MSF gets serious about motorcycle safety

Dailies -


MSF_News.jpgSketch: Jonathan Smith

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation is announcing a comprehensively revised
training program and a new study into the causations of motorcycle
accidents that promises to deliver hard facts rather than
after-the-incident conjecture. Finally. For too long the US has existed
in the dark ages of rider training, with very little in the way of
effectual training available this side of a very large check and a
racetrack. We’ve relied on the same crash causation data since 1981. No
more. >

Here’s the details on the new MSF courses:

Essential CORE
Basic RiderCourse: The recommended first ride aboard a smaller, training-size motorcycle on a closed range.
Street RiderCourse 1: The recommended first public-road ride for students with their own motorcycles (or training motorcycles), and the first MSF course taken beyond traditional, closed riding ranges. In a standard SRC 1, three students are linked by radios to one specially certified MSF RiderCoach.
Basic Bike-Bonding RiderCourse: Skill drills to help students handle their own motorcycles.

Expanded CORE
Basic RiderCourse
Street Smart – Rider Perception: A host-an-event kit with a compact disc containing perception tests relating to real-world situations.
Street RiderCourse 1
Basic Bike-Bonding RiderCourse
Advanced RiderCourse – Sportbike Techniques: For sport and other style motorcycles, this includes three classroom hours focusing on rider awareness and risk management, and four hours of riding on a closed range with exercises that aim to develop both technique and judgment.
Street RiderCourse 2: Adding time and mileage to that in Street RiderCourse 1, focused on improving the perceptual strategies of street riding.
Recommended CORE
Basic RiderCourse
Street Smart – Rider Perception
Street RiderCourse 1
Basic Bike-Bonding RiderCourse
Advanced RiderCourse – Sportbike Techniques
Street RiderCourse 2
KS-RiderCourse: Developed with Grand Prix road racing champion Kevin Schwantz, this circuit-type, fine-skills course uses a much larger riding range, permitting speeds closer to that on public roads.

Compare that to what existed before: basic parking lot lessons that, in most states, were enough to get a license. Now, we’re finally getting real on-road training and classes that will teach realistic skills for controlling modern motorcycles. The Kevin Schwantz course sounds particularly promising, no rider should be let loose on any bike made after 1980 without some training in how to properly use modern brakes and some experience dealing with high power-to-weight ratios. If you’re planning to learn how to ride or you’re a new rider, please, please, please sign up for the Recommended Core courses and the  KS-RiderCourse. It will help you enjoy motorcycles much more and for much longer.
Sponsored by all the major bike manufacturers the MSF is essentially all the US has got in terms of basic rider training. Already available at some locations, these new courses will provide new riders with the option to learn some actual motorcycle safety before hitting the road on their own. Hopefully not literally. For anyone out there that hasn’t ridden a modern bike, the throttle and brake lever are the rough equivalent to a loaded gun: get stupid and there’ll be brains splattered all over the road. Believe it or not, our backwards country has been turing riders loose with merely the faintest suggestion of where to point that lethal weapon.

While these new training programs are entirely voluntary and don’t increase the level of training necessary to obtain a bike license, they do at least give riders an easy way to learn how to not kill themselves. In the long term, we still hope to see rest of the civilized world-style tiered licensing rolled out nationwide; there’s no better way to protect a right than with mandated common sense.
It’s hard to write about this without sounding like one giant sigh of relief, but that’s exactly how we feel. As someone who grew up and learned how to ride in England, it came as a shock to see the just how low the standards of motorcycle safety are in this country when I moved back here four years ago. While there’s always been the will to see some realistic rider training among influential members of the motorcycle industry, one thing or another has always prevented the implementation of effectual rider training. To us, this is as big a Change with a capital “C” as health care reform; long, long overdue.
What’s also long overdue is a post-Hurt Report crash causation study. Released in 1981, that report is still considered the definitive authority on the causes of motorcycle accidents, but it was severely limited by the period technology and its current application is questionable given not only the change in motorcycle technology, but also our massively altered traffic conditions. While the MSF Naturalistic Study of Motorcyclists won’t replace the late Professor Hurt’s study, it will massively supplement it with video and instrumented data.

Beginning next year, “numerous” motorcycles will be fitted with video and data recorders  for a period of 6-18 months. That data will then be used to identify the causes of both crashes and near crashes, going far further than any previous study in identifying the factors that cause us to go splat. To be conducted in conjunction with Virginia Tech, the study isn’t just a watershed moment for American motorcycle safety, but promises to go further than any study ever conducted anywhere in the world. The key here is being able to look at exactly what caused a crash or near crash, rather than guesstimating the causes afterwards. Instead of a skid mark here, a blood smear there, researchers will be able to examine black box-like data. With that data, the MSF will be able to evaluate the effectiveness of current training techniques, using it to develop new curriculums and the study will also likely inform future legislation and technology.
Here’s the key details:

  • Naturalistic Method identifies crashes using time-series video and numeric data, reveals factors not detectable through crash investigation, creates its own controls by comparing the crash-involved rider to himself/herself at all other times, and permits quantification of rider performance and behavior in non-critical and critical riding
  • Feasibility of Naturalistic Method on motorcycles has been proven by VTTI, but not yet implemented
  • Study planning will occur in 2010; study will begin in 2011
  • Initial MSF funding will exceed $1.25 million
  • The MSF Naturalistic Study of Motorcyclists will document the interaction of rider attributes, behaviors, roadway, adjacent vehicles and environments as well as their relationship to crash prevalence and severity
  • The MSF Naturalistic Study of Motorcyclists will identify differences between successful and unsuccessful evasive maneuvers
  • The MSF Naturalistic Study of Motorcyclists will identify attributes and habits of safe riders
  • Continuous collection of data with greater detail will enable comprehensive countermeasure development
  • Compiled data set may be used to answer research questions that arise in the future.

