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Riding Right: You Flunked! Now What?

Advice for dealing with failing the MSF class

By Susan Rzepka Orion

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Congratulations! You flunked the basic rider course. No, really, this is great news. Why? Because you have some experience, a really good idea of what you're getting yourself into and a clear assessment of your basic skills at this point. The rider course provided you with all the basic tools you'll need to become a safe, responsible rider. And if you still have the desire and motivation to become a licensed motorcyclist, it's highly likely you'll become one sooner or later.   

Many first-time riders fail the MSF course, but just as many go on to become confident and experienced riders.
Many first-time riders fail the MSF course, but just as many go on to become confident and experienced riders.

Think about the last time you tried to pick up a new sport. Maybe it was golf, softball or even bowling. Were you an expert right out of the box? Or did you slice the ball way off the fairway, swing wildly at the pitch and strike out, or dump a heavy bowling ball right into the gutter? Even if you did shoot an occasional par, hit a home run or manage to roll a strike or spare, your game left lots of room for improvement. In playing the game or taking a lesson, you learned what worked and what didn't, and you came away from the experience with some idea of how you might improve next time out.

So it is with motorcycling. Maybe you don't yet have the skill to swerve around a hazard or stop within the recommended distance for your speed. Maybe you haven't quite figured out how to maneuver your motorcycle in limited spaces, and maybe cornering still makes you nervous. You flunked. So what do you do now?  

The MSF Basic Rider Course, pictured here, provides proven and time-tested curriculum in the training of riding a motorcycle.
The MSF Basic Rider Course, pictured here, provides proven and time-tested curriculum in the training of riding a motorcycle.

Retake the Course
As a RiderCoach, I often have to tell my students that they did not pass the safety course. In most cases, this is the result of failing the skill evaluation. The skill evaluation at the end of the course is nothing more than a snapshot view of your skills at one particular point in time. Four major skills are assessed: limited space maneuvers, swerving, cornering and the ability to stop quickly. When you make errors in the execution of these skills, you rack up points. Too many points, and you don't pass. When that happens, I usually recommend you retake the course, where you'll get more practice on a starter bike under the supervision of a trained RiderCoach.  

Students practice drills during the MSF Basic Rider Course.
Students practice drills during the MSF Basic Rider Course.

When Jan and Tanisha learned they had failed, they were both disappointed, but not surprised. Jan, a brand-new rider who was afraid to take a corner or swerve at speed, was a little relieved that she didn't pass. "I'm still uncomfortable with the idea of going out on the road," she said. She repeated the class, and although her cornering technique still needed work, Jan passed the second time around with skills adequate for licensing.

Tanisha, who had been a longtime passenger on her boyfriend's Harley, took the class with him. She felt more confident learning on the small bike she used in class than she did trying to learn on his 1200. "It's harder than it looks," she confided, "and my boyfriend has no patience." Tanisha also repeated the class, this time without her boyfriend, and passed with a perfect score the second time around.  

Tune Up and Test
If you own or have access to a bike, you can practice, with or without someone you know, then take your state's licensing exam. When I learned how to ride, my state would not waive the exam on completion of the MSF course, pass or fail. Although I did not pass the class, I loved the experience of riding. I bought a starter bike and practiced each evening in a church parking lot near my house for six weeks before taking the state test. I set up cone weaves, practiced quick stops, executed swerves and got real road experience. At the exam site, I watched several guys drop their cruisers in the dreaded U-turn box. I was scared, but I was prepared. The basic rider course had given me the tools I needed to work on my skills and boost my confidence. I walked away with a motorcycle license and a big smile on my face.  

With a little more practice, you'll be ready to hit the road.
With a little more practice, you'll be ready to hit the road.

When you don't pass, it just means you're not ready to be licensed. You need more practice time. As a complete beginner in a basic rider course, you spent a whopping 16 to 25 hours learning how to ride. That's not a lot of time to get your skills up to speed. Pass or fail, if you plan to ride, you're going to have to put in more time or give up the idea of becoming a safe motorcyclist.   

