Is MSF’s BRC rider training effective?

As a new training season begins to ramp up in snowbelt states, I return to the question of whether rider training in all but two states in the USA is effective at reducing crashes, injuries and deaths.

In a past entry I described how all the studies have found that MSF’s rider training is, at best, effective in reducing crashes only for: those who ride small bikes, don’t ride far or often and/or are women. At worst, studies have found that it puts riders in greater jeopardy. As study after study came to the same conclusions, MSF changed its language to reflect that truth, and it is now called a “learn-to-operate” course rather than a motorcycle safety training course. Rider educators and motorcyclists either didn’t notice the change or chose to ignore the implications in that change.

Not to mention that the training has, itself, become deadly with a soaring crash rate within the course across state after state and resulted in more serious injuries—some near-fatal. Something MSF has refused to directly address with rider educators and has attempted to conceal from the motorcycling community. And something that rider educators have overwhelmingly chosen to minimize or ignore altogether.

As a community rider educators and motorcyclists have been either unaware of study results or have chosen to ignore them and put great confidence in their own performance as instructors or as participants—they see students who could not ride get to the point they are able to wobble through the test. By and large, instructors feel their job is done and done well. But they have little to no idea how those students fair after they leave the range.

As I’ve been working on a project I came across some statistics on older riders from a survey I did on the 40 Plus rider two years ago. On the issue of training as well as all other measures, this survey found nearly the same percentages of studies both here and abroad on older motorcyclists’ riding styles and patterns, attitudes and so forth. What this survey found, then, appears to representative of riders 40 and older.

This should give instructors a better idea of what happens to their students after leaving the course:

  • 94% of the novice 40 Plus riders in the questionnaire had taken a basic rider training course.
  • 75% of returning riders had taken some form of training
  • 68% of the continuing riders had taken some form of training.

The novice riders all took training using MSF basic training curriculum. Many of the returning and continuing riders had taken some form of MSF training and some of them had taken one or more other forms of training on top of that (such as Pridmore, Code, Parks, Streetmasters, etc.).

This puts MSF’s contention that most riders aren’t trained in doubt. It may mean that riders like training opportunities—they just aren’t attracted to MSF course products.

It also reflects older riders’ belief that training reduces the risks of riding. However, when the five-year crash rate is matched to training versus non-training the results may be surprising:

  • More than half (53%) of the new 40 Plus novices that took the Basic RiderCourse had already crashed.
  • Of the trained novices that crashed, 37.5% of them had already had 2 crashes.

Returning riders and training:

  • Almost 30% of returning riders who took training when they began riding again have crashed.
  • However, only 20% of the untrained returning riders crashed.

When it comes to continuing riders who took some form of training in the past five years:

  • 28.5% crashed in that time frame.
  • While 36.8% of continuing riders who had never taken any form of training had crashed during that same time.

However, the average mileage per year for continuing riders who hadn’t taken training was more than triple the average mileage of those who took training courses (26,714 VMT vs. 7,339 VMT). Experts say this increases their exposure to the risk of crashing significantly.

And remember, the respondents are the ones who lived through those crashes.

Riders only get die if they get injured. They get injured only if they crash. There’s no guarantee what kind of crash you will have on the road or what the results will be. The crash is the thing—eliminate them, eliminate injuries and deaths.

So the next time you stand on the range, take a good look around at all your students. Over six of them are likely to crash on the road after they leave your class.

Let’s say you teach 10 classes a year—more than 80 of those students are likely to crash within two years.

Over half the novice students you train will crash. About one-third of the returning riders you train will crash.

At the same time, the manufacturers who control the training and licensing content and standards know that over 75% of the students who graduate will go on to buy motorcycle.

This suggests that 25% of your students won’t go on to ride their own bike.

And over half your students who do go on to ride will crash.

You do the math on those who both go on the ride and don’t crash.

That doesn’t count the ones who crashed and died.

And that’s no matter how good a teacher you feel you are.

Are you sure that “something is better than nothing”?

Are you sure teaching something the publisher says is a “learn-to-operate” course is the best that can be done?

Are you sure it’s not time to find out if training programs in Canada or the UK or somewhere else aren’t more effective in training safer riders?

