the back wheel, regardless of how much throttle you use. The walking drill will give you a chance to know how much clutch and throttle you need to avoid taking off and stalling.

Starting and Stopping Drill

The next drill will involve getting the motorcycle up to speed so you can learn to stop safely and effectively. Stopping correctly is one of the most important skills you will learn in the course and will be the foundation for a lot of the drills you do from there.

Shifting and Stopping

Finally, you are ready to start to get the motorcycle up to speed. This is where you will learn to shift the motorcycle into second gear. This takes some of the skills you learned with the friction zone and adds a slight movement with your foot. And as you can expect, this will also involve learning to brake at a faster speed.

Low-Speed Skills Practice

Now that you have practiced with the clutch, throttle, and brake, the drills will progress to low-speed maneuvers. This will involve slower speeds and tighter turns, which teach you how to use your balance along with the friction zone to keep the motorcycle upright.

Countersteering and Adjusting Lean

In contrast to the previous drill, the next drill will get you back up to speed as you learn how to navigate wide turns. This will teach and show you one of the most important aspects of riding a motorcycle – Countersteering. While the speed can be intimidating at first, you will naturally start to lean your body and push on the handlebars to complete turns of varying degrees.

Tight Turns from a Stop

Slowing things back down, the next set of drills will involve making tight turns from a stop. This is one of the drills a lot of people struggle with as it really challenges your comfort with the friction zone as well as balancing the bike.

Emergency Braking

Although you have been practicing varying degrees of braking, the next drill will focus specifically on emergency braking. The instructors will place cones a certain distance apart and will ask you to get up to speed before braking within the distance of those cones. They will then shorten this distance one to two times so you get progressively better at stopping.

Limited-Space Maneuvers

The next set of drills will be a series of slow-speed maneuvers within a limited amount of space. This will include the dreaded figure 8 drill as well as slow-speed drills around and through cones. This will be your official introduction to counterbalancing the motorcycle, an essential skill for riding a motorcycle at slow speeds or on unsure terrain.

Stopping in a Curve

This next drill can be intimidating for new riders but is just as essential for your safety on the bike. You need to be able to stop during a turn. Luckily, the instructors will ask you the straighten the bike before applying the brakes, which is something you have practiced quite a bit up to this point.

Crossing an Obstacle & Swerving

One of the last drills you learn will deal with what you should do if you encounter an object on the road. These drills will teach you how to avoid an object by swerving and will show you how to cross an object when it can’t be avoided. This involves riding over a plank of wood or swerving to the side depending on what the instructor says. Again, be prepared to incorporate braking into this drill at some point.

Once you finish all the drills, it will be time to take a break before you move on to actual testing.


Once you complete all the drills and coursework, you will be tested. There’s a good chance you were already tested for the written portion of the MSF course, however, this is the time for you to take the riding portion of the test.

The instructors will typically give you a short break around this time but be prepared for the test when you come back.

The riding portion of the test consists of; the cone weave, a normal stop, turning from a stop, the U-turn or figure-8, an emergency stop, obstacle avoidance, and cornering.

Although this includes a lot of the same drills you did over the 2-day course, this time there will be no room for error. Crossing a line during a cone drill or stopping farther than the allotted distance during a braking drill can deduct points from your score.

If you lose too many points, you may not be able to pass the test.

Is the MSF Course Difficult?

The MSF course can be intimidating, especially if you’re worried about not having any experience.

But how hard is the MSF?

The MSF course can be challenging but is not hard to complete or pass. The course is designed to teach beginners and will start with the most basic lessons to allow you time to learn how to operate the motorcycle. You can easily progress through the course as you learn the skills to ride.

Even though the course is designed for beginners, I still recommend that you know how to ride a bike and even practice on a bike a few days before the course.

Riding a motorcycle is harder than riding a bike but a lot of the concepts are the same. A motorcycle just adds more weight and a few skills to get moving.

How Can I Prepare for the MSF Course?

Even if you have no experience, you can still get a huge headstart by preparing for the MSF course. Not only will this calm any nerves you have, but it will also set you up for success.

Here are a few ways you can prepare for the MSF course:

  • Eat and Sleep Well

Just like any big event, you should get a good night’s rest before the course. And on the morning of, make sure you eat a healthy and filling breakfast. This will help you have the energy for a full day of learning, as the course can be taxing on the body of new riders.

  • Study the MSF Handbook

You can study the MSF handbook well before the course and it’s a good idea too. This will prepare you for the written portion of the test and will also help you learn to think like a motorcyclist.

  • Wear the Right Gear

Wearing the right gear is mandatory and you can be turned away if you don’t come prepared. Make sure you read the registration email with instructions or check out this guide on wearing the right gear to the MSF course. This explains what gear you need to wear and why.

  • Review the Basic Motorcycle Controls

There are endless Youtube videos online that go over the basic controls and operation of a motorcycle. To better prepare yourself, watch a few of these videos to familiarize yourself well before the course. This will give you a great headstart and will help you learn that much faster. For a great video explaining the basic functions of a motorcycle, check out this video from Dan Dan the Fireman.

  • Practice on a Bike

Surprisingly, you can prepare for the MSF course by doing some practice drills on a bike. This will help you get reacquainted with the balance you need to operate a motorcycle. It can also help you hone in on some of the more important skills like vision or low-speed maneuvering.

  • Show up On time with the Right Attitude

Finally, you should show up to the MSF course on time and with a great attitude for success. You don’t want to be running late to the course, this could frustrate the instructors or cause you a lot of stress. You also want to be in the right frame of mind to succeed. Don’t get siked out or worried that you’ll fail. This is a learning experience regardless of the outcome, have fun and enjoy yourself.

For a more in-depth guide on how to prepare, check out this article on preparing for the MSF course.

As you can see, there is no reason to worry about entering the MSF course with no experience. Through a few preparations and shifts in mindset, you can be well on your way to passing the MSF course.

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