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The #1 Motorcycling Magazine for Women, and Men Who Ride With Women

Riding Right: You Flunked! Now What?

Advice for dealing with failing the MSF class

By Susan Rzepka Orion

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

Don't be discouraged—I failed the skills test in the basic rider course the first time as I was too nervous and tired to focus. The second time was at a quieter location and I did much better after an additional private motorbike lesson to go through some of the areas I needed help with (clutch and friction zone).

I had no prior experience with motorbikes. I think it'd be helpful to get some private lessons or "practice time" on a manageable motorbike for students who are totally new to motorcycling. There's a lot to coordinate and the weekend course was a bit too accelerated for me.

Thankfully I had great classmates and instructors, so I was embarrassed with my slowness but not devastated!

Friday, April 08, 2016
This is a great article. I ride a Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200. Nine years ago I took the MSF course ... three times! I had had no experience operating a motorized bike and didn't have a clue. My first instructors only knew how to shout at people. They had no idea, apparently, of the learning process of a total beginner. So I switched to a different MSF and the instructors were awesome. I ran over a cone the second time mostly from intense fatigue but then passed the third time. After my first MSF experience, I went home, bought a Honda Rebel and rode that for a season before going back. That made ALL the difference. They say MSF courses are for beginners but that really is not true. They go way too fast. I advise beginners to learn the basics with a seasoned rider in a parking lot before taking any MSF course. I've been riding now for nine years and ride everywhere. The last two years I didn't even own a car. Did I mention I'm 66? Never too old to learn.

Christine Jacobson
Everett, WA
Tuesday, March 08, 2016
I was horrible in the class with no riding experience. I failed my test the first time and I felt really bad because I had already bought a bike (Suzuki Boulevard C50T) so I could not give up because of being financially invested. I was not going to give up. Even though I failed the class it had given me enough confidence to get on my bike and begin shifting and practicing around the neighborhood. I got more and more comfortable shifting and I retook my test today and passed! Everyone learns at different paces, so time, patience and practice is the key! If I can do it anyone can. Don't give up!

Houston, TX
Thursday, February 25, 2016
A would-be bike rider here, pondering the possibilities...have enjoyed the thrill of pillioning so much I'm considering getting personally behind the wheel, well... bars.

A couple of questions, for starters!

If you have absolutely nil experience and are not licensed to ride on the road you must pass the "pre-learner" test (six hours over two days) before you attempt the Knowledge test which will grant you a learner's license.

I'm finding it hard to see how you can successfully complete the pre-license test knowing nothing at all. Granted I am in Australia and things may well be different here. Do people just have to keep retaking the course until they gain enough competency to pass it?

Apologies if this is a dead-obvious question.

Sydney, Australia
Saturday, February 06, 2016
Editor Response
It's not an obvious question, so no apologies needed, however I do see that there is a difference between what the U.S. requires and what Australia requirements are. In the U.S., the MSF Basic RiderCourse requires a person have no experience. The curriculum is geared towards complete beginners.

I'm guessing perhaps there is some book or manual you could read that would help you "study" for this pre-learner test because I don't understand how one is expected to know anything about motorcycling, unless the pre-learner test is more about roadway regulations than operation of a motorcycle.

I will put your question out to our readers in our Your Questions Answered section and have them respond as we have many readers from Australia.

Thank you for question. I will email you when the question has been posted so you can check back regularly for responses.
Genevieve Schmitt, Editor
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