So the next time you’re on the range—look around and decide: which of the 6.36 students are you going to train to crash?

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22 Comments on “Is MSF’s BRC rider training effective?”

  1. Dave Jenneke Says:

    This is a pretty grim synopsis Wendy. All I can say is that I will continue to try my best to take the tools I’ve been given and hope that when the students leave the class they have more success then the statistics say they will.

    I sent you something the other day titled “Why We Teach”. Thought you might be interested in it.
    Monster

  2. wmoon Says:

    Yeah, I know it is–and your e-mail the other day was a key reason why I decided to post this. The question is–if rider educators really understand what happens to riders once they leave the course, how long will you be satisfied to “take the tools” you’ve been given (which is the MSF curriculum you teach)?

    At what point–or rather what will it take–for rider educators to say “the tools suck and we need better tools to do the job we intend to do”?

    I’m just asking…
    W.

  3. aidanspa Says:

    A very well-written and researched post, Wendy. Check the msgroup safety site for an interesting thread: “0 Based Rider Education” under Rider Training Courses. I would be interested in reading your thoughts regarding teaching students to subconciously react to emergency situations, at the reflex (motor cortex) level, through a distributed versus massed training program.

  4. beginner Says:

    I think training is a problem because it ends up being a substitute for practice. If I was teaching new riders I would use the course primarily to persuade them to get a small bike (175-260 pounds) and practice more than they ever dreamed could matter and, failing that, don’t ride.

    We ride with a split personality. There is the thinking mind that reads books, listens to lectures and believes it is “in charge”. Then there is the motor/balance system with it’s vestibular and related processes. It doesn’t learn from reading books or listening to lectures. It learns from direct experience and, to learn things that are hard, it requires endless repetitions measured in thousands, not dozens or hundreds.

    Sometimes it can take charge of us in panic situations and do things the conscious mind knows better about. On a motorcycle that tug of war between consious mind and motor/balance system can be fatal. The parking lot is safer than the street and the more I practice the humbler I get about my abilities.

    Courses only teach the conscious mind. In a class room your motor/balance system is not listening, it’s busy keeping you from falling out of your chair.

    Look at the MSF booklets carefully, listen to what the Rider Coaches say and, especially, don’t say. The MSF does everything in it’s power to ignore practice without being obvious. Predictably the Rider Coaches will say that’s not true but look at the booklets. That’s what sets the priorities.

    The Rider Coaches, who dominate every motorcycle forum, have endless well practiced tactics to kill discussion of practice. I think they see practice as competition to their course. The result is nobody talks about practice.

    Every forum has become an advertising venue for Rider Coaches to promote their product. (How much do most of them get paid?) Part of how they control the spin is by persuading the admins to remove anyone who doesn’t play along.

    I sincerely believe public safety would be well served if the MSF was disbanded immediately which could be done by revoking their liability insurance.

  5. Diogenes Says:

    The problem only grows worse when well-intentioned and obviously good hearted folks like Dave Jenneke continue to let themselves be used by the MSF. The statistics tell us clearly that MSF’s “Something” is far worse than nothing at all. Ray Ochs and his minions will continue to be the Kevorkians of motorcycling until those well-meaning legions of instructors stand up and demand better tools. The students will continue to be the losers as long as the motorcycle manufacturers control training.
    Real motorcycle safety training will never win out over motorcycle sales.

  6. wmoon Says:

    Excellent points about the necessity of practice. It may surprise you but MSF’s MUCH earlier curriculum was much, much longer and had that opportunity for practice. It’s been shorten in every single iteration from the beginning.

    It’s interesting that you say rider instructors are killing discussion of practice. It will be interesting as well to see what rider instructors who read this forum have to say about that.

    Rider instructors promote MSF training not because they’re paid well–the pay pretty much sucks. They do so because they so deeply believe in what they’re doing and that it’s effective. They simply don’t know–or choose to deny–that the training does little more than teach people to operate controls.

    And, sorry, MSF couldn’t be disbanded by revoking their liability insurance. Separate issues. It could do with some real competition in rider training curriculum.
    W.

