The Motorcycle Safety Foundation - Experienced Rider Course
by James H. Lui
A group of twelve of us met at a local hotel conference room to begin the day's eight-hour session: four Harley's, including a full-dress ElectraGlide , three sportbikes (FZR, KX-11, FJ), an ACE, a Nighthawk 750, a Ducati 900, an ST1100, and my Virago. Our instructor had shown up early, and started the day off with our one and only accident by dropping his loaded Aspencade in the parking lot, mostly due to a very uneven surface which tended to slant every which way but evenly.
I'd say the most significant difference between this session and the basic Rider Safety & Skills course was the makeup or profile of the people present - the RSS attendees generally fall into three categories: 1) those who are there by personal interest to learn how to do things right (first timers or first accident casualties), 2) those who are attending because they are under 21 and have to (California DMV required), and 3) people who are there because someone else is influencing them. The ERC attendees come specifically from category No. 1.
Our instructor pointed out that many friends and spouses, for one reason or another, are given, provided or sharing a bike to ride, but on the basic condition that they "have to attend the RSS before riding" with no other obvious motivation. Motorcycling is an activity which cannot afford passive responsibility. A motorcyclist who shows lack of judgment or responsibility doesn't just wreck a bike, or damage something else - the motorcyclist often pays for such negligence with a life - usually their own.
We, as motorcyclists, have a different role in surviving on the road among other vehicles. Many auto traffic courses stress the concept of "defensive" driving skills - learning how to react to other drivers and conditions. Motorcyclists cannot afford to wait for another driver to act negligently or some condition to become precedent while passively driving down the road. We are "active" drivers by necessity of survival. In traffic, "offensive" driving techniques become the standard by which we avoid becoming another statistic in the Hurt Report. We actively search for potential and developing hazards which may not affect us directly, but because of the impact on other drivers can end up affecting our path of travel. We address the risks of travel by motorcycle by actively pursuing driving techniques and behaviors which deliberately mitigate the impact of such risks. The ERC is designed to heighten the awareness of the motorcyclist to perception of such risks and then deal with them with effective physical reactions.
The ERC participants this day had experience ranging from a few years to over three decades of riding. One other rider had also taken the RSS (as his entry to motorcycling) and was using this class as an enhancement to his prior training. Instead of the more formalized lecture-style instruction of the RSS, this course was much more centered around topical open discussions. We were handed another instruction manual, this time a 40-page advanced version of the one received in the RSS, but we immediately put the manuals away for reading on our own.
The content of the ERC manual stresses how to deal with hazards by learning how to avoid them entirely. The instructor stressed that in the majority of accidents, once a motorcyclist is involved in the middle of a hazardous panic situation, since there is very little protection other than protective clothing, the measures which are available are only efforts to reduce the damage which will inevitably occur. The best riding strategy is to stay acutely aware of potential hazards and give them a wide berth every time.
We proceeded to cover an investigation of the "why cars pull out right in front of me" syndrome - and no, machine-gunning the horn button every day is not an answer. We learned how to see things that really didn't look like hazards, but in fact could be downright dangerous. There was also an exhaustive technical discussion of how traction and riding physics are directly related to different riding techniques and skills and how to maximize their potential.
The practical skills portion of the ERC presumes you are already familiar with how your bike handles in basic maneuvering (there's a screening-type skills test thrown in, just in case). You then proceed to learn how to properly handle evasive and emergency stopping situations - pushing you beyond what most riders would voluntarily try with their own machines. By familiarizing you with what it feels like to perform an evasive swerve or control a rear-wheel skid properly as well as other life-saving skills, you are being conditioned against panic reactions when you encounter the situation when you'll need to act with control and knowledge - a real emergency.
When someone describes to you what you're about to do with your machine for an exercise - a momentary panic begins to set in. But it's an easier breath to take once you've seen 1,000 lbs. of fully-dressed Aspencade dancing through the same zig-zag peg-scraping maneuvers at the practiced hand of our instructor. While our ElectraGlide driver, a local TV weather newscaster, at first viewed each of the exercises with some trepidation ("This thing's gotta do that?!"), afterwards he noted that performing heavy-duty swerves and skids "...was the most fun he'd had in years... on two wheels."
Aside from the wealth of written and mental knowledge you'll obtain, it's the "physical" education that really pays for itself in the ERC. Having someone who not only can tell you what to do, but how to do it correctly, is where the MSF earns its keep in the motorcycle safety training arena. 1-800-CCRIDER.