In the second part of his review on the California Motorcyclist Safety Program Motorcyclist Training Course (CMSP MTC), Jason touches on more areas of the course that failed to educate new riders on the basics of motorcycle handling and riding…
One of the popular exercises on the course was threading your way through a set of cones. This is a good exercise taught the world over, as it requires good balance, posture and proper operation of the controls. Consequently it is also the area where new riders struggle the most – as the bike is more unstable and difficult to handle at low speeds and they are still learning coordinating all the controls. I learned from my UK CBT days that your best friend in low speed maneuvers is the rear brake. This stabilizes the bike by slightly lengthening the wheelbase which helps to keep the bike upright in low speed turns. Combine this with feathering the throttle and you’ll find a bit of rear trail-braking will have you executing perfectly controlled, low speed turns in no time.
The MTC course barely mentioned this however, preferring instead to teach low speed maneuvers with a combination of feathering the clutch and front brake… Why is this a problem? Applying the front brake in a low speed turn with the handlebars turned even slightly will pull you to the ground like a magnet. The front brake should be avoided at all costs when executing low speed maneuvers – not taught as a professional technique to a steady stream of new riders! It was no surprise to see student after student really struggle with low speed maneuvers on the course as they attempted to use a combination of front brake and throttle / clutch control. Several students – despite many attempts – were unable to weave their bike through the cones successfully and gave up in the end. It’s all very well weaving through cones on a private course – but out on public roads, mastering low speed handling of a machine that can often weigh upwards of 500lbs is critical to rider safety and survival. Teaching students from the very outset poor techniques that make low speed control so much harder is a really big fail of the MTC course.
I have two other major gripes with the course. The first is every single minute of practical, on-bike training is conducted on a private, closed course. There is absolutely no formal training or instruction on public roads at all. In fact, you can go through the entire M1 licensing process without ever turning a wheel on a public road… The MTC course would be far more beneficial to all the riders that pass through it by taking students out on public roads, where they can acclimatize to public road-riding under the watchful eye of an experienced instructor.
This brings me to my final issue, and I thought I’d end on the biggest one… This may very well be something specific to the course instructors on the day rather than a failing with the MTC course itself – but either way it’s still unforgivable. On my course, there were a couple of students who spent the entire course struggling. And I mean really struggling. They were just all-at-sea on a motorcycle. It didn’t matter what the task was, they just couldn’t grasp the basics of control or balance and spent the entire two days having an awful time tying themselves into all sorts of knots. We got to the skills evaluation at the end of the two days where you are graded on a series of practical riding tests and the first test up was our old friend – weaving through a set of cones. You failed this test if you missed or touched a cone, put your foot down or dropped the bike. Most got through successfully, but the two “strugglers” had a predictably awful time. One, a girl in her mid-twenties, was unable to complete the cones test despite being given three attempts to do so. The instructors gave up and moved the class onto the next exercise. As the skills evaluation progressed on, the two “strugglers” either visibly failed each test, or performed them to a standard so far short of what was requested I couldn’t see how they could be given anything other than the lowest marks.
At the end of the skills evaluation, we were each called forward to receive our evaluation, scores and course completion certificate. This certificate waives the DMV riding test so fast-tracks you straight to your M1 license. My jaw hit the floor when the two strugglers walked away with their certificates, having been told they had passed the course?! I really couldn’t believe this… Surely MTC instructors have a responsibility to their students (and their students lives!) to not pass anyone on a basic training course that is really struggling to master the basics of motorcycle riding and control? The strugglers on my course were not only a danger to themselves, but rode at such a poor level they would have been a danger to other road users as well. How is this not putting lives at risk? Do MCT instructors not have a duty to step in here? How about doing the responsible thing and not handing over a course completion certificate to a struggling rider and suggest instead that they come back for more training to get their skills up to some sort of decent, acceptable level? Most MCT schools boast of a 100% pass rate in their advertising, but this is flat out irresponsible.
Over the course of these couple of blog posts, I’ve highlighted many basic areas where the MTC course comes up well short for it’s customers. These are NOT advanced techniques being called out here. Things like head-checks, cornering, basic operation of the motorcycle (turning on/off, rear trail braking) etc are the fundamental basics of riding and control at entry level for any new rider, but if my experience at MRE Corp Simi Valley is anything to go by, these fundamental basics are either taught plain wrong, or worse, simply omitted from the MTC course. The overall problem with the program is it pitches being formal, official and CHP-sanctioned to new riders that don’t know any better, so they accept the training on this course as gospel. The sad truth is, by passing on bad habits and techniques to thousands of riders each year, and handing over course completion certificates to students that are in desperate need of more training simply translates into shocking riding out on real roads and eye-watering accident and mortality rates.