  7. Jeff Brenton Says:

    Before you go too far in agreeing about “practice”, Wendy, you need to be familiar with Beginner’s definition of the word. He has the perfect solution for motorcycle safety – never leave the parking lot, until you have perfected your technique. And even then, only after you spend at least 15 minutes refreshing your technique before leaving. Beginner’s approach to discussing practice is a mirror of Tim Buche in many ways… Don’t let facts get in the way of a good supposition that supports your beliefs or goals!

    He’s so “popular” on the forums he claims are dominated by the agents of MSF because of a total failure to absorb any information presented to him that says you can’t learn everything about riding in a parking lot. It isn’t just MSF he’s convinced is against him… The list includes Lee Parks, Keith Code, and dozens of other non-MSF instructors who “disagree” with him on the importance of practice.

    On at least two forums I’ve seen him “work”, the instructors (not just MSF RiderCoaches) answered his questions, and engaged him honestly, in part to keep others from getting the impression that there is no value to practice without experience. But his antics usually got to the point where the other forum users complained bitterly.

    We thought it was fun. It was definitely engaging, because every fact was met with a supposition that the fact (no matter how verifiable) was really wrong, and its wrongness proved some issue or another was not properly addressed or even considered.

    If you ever feel like wasting a few hours reading, I can point you towards several of Beginner’s “discussions”, so you can see for yourself. He’s a very prolific writer. And a decent debater… as long as you accept what he says, instead of verifying his “theories”.

    One theory I found especially interesting was that a publication MSF sells on how to make use of a parking lot for practice is proof that MSF doesn’t believe in the importance of practice… Because it does not contain verbiage requiring practice, just how to do it.

  8. wmoon Says:

    Jeff, I did not know that was Beginner’s definition of “practice” but surely the sane approach lies somewhere in between the irresponsibility of MSF’s current BRC total of 15 miles to get from never sat to a motorcycle license and his wacky view (if that is his view). That MSF instructors defend an unconscionable training course is something I’m very familiar with.

    While, if that’s Beginner’s view, I couldn’t agree with it, I do agree that the current state of training in the USA is irresponsible and puts riders at higher-risk by licensing riders who are not capable of safely operating motorcycles in traffic.
    W.

  9. beginner Says:

    Wendy, thanks for having this blog. Mr. Brenton’s response to me is a text book example of what I encounter anywhere I bring up the practice issue. The Rider Coaches never have anything to say about practice until someone else brings it up and then they descend on the conversation en masse and try to break it up with exactly the things written above.

    I wish you had a forum for your topic. In the mean time Mr. Brenton should speak for himself. I enjoy speaking for myself.

    My definition of practice is drills and exercises with repetitions spaced close in time. This concept and the importance of drills and exercises exists in every sport except motorcycle riding. In the motorcycle world the definition of expert, for practical purposes, is somebody who is so skilled they no longer need to practice. So I never want to be a motorcycle expert.

    I didn’t take a course. After the way I’ve been treated by the Rider Coachs I’m sure I never will. I didn’t have a clue about courses until after the bike was home. I naively believed I’d spend a week or two getting familiar with the bike then just ride it around the farm as I’d intended. After the first couple rides I realized I’d profoundly underestimated the skills part of riding so I made a promise to myself, enjoy practice as much as riding around or sell the bike.

    That turned into a routine, two hours of moving time a day, divided into several rides, including an hour of PLP–every day. That went for 300 hours (GPS moving time) until winter shut things down. I believe I spent 100 hours on 18’by36′ figure 8s alone.

    100 hours of figure 8s changes a person. The reason I did so much volume is because it was so productive. Right to the end I was making noticable progress in balance and accuracy. The last two rides of the season were confined to the parking lot because of ice and snow. For those I set the tripometer at zero and rode the figure 8 in several stages until there were 20 miles recorded. I did that just for the bragging rights but even that caused noticable progress.

    I’ve been asked a couple times how to get started. I say, do what I did, get a little bike that will do the slow stuff with no requirement to ride the clutch or brake. For the first 300 hours split your time between PLP and riding quiet streets under 30 mph. You will probably survive that without a life changing injury. When it’s done you’ll know things that can’t be expressed in words, you won’t need any more advice from me, and I garrantee, you won’t regret the practice time because you’ll enjoy it.

