Braking & Cornering errors increased in MSF’s BRC curriculum

Study after study has shown improper braking and cornering errors are the leading rider-based errors in motorcycle crashes. I would maintain that there is no skill error that does not involve a corresponding cognitive error—primarily judgment but to a degree perception and interpretation since going out of control on a corner means a failure to correctly to perceive the corner correctly, interpret it, and correctly judge entry speed, line and lean. The same is true of braking—failure to perceive that braking is needed and when to apply the brakes and how much to apply the brakes.

Given that, the motorcycle licensing test and end-of-course evaluations are supposed to determine the (minimum) level of skill to do those actions in an effective and safe manner in traffic. So it really does matter what errors are frequent in testing and what percentage of students make them.

Many ways to get to some scores, only one way to get to others

If we look at the test scores more closely, we see some scores can only be reached if one or the other of two specific errors are made: stopping distance (1-point per foot over up to 10) or going too slowly around the corner errors are made:

In the RSS, the scores of 1, 2, 7, 11, 14 and 17.

In the BRC: 1, 2, 4, 7, 9, 12, 14, 17 and 19.

Iow, 30% of the possible scores from 1-20 in the RSS and 45% in the BRC are only possible if a critical error in both judgment and skill is involved.

16.14% of the RSS students got those scores.

And 27.04% of the BRC students.

Iow, the percentage of students who pass with guaranteed braking or slow cornering errors has increased in the BRC by 10%.

Of course, this doesn’t include other students who committed stopping distance or cornering errors that are masked by the other score configurations or those made stopping distance errors greater than 2 feet.

This means that without any explanation or excuse possible, more than 27% of all the BRC students who passed the test made stopping distance or braking errors that indicate lack of both  judgment and skill. And, remember, this only counts the scores that cannot be gotten any other way.

This is particularly significant since those errors were made after the students were warned that they will be required to stop suddenly or had practiced that exact same corner repeatedly and made those errors on smooth, debris-free, even pavement on a small motorcycle at very low-speeds. Iow, giving them every possible advantage—few of which they’d have in real traffic conditions—they still couldn’t manage to stop in time or turn at a high enough speed.

Additionally, the scores of 17 and 19 are in the bottom percentile of passing grades. This means these students were among the very same group that more than doubled between the RSS and BRC—very poor riders who still passed.

The data I have does not allow for other errors to be singled out—but this one alone is a critically sever error since it involves misjudgment of when to begin braking and how much pressure can be safely exerted on the brake lever and pedal as well as skill or involves misjudgment in entry speed, line and lean in a simple corner that has no possibility of on-coming traffic, debris, etc.

Setting aside whether the evaluations between the two iterations are equivalent, those percentages represent 357 people who definitely exceeded the stopping distance or cornered too slowly in the RSS and 736 who definitely did in the BRC. That’s more than double the number of people with only one-third more scores to account for those errors. That should alarm rider instructors, administrators—and the riding public.

Regardless of why these errors are committed–it points to a definite and negative change in the proficiency of those students who pass the course.

If students are too scared to go faster or stop faster,  as some instructors claim, that means the very reason MSF claimed the BRC was superior to the RSS–that the students would be more relaxed so they’d learn better–is invalidated by the test data: more students appear to be even more afraid.

It doesn’t matter if the BRC is as good as or worse than the RSS at this point—what matters is the lives of those who are trained and pass the course.

Bottom line is that motorcycle training under the BRC curriculum produces far more students that are seriously–and potentially lethally–deficient in skill, judgment and confidence.

I do suggest, however, it would be interesting to see the percentage of TEAM Oregon BRT students who make stopping distance errors and compare that to the BRC.

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26 Comments on “Braking & Cornering errors increased in MSF’s BRC curriculum”

  1. Steven Says:

    Wendy-

    Aren’t these perishable skills? If the students aren’t practicing them, how could you expect them to retain proficiency? Just food for thought.

    Steven

  2. wmoon Says:

    Steven, These errors are committed in the evaluations within an hour of practicing them in Ex. 17. If the skills have been so poorly learned and retained that they are, indeed, that perishable, then the MSF curriculum is even more ineffective than anyone has suspected. Just a thought.
    W.

  3. Jeff Brenton Says:

    Again, picking nits…

    There are some aspects to the motorcycle evaluation, be it Alt-MOST, BRC, BRT, RSS, or whatever, that are necessarily arbitrary. Measuring stopping performance is one of them. We must ask the students to throw out the idea of staying ahead of the bike (no anticipation), in order to put them on a scale we can use to fill in a form. “While not looking down at the cones, maintain a steady speed until your front wheel passes the cue cones, then begin braking.”

