Tandem Trips

REVIEW: MSS Basic Rider Course

Posted in Reviews, Riding by Me on February 28, 2009

In the summer of 2007 I decided I needed to learn to ride a motorcycle. This is one of the items on my “List of Essential Skills for Men,” of which one needs to have tried as many as possible by the time one dies. This list is in my head and very plastic, changing by my mood and interest of the moment (examples of other list items: throwing a football with at least a little bit of spiral, hammering in nails, surfing *haven’t tried*, changing car oil, installing a ceiling fan *haven’t tried*, navigating sans GPS, entertaining five-year-old children for an hour without making one cry *haven’t tried*, etc.). You decide for yourself what is on your list, but I think it is pretty inarguable that successfully riding a motorized two wheeled vehicle should be on it.

To this end I investigated the requirements for getting the coveted M (motorcycle operator’s endorsement) on my license. In the state of New York you can get that M in one of three ways: you can move here with one already on your out-of-state license, you can take the motorcycle test at one of the New York State DMVs that offer it, or you can take a class sponsored by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. The former two option have their merits, but for me (and the most fool-proof method) the third option was best.

I opted for the MSS class sponsored by Motorcycle Association of New York State (MANYS). Do a search for “motorcycle,” “school,” and “new york” and it comes up first. They have two facilities in New York City; one is in Williamsburg, which offers a limited range of instruction and teaches on the open roads of Northern Brooklyn, and one is in the Bronx, which has an enclosed lot with a painted course and a contractor’s trailer for a classroom.

The Bronx facility is the only one that offers the Basic Rider Course that comes with the free DMV test, but I’ll get to that later. Before you can take the class you need to get your permit, and to do that you have to pass a written test. There is a manual available from the NYS DMV, but it doesn’t cover everything you need to pass. You will also be tested on basic driving issues such as legal blood-alcohol levels and right-of-way. Take a quick look at the Driver’s Manual & Study Guide for this stuff, but don’t stress about it too much because it’s mostly common sense stuff.

So I took the written test, which took about 15 minutes, and got a permit (you must carry it along with, and it looks just like your drivers license but says “Motorcycle Permit”), which took about 3 weeks to come in the mail. Then I could register for my class.

I took the $350 two-day class in October of 2007. My instructor, Raymond Lopez, was very friendly and a good teacher. We spent about half an hour shooting the breeze and then we got into the book; just a thin workbook with all the things you need to know to pass the class and way more than you need for the DMV test. After about two hours of working in the book in small groups and watching short drivers’-ed-style videos, we went out and got to learning how to sit on the bikes.

These were little 250cc Suzuki Intruders in various states of abuse. They are great bikes for someone that has never ridden before, especially when you don’t have to worry about damaging or owning them. They are extremely low (good for short people) and easy to steer (good for nervous people), but they go when they need to and stop pretty quickly.

The rest of the day is spent working up to riding, then mastering cornering techniques, quick stops, figure-8s, shifting and downshifting, and various other basics. The first day whizzes by and by the end of it you feel like you could race in Moto GP.

The next day you do a little bit of classroom work and then jump right into where you left off the day before. On our second day we had a second instructor just by chance, and since there were only six of us (classes can be as large as twenty) we got very personal attention.

One person low-sided during the second day (wasn’t me), but the bikes are small enough that there wasn’t any damage to the rider or the bike, plus you never clear 35 mph on the course. The test was a little stressful because you don’t know how much you can screw up before you fail. Most of us got close to perfect scores. One person of the six failed, which was a shame, but he hadn’t paid attention through the whole class, so we weren’t surprised.

I over shot the panic breaking by quite a bit which made me think I was going to fail, but I did well enough otherwise that I didn’t As a result of that mistake I practice breaking as much as I can and am fairly paranoid about it. This is the best part of taking the class: you get to mess up without it counting. You’re unlikely to get hurt on the closed course, and there is someone to tell you how not to do it again standing right there. You don’t get those luxuries on the street.

After passing the test you get a certificate in the mail, which mail to your insurance company for a measly 5% off, and you take to the DMV to get the real M on your license. That takes another two weeks in the mail. All in all it was an excellent experience. I believe that if I hadn’t done things this way I would probably be dead from riding into a Hummer.

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4 Responses

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  1. moko said, on March 1, 2009 at 12:52 am

    Thanks for the information.

  2. Gordon said, on June 10, 2009 at 6:41 am

    First of the additional replies…

    You say that you wanted to get the coveted “M” on your license…so in America, are you not required to pass a test before getting a motorcycle?

    Here in Scotland, and indeed the UK, you need to pass a test before getting on any bike on the public roads. You also need it to get insurance, not just a discount.

    What’s the deal with this M status?

    Gordon

  3. Gordon said, on June 11, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    Hi Matthew,

    Since I passed my test (Jan 07) the bike test here has been changed for the more difficult. There’s a part of the test where you have to come to an emergency stop whilst weaving, and there are a number of cases of people low-siding and injuring themselves. I don’t know if they will amend the test but when I took it, although it was hard, it’s nothing like what they have to do now.

    I still think the no helmet law in some US states is mind blowing. I’m sure you share the same sentiments having read your review of the Arai, but to even contemplate riding a motorcycle without wearing a helmet gives me the willies, and a quick search on youtube yields a number of folk, GSXR/R1, wheelies, burnouts, cruising along…no helmet.


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