    I also say be careful about taking a course. Those guys don’t practice. If they teach you not to practice the course is worse than a waste of time.

  10. wmoon Says:

    Beginner, that’s an interesting way you learned and I applaud your perseverance. However, it doesn’t mean you know how to ride or do things correctly just because you can do them. I would define motorcycle expert differently than you do. While the MSF course is merely a learn to operate course, it does have a limited value. In lieu of a better course, I’d suggest you put your pride in your back pocket and take one to make sure you are doing basic skills correctly.

    And you have no basis in saying that the instructors don’t practice–you don’t know and they may ride real roads enough that practicing is not necessary.

    While I appreciate what you wrote, I shudder that you suggest to others that they do what you did. And I’m concerned that you think you know more than it appears you do.
    W.

  11. beginner Says:

    What is dangersous about persuading someone to spend his first 300 hours in a parking lot and on quiet streets under 30 miles an hour? That sounds safer than taking a course that persuades someone they are ready for more than that.

    A way to avoid thinking I kmow more than I do is to not “believe” what anybody says about riding, including myself. I don’t konw anything I can’t demonstrate on the bike and I don’t always trust that.

    “Riding correctly” is a favorite slogan of the Rider Coaches. The trick is to keep saying it but never define it or elaborate. The purspose is to undermine the riders confidence until he agrees he must take The Course.

    Another favorite of the Rider Coaches is to say you shouldn’t practice because you might be practicing incorrectly, again, without ever being specific about what is meant by “incorrect”. In fact they don’t mean anything by it because the purpose is to undermiine confidence and discourage practice.

    We know the rider Rider Coaches don’t practice because their students don’t practice.

  12. beginner Says:

    Wendy, on another topic,

    You site some statistics about the crash rates for various riders that seem very high compared to statisics I’ve read in several other studies. I’m not surprised by your statistics depending on the definition of “crash.”

    In the first season I fell with the bike 10 times. I assumed from the start there would be a fall so I made a rule to reflect that. Only fall at a slow speed on a small bike in a safe place.

    All my falls were single vehicle. All but one were off road. All of were slow enough so the vertical forces were more significant than the horizontal ones. None of them caused important damage to the bike or me. I don’t call those crashes because there was no significant bad result although the fall on pavement hurt and earned me some bruises and minor road rash.

    So in the crash study you site, how do they define crash?

    Based on the evidence of these various studies the Rider Coaches should be required to warn students, from the first moment of the course, and all the way along, that taking the course will not improve their safety margin and might do the reverse. Failing to disclose that, given the evidence, I would consider a breach of fiduciary duty.

    When I have my moment of influence over a wannabe I’m promoting practice because the there are vulnerabilities that can’t be explained with words, they have to be experienced to be comprehended. The lessons won’t come in the first few days. Some may take months or years. Those lessons should be learned someplace where there is the least chance of life changing injury. Practice is the best venue for hard lessons.

    The other rationale I have for practice is it’s role in safety. Knowledge and judgement are Plan A for avoiding trouble. Eventually Plan A fails. Plan B is the raw skill and fortitude to maneuver out of the situation. Plan B comes from practice, not books and courses.

    My first fall was a huge moment. When I knew there was no harm to me or the bike my mood was celebritory. I knew my motor/balance system had learned a lesson it would never forget, it permanently eleveated my concentration level. The fall on pavement was just as important because it removed the idea that I could rely on the more predictable traction on the road.

  13. wmoon Says:

    10 crashes in the first season? And you think low speed crashes in a safe place are ok? With all the respect you’re due, sir, you are an idiot. Dislocations, broken bones and concussions regularly occur in low speed crashes–not to mention abrasions and contusions. There is no safe crashing in motorcycling.

    While you occasionally stumble over something true in what you say, you err in the main.

    I’ve given you a chance to explain yourself and you confirmed what Jeff said you were. I’ve come to a conclusion you’re a troll and you’re done on this forum.
    W.

  14. Rioguy Says:

    Wendy,

    I’m not as anti-MSF as you are although I mostly agree with your concerns about their monopolistic nature. (I have no connection with MSF or any other training program.)

