The Return on Investment of Motorcycle Rider Education

The “Return on Investment”  of motorcycle rider training

The other afternoon I experienced one of the most frightening things that can happen on a motorcycle. I was cruising home out of Bothell, reveling in the waning sunshine of summer and coursing through a gentle right and left combo of curves on my way to the freeway. I was relaxed and smiling, accelerating past 40mph. Suddenly and with no warning, the car in front swerved violently to the left. Right where he would have been in two seconds was what I was accelerating towards now. A cardboard box about 40 inches tall and a foot or so on each side, with a snow drift of crushed glass strewn around the bottom.  Couldn’t tell what was in the box, but a case of glassware seems likely.  How much of it remained intact?  How solid was the box I was about to hit?

In a recent filmette, a brain researcher reported on a phenomenon many of us have experienced. In a crisis situation time seems to slow down, and when your mind  “replays” the event later you can see each frame of the action in micro-second segments.  That is certainly true for my “big” accident on my wonderful 1965 Yamaha 250cc YDS 3 in 1969.  That crash took less than 5 seconds from the first realization that I’d made a very bad mistake through several different attempts to save a hopeless situation, to my lying in a cloud of dust in a ditch with a separated shoulder and the badly crunched carcass of my bike around me.  Writing out my precise memories of that self-induced disaster would result in several pages of detailed exposition of every teensy detail of my folly and how I attempted to react to it.

The coolest part of my experience the other day?  The potential crash in front of me was resolved and avoided before my brain had time to go into “crisis” mode. I cannot recall the incident in micro-detail. I cannot describe in even general terms what I did to avoid the box, which would have created consequences from dire to disastrous if hit.  I remember being a little surprised that I had simply arced around the box rather smoothly, and yet to do so had to require some pretty violent steering actions and the use of some body movement on the bike. Exactly what I will never know.

This is truly wonderful for several reasons. Had the same incident occurred during my first years of riding the most likely outcome would have been freezing at the handlebars and target fixated right into the box.  What’s different now?

Training.   It may be tempting to state that decades of riding experience have helped, but if you’ve been trained incorrectly you’ve merely spent decades practicing doing the wrong thing, which will not help in a crisis.

What training?  Oddly enough I’ve never taken the “basic” MSF course. For one thing, it was invented long after I started riding motorcycles. I’ve read the course materials, watched the classes being taught, and spent a lot of time with MSF instructors. Although I am familiar with what the course covers (and recommend it strongly to anyone new to motorcycles) I have not taken the course myself.

I can point to two courses that I know contributed most of the muscle memory that created the “non-incident” of the other day.  The first is the “On Street Course” presented by Washington Motorcycle Safety Training  ( ) and some others.  This course, as the title implies, involves riding your motorcycle on public roads with your instructors ahead of and behind you, able to talk to you via a one-way radio.   It is based in part on the sort of rider training common in England and other countries.  I was fortunate to take the course in the early “prototype” stage, and learned a great deal from it.   I very much recommend that you take this course, offered 12 months a year.  The beneficial reactions Ito the circumstance of the other day (even though I cannot describe them) came in large part from this course.

My history with this course is a little deeper than most. Chris Johnson of WMST first spoke to me about his ideas for this course in about 2008. He’d just moved here from England and had been told I knew something about training courses. He described what he had in mind, and I told him I was aware of what was done in England, but it was illegal to teach rider safety on the street in this state. To make it legal would require changes in state law and a lot of work by and with the state DOT.   Chris asked me how long I thought that would take and I guessed 6 years, which shows how badly I misjudged his enthusiasm and drive. 

Since taking the course I volunteered to make helmet cam videos for use in the classroom section of the course. I rode to work and home one day with the camera on, and by fortuitous circumstance almost every hazard and awkward situation you can imagine occurred during those rides. Now Chris has a video where he can pause and ask the students “What do you see?”  followed by “What should the rider do now?”  The students can discuss and then see what I did and decide if I made a good or bad choice.  I did not manage to find a large box in the middle of the road, however!

Another course that has helped is the Puget Sound Safety Advanced Street Skills class. This is abbreviated as “A.S.S.” because let’s have fun with it!  I don’t think they have any more of them scheduled for this year, but it would be a good idea for your riding tutorial next summer. They take a race track, either Pacific Raceways in Kent or “The Ridge” outside of Shelton, and use dozens of orange cones to create more corners and remove long straights. This creates a “classroom” of paved roads with no other traffic, and students learn a lot about cornering, proper line selection, braking, body positioning, and so on.  I have taken this class, while representing Ride West, several times.

At the end of the day, riding training is expensive.  A lack of rider training is MUCH more expensive. When you elude a potentially disastrous situation with no ability to recall what you did and no adrenaline surge and no excitement  –  the money you spent for the training has been invested perfectly and you have been paid back several times over.

Ride safe, ride fast, and ride with training!


Copyright 2013                                                                   David Preston

About david

I am a 69 year old motorsports nut who lives in Bothell, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I have been married forever and have two grown children. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Bonneville T 120 , a Triumph Thruxton, a Fiat 500S and a VW Tiguan. What else would you like to know?
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