The official CHP-sponsored Motorcyclist Training Course left this SoCal Pro Rider instructor highly concerned at the basic riding techniques omitted and bad habits taught to a steady stream of new & inexperienced riders, placing whole classes of new riders at risk. In the first of a two part article, Jason tells us of his recent experience under the California Motorcyle Safety Program’s Motorcyclist Training Course (CMSP MTC)…
Despite being an experienced rider, a recent decision to get my California M1 license meant I had to take all the steps a novice/beginner rider has to. I’ve had my California driving license for years, so it was a short matter of getting my motorcycle learner’s permit (answer 20 multiple choice questions on a DMV computer) and then picking one of the following two options:
1) Take a short riding test at my local DMV
2) Complete a two-day training course (part of the California Motorcyclist Safety Program). Presentation of the completion certificate gets you a DMV riding test waiver and fast-tracks you to your full M1 license.
The riding test at the DMV is a joke (more on this later but for anyone wishing to see it – check out this video) and I was interested to see the level of training and instruction on this side of the pond so I plumped for the 2-day MTC at my local Training School – MRE Corp in Simi Valley, one of the official rider training schools in the area. The course is a mixture of classroom-based theory and practical riding on a private, closed-course.
The classroom sessions weren’t too bad – most of the basics were adequately covered (clothing, equipment, handling, cornering, different conditions etc). There was a multiple choice test at the end. It was when we got to the practical side of the course that the problems started…
A large percentage of students on the course readily admitted they had never even sat on a motorcycle before, something which is to be expected of course. After all, this is the basic, entry-level training course aimed at new riders who are not yet licensed. If you’ve never even sat on a bike before, then it’s safe to assume you’ve never had to put on something like a crash helmet either. Cue a bunch of students awkwardly trying to tackle a D-ring chin strap while the instructors looked on without saying a word. One student simply buttoned the chin strap using the plastic popper on the end of the strap and was immediately berated by one of the instructors who asked one of the other students to help him out. How about teaching the class how to do the chin strap up properly?
Then it was onto basic operation of the motorcycle. Rather than gathering the class around a machine to go through the basics (gearbox, clutch control etc), basic operation instruction was provided when all 12 students were sitting on their bikes in a long line by an instructor shouting at the class from the far end of the line. Starting one up for the first time and attempting to ride off in 1st gear is a HUGE deal if you’ve never done it before and have limited to zero experience of manual gearbox / clutch operation. I thought the level of care and instruction here was very poor and I could visibly see a lot of students really struggling with their balance, getting their bike in gear and pulling away with the correct blend of revs and clutch control. Yes this stuff was covered in the classroom and is written down in the handbook – but there is a world of difference between reading something on a projector in a classroom and actually doing it in real life!
Turning Off The Motorcycle
Now we come to the first of the bad habits the instructors repeatedly emphasized during the entire course and it concerned turning the motorcycle off. Page 27 of the CMSP Student Handbook says this:
To Stop The Engine
Turn the engine cut-off switch to OFF. Do this every time so that you will automatically reach for the switch quickly in an emergency.
Not only is this a bad habit, it is also flat out dangerous. Here is why…
Firstly, the owners manual on every bike I have ever owned explicitly states NOT to use the engine cut-off switch to regularly turn off the engine. This is the manual written by the people that designed and built your bike so you would do well to pay attention to it… To turn off the engine, bring the machine to a halt, put it in neutral and then turn the ignition key to “OFF”. Leave the engine cut-off switch alone!
Secondly – the cut off switch is located in a convenient location on the right handlebar just above the starter button. Even if you have never pressed the cut off switch before – it’s location is such you can press it quickly in an emergency. Does the student handbook tell you to constantly start your motorcycle so you can learn where the start button is? Of course not. In the same vein, you don’t need to turn the engine off constantly with this switch to learn its location.
The engine cut-off switch is an emergency switch only – to be used to instantly kill the engine in an emergency situation. It is not designed or built to be flicked on and off each and every time you start or stop the motorcycle. Simply put, if you use the switch to this extent, all you are going to do is wear it out, which means it’s not going to be any use if you ever need to stop the engine in an emergency…
The next area of complete incredulity for me concerned head checks (or lack of them) throughout the MCT course. In the UK, head checks are called “lifesavers” and it doesn’t take a genius to work out why. Motorcycles have smaller mirrors than cars, and have large blindspots just as cars do. Ensuring each and every new rider builds head checks into their road-riding is a major area of focus for all UK riding schools throughout CBT (Compulsory Basic Training) and beyond. To see the importance of the head check in the UK, look no further than the formal UK riding test, where failing to make your head check / lifesaver at the appropriate time is an automatic test fail.
Here though – head checks get a barely audible mention in the student handbook and were only casually mentioned a couple of times by the instructors during the MTC. There was no mention of making a head check to any of the students on my course during any of the practical riding sessions and at no point was any student corrected that didn’t perform a head check before making a maneuver. Based on my observations over two days, the MTC categorically fails to teach students to build head checks into their regular riding which is placing inexperienced riders at considerable risk.
One of the biggest fails taught on the MTC came when we got to cornering. Both the Student Handbook, and the practical riding instruction on both days taught a blanket outside-inside-outside technique for riding a motorcycle through a corner. This is where you start on the outside of your lane on approach to a corner, move to the inside as you head towards the apex, and then move to the outside again once the apex is reached. This is the optimal “straightline” through the corner and is absolutely the correct line to take if you have a clear view through the entire corner on entry and conditions permit it (which is rare), or you are at a race track, where you have perfect surface all the way around, no obstacles/hazards at the side of the road and no traffic coming in the opposite direction!
For real road riding though, the MTC approach of applying outside-inside-outside to each and every corner is dangerous and inviting trouble. Why? Because your view of your exit (and any potential hazards) can be restricted if you are on the inside of your lane as you hit the apex. This is particularly true of decreasing-radius corners which tighten up as you progress through the corner.
The line you take through a corner should always be a compromise between the greatest radius you can take and the best view through it. Your line is always secondary to safety. If you look into the left-hand corner and see a junction, drain covers and mud at the side of the road, then the outside of the lane is the last place you should want to be. If there is also an oncoming car approaching the apex then the inside of the lane should also be avoided! Motorcyclists need to be aware of all of these potential hazards when approaching corners, but the outside-inside-outside technique teaches none of this to new riders and is putting lives at risk because of this.
If approaching a left hand corner, students should be taught the basics here: move as far to the right as the conditions allow so you have the optimum view into and through the corner. Keep to the right until you can see your exit, then turn in, power on and exit the corner, taking the straightest line between the point you turned in and your exit point.