I always tell my students to ask themselves these questions at the start of a rider course: What do I know about motorcycling now? What are my skills? Where is my confidence level? At the end of the course, I ask my students the same questions. It's a process, and it takes practice. Celebrate your successes. Have patience with yourself. Because the more you ride, the better it gets. 

About the Author

Susan Rzepka Orion is a certified MSF RiderCoach and Rider’s Edge Instructor who loves to ride, write and help others who want to do the same. You can find her on the road on her Yamaha V Star 1100 Custom or on the Web at
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Reader Comments

So I took the beginner's rider course this weekend with my husband. Within two hours I dumped the bike and took a horrible ride across the parking lot. I got back up and did OK the rest of the day. But when we got home, my shins were severely bruised and my ankles looked like they belonged to an elephant. I couldn't even get my boots on for the next day and could barely walk. So I didn't go back. I have never disappointed myself this much. My husband passed with flying colors and so did everybody else in class. I will get this no matter what. I am on a mission now.

Woodstock, GA
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Editor Response
Thanks for sharing your story. You might benefit from the comments to a question asked of our readers about being kicked out of the MSF course. While you chose to voluntarily not finish the course, the responses here might help you.
Genevieve Schmitt
Great article. I flunked the course last year. I was so disappointed but not surprised. I was really nervous and it just wasn't clicking right. I had never ridden before and I'm older (58). However, I didn't let it stop me. It's something I really wanted to do and at the top of my "before I kick the bucket" list.

This year I got my permit and a small Honda Rebel and have been practicing and loving it. After three days it all finally made sense. My boyfriend is a great and patient teacher so that helps. Pretty soon I'll be ready to get my license and a bigger bike. This is what has been missing in my life so I will continue because I know it will open the doors to great adventures.

Chicago, IL
Wednesday, April 08, 2015
The best advice I give new riders is don't take the course with your husband or a friend. That way you are thinking about yourself and the bike and the basics. Texas requires a passing a motorcycle safety course to get a license, but research who and how the instructors teach. Find a different course if it doesn't work for you. I've ridden more than 60k miles in 10 states and I use the basic skills I learned in the course every time I ride, and it took a long time to "unlearn" a couple of bad habits I had before the course. Don't give up if you fail. Think of all the great inventions we wouldn't have if they quit after a fail... like this phone!

Bobbie Tyler
Anton, TX
Wednesday, April 08, 2015
This past weekend my husband and I took the Rider's Edge/MSF classes at the local Harley dealership. My husband has experience riding dirt bikes, but I have never ridden a motorcycle or driven a stick shift car. I went in trusting that the only prerequisite needed was knowing how to ride a bicycle. I was so excited about taking the classes and learning to ride.

Well, my husband did great. He passed with flying colors. For me, it was a complete disaster. The classes moved so fast and didn't offer any individual instruction. I didn't know how to change gears. I couldn't figure out how to use the throttle or the clutch. I kept stalling the bike out and slowing down everyone else in the class. I even dumped the bike, twice. The instructors asked me to leave before the first day was half over. It was humiliating. I embarrassed myself and my husband. I feel like my dream has been crushed.

Being told that I'm not good enough to ride has devastated me and caused me to lose my self-confidence and passion. Still, I want to ride so badly. I've tried to tell myself that I hate motorcycles and I don't want a bike, but it is a lie. I want to learn to ride. I want a bike so much that it brings me to tears. I just don't know what to do. I've cried about it for days. My husband has told me that he will teach me to ride, but he has no patience with me. I don't think that I am capable of learning to ride since I was kicked out of the beginner's riding class. I'm so upset with myself for failing at something that I want so much. I'm glad that I found this article. At least now I know that I'm not the only person who has failed the MSF class.

Kingsport, TN
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Editor Response
Thanks for sharing your story. Please visit this link from a WRN reader who got kicked out of the MSF class. We posted her question related to this and received a ton of responses that might be helpful to you.

All the best to you. You'll get there. Others have been in your shoes.
Genevieve Schmitt, Editor
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