MSF says the BRC is rudimentary and more is needed before graduate safe to ride in traffic

The January 2009 edition of NY ABATE’s The Freedom Writer includes a “news” story generated by MSF and printed by ABATE verbatim. It begins by describing Tim Buche and Ray Ochs at the IFZ 7th International Motorcycle Conference in Germany last October. Buche gave a talk on “Integrating the Honda SMARTrainer with the MSF Rider Education and Training System for Improving Hazard Perception.”

The SMARTrainer is manufactured by Honda, MSF’s largest dues-paying contributor. Honda, MSF-employee Jim Heideman, reported last year, asked MSF to market the simulator for the corporation.

Buche, the press release/news story states, says the SMARTrainer is “the right tool for the right time” and that MSF had “turned the training tool” into supplementary RETS learning opportunities that can help anyone from beginning riders on when “used in conjunction with existing MSF curricula and under the watchful eye of a RiderCoach and to promote motorcycle familiarization and safety renewal.”

Even though Buche says that SMART is to promote “motorcycle familiarization” elsewhere in the article it makes it clear that it is a “traffic simulator” and not a “riding simulator”.

The press release/news story goes on to state that “The SMART is a highly effective tool to help beginning riders—as well as returning riders who need a mental tune-up—become aware of the potential dangers that exist for them out in the real world just waiting to ruin their day….” It should be noted that the SMART includes such things as T-bones, running into pedestrians, being hit by a truck while merging and other such events.

It also states that SMARTrainer is “designed to give riders a safe bridge between a typical beginning rider course (which often takes place in a parking lot) and the real-world scenarios of riding in traffic and on public roads. The key is in providing a no-risk introduction to the hazards of street riding to compliment [sic] rudimentary instruction.”

Just so we’re clear then: the article states it’s not a riding simulator—but it’s supposed to promote motorcycle familiarization but after the “rudimentary instruction” that is the beginning rider course. Only then will novice riders become aware of the “potential dangers” by using this “safe” “no-risk bridge” and be prepared for traffic—unlike the course which is taught in a parking lot.

But MSF’s website first states that the BRC is taught “in a controlled environment provide[s] a complete introduction to motorcycling,” and then “In [the BRC], you’ll learn how to operate a motorcycle safely, with a lot of emphasis on the special skills and mental attitude necessary for dealing with traffic.”

The California Motorcycle Safety Program, administrated by MSF states, gives a complete outline of what’s taught—and it sure seems to be all about motorcycle familiarization.

And the Pennsylvania Motorcycle Safety Program (PAMSP) also administrated by MSF states, “The primary goal of the Basic RiderCourse (BRC) is to provide an introduction to the fundamentals of safe, responsible motorcycling. The BRC is designed to prepare riders for entry into the complex world of traffic.”

And furthermore, the SMARTrainer is to be used between the BRC and actually riding in traffic—even though the graduate is already going to automatically receive a driver’s license-waiver. The state grants the waiver because the end-of-course evaluations are supposed to be equal to the skills testing at the DMV. And the motorcycle operator skill test is supposed to determine if the rider is able to navigate safely in traffic. Iow, the state has been convinced by MSF that the motorcycle operator skills test it publishes and that’s used at the DMV suffices to determine whether the rider is safe to operate the motorcycle in traffic. Then MSF convinced the state that the end-of-course evaluations are equivalent to the test at the DMV. Then Buche–and the MSF says that the graduate isn’t familiar with the motorcycle or the hazards–and therefore the risks and danger of riding–and needs yet another MSF product–and a RiderCoaches watchful eyes–to do so?

And, of course, not to mention that MSF’s student waiver begins, “I fully understand and acknowledge that: (a) there are DANGERS AND RISK, INJURY DAMAGE, OR DEATH that exist in my use of motorcycles and motorcycle equipment and my participation in the Motorcycle Safety Course activities” [emphasis in original].

So let me get that straight: they have to claim they fully understand the danger and risk before they’re allowed to take a complete introduction that reveals the danger and risk of motorcycling and having passed that only then will they be able to discover the potential danger and risk of riding in real-world traffic….