All this, the training and the study, will mean less motorcycle deaths, more long-term riders and hopefully a reduced potential of future draconian anti-motorcycle legislation. Basically, it means a future for motorcycles in this country. Hooray.

  • Sean Smith

    Sweet. So what to they mean by ‘circuit-type’ course?

    If they can do this on the cheap, and if they really mean race track it’ll be ten tons of awesome.

    • Wes Siler

      I’m guessing it’s a big parking lot with some corners that aren’t first gear.

  • generic1776

    I’ve had friends who teach courses in large area/stadium/university parking lots, where you can get proper cornering drills between 30-60 mph. No, it isn’t “how to drag knee on the street”, but a series of controlled exercises for body positioning, steering with knees, fine throttle control exercises, etc. No matter how many years you’ve been riding, training in an observed course helps scrutinize technique for “real world” road situations.

  • PeteP

    VA Tech is going to do the study?

    Blacksburg, VA is hardly the urban environment found in NYC or LA.

    • Wes Siler

      The Transportation Institute is one of the most respected research organizations in the country and they routinely conducts nationwide studies:

  • Marshall Haas

    Awesome. Anywhere we can see what cities the new classes hit?

  • Dave

    Some concerns:

    -How much time will pass between study complete and an updated curriculum?

    -How long will state programs and private schools be allowed to continue on the BRC curriculum?

    -What is the cost of switching over from BRC to the improved curriculum?

    -How will MSF bring states which rejected the MSF’s BRC curriculum back into the fold?

  • Case

    This is great news.
    I took the MSF Safety Course to get my Class M license. After I finished a (rider) friend congratulated me on being qualified to make supervised trips around cones in a parking lot. He was kidding, but only a little.

    I’m concerned about the cost. Current MSF basic is $250 where I live. How much more are the rest of the programs going to be?

    Interesting that they got Schwantz to lend some name-brand recognition.
    Because this dominates:

  • Cliff

    I don’t really have any problems with this, but good luck making it through the various state legislatures (and don’t let get it anywhere near the anti-motorcycle Ray LaHood at the Fed level). I can understand why you would like this coming from the sportbike centric world of England. But in the US the vast majority of bikers are cruiser types, many of which are mid-40 year old+ guys. Good luck getting those guys to live on a 450cc bike for a year while they wait to “graduate” to their chrome Harley in the garage. My best guess as to why my state (WA) got rid of the old two tier motorcycle license is precisely because those guys said “no way”, and those guys have some clout (i.e. money). I might note if you want some early Saturday morning laughs go out to the local DMV doing their motorcycle license parking lot qualifying and watch these guys on their huge HD’s trying to navigate around the cones. Fail.

    Alas, the likelihood of getting strict bike laws through will coincide with the moment that the nanny staters overwhelm the biker community as all the old geezers leave biking. (I’m in my mid-50s but intend to run sport touring bikes until my mid-80s -yeah I’ll be buying the VFR1200) So, it won’t be bike safety, it will just be anti-biking. Yes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    *Pre-’80 bikes? No brakes, flexible chassis, bad tires? You want them riding those? You must hate your fellow man.

    • Wes Siler

      Tiered licensing typically comes with some sort of exemption for older riders. IE if you’re 25 and want to ride a large capacity bike you just have to take a longer/more expensive/harder test.

      I wasn’t suggesting we stick new riders on pre-’80s bikes, but the current training was conceived when motorcycles neither went nor handled. The skills needed to operate modern bikes are vastly different.

  • Chris

    Bah humbug. I learned how to ride a motorcycle on a bicycle. Upshifts, downshifts, dragging a pedal/peg through a turn, proper front a rear braking, late braking, obstacle-dodging, and so on.

    I hopped on a motorcycle ready to rock. I count this as the only benefit of growing up in a condensed metro area.

    But Joe Blow in Montana can use these new classes and regulations. I can’t wait to see it go in to affect.

    • shinigami

      Arrogant little sucker aren’t you ;)

      Hey, after 10 years of 25 miles-a-day on a bicycle in Los Angeles (complete with being boffed by a cage onto my helmted head on a left-hander in Marina Del Rey)and 5 years on a 500 cc machine in Athens of all places (!) I still had something to learn when I took my first MSF class.

      An improved MSF curriculum? Sign me up! (after 140K on three sports and supersports post MSF)

      You NEVER know it all, sparky.

  • Markus

    I went through the hassle of getting my license in Germany. Over 1000 Euro and a couple months of classes. It’s a serious pain, but it helped get rid of the bad habits I got from teaching myself to ride on NYC streets. I wouldn’t wish the garbage bureaucracy of German regulations on anyone. But i gotta say it does make for better riders.
    maybe a happy medium?

  • Mobocaster

    I learnt to ride in the UK, went through the graded license system. I have always thought it far too easy to get a motorcycle license here in the US. Two days riding around a parking lot on a 250cc, then off you go onto the freeway in rush hour traffic on your ‘Busa. I took the MSF BRC recently to get a Texas Motorcycle endorsement, and there were several guys there who were planning on doing just that. I know we’re not supposed to protect the stupid ones from themselves, but I really think that good tuition on the road makes a far safer rider. Yes, you do learn a lot in the current MSF, but there is a lot more to learn out on the streets too.

  • Valentin Bertovich

    On mine the theme is rather interesting. I suggest all to take part in discussion more actively.

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