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Northwest Rider Education
Learn to ride, or stay sharp with a plethora of choices
The Pacific Northwest is one of the most fertile regions in the United States for rider education. Ten years ago there were only two types of courses available, now we have almost as many courses offered as there are major brands of motorcycles on the market. No matter how good you feel about your skill level, there are always classes that can advance your ability. Just know that even the pros have coaches to help them improve! At the bottom of this article is a list of the most prevalent classes and schools in the Northwest. This is not a complete list of every school and course and is current based on the schedules at the time this article was written.
Starting from the most basic training to the more advanced classes, let's walk through synopsis of the education available to you.
Getting a head start – Even though the Basic Rider Course is geared to the complete novice, there are some that need a little head start and extra time to learn the basics of using a clutch, shifting and stopping. Although these courses vary in content, length and price, there are several schools around Washington that offer these "pre-beginner” classes. If you think (and you know who you are) that you will need a little extra time with the basics, this is a great option for you.
Basic RiderCourse (endorsement course) – the Basic RiderCourse (ID and OR use a non-MSF curriculum that is similar) is targeted to the complete novice and the returning rider. These classes offer a waiver for licensing testing and are often subsidized by the states to help keep enrollment fees low. Beginning in 2012, Oregon State will require all unendorsed riders to take an Oregon Basic Rider Training course (BRT) to qualify for a motorcycle endorsement on their license. These classes generally are about 16 hours of instruction spread over a weekend or several weekdays. It is not uncommon to have experienced riders take a basic class only to find themselves challenged with skills they never knew about.
Additional Basic Instruction - for those of you who want or need more riding time after taking the basic rider class, there are several offerings that provide for this. Most schools incorporate a collection of different exercises from your basic class. One school in particular offers a unique micro-class that is much like private training and adjusts the lessons based on the students' needs.
Intermediate Rider Training (endorsement course) – this course is for riders that do not own a street legal bike, have recent riding experience, are fearful of using their own motorcycle or do not have the required insurance to take the Experienced RiderCourse. During this course you receive a half day of classroom instruction and a half day of riding. Concepts such as shifting and basic controls are skipped and riders begin at the foundations of proper riding similar to what is taught during the second day of the Basic RiderCourse.
Experienced RiderCourse (endorsement course) – taking an experienced rider's course (also known as the ERC or BRC2) every few years is an inexpensive way to brush up your skills. The Experienced RiderCourses all consist of a one-day class held outdoors. These classes will help make sure you stay on your toes about all the details of riding we get lazy with. It is common for many riders to take some version of an experienced or advanced rider course every two years. Spring is the perfect time for this… brush off the dust, polish up the bike and your riding!
Sidecar/Trike Education Program – do something different! How about trying something new like taking a Sidecar/Trike instruction class. Even if you never plan on buying one, this class is a blast. Best of all, in Washington, the class is also subsidized keeping admission cost very low. The class, offered by Evergreen Safety Council, includes classroom and on bike instruction specific to the dynamics of the rig itself, so you better understand the differences from a two-wheel rig.
Dirtbike Training - Dirtbike training in the Northwest became available on a regular basis in 2006 with the introduction of the MSF Basic Dirtbike School run by PSSOR. In four short years, this program has expanded to include training for children and adults, beginner and experienced riders, civilian, law enforcement and Army Special Ops. There are even specialty classes for Adventure riders, dual sport riders and on-trail training. If you have ever attended the Dualsport Northwest Rally, you have likely run into these guys or even taken a course at the rally. For the beginner and intermediate classes, bikes are available, so you don't need to own one to get your feet muddy. Riding motorcycles off-road is vastly different from riding on the pavement. For some, this is a way into dirt or dual-sporting; for others it is used as a way to challenge skills and become a better street rider.
Scooters Only - If you ride a scooter, you can take a basic motorcycle class or you can to it on a scooter. If you'd like to do it in the exclusive company of other scooter enthusiasts several motorcycle education companies in the Northwest have purchased a number of scooters and teach basic rider courses using their in-house harem. You can even take an intermediate or experienced rider class on a scooter. If you are taking a basic motorcycle class and you are a scooterist, don’t be shy, ask for a scooter to use during your class.
Advanced RiderCourse (ARC) – the MSF Advanced RiderCourse is a one-day parking lot course that takes riders to a level beyond the Experienced RiderCourse (Washington call this the AERC the military knows it as the MSRC – Military Sportbike Rider Course). This class spends classroom time examining line selection, risk management, body positioning (street related) and more. The riding takes riders up a notch in speeds, practicing braking from road speeds and practicing cornering. Although not as advanced as the next two courses listed next, this is a real bargain in most places, being priced only slightly more than the ERC. Oregon also has a program similar to this that is held at a go-cart track (can you say FUN?). Again the cost is only slightly more than the standard ERC so this is a great next step.
Advanced Street Skills – this is the only street skills course offered in the Northwest that is taught on a full-size road course. The Advanced Street Skills class is for riders that prefer to do their riding on public roads - not for aspiring racers. Offered at Pacific Raceways and at Portland Raceways, the drills and lessons taught during the four levels of this course combat the most common reasons for motorcycle crashes and fatalities. The Advanced Street Skills courses provide motorcyclists with the tools to better manage their speed (when, where and how much) and improve their cornering skills.
Here in the Pacific Northwest and along the west coast, recent motorcycle crash research is showing that the majority of single-vehicle fatalities are the fault of the motorcyclist. One of the leading causes is ’lane errors’ (examples are running wide in corners and colliding with trees, cars, guardrails) which is directly addressed through the Advanced Street Skills. Only offered a few times per year, you will have to plan ahead to take all four levels.
Lee Parks Total Control Advanced Riding Clinic - the author of the popular book, Total Control; high performance street riding techniques, Lee Parks has developed a curriculum for instructors to work from that provides street smarts blended with track smarts. This program is all about learning the cornering techniques used by the pros while riding on a skid pad. Learn the techniques without the risk associated with learning at a track day. For most riders, this course takes them to a level well beyond where they started. Although you will find all types of bikes ranging from cruiser to pure sports, it is the common street rider who gains the most. Unless you are heading to the track, you are unlikely to ever see the limits of a modern sport bike on the street. However, it is not uncommon for a cruiser or even a sport-tourer to unintentionally find cornering limits. The clinic teaches riders how to safely regain those limits by advanced riding techniques.
Motorcycle Care & Maintenance – motorcycle maintenance classes are designed to provide riders with the simple skills to keep their motorcycles in top running condition. Basic maintenance is essential to staying safe on the road by avoiding mechanical failures that could cause a crash. Even if a crash is avoided, roadside breakdowns are inconvenient and expensive. See the SR article HERE.
Photo: Students learning about their bike at one of Puget Sound Safety's Motorcycle Care & Maintenance classes in Seattle.
On Road Courses – in Europe, on-road courses have been the norm for decades; a few years ago these courses began popping up here in the US and just recently here in the Northwest. These courses generally consist of a combination of classroom, closed course and then on-road training. Riding on the road with a trained instructor can provide additional confidence for newer riders. Classes vary by company, so do your homework and see which fits you best, or take several over the course of a few years.
Consider that rider training is an ongoing process. Imagine taking one of these courses annually. And if you did, imagine all the knowledge you would posses. Have fun!
*instructed by Puget Sound Safety
** instructed by Evergreen Safety Council
For an entire list of providers and locations, click on a state below:
Tom Mehren/Bret Tkacs/Revised Winter 2010
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