    Today, we worked on braking. Part one of the exercise is the arbitrary “wait for the cones” like is done on the evaluation, part to is stopping on signal. During part two, I gave a number of the students the stop signal as they passed the cue cones, and every one of them stopped between 3 and 5 feet shorter than they had when they were trying not to anticipate.

    In evaluations, about a quarter of the students seem to anticipate on their first run, and we have to toss out what might have been a fantastic stop… to be followed by a concerted effort to wait for the (stupid – students sometimes use a stronger word) cones, and end up picking up points for stopping long.

    It is not really difficult to stop within the standards of any of these evaluations. Doing it without also anticipating the stopping area is a wee bit tougher. Too bad we don’t have some fancy timing/signaling gear to make it more real-world, where the signal to stop comes from where we spend hours teaching them to watch for things…

    (not going to argue the point on cornering… it’s too easy to avoid deductions to excuse them)

  4. Steven Says:

    I thought you were addressing these concerns based on crash statistics then postulating how the course could be to blame. In other words, it appears you’re pulling a Benjamin Disraeli.

  5. wmoon Says:

    Jeff–there is an MSF licensing test that had “fancy timing/signaling gear” to make it more real-world and was used in many states and Pennsylvania was required to use that testing standard (the Alt-MOST with the timing/light equipment) until MSF demanded it no longer be used as one of the aspects of its deal in taking over the program. The equipment was was associated wth not just falls but broken bones in those falls–and passing rates jumped up dramatically when the braking test changed from what was used at the DMV to what is used in other states–the test you currently teach.

    But, as you know, I think the anticipation thing is stupid–I think that anticipating that you might need to stop and adjusting your riding to that is a safety action, myself.
    W.

  6. wmoon Says:

    Steven, If you mean Disraeli as a founder of the Conservative Party in Britain and standing in opposition to dangerous policies, I take that as a compliment. That you missed that the entry was about the evaluations says more about your reading comprehension and biases than it does about my use of statistics. However, no study has found that MSF’s curriculum has lead to safer riding for more than six months (and after a year all difference disappears). One (with the very old MRC curriculum) found that only those who rode little bikes rarely and not far and were women were safer than untrained riders and some found that MSF graduates are actually at higher-risk of crashing.

  7. Steven Says:

    Wendy there is plenty in your article that I didn’t care to address, but you may want to recall how you opened it. If you feel that the performance in these evaluations has no effect on street crash statistics then my comments are obviously moot.

  8. wmoon Says:

    Steven, braking and cornering errors are the leading cause of crashes–there’s no doubt about that. The motorcycle licensing test (and since it grants a skills test waiver) the end-of-course evaluations are to determine the minimum standard of competency to travel safely on the roads–that’s what MSF says, not me (I think the standards are too low). Studies have found that the course is ineffective in producing safer riders–and some find that it puts riders at higher risk. Poor performance and inability to achieve even these minimal standards under the most ideal of conditions hardly bodes well for good performance on the road.

    Even given your reading comprehension error, you first wrote, “If the students aren’t practicing them, how could you expect them to retain proficiency?” But you brought this up without any evidence at all that the ones getting into crashes were one that weren’t using those skills regularly.

    If you have hard evidence to the contrary–that it’s really riders who don’t ride often and poor students are safer on the road than good students, that BRC-trained students are safer on the road than untrained students–please bring it forward and let us all take a look at it as it would be helpful in the discussion.

  9. Steven Says:

    It must be reading comprehension errors. So you’re saying that someone tracked the poor performers and determined that they were accounting for a larger majority of traffic mishaps? Can you point me to that report?

  10. Jeff Brenton Says:

    The equipment was was associated wth not just falls but broken bones in those falls–and passing rates jumped up dramatically when the braking test changed from what was used at the DMV to what is used in other states–the test you currently teach.

    Falls and broken bones in evaluations… Sounds like what the British are complaining about with the introduction of the range portion of the E.U. testing (braking and swerving are to be tested at 50kph, which is excess of the 30mph speed limits in cities). People don’t have much trouble with the on-street testing, but the range stuff is considered “dangerous”.

    Of course, we don’t try to do anything at 50kph on our ranges.

  11. gymnast Says:

    Wendy, I don’t take issue with your excellent article, however I do with your above statement in reply to Steven (though it may be considered a technicality), semantically. You may or may nor agree.

    I would say perceptual errors are the leading cause of crashes, and as you point out, deficiencies or lack of braking and/or cornering skills “seal the deal”, making the crash inevitable.

    Lack of adaquate perceptual skills combined with deficient braking and cornering skills result in MSF producing an unacceptable number of “unguided missiles with a skills test waiver”.