And somehow all that makes sense to Mr. Buche and Dr. Ochs…

Which is why I made sure to point out these strange statements when compared to what else MSF says about its training was in an article generated by MSF itself and not the work of someone with the NY ABATE.

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8 Comments on “MSF says the BRC is rudimentary and more is needed before graduate safe to ride in traffic”

  1. aidanspa Says:

    A “safe bridge”? This is a bridge to nowhere if I’ve ever seen one. Question is, how does latest round of double talk and sleight of hand benefit the industry members financially? This motorcycle version of “Frogger” won’t likely appear as part of MSF BRC, and I have a difficult time imagining more experienced riders utilizing it in MSF ERC. This is about selling lots of the Honda SMARTrainer systems, but who is going to buy them? State DOT’s and DMV’s? Perhaps European rider training?

    Anyway, I’m more convinced than ever that “The Firm” has my (and all riders’) best interests and safety at heart.

  2. Joe Says:

    I’ve seen the SMARTrainer, I’ve “ridden” the SMARTrainer and I studied the reports that it produces after a session.

    I am not impressed.

    What I will say is the simulated motorcycle you sit on is pretty true to form and accurate in how the controls are laid out. I can also tell you that I’ve seen one in Dave & Buster’s that was just as well made. Well, actually, the one in D&B actually leaned…

    As far as the graphics quality…welcome to the 1990’s. You will get better and more realistic graphics on an Xbox or a PS3. It can be described as “cute”, but for you video-gamers out there, it is nothing more than low-end polygons and shading.

    It is good that Buche described it as a “traffic simulator” and not a “riding simulator”, mainly because the controls do absolutely nothing to simulate a real motorcycle. Grab a handful of throttle and no ill effects. Drop the clutch and maybe (at worst) you will stall. Grab at the front brake or stomp on the rear brake and you will simply stop. If you want to turn “at speed”, just turn the handlebars in the direction you wish to turn. There is no sense of feedback when using any of the controls. There is nothing here that can even be remotely attributed to how a real motorcycle responds. As a matter of fact, many of the things are counter-productive in teaching proper motorcycle techniques.

    As for its value as a “motorcycle familiarization” tool…you will get the same thing just sitting on any bike.

    If you want to argue that it is a traffic simulator, it does play out traffic scenarios but they have no real feel for real-life scenarios. It feels scripted and stale. I guess that you could argue that “Halo” & “Call of Duty” are military training aids, “Need for Speed” is a driving simulator, “Guitar Hero” is an effective musician simulator and “Grand Theft Auto” is an urban living simulator. OK, I’m kidding…you can’t really compare those games to the SMARTrainer. Those games actually have good graphics and feedback in the controls.

    Make no mistake…this is nothing more than a video game. One with abysmal graphics, unrealistic controls, a bad physics engine and scripted scenarios. Of course, it does print out a report on your performance at the end, but you can’t even redeem those printouts for that really nice stuffed animal or that plastic comb you always wanted…

  3. Jeff Brenton Says:

    I have recently been reminded of Douglas Adams’ Deep Thought, and its admonition that you cannot understand the answer (the Honda SMART) without knowing the question. In this case, the question is, “What do you get when you multiply people who don’t know computers by lawyers that don’t understand motorcycles?”

    In this case, as with Hitchhiker’s Guide, the observation holds: “I always knew there was something fundamentally wrong with the universe.”

  4. wmoon Says:

    That’s a good one, Jeff. I really like that.

  5. wmoon Says:

    As one of my friends calls it–the Not-So SMARTrainer…

  6. Mike Reardon Says:

    Okay

    There is no question that we can significantly improve Honda’s SMARTTrainer – but who would buy and for how much when you can buy a motorcycle for a couple of 1,000?

    Our simulator solution would include Hi end visuals, motion and accurate driver controls – as our car and truck simulators. Plus we would go beyond existing driver training familiarization. We provide clear, consistent and comprehensive driver training. It would serve for both theory and practical training.

