How to: Take the MSF (motorcycle training)

The easiest way to get your motorcycle license in the United States is through the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF). On successfully passing the MSF course you receive your motorcycle license.

First Steps

Get your permit Before taking an MSF class you should get a motorcycle permit. In most states getting the motorcycle permit is just like getting your regular driver’s license permit. You go to your local DMV/RMV and take a simple written test. Check your local department of motor vehicles website for a guide book. Here in Massachusetts all of the questions on the test are taken from this manual.

Find a local class and register Visit and enter your state to find a school offering the course near you. Most schools have online registration. Depending on your state the course could be free or $300+. Some states subsidize the cost of the course for their residents while others do not.

Preparing for the course

Do I need to practice riding before the course? No, the course is designed for someone with no motorcycle experience. Reading up on some basics of how motorcycles work may be helpful, most schools will send you a handbook prior to the course you should read.

What to bring Each school may have a specific list of requirements of what they want you to bring. In general they are going to ask that you wear long sleeves, demin pants, over the ankle boots and some kind of sturdy gloves. Most schools will have helmets on site for you to borrow. You also should plan to bring some bottled water, snacks and lunch.

A motorcycle is provided by the school.

What is the course like?

The course is broken into two pieces, a classroom portion and a range portion on the bike. Generally this is 5 hours in the classroom and 10 hours on the range. At the school I attended this was broken into three, five hour days. Other schools do it in two days. The classroom piece is a mix of watching videos, lecture and class discussion.

The range portion is the exciting bit. It will start out very slow, the first 20-30 minutes will just be standing next to the bike, pointing out all of the important parts and practicing starting the bike. It will then progress to another 30 minutes or so of just practicing using the clutch and “duck walking” the bike across the range using just the clutch. Most of the first five hours is dedicated solely to very low speed moving around the course in only first and second gears.

Once the students have mastered some basic clutch control the exercises progress into riding in circles, riding in ‘S’ curves, stopping on command and doing U-Turns in boxes.

What are the bikes like?
Most classes have small 250cc’ish bikes for the class. Honda Nighthawks, Rebels and Ninja 250′s are common. Some small dirt bikes might also be available. Classes taken through the Harley dealer might have Buell Blasts or their new entry level cruiser. In general they are small engine, light weight bikes. The other thing to be aware of is that they usually aren’t in the best shape. Everyone I know who has taken the MSF has become discouraged because they had challenges shifting the bike during the course. This is not your fault. It is likely you’re going to be riding a bike that has been beaten on by another newbie and ridden around in first gear for a few thousand miles. The exercises of the course are going to prematurely age the bikes making them harder to control than the bike you will later own.

The Test

At the conclusion of the class everyone takes the test which will determine if they pass the course and get their motorcycle license. The test will consist of a handful of the exercises that were practiced during the course. The test will likely include riding through an S curve, doing a panic stop and making a U turn in the box. The students are graded on a points scale. Dropping the bike usually results in an automatic failure.

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