MSF Basic Rider Course – Ferris State University

MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) Basic Rider Course – Ferris State University

•August 11, 2009 •

I was once told “Why write a note when you can write a novel”. Please join me now as I delve deep into perhaps the most enjoyable course I have ever taken.

On a crisp cool Wednesday night, at approximately 4:40pm, I walked down the dimly lit halls of Ferris State University’s heavy machinery department. Tucked away on the west side of campus is a fair size facility with the distinct aroma of tools and that certain magical something only an auto shop can exude.  I briefly drift off into remembrance of working in my schools auto shop, what good times we had.

I follow the signs that say “Motorcycle Class” placed upside down so the arrow points in the proper direction. After taking the time to admire a giant manual transmission model I make my way into the generator room doubling as a classroom for the night. I am greeted by a very friendly man who I soon learn is Bill McAfee one of the instructors for this journey into motorcycle ridership. Another larger, gruffer looking man with a great personality and sense of humor is introduced as Russ Leonard. I would briefly get to know Russ and Bill over these next few days, and it was a pleasure.

I guess now would be as good a time as any to tell you a little more about them, huh.

At first glance, many will want to stereotype Russ as a “typical biker”. I do not see what is bad about a “typical biker” but some take offence at this. Russ, employed as an associate professor at FSU (Ferris State University), is currently working towards his PHD. Although I do not know much about him, I can say he is very kind, patient and terrific teacher. These characteristics were displayed from the first day on the range. Russ showed an exuberant knowledge of proper riding technique and safety while having fantastic fun and putting a smile on all of our faces. With the knack for gently coaxing us to push our limits, we all gained much needed knowledge, skill and safety training.

Bill immediately gives the impression of kindness and experience with a warm smile. His ability to meticulously spot details, while we the students demonstrated what can only be called an attempt at technique, and gently show us how to improve in those key areas was the pendant of a true teacher. Bill shared with us that he has put on over 100,000 miles on one particular motorcycle and many more under his belt. A man with that kind of experience has more real life knowledge to share than ever could be expressed in our 20 hour course. Yet somehow he managed to pass along fathoms of this experience to the students upping our confidence every step of the way.

I would like to take the time now to say Thank You to Russ and Bill!

Ah, class room time, although a much needed aspect of the course to me this was the most boring part of the course. I am not much for book work; I prefer the hands on variety. Upon completion of a talk, video or reading we were placed into groups and tasked with finding answers to specific questions. These answers, we were told, would be found among the chapters of our workbook. After finding the answers to assigned questions, we would then share that with the rest of the class. I found this method very affective for retention and helped stem off the boredom that inevitably ensues with class work. Well, enough with this book work already; we now part ways for the night and decide on what time to arrive for our next step to becoming motorcycle riders!

The weatherman calls for a balmy hot day as we embark on our first steps in this journey. Eleven men and women are found joyously yet groggily staring at one of the most beautiful sights. A line of motorcycles before us with the knowledge that today we will be riding them. For a brief period of time those will be our bikes and a wonderful sense of ownership comes upon us. It’s 7:15am and the sun is peeking over the trees. Yup, it’s going to be a hot one today.

I do not know the words to express the joy felt from the first instance my leg was thrown over the side of that bike to the last time I dismounted, yet the song “Bittersweet Symphony” rings through my ears. They may not have been the newest, or sleekest, or fastest, or most savvy bikes but they were our first. They were the ones that would carry us through this journey and for that a special place of gratitude is given.

Proper safety protocol is discussed and we fire the bikes up for the first time. A low grumble stretches across the parking lot as the first of the engines spring to life. One by one a new sound is added to the orchestra and at last it is complete and the tune plays forth.

Our first task is to learn the clutch friction zone. Now that I have been constantly riding for a few weeks around my little town, I greatly appreciate that skill. It is perhaps one of the most important aspects of riding and imperative to safely riding in town. Upon mastery of this, we power walk from one end of the lot to another. Balance is soon learned and mastered upon this task and the real fun ensues, slowly riding from one end to another. We break free from fear under the watchful eyes of our instructors and start making the wind, at a gentle 2-5 mph. A few stalls and frustrations and the class moves onward and upward. Upon mastering a few of the more rudimentary skills such as starting off, turning, balance and stopping, we break for lunch.

Returning from our brief break, the afternoon sun is high in the sky on this cloudless day and temperatures peak over 90° as we hop on the bikes, time to get out of first gear and really feel the need for speed. We launch forth from formation and ride in a large circle around the course. As the day heats up so do we, leaving first gear and getting a taste of what it’s all about. Cones are put out and we learn the push-pull of turning/weaving. A very interesting concept, a bit difficult to understand until practiced. “Carving,” as Russ called it, really is a lot of fun! Some were more daring than others and took “carved” around the cones in full second gear, giving a real thrill and boosting confidence. End of the day and everyone is tired yet excited to return. We say our goodbyes and head home for some rest.

It’s the last day of the class, spirits are high and so is the temperature. We find our bikes all sitting in that beautifully row and ready to be ridden. TCLOCKS check and some instruction and off we go. You’ll have to take the course to learn about TCLOCKS, or do a bit of fancy Google searching, I recommend taking the course. More advanced maneuvering and some safety skills are added to our repertoire. Quick stopping can install a bit of anxiety in some that is soon relieved with practice. Everyone did a great job and stayed safe. They say time flies when you’re having fun, and it really does. Test time has come and after a pep talk we begin. Everyone did a great job, especially the instructors, in getting us ready. I was very happy to have learned with everyone there, it truly was an amazing time.

Down the road: It has been just over a month now; I have been riding as much as I can to gain experience   and practice the techniques learned at the course. As expected, the most dangerous, in a sense, rides are around the city and in crowded areas. While gaining further experience I discovered the skills learned in this course really shined in these conditions. Low speed maneuvering, the dreaded figure 8 box and the scenario simulation all came into play. The skills learned and honed on the road really will save your life out there. Pay attention and be safe.

Enjoy The Ride!

P.S Thank You Russ Leonard, Bill McAfee and Ferris State University for hosting the course, it was a pleasure

By: T.A. Wilson


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