    A basic one could be made for less than $100K, maybe $30K for narrow training goals – but who would buy it? Is motorcycle driver training critical? What a simulator certainly provides versus the real thing is control of driver training environment, process and costs. You can train year round as well.

    I am open to your ideas.

    Regards,

    Mike Reardon
    mike.reardon@viragesimulation.com

  7. Joe Says:

    Mike,

    I appreciate your candor and openness. As such, please understand that I am not trying to be facetious or argumentative. That being said, I would like to address the issues you raised:

    “There is no question that we can significantly improve Honda’s SMARTTrainer – but who would buy and for how much when you can buy a motorcycle for a couple of 1,000?”

    Mike, last I looked, the ST cost $10,000. If price is indeed an issue, then you are already on the losing end of the argument. It is very expensive and, to be brutally honest, does nothing to simulate the riding experience. You could get the same result if you were simply watching a video monitor and pressing a “stop”, “go” or “turn” button.

    “Our simulator solution would include Hi end visuals, motion and accurate driver controls – as our car and truck simulators. Plus we would go beyond existing driver training familiarization. We provide clear, consistent and comprehensive driver training. It would serve for both theory and practical training.”

    The problem is that, with the current ST, I see none of this happening. Maybe you could provide these things…the technology certainly exists. The issue at hand is that you aren’t providing these things, yet the MSF is marketing this flawed system as a viable option for traffic training, and that is just irresponsible.

    “A basic one could be made for less than $100K, maybe $30K for narrow training goals – but who would buy it?”

    Again, the current system costs $10,000 and doesn’t work well. If it is too expensive to develop correctly, then simple marketing and economics dictate that you have two choices: 1) Market the product to a larger segment including dealerships, commercial driving schools, driver’s education programs, etc., or, 2) Scrap it as a product that is not viable.

    “Is motorcycle driver training critical?”

    Do I really even have to answer this question? Fine, I’ll bite. Yes it is extremely important. More so, it is critical that it is done correctly. Putting a student with no practical riding experience on a simulator that does not recreate the actual experience is nothing more than dangerous. Among the most important things that we teach in motorcycle training is muscle memory and proper procedure. To put a student on the ST (which does nothing to emulate a real motorcycle) means that we are now reinforcing counter-productive habits regarding operation of the machine. It would be akin to doing firearms training with a simulator that permits you to point the muzzle at yourself or someone else with no ill effects. That is the same thing the ST does when you are performing functions that, on a real bike, would end up getting you hurt.

    “What a simulator certainly provides versus the real thing is control of driver training environment, process and costs. You can train year round as well.”

    Really? I don’t see how that is a factor here.

    Controlling environment? Aren’t the students already on a closed range under the care and supervision of RiderCoaches/Instructors?

    Process? What process are you controlling exactly other than providing scripted scenarios to be performed on a machine that doesn’t respond like a motorcycle?

    Costs? The ST already costs $10,000. I can buy a 250cc bike for less than $2,000 and give lessons at anywhere from $30 to $60 an hour. How exactly will this save money? Yes there are some maintenance costs to owning a real bike…but I’m sure there are maintenance costs to the ST as well. I don’t think that you are just giving away software upgrades, hardware upgrades and new software packages.

    As far as training year round, you certainly have a point there (provided you are in a part of the country that can’t train during the winter months). However, if the “training” you are getting from this machine reinforces incorrect procedures on real motorcycle operations, then you are not accomplishing anything other than necessitating even more real training to correct bad habits.

    Mike, I am absolutely open to the idea that simulators can be an important part of training. I actually used one during my flight training. The difference is that the one I used actually emulated the mechanics of the machine. There were stalls, slips, spins, etc. Yes, the mechanics were simplified compared to the real thing…but it still followed the rules on what would happen concerning control input. The ST does none of this and actually requires you perform maneuvers that are absolutely wrong in the real world.