    I never expected BRC to teach me how to ride safely. When I took the course, I took it to get my license as one trip to the parking lot convinced me learning on my own would take too much time. After those two days, I considered learning more to be my responsibility.

    They succeeded at this and in the last 22 months, I’ve ridden 42,000 safe miles. I’ve never had a close call where the outcome was in doubt.

    My feeling is that BRC does have an effect in the first 3,000 miles.

    There is a poll here: http://www.msgroup.org/forums/mtt/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=9211 that shows about 1 in 10 BRC graduates has a crash in the first 3,000 miles and 1 in 3 or so who hasn’t taken BRC has a crash in the first 3,000 miles. Can we really expect a 2 day course to have a long term effect over 5 years?

    It could be that those who elect to take BRC have more concern with safety and would have had the same results without taking it.

    If you look at the blue portion of the lines you can see the independent variable may not be BRC. It may be that it is those who are members of http://www.msgroup.com . This group seems to have a lower crash rate.

    I haven’t found any data to support this statement:

    “However, the average mileage per year for continuing riders who hadn’t taken training was more than triple the average mileage of those who took training courses (26,714 VMT vs. 7,339 VMT). Experts say this increases their exposure to the risk of crashing significantly. ”

    I took a poll in an attempt to show the relationship between miles and crashes. I found zero correlation. That surprised me. In my opinion, more miles increases proficiency to handle risk at about the same rate risk increases.

    I did find an increased incidence of crashes in the 4th year of riding. That increase may not be statistically significant.

    In my opinion, rider attitude towards learning is a key factor. I have met many riders who say “Be safe” and in the next breath they say “Don’t tell me how to ride.” However, I have no proof that these riders are at more risk.

    After almost 2 years of studying the issue I have no idea how to prevent crashes. It seems to be more an issue of changing attitudes rather than training on riding skills.

    Meanwhile, I just muddle along knowing nobody but me can make me safe. I get inputs from a lot of forums, but in the end, I have to decide the safest way to ride.

    In my opinion, research on motorcycle safety is completely backwards. Crashes are studied and people are trying to come up with ways to prevent those crashes. We should be studying those who haven’t crashed and find out why.

    Rioguy

  15. Capt Crash Says:

    I’ve NEVER seen a RiderCoach tell beginner NOT to practice. All I’ve seen is coaches tell him to get better guidance for his practice.

    That said:

    Wendy, your position on the BRC is pretty clear, I’m curious what your feelings are about the intermediate and experienced courses are?

  16. gymnast Says:

    Wendy,
    In looking at some of the responses to your essay, I get the opinion that there is a tendency to oversimplify some rather complex concepts and interrelationships that need to be considered if progress is to made in the improvement of rider performance. The simplistic treatment of riders, crashes, and training as discrete variables rather than multifaceted and interrelated continuous variables has produced little in the way of utilitarian solutions to the “motorcycle crash and injury problem. The “quality” (or efficiency) of ones riding ability (a continuous variable) involves affective, cognitive, and psycho-motor skill components in acting in combination with a continuously changing riding environment wherein the frequency, proximity, and closure rates with potential spacial conflicts suggest that the “quality of risk” must also be of concern.

    Simply put, there is a hell of a lot of difference between the quality of ability and the quality and quantity of risk when riding on a low traffic rural highway as compared to splitting lanes on California 101 going over the Sepulveda pass. A crash is a discrete event that results from inefficiency in in a continuous process.

    Even a “significant” crash may or may not result in an accident report. It is a matter of specific circumstances and a rider who “goes down” suffers a possible broken finger or some road rash may, in many cases simply pick up there machine, and ride off. There is likely some unknown amount of under reporting of motorcycle crashes further confounding knowledge of the risk parameters of the overall riding population.

    2 cents worth.

  17. wmoon Says:

    Rioguy, I appreciate your interest and efforts to understand this serious and mysterious issue.