  12. AnonymousReader Says:

    Wendy,

    The MLST(not the Alt-MOST),used by PAMSP until the MSF takeover, was by design hideously accident inducing. Students anticipating the wrong signal (Brake or Swerve) would point out of the test or worse, drop the bike. The MLST was heartily defended by then State Administrator Roberta Carlson, the Chief Instructors, and PennDOT. If memory serves me correctly, the defense of the MLST was even included in the waiver.

  13. wmoon Says:

    Jeff, people DO have “much trouble” with the on-street testing without adequate practice and additional practice. MSF-certified instructors regularly failed the UK mc test before the change to the EU. I wonder how many would be able to pass the EU test? And shouldn’t a rider be able to make a quick stop or swerve at 30 mph? Is that really an unrealistic standard?

  14. wmoon Says:

    Gymnast–go back and read the first paragraph again. What you’re saying above is exactly what I say there.
    W.

  15. wmoon Says:

    Yes, I should’ve used the acronym. I thought about it but thought people would get the concept better if I said “ALT-MOST with timing/light signals” rather than end up trying to explain how they’re different. And it wasn’t “by design” that it was “hideously accident inducing” that’s unfair and inaccurate. It did require students to make the very same judgment they have to make on the road all the time–to brake or to swerve? And even a novice rider should be trained to the degree that they can make a safe and effective decision and execute t, shouldn’t they?

    There’s several problems with that because of the artifciality of the test that increase the likelihood of students braking while swerving (or swerving while braking), it’s true, that have to do with how the mind works and the relative slowness of the brain responding to a visual v. aural clue (for ex–and this is just an example–had it been a aural cue to brake or swerve, students may have done better).

    However, I’ve always been concerned that the MSF curriculum (either RSS or BRC) doesn’t make the difference between cars and motorcycles clear enough and give them experience in how it’s different. Specifically, you can swerve while braking wth a car. Almost all students come in with years if not decades of experience doing just that. What’s in the curriculum now (as that’s what you have to work with) is not sufficient to retrain them (especially under high stress conditions) to not do what’s worked for decades for them.

    That students could not, at the end of the MRC:RSS do that effectively should have told Bobbie, the Chiefs and PennDOT that the curriculum was not preparing them to the level of judgment and skill to do that effectively and safely. But what the MLST asked them to do was not untoward. In fact, it was more realistic to judgment and skill situations in real life. By changing that the test was safer–but dumbed down.

  16. gymnast Says:

    Wendy,

    Doh! Thanks for pointing out my perceptual error. I glossed over and failed to retain the key info that should have kept me from running off the page. The braking cue coming into the curve was the first thing that I should have comprehended and retained for later reference.

  17. wmoon Says:

    well, Gymnast, one could justifiably say all errors are errors of perception to one degree or another. As the Thailand and MAIDS studies showed, it’s usually not the motorcyclist’s skill error that is the primary cause of a crash (no matter if they’re at fault or they could’ve done something to prevent it from happening). Rather, it’s not enough time from perception of the hazard to contact–no matter how skilled the rider is. I’ve said for years now that efforts to form more accurate risk assessments and perception, hazard awareness and judgment/strategy are the best ways to increase safe motorcycling. Skill is critical–but finding a way to make the time to react and judge what the right thing to do is absolutely essential–especially if the skill level is minimal.

  18. irondad Says:

    I agree with your last comment. We stress the huge criticality of an adequate visual lead. Sure, we want riders to have expert physical skills. These by themselves aren’t enough to keep riders out of trouble. The more important thing is to get ACCURATE information as early as possible so that the rider can make a good decision. That means aggressive scanning far ahead of the rider. These are mental skills. Make small adjustments to avoid getting into a critical information in the first place!

  19. irondad Says:

    Sorry, meant to write ” critical situation” not information. AAAARRRRGGGG!

  20. wmoon Says:

    Amen to that–with the caveat you put in the next comment ; )
    W.

  21. Dinosaur Says:

    I think it’s clear after nearly nine years of suffering with MSF’s current training “products”, that the barrel is rotten. Dumbing down both the instructor training and the rider training has lowered competency across the board. Crash and fatality statistics in and out of class simply reflect that reality.

    Wendy, I applaud your analysis of the test results. It matches my on-the-ground observation that more students are passing the courses than with previous curricula and doing so with a lower level of skill.

    Allowing the marketing arm of the motorcycle industry to monopolize safety training has been a disaster. So just how bad do the statistics have to get before state programs quit patting themselves on the back for sending ever-increasing numbers of newly-licensed riders (with their newly-purchased motorcycles)out to die on the road? The SMSA Conference is coming up soon and once again, over a third of the presentations are sales pitches for MSF “stuff”. There’s not a sign that anyone is asking why MSF’s medicine is killing the patients, just more hints and tips for delivering the same toxic brew.

