My position on motorcycle training and safety issues

I learned how to ride in the California state motorcycle program in January 1998. The program used a modified MRC:RSS curriculum. I did not, on graduation, feel ready to ride on the street and felt I hadn’t learned all I needed to know for normal safe operation. Even so, I thought very highly of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation because I had learned much more than I had known prior to the course, and primarily because of the great instructors I had and because my friends thought so highly of the course. After I took the course–and even now–I tell others to take the course if they want to learn how to ride. Though now, after what my investigation has uncovered, I add a lot of caveats to the recommendation.

I became involved in this issue of motorcycle training after Motorcycle Consumer News accepted an article of mine on the effect of light truck vehicles (such as SUVs and pickups) on motorcycle fatalities. Dave Searle and Fred Rau asked me to research and write about motorcycle training in other parts of the world. The world is an awfully big place so we settled on examining what’s done in the United Kingdom. To put that in perspective and context for our readers, it was necessary to compare it to what they did know–MSF training. But to do that, I had to learn more about MSF training. At the time–and throughout writing the two articles comparing UK and USA training–I knew virtually nothing about the troubles in training. I had heard of Buche’s comments at the Murkowski hearing but thought they were silly and had ignored them. I knew nothing about the change in curriculum or any of the other allegations MCN had received nor had I read Hough’s articles at that point.

The more I learned about what was done in the UK the less adequate American training appeared. And, as I always discuss what I’m working on with my friends and family, I was shocked when my non-riding friends were appalled and suspicious when I described American motorcycle training and the role MSF played. For those who are familiar with the old Journalspace Moonrider entries, you’ll be amused that I defended MSF heatedly and at length. Ironically, I set out to prove them wrong. Only, over the next year, I found out that their suspicions and predictions were right on every count. Iow, it took a very long time and intensive research for my initial opinion of MSF to change.

I am not been trained as a rider instructor in any curriculum. Otoh, I have taught professionally downhill skiing and I’ve taught at two different universities on the college level in two different disciplines (theology, at one, and freshman composition at another). I also come from a family of educators–so I am familiar with the basic principles of instruction and have related experience. But the majority of my positions and criticisms of MSF and its curriculum and the current state of motorcycle safety in the USA is based on years of research comprising: hundreds of interviews, 8 file drawers of evidence, more than a hundred academic and scientific papers and studies, a bookshelf and a half of MSF published documents, and over 200 Internet sources.

  • My position on MSF is: It is an error to allow the motorcycle manufacturers who profit from negating engineering as a safety measure and by blaming the rider and who use training and communication to advance their agenda and foster sales to control either the curriculum or motorcycle safety policies.
  • My position on MSF curriculum is: My investigation revealed  that there’s more than enough evidence that the curriculum is ineffective in reducing crashes for more than six months at best and, at worst, may put riders at higher risk.  Additionally, the BRC is associated with at least 8 deadly and near-death training crashes. Given that–and given that it’s the only curriculum that can be marketed in all but one state, students are at-risk and new, safer curriculums must be developed apart from motorcycle manufacturers oversight or interference.
  • My position on Harley-Davidson: I own a 1999 Sportster 883–it was my first real motorcycle and I love it dearly. I am proud that Harley is an American manufacturer and has lasted over 100 years and hope it lasts at least another 100. I think they’ve made a number of critical errors in a number of errors–and I object to the blatant use of education as marketing.
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