Letters To The Editor


Donna Warren

I got an email from a young man named Josh who lives in Illinois and visits our website. Like New Jersey, Illinois requires motorcycle licenses. In his email he said,

"I've been riding dirt bikes since I was 12. My mom wants me to take a rider education course before I get my motorcycle license. I was going to get it the same day I get my driver's license. I want to take both written tests the same day and the road tests as soon as possible. I have 6 years riding experience. Why do I need to take some rider's course? I think my mom is being dumb and I'm pretty mad at her. What do your members think?"

I can sympathize with Josh. He knows how to ride his bike and really doesn't like being treated like a baby by his mother. When I joined Spokes-Women nine years ago, they required me to take the experienced rider's ed course as a condition for membership. I had been riding for over 20 years and pretty much thought it would be a waste of time but I went because it was required by the club. More on that later.

I also remember my sons having exactly the same attitude as Josh when I suggested that they take a rider's ed course before they got their motorcycle licenses. So, I sent an email to the club and asked them to answer Josh's question.

Almost everyone that responded agreed that dirt bike riding and street riding are very different animals.

From Judy (a track rider): "He should take it. Dirt bike experience does not translate to the defensive driving skills needed for the street. He'll gain valuable training about street strategies that he doesn't currently know."

From Liz Smith: "In my Rider Safety course I learned not only the physical skills of controlling the bike (finding the friction point of the clutch, counter steering, shifting and so on) but I also learned invaluable street skills - how to spot and avoid potential traffic hazards, how to swerve, how to make emergency stops, and many other street riding techniques. I'm sure Josh will be bored by the basic physical skills, but the course includes MUCH more than that."

From Jane Kern: "Riding a dirt bike and riding on the street with cars is a whole different ball game. I take a rider ed course every two years. It is one of the requirements to remain at Level IV in the Gold Wing club."

From Kate: "I know experienced riders that take the course as often as they can. I am talking about the legendary riders. They go every year if they can. You need every edge you can get out there and the Course is a good way to get it."

From Laura Sisto: "Riding a dirt bike would only prove that he can handle a bike, but riding in the dirt is not like riding on the street. Trees and rocks don't move, on the street, you have cars, people, all kinds of dangers moving independently from you."

From Ed Rodgers (an instructor): "The world of traffic is very different then a closed course dirt track. The course will teach you things about street strategies, what to look for, how to react, how to plan. It will teach you about proper street gear, quite different than dirt gear. Your 6 years of dirt experience have taught you much, but like Luke Skywalker, you'd be foolish to rush off to fight Darth Vader without completing your training. The street is a mean place and crashing hurts a lot more. Why not learn all you can?"

From JoAnne Urspruch: "I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Rider Safety course in 1983 before I bought my first bike. I took the same course again in 2002 when I bought a new bike. Even though I had been riding for nearly twenty years, I believed that no matter how much you know, it never hurts to reinforce that knowledge. I think every state should require this course of every rider."

From Jean Leechman: "I use to ride "dirt bikes" when I was younger. Dirt is nothing like the road. I feel that when one rides in dirt or MotorX they have a tendency to be aggressive. You can't be aggressive on the road and you need to be re-trained or plain old "trained" to ride on the road!"

From Janet Britland: "I've ridden all my life either on the back or a dirt bike as a kid and since 1992 on my own. They didn't have the courses available when I set out on my own. I have since taken, over the years, 4 ERC courses and have come away learning more each time. I also learned that things taught me by my father, brother, and friends were not always accurate or SAFE. I've used the skills learned from the courses many times to improve my riding ability and get my ass out of a sticky situation."

From Angela Kosar: "I was a virgin rider at the age of 43. My husband bought me a Honda Shadow 650 for my birthday to practice on. I failed the course the first time. I took the course again and passed. The best thing that happeded to me was that when I got on the bike the following spring, I could hear the instructors in my head, look, lean and roll. Also, my husband rode for many years and when he moved to NJ he forgot to transfer the motorcycle endorsement. He signed up for the course as a easy way to get his license and he said he came away with alot of skills that he did not know."

Never having taken the beginner or intermediate course, I have no idea what they include. Therefore, since several of our readers are motorcycle safety course instructors, I asked them whether the beginner course was the appropriate place for Josh to start.

From Laura Sisto: "If his state has the intermediate course, that one would be better for him. I too had already been riding for a year, before I took the first course so the instructor suggested the Intermediate course. I credit that course with saving my life when a truck made a left turn in front of me. If I had not learned how to handle a rear brake skid, I would have been under that truck. How many old timers have you heard say they just lay the bike down in those instances, its not necessary."

From Ed Rodgers (an instructor): "He likely doesn't need the bare-bones basics. (Though taking the MSF class waives the state road test in New Jersey.) An Intermediate course would likely be fine (ERC Skills Plus). He needs to focus on street strategies and the differences between how street and dirt bikes handle. It never hurts to review the basics though."

From Janet Britland: "I'm not sure how courses are run in Illinois, but if they work like ours when you finish the beginner course you get a certificate to obtain your license at DMV. If that's the case, then I would encourage him to take the course and get his license. If it doesn't work like our beginner course, then I would encourage him to take an intermediate or ERC (Experienced Rider Course) course."

From Judy (a track rider): "I had been street riding for about 5 years before the MSF course was offered in NJ. I learned a ton of things that I hadn't learned on my own in 5 years. Also, most single-motorcycle accidents involve self-trained riders. The riders with formal training have less accidents."

Ok, I must admit that I really didn't learn anything new when I took the experienced rider course required by the club, but I do agree, it never hurts to take a refresher course and I did to get to practice some things I usually only do when there is a "situation". You know, like when I'm fixing to get creamed by a bigger vehicle or a large animal jumps out in front of me. All that stuff that can end up being very painful if you don't react properly.

Because of that, Josh, I made my sons take the intermediate course. If you're worried about what your friends will say, tell them what I told my sons to tell their friends. Tell your friends, "I really don't need to take the rider's ed course. I'm only taking the course because my mom wants me to so she won't have to worry so much about me when I'm out riding."

It worked for my sons and it made me happy. Your friends will understand that if your mom is happy, she won't be on your case all the time. So, you go take that course for your mom.

Good Luck!

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