A bit more about the MSF class.
The class itself was an eye opening experience. There were 8 students – two 40-somethings (of which I was one,) two 30-something cops getting their endorsements because they were applying to be motormen for the city of Sunrise Police Department, and four Millennials who all just liked motorcycles or scooters and wanted to learn. It was refreshing to see so many young people wanting to learn to ride. I have been told that motorcycling is dying out, but based on the demographics in my class, that isn’t the case. Millennials are (generally speaking) interested in experiences, and motorcycling provides that.
The first 30 minutes or so was paperwork – signing releases, filling out forms, etc. We went around the room and introduced ourselves and told why we wanted to learn, which was cool. Then, out to the bikes. We picked up helmets and struggled to figure out how to operate those D-rings in the blind, then walked over to a row of Suzukis and picked one out for ourselves. They were all identical so it really didn’t matter, but each one had a license plate on the back with a girl’s name on it, so you were meant to remember which bike was ‘yours’ by that. Oh, an dthere were two 250cc cruiser-type bikes from Kawasaki, which went to the girls. Oh, did I mention there were a couple of ladies in the 20-something group?
Finally, we got on the bikes, put kickstands up and started walking the bikes in neutral around the parking lot. This gave us a feel for the weight of the bikes, and got us familiar with the front brake’s response.
It was a big moment when we all got to start the bikes up, what a great sound. We sat there revving our 250cc engines like little kids, grinning like goofballs. SO COOL!
Then it was time to concentrate – we put the bikes in 1st gear and got to know the friction zone. We just rolled the bike a foot or two forward, then braked, keeping both feet on the ground. This went on for a good 5 minutes or so, then it was time to get the bikes rolling, still in first gear, and we went back and forth across the parking lot in straight lines. It was a cool feeling when we finally got both feet up on the pegs. I know this sounds ridiculous to seasoned riders, but that was the moment it really felt like we were learning to ride motorcycles – when we had both feet planted and let the bike go fast enough for gyroscopic action to keep the bike upright.
What followed is a little bit of a blur. We would get off the bikes, walk over and talk to the teacher (or “rider coach”), discussing a new skill and have it demonstrated for us, then we would go out to the bikes, start them up, ride around the course accomplishing that skill over and over, then bikes parked, discuss what we learned and what we felt. The constant parking and starting and parking and starting was ingraining the process of turning off the bike and parking it safely and then starting it up again. We didn’t know this, we just thought it was all fun.
After a break for lunch, we returned to the riding range for a series of increasingly complicated tasks, like the double-U-turn figure-8 box, learning how to coordinate both brakes, weaving through small cones, handling a mid-turn stop, learning how to upshift and downshift (and what downshifting does to traction,) and ended the day with a discussion and a video.
At that point, end of day one, we were offered and all opted to take our written tests, since if anyone failed they could take it again the following day. Two folks got perfect scores, the rest of us each missed one question. This meant a passing grade for everyone on the written test, it was nice to have that out of the way.
We were invited to come back early if we wanted the next morning, so I arrived at 6:30 and did some laps and some cones and the double-U-turn box a few times. Then the class started up with more complicated driving tasks. The rain was absolutely POURING by this point, and the instructor gave us about a 30 minute break to wait for a break in the rain, which never came. We all agreed we would skip the lunch break and try to power through the rest of the course without any breaks. We were all completely soaked all the way down to our skivvies, and it was chilly (early January in Florida means 50-60 degree weather), but we powered on.
Finally it was time to start our ride testing. There were something like 10 or 12 tasks we had to complete, some of which were done two-tests-at-a-time. For example, “Demonstrate you can drive a half circle staying in your lane, then come to a stop within this box” Each person did their task while the rest of the class watched, then we all moved on to the next test. When the tests were over, we parked the bikes by the shed, helped fill them back up with gas for the next class, and put them away. My trip-odometer said 11 miles total for the two days of class. Finally, we were all done and we went back inside, wondering how we did.
In the classroom, the rider-coach let us fidget for a while, then smiled and let us all know we had all passed, and after a collective sigh of relief he told us each how we did and where we had a point or two deducted. No one was anywhere near failing. With a round of applause for ourselves, we packed up and headed home – or, some of us to the DMV, where our test results had already been transmitted – to get our license endorsements.