It’s the time of year when the street rider training programmes are starting up again. Thousands of new riders will sign up soon for their novice rider training programme. After teaching the course for 23 years, I would like to offer a few tips that may help new riders get the most out of the experience.
How to find a novice rider training programme in your area.
Ask at local motorcycle shops, your provincial or local ministry of transportation or google “street rider training programmes” for your area of Canada.
The Canada Safety Council operates programmes across Canada and has taught over 325,000 Canadians to ride since 1974. I taught the CSC Gearing Up course for a long time. It is a great introduction to our sport that prepares new riders in the basics of operating a street motorcycle. You can find out lots of information from their website www.ridertraining.org.
When to book.
If you live in a part of Canada that has a non-riding season (winter), you probably will not be able to practice your newly acquired riding skills in the snow. The best time to sign up for a course is the spring or summer, that will allow you time to put your basic skills to use while they are fresh. (Assuming you get a motorcycle right after your course).
What do you need.
Each course will have specific demands so check with them first, but it’s very common that the student is expected to bring:
a) Your own riding gear including a certified helmet in good safe condition, a sturdy jacket, full fingered gloves, sturdy pants, low heeled boots that cover the ankle. Eye protection may not be mandatory, but suggested.
b) Paperwork: your current license documents and all registration papers you have received from the programme.
c) Directions to the course including the course timing agenda. You don’t need the stress of being lost or late. Lessons start on time and successful completion of the course means being present for all of the lessons.
How to prepare for a novice rider training course.
Get lots of it before your course and after each day’s training. Most students comment after the first day of training that they had no idea they would be so tired. You will be using muscle groups you don’t normally use. Concentrating on new riding tasks and concepts is also mentally fatiguing so you will need all of your brain cells. You may want to wait for the celebration party until after your course is over.
Regardless of your past riding experience, it’s best to go into your course with an open mind. If you have plenty of riding experience, you might have some ingrained bad habits that won’t fit into the safety theme of the course. Your old Uncle Joe’s well–meaning advice about never using the front brake is wrong. The curriculum from your course is best to follow for the basics. Instructors following the course curriculum to the letter may try to break you of habits like riding with one or two fingers over the levers. If your braking skills are fine it shouldn’t matter how many fingers you use, but some instructors may not see it that way. Smile and nod is the suggestion to politically get along with everyone.
Are you nervous?
Often novice students freak themselves out by worrying too much. Will everyone else be better than me? Will I fit on the training bikes? Am I too old to start this sport (like some of my co-workers and family have insinuated).
A good novice curriculum is just that, it’s designed for the absolute beginner. I used to tell the novice students on the first night of the classroom that they were lucky to not have any bad riding habits. I also used to remind them that we often judge how well we are doing by comparing our progress with that of others.
Do you doubt your ability before you even start the course?
Unfortunately, I have met many students who came to the course with the stigma of ‘I won’t be good at this’. Hopefully, you have riders in your life who are really supportive of your dream of riding. Whenever you doubt yourself, I want you to remember that the greatest percentage of riders are male. For the women out there, how hard can it really be if they can do it?
There will be a wide range of students in both age and ability. Some of the students will ride their own motorcycle to the course (obviously with much more than novice ability). Beside you, in your group could be a teenager who grew up on a dirt bike. If you compare your skill acquisition and riding ability in the lessons with others in your group, you may become depressed. I suggest that you put it into perspective. Of course some students in your group will be better than you, but worry about yourself. Who cares what they think of your riding? You are probably never going to see them again. I used to say to the students who wanted to quit and go home “How do you think you would be doing if you were the only student here today?” Good instructors will do their best to help coach you through any riding challenges you face while keeping the already skilled riders challenged in the lessons. Instructors know that we all learn at different rates and they won’t get impatient if it takes you a little longer to grasp the skill requirement. Your job is to give yourself a break. Relax and have fun and you will actually learn much more.
What happens if you crash?
No problem. The training course is the perfect place to crash. You will have more safety equipment on than many of you will wear on your own bike. The speed you will be going will most likely be very slow (tip-overs are the most common crash at the training course). There will be no cars or trucks on the training site. The largest vehicle will be another training motorcycle. First aid will be right there since all the staff should be certified. Hey, and most importantly… it’s not your bike. If it is really crashed up they will just go get you another one.
Courses across Canada will have a different test delivery system depending upon provincial or territorial laws and regulations. In Ontario, some of the course instructors will be certified by the MTO as signing authorities. Other areas in Canada will see the examiner come to the course at the end of your training to administer the riding test.