    I would suggest there’s some difficulties in the poll you directed me to: You ask about the *BRC*–but did riders respond to that if they took an earlier iteration? Why only the BRC? Or did riders assume that meant any training? So there’s confusion there that makes it unwise to draw any conclusions other than 42 people who responded claimed they didn’t crash with injuries that needed medical attention or that needed an insurance claim within 3,000 miles. I’m not sure how helpful that is–particularly because of other issues:

    The numbers are also are small (total 20) of those who didn’t take training and doesn’t come anywhere close to reflecting what MSF claims–that most riders don’t take training. My research doesn’t find the percentage of the untrained as high as MSF does but it’s not as low as this poll shows either. Iow, your poll, in two respects as a whole is in the outlier category—-which may go to your point on self-selecting, MSGroup membership and a predisposition to being more concerned with safety.

    I have no idea why you chose 3,000 as the defining number nor why you chose the crash definition nor, having chosen it, to allow people to disregard it as it muddles any coherence in the results. For example, what does medical attention mean? Being treated by a paramedic or does it mean having to clean a wound and/or take an over-the-counter pain-reliever? Someone who got hurt and self-treated could claim they didn’t crash or, equally, they could claim they did.

    And riders who had crashed could honestly say they hadn’t crashed if they didn’t file an insurance claim. Equally, they could say they crashed. The results become meaningless as a result.

    The Billheimer study found that there was a 6 mos affect of 10% that dropped to zero by a year: iow, training helped for the first six months with a 10% difference in crashes between trained and untrained. While I’m glad for every percentage point that shows training helps–it’s still just 10% so there’s considerable improvement possible in the training curriculum available in the USA. But 3,000 seems to be completely arbitrary.

    As for the effect of exposure on crashes and what experts say and the mileage of continuing vs. returning riders, etc.–are you familiar with the motorcycle research out of Monash University (also look at MAIDS and UK research). The idea that more miles = more exposure to the risk of crashing is well-known in any motor vehicle research.

    As you said, it’s your opinion about miles and risk. It is, as you say, your opinion and one that’s not supported by data. In fact, there’s a growing body of reputable studies that find risk compensation to be very relevant in any kind of road user incident.

    While I agree that attitude is key in learning, I don’t see the correlation between riders saying “be safe” and “don’t tell me how to ride”. The statements have nothing to do with each other, whether those riders were trained or not or safe riders or not. It has a great deal to do with the “don’t you tell me what to do” attitude that’s characteristic of the average motorcyclist. And I (sigh) am one of them.

    I don’t see it as qualitatively different from what you go on to say about yourself: that you muddle along; no one but you can make you safe (and I think you’re WAY over-estimating your abilities if you think you can guarantee that); and that you have to decide the safest way to ride. While I generally agree, imo, it’s just a version of the statement you objected to from others.
    W.

  18. wmoon Says:

    Gymnast, totally agree about the simplistic analysis of motorcycle crashes–from NHTSA on down to the Average Joe who discusses these things on forums or in parking lots. And agree on the under-reporting of crashes. My guess is that less than half of actual crashes get either a police or insurance report.

    Btw, the 405 goes over the Sepulveda Pass ; )
    W.

  19. gymnast Says:

    Wendy, The 405 goes over the Sepulveda pass? Doh! No wonder I never could find LAX.

  20. wmoon Says:

    Capt. Crash, I also totally agree that rider instructors tell their students to practice after leaving the course.

    As to MSF’s “intermediate and experienced” courses–they are the BRC sliced, diced and repackaged. Diet Coke in a can, Diet Coke in a bottle. Diet Coke in 12 oz size, Diet Coke in a liter bottle…

    The only one that has a little bit that isn’t in the BRC is the sportbike course–what is different than the rest of MSF curriculum owes a whole lot–a whole lot–to the far superior experienced and advanced courses offered by the likes of Lee Parks’ Total Control and TEAM Oregon’s ART, etc. but in a considerably dumbed down version. MSF is the General Motors of rider training. MSF has convinced rider educators they’re buying a Lexus when they’re actually buying a Corvair–the training is unsafe at any speed…

  21. Excoach Says:

    Wendy,
    The availability of alternative courses is a big concern I have right now. With the MSF starting to gobble up state programs my fear is that they are going to influence the state powers to not allow any other training except the MSF. That’s what looks like is going to happen in NY.


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