Washington Motorcycle Safety Program (beginning riders), Training and Education

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Washington Motorcycle Safety Program

Save Money And Maybe Your Life Too

Photo by Nick Olson copyright 1999Whether you're new to motorcycling, or you've been doing it for a while you owe it to yourself, the people who ride with you and the drivers around you to take the Washington State's Motorcycle Safety Program.

After 30 years of riding motorcycle's I decided to take the class when I purchased a new bike that was a bit large in comparison to what I had been riding.  After 20 hours of training I was pleased I took the class even if it did take up much of my Labor Day Weekend.

The course begins with four hours of class time which was held in a local campus class room from 6 to 10 p.m. on a Friday night.  Immediately the statistics start coming at you - 85% of motorcycle accidents involve riders who are self taught; studies show that most motorists initially perceive a motorcyclist as a bicyclist and don't realize until it's too late otherwise;   and balance is 90% visual.  Three videos are shown covering topics such as why people ride, what to wear and how to prepare your bike for a ride.  Other areas discussed include helmet selection, eye protection and turning your head in a turn.  I mention the last since most riders are not skilled at this crucial move (not that I ever had a problem with it - heh).

Photo by Nick Olson copyright 1999Day two, Saturday found us all out on the "Range" at 8 a.m. Each rider is provided a bike and helmet if needed.  You are told the night before to bring rain gear as the show goes on despite the weather.  The first hour is spent learning how to correctly mount a motorcycle and what the steps are to starting it.  After thirty years of riding I realized I had a bad habit, looking down when I mounted and dismounted the bike.  An evil to keeping the bigger bike upright during these times.  Next riders straddle walk the bike on the range learning how to use the brakes and coast.  Boing - another bad habit appeared in that I don't use my index finger on the front brake.  Finally riders start their bikes and learn how to shift into first, find the friction zone of the clutch and at 11 a.m. we actually put our feet on the pegs and rode.

The amazing thing about this is that few riders ever popped the clutch and stalled the bike.  The curriculum is so thorough that by the time it's time to ride your machine you've been well versed in how to hold it up and manage the initial use of the transmission.  Anyone who was ever self taught knows how many times they stalled the bike and I'm sure few aver spent three hours learning about it before they rode it away the first time.

Photo by Nick Olson copyright 1999The rest of the range time is learning how to turn the bike properly in ovals, make sharp turns and initial braking maneuvers.  Riders are then given time for lunch and then they return to the class room for more verbal instruction and videos regarding traffic situations and a review of alcohol statistics and why it's a bad idea to operate the bike under and influences despite how slight they may be.  One key statistic here is that your brain must manage 2,500 different task analysis at a time when operating a motorcycle, as opposed to only 700 when driving a car.  So if you think the legal limit of .08 is okay for riding a motorcycle, think again.

The third day began again at 8 a.m. and was spent entirely on the range learning to use acceleration in turns, stopping at high speed, swerving to avoid hazards and weaving through cones.  Following a lunch break we then proceeded into the evaluation process that is used to test riders before giving them their certification from the course.  Riders must not miss more than 20 points in order to be certified.  Dropping your bike is a minus 21 points and completely disqualifies you from any more testing, however you may come back the following week and retest with the next class.  

There were nine people in the class, only two had riding experience, myself and a gentleman riding a gold wing.  Two were women and the rest were men.  Of the nine of use 6 people dropped their bikes during training, but only one did so during testing and the rest of us passed.  One disheartening statistic was that no one in the class owned, or was planning to buy a sport bike.  With all the rage in sales of sport bikes these days you'd hope those riders were getting the same training they need to operate their machines.

The instructors were top notch!  Between the two gentlemen that taught the course they had over 2 million motorcycle miles under their belts and every war story you could imagine.  As I said before the curriculum is no less than excellent and I encourage every rider to take the class at least once despite your skill.  I myself will probably return to the class every few years as a brush up and reality check.  

The cost of the course is a simple $100.  Once you pass the course you will be saving money in a number of ways.  Many insurance companies offer riders discounts if they have passed the course.  A number of dealers offer discounts to those who have passed the course and a number of manufacturers, dealers and clubs will actually pay your $100 enrollment fee.  Check with yours to see if they do. 

There is also an experienced rider course offered where riders bring their own bikes and passengers if they so desire.

 For information on the Washington Motorcycle Safety Program and where you can take a class visit http://www.dol.wa.gov/ds/wmspsite.htm.   

TM/Summer 1999

Photos taken and (c) by Nils R. (Nick) Olson No reuse without permission of the copyright holder 



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