Is the test hard?
It’s all relative to your experience and how you handle things like test anxiety. I have seen novice students who did very well during the lessons, but they fall apart during the test. Don’t think of it as a test. It is simply the last exercise of the course where you will ride around showing someone with a clipboard and stopwatch the same thing you have shown your instructors all weekend. Nothing on the test will be a surprise. Most curriculums will demand more of your riding abilities during the lessons. The test demands will be easier than the lessons. Don’t give up if you think you have done poorly in one section of the test. Your score is cumulative, so don’t stop or give up until you are told to.
Before you take off on the test, be sure that the fuel petcock is on and your helmet is done up properly.
What happens if you are not successful the first time?
Yes it is disappointing, but it does mean that you need some more practice before you will be safe on the road. Failing can be due to touching or crossing test section painted lines, riding too slowly in exercises and/or dropping the motorcycle.
Remember the real test is out on the roads with other traffic. On a positive note, it means you will get more time on a small bike and perhaps some additional training before your retest.
How can you prepare for your riding course?
If there is a motorcycle at home you can sit on it and develop muscle memory in certain control operations. Many novices struggle with finding the basic control levers without looking at them. Muscle memory is being able to move your body parts to the motorcycle parts you need without looking. You don’t even have to start up the bike at home to practice the following:
Rear brake: practice moving your right foot from the foot peg to the rear brake pedal and back.
Front brake: practice rolling off the throttle (right hand moving forward) as you reach out and gently apply the front brake lever. Gentle and progressive application of the front brake lever is a very important skill to develop. You never want to grab the front brake lever abruptly.
Shifting gears: You can practice shifting by following some tips. Look at your hand (palm down). Your thumb position could simulate first gear. Neutral is between your thumb and the next finger. We teach shifting gears in three simple steps. Wringing the towel, pretend you are holding a wet towel in your hands. Wring the water out by squeezing your left hand in and rolling your right hand forward. This analogy will help learn the muscle memory of pulling the clutch (left lever) in and rolling the throttle off.
Step One: Wring the towel. (Left hand pulling in the clutch lever unhooks the engine from the rear wheel and the right hand rolls to shut off the throttle)
Step Two: Shift either up or down on the shifter with your toe.
Step Three: Wring the towel again (the opposite of above in step 1–release the clutch to hook up the driveline to the rear wheel and roll on the throttle.)
Some practice doing this will really help you get used to gear shifting by already having the muscle memory of finding the gear shifter without looking down at your foot.
Note: if you have a bicycle the standard setup is that the right handlebar brake lever operates the rear brake and the left lever is normally your front brake. If you have years of bicycle riding under your belt, you must now remember that the motorcycle front brake lever is on the right handlebar, the opposite of your bicycle.
A bicycle can actually help you prepare for your motorcycle course. Practice some slow speed turns by setting up some pop cans or something that can mark out a right angle turn (90–degree turn). The secret to negotiating a tight turn on a bicycle is the same as a motorcycle. Maintain some momentum and look where you want to go. Go into the right hand turn a little wide. You will find that the back wheel will turn at a sharper angle in a turn than the front wheel will. To avoid crossing any lines (which simulate curbs) in tight test turns, make sure your front wheel turns wide enough to get your rear wheel around the turn. Just riding slowly and turning will help you practice maintaining your balance.
If you don’t take a rider training course, you can in most places simply take your own or a borrowed motorcycle directly to the ministry testing centre. Please remember that successfully passing the ministry road test does not make you an expert rider. In fact, the test in Canada is much easier than in many other countries.
Riding with your new license.
More practice is needed. You probably will buy a larger bike than the one you used in your training course. A different bike will handle, brake and accelerate differently. Find a safe spot to practice your slow speed control, braking, swerving and cornering skills. Taking your new big bike into very busy traffic on the day after your course may not be wise. Light, easy traffic is best. Going out for your first few rides with an understanding more experienced friend or loved one is a good idea. I would have them ride shotgun behind you instead of riding in front. If you have two pals that will help, put yourself in the middle (riding in the staggered formation).
Ride at your own pace.
Many accidents are caused by new riders trying to keep up with more experienced riders.
Don’t take passengers.
Their life is in your hands. Make sure you are very comfortable with riding before you add the extra challenge of a passenger, which changes the handling characteristics of the bike.
Don’t switch bikes with friends.
Take all the time you need as a new rider to get used to your own bike. MMM Ride safely!
Clinton Smout, Chief Instructor
Canadian Motorcycle Training Services