  22. wmoon Says:

    I expect nothing to be said at the SMSA conference. The quote so often attributed to Edmund Burke comes to mind, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” The problem is that many men–and women–think they are good but their goodness is subjected to their fear and their love of the easy and familiar. As a marriage counselor friend of mine used to say, “Weak people prefer a known misery to an unknown freedom.”

  23. gershon Says:

    Wendy,

    I have a completely different issue with how braking is taught. (I’m not an instructor or a habitual MSF basher. Just a rider.)

    I’ve observed many instances of riders locking the rear wheel while braking. In my opinion, teaching braking as a “panic” stop doesn’t work as well as an alternate method.

    Perhaps there isn’t time in the course to do it “right” as I define it, but I feel there is a better way.

    Students could start out braking with JUST the rear brake stopping in about 66 feet. The idea is to internalize how little rear brake pressure is needed. Then work the distance in about 10 feet at a time adding front brake pressure, but no more rear brake pressure. After a several repetitions at each distance, the student would have practiced progressive front brake use at a pace of increasing difficulty that is manageable.

    When I’ve dropped by ranges to watch evaluations, I’ve seen entirely too much locking of the rear wheel.

  24. wmoon Says:

    Gershon, that’s sortof like how the first curriculum, the first Basic Rider Course, MSF distributed in 1974 taught it. Students began with only the rear brake. As it says, “During your first few miles on two wheels, you will not use your front wheel brake. Remember, it has a direct and instant effect on your steering” (p. 27). The use of the front brake in combined braking wasn’t learned until later.

    That changed in the next iteration, the Motorcycle Rider Course where combined braking was taught from the beginning–and that’s continued since then. In most cases, it’s the best thing to use both brakes so the thinking is to drill that action into their heads.

    In both the first BRC and the MRC, the student was reminded to pull the clutch in before putting on the brakes at speeds 10 mph and lower but to apply the brakes and then the clutch above 10 mph. In this last version of the BRC, students are taught to not only pull the clutch in but downshift before braking.

    You do have a point about locking up the rear brake (of course that used to be taught on purpose so the student would know what to do to recover from it and it’s no longer taught). As you point out, it doesn’t mean students don’t do it anyhow.

    I’m not sure that learning the rear brake only would help, but I am not convinced that combined braking being drilled into the students is a good idea from the beginning without some kind of progressive teaching as you suggest as students have no idea how powerful each brake is. As many have pointed out, this is problematic with certain bikes like the Buell Blast. I do worry that newbies having combined braking be the reflexive action will run into trouble when it’s not the best action (if you don’t have ABS or linked braking systems).
    W.

  25. gershon Says:

    Wendy,

    Thanks for your response.

    Here is the source of my idea. I was doing practice braking with a rider with about 5,000 miles of city experience over two years.

    My goal for the exercise was to teach what .3 g braking was like in order to learn a maximum braking to plan for in city driving. This is a different concept entirely. I call it “minimum braking.” It forces observation and plannning skills to improve.

    Men being what men are, we started reducing the braking distance. At a distance that would equate to about .5 g’s of braking, he locked the rear brake real firmly.

    What I learned is that he had been using too much rear brake during normal stopping. When he increased the g’s and the load shifted forward, it was too much for the amount of load left on the rear wheel and it locked.

    I have a G meter installed on my bikes. I have a Burgman 650 with a very low CG. I’ve discovered that at optimum threshold braking, 30% of the load remains on the rear wheel. Using the G meter, I’ve become very proficient at applying pressure on the rear brake to slow at .2 g’s. I use this pressure on every stop. Then I use front brake to modulate the stopping distance for every stop from normal to threshold. I give up the .1 g as I’ve found very small road imperfections can lock the rear wheel. If I really needed it, I’d give a little extra.

    Those who leave MSF don’t have a method to determine how to brake on their new bike. Bikes are critically different in their behavior. A simple explanation in the guide would be helpful.

  26. Ste Says:

    Gershon,

    I don’t see the benefit of teaching the rear brake first. As you progressively apply the front brake the weight transfers to the front wheel. When this happens the rear brake needs less and less pressure as the weight shifts forward.

    On some motorcycles, notably sportbikes, the rear brake under hard braking is incredibly easy to lock up. Due to this, professional racers including big names in AMA/MotoGP actually limit the effectiveness of the rear brake.

    I agree whole heartedly about not calling them panic stops though. I used to look at one “safety” website that called them that and it was fairly indicative of their mental faculty that they never moved away from it.

    -Ste


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