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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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Riding Right: What to Consider When Buying Your First Motorcycle

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Reader Comments

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
Thank you. I chose to leave on the second day of my MSF course and return to take private lessons with an instructor. Five hours (including breaks) was not enough time for a true beginner like me to complete a figure eight in a small rectangle. (I loved day one.) Since the other participants had been riding for years, I felt that I was holding them back. I too purchased a Dyna Low Rider. I know that I can learn this. If I have to take the course five times, I will. (My checkbook is hating this.)

Richland, WA
Friday, July 18, 2014
I took the MSF course and loved it. Everyone was very supportive and the instructors were awesome. I was doing really well. I was understanding the concepts and maneuvers. Several people dropped their bikes throughout the two days. I didn't...until it came time to test. The instructors told us, "The only way you can automatically fail is by dropping the bike. So just don't drop the bike." Of course I got so nervous and fixated on that. I completed the u-turn only going out of the lines two times. I then completed the swerve exercises. I stopped and waited for instruction. They called me back to redo the swerve. Probably because I went too slow. And with both feet on the ground I turn the handle bars and watched the bike just fall. I was so mad at myself. I kept telling myself "just don't drop the bike." I was so anxious about it that I made it happen. The instructor came over as I was dropping f-bombs left and right. She looked disappointed for me because I had been doing okay all weekend. I had to sit to the side and wait for my boyfriend to finish. I was so upset. Now I will retake the test. I'm just so hard on myself and I really want to do well.

Fort Lee, NJ
Monday, July 14, 2014
I failed the first class that I took. I was in a class full of people that already knew how to ride and just wanted the insurance benefits. The instructors us ran through all of the exercises and gave us no help whatsoever. I was completely devastated and left after the first five minutes of the second class. By some miracle, I made it through the first day.

I decided to go take another class because they are free in my state (yay!) I signed up for a different location to get new instructors and it was one of the greatest experiences that I have ever had. They actually went at the pace of the slowest person and helped you. I made it through both classes and passed the test, which gives you your endorsement.

The classes aren't easy for someone who has never ridden before. I know that first hand. But, keep trying. You will eventually have success!

Philadelphia, PA
Sunday, July 06, 2014
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