  8. Joe Says:

    After posting my last response, I read it over and saw that I kept referring to incorrect procedures and processes with the SMARTTrainer, yet I failed to give examples. For the sake of posterity, here are some of the examples I encountered when I used the ST about 2 years ago:

    1) At speed you initiate a turn by turning the handlebars in the direction of the turn. In real life, and at speed, this would cause the bike to lean in the opposite direction. After training (and overseeing the training) of literally 1,000’s of students, I can tell you that it is my opinion that untrained riders hit objects in some cases because they attempt to swerve out of the way in a panic by trying to turn the handlebars…which causes them to lean in the opposite direction and head directly into what they were trying to avoid in the first place. This incorrect procedure is exactly what the ST reinforces.

    2) I held the throttle wide open and applied the front brake only. Actually, I intentionally grabbed the front brake as hard as I could. The ST simply brought me to a stop. In the real world, this would spell “wipeout”. Additionally, I did the same thing and then turned the handlebars hard left and right. Again, same result of simply stopping.

    3) I initiated a turn, at speed, and then stomped down hard on the rear brake. Like in “example 2”, the ST simply came to a stop. In the real world, I’d be lucky if I only “low-sided”.

    4) One of the left handlebar controls (where the directional signal should be) controlled the right/left view. Again, we are teaching the student to use a control incorrectly. Would you think it is a good idea to change the right/left view control on an automobile simulator by moving the turn directional stalk or manipulating the gearshift lever?

    5) At road speeds, in a straight line, you have 2 ways to avoid an impact: Stop or Swerve. In most cases, you can swerve around an obstacle quicker than you can stop. Utilizing the swerve is completely absent in the ST, which means that your only option is to stop.

    6) Cornering is completely non-existent in the ST. Additionally, heavy application of brake or throttle during a turn in the ST causes no ill effects and doesn’t affect your turning radius (let alone cause a loss of control).

    7) I achieved the best “score” on the ST when I kept the bike in first (sometimes second) gear and travelled at around 15 to18 mph. This is hardly real-world application.

    8) Revving the engine and dropping the clutch either caused the “bike” to stall or simply start moving.

    There are more examples, but I think you get the idea. Before you state that this is “traffic simulator” and not a “riding simulator”, Buche already said that. I say that it is neither. It does not simulate traffic realistically because you can take actions that are totally unrealistic. What is does do is cause the student to perform many actions that are contrary to what we are teaching them in actual training.

    “Traffic training” is only good if the student has the knowledge and skills to perform the necessary maneuvers that will keep them safe. I refer to what I call the “Holy Trinity” of motorcycle training: Stopping, Swerving and Cornering. These skills are what I consider to be the lifesavers of motorcycle operation. Two of the three (swerving and cornering) are totally absent in the ST and the third (stopping) is modeled incorrectly.

    Let’s call a spade a spade. This is nothing more than a marketing tool for the MSF. It is designed to let people see a pseudo-motorcycle that they can interact with and then get them to take the MSF classes. It is nothing more than shiny, metal-flake paint or miles of chrome on a motorcycle. It is designed to get the attention of the public with the “wow” factor. I would have no problem if the MSF was honest about the real purpose of this machine (actually strike that, I would have a problem…I would have a heart attack if the MSF was honest). But to take a “simulator” (that actually has “Trainer” in its name) and then try and convince me that it is a practical training tool is an insult to my intelligence and a danger to the beginning rider.

    But all of that aside…the real reason Wendy wrote the article is because the MSF is marketing this device as a “bridge” between the BRC and riding in real traffic. The point is, how do you justify overcoming the apparent shortcomings of the BRC (real world traffic management) by using a simulator that doesn’t reinforce the skills you learned in the BRC and unrealistically simulates traffic scenarios? I’m reminded of funny line from the movie (ironically enough), “Wild Hogs” (yes, dumb movie but a guilty pleasure). The sheriff of the small town, in trying to convince the main characters of his incompetence, states, “I got my certification from an internet course! For firearms training, they told me to just play ‘Doom’”! Funny but relevant. An unrealistic video game cannot take the place of real training and does nothing to reinforce real-world scenarios.

    Sorry Mike, but to quote a great man and a mentor of mine, “That dog don’t hunt.”


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