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The MSF Experienced RiderCourse

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Tom Howard, 37, of Pickerington, Ohio, gets some one-on-one help from MSF instructor Imre Szauter.

Imagine you're cruising downhill on a mountain road when you suddenly run into a blind, tight decreasing radius turn. Would you know what to do?

Or imagine that same scenario, but with a big rock in your path around the bend. Could you handle that?

We all know that our motorcycles run best with an occasional tune-up. Well, the same is true for riders. Whether you've been riding two years or more than 20, it doesn't hurt to get some safety training so you're prepared to handle hazards.

One of the best ways to get that training is by taking a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) Experienced RiderCourse. That's exactly what eight riders, including myself, did recently on a cold, cloudy, wet day in Central Ohio.

I've been riding more than 20 years. I'm a motojournalist paid to ride motorcycles. And I took the Experienced RiderCourse just two years ago. So why take it again?

The course can be a humbling experience. No matter how good you think you are, chances are good the course shows you where you are weak in your riding. Everyone wants to think he or she is a good rider, but we can all improve somewhere.

MFS ERC terryAnd the Experienced RiderCourse helps you do that.

The eight students, with riding experience ranging from three years to more than 30, gathered for what would be a day-long course -- half spent in the classroom and half on the riding range.

The first order of business? To get to know a little bit about each other. Then instructors Terry Lee Cook and Imre Szauter, who happen to work in the AMA's Government Relations Department, dropped what could be considered a motorcycling safety bombshell.

Or, maybe, a wake-up call.

Simply put, research shows that motorcyclists who crash don't know how to properly brake, swerve and corner. Those skills would be the focus of the afternoon riding session.

In the classroom, the instructors began by talking about risk, and how to reduce risk as much as possible while riding.

The goal, Szauter said, is to apply different "strategies" to reduce your risk, ranging from wearing protective gear, to knowing your riding limits, to developing good "eye" habits so you can anticipate potential problems.

The main lesson here is to not just look when you're riding, but to "aggressively" look for hazards. It takes a conscious effort to really see, the instructors said, and the good rider is always scanning to look for other road users and pedestrians, road surface problems, and street signs or signals that indicate turns, intersections or stops.

It's part of a process called SIPDE -- Scan, Identify, Predict, Decide and Execute. The good motorcyclist will Scan for hazards, Identify threats, Predict what may happen (like a car making a left turn into your path), Decide what to do (like slow down) and then Execute.

Another valuable lesson in the Experienced RiderCourse involves traction, and the forces at work on your tires when you brake, corner and swerve. Understanding traction could mean the difference between saving your bike if you go into a corner too hot or high-siding off the road.

Plus, you may not realize it, but there are a lot of things to know about cornering safely. And the classroom discussion covered more than the basics, including looking through a turn as far as you can, proper entry and exit speeds, and picking the proper apex depending on whether it's an increasing radius turn, decreasing radius turn, or a combination of connected turns.

The classroom work is full of interesting information and valuable tips. Then, it's out to the riding range -- actually a parking lot -- to practice some of what was learned.

But first, each bike goes through a T-CLOCK inspection, which isn't a bad idea at home either. It involves a detailed inspection of Tires, Controls, Lights, Oil, Chassis, and Kickstand to ensure everything is in safe and working order.

Then, it's riding time. Yeehaa!

The exercises start simple, with straight-line stops, locking up the rear wheel so you know how it feels, and weaving around cones.

The exercises become increasingly more difficult, involving tight cornering, swerving, and constant encouragement from the instructors.

MSF ER ClineThen, it's test time. Each student takes a timed run through a coned course that combines all the cornering, swerving, stopping and other skills learned.

Students came away from the class with a better understanding of how to be a safe motorcyclist, and knowing how to practice skills that could save their lives on the road.

I found the classroom discussion particularly interesting and helpful. I promised myself to be more aggressive in searching out potential hazards, putting more thought into picking lines through corners, and thinking more about traction and the forces at work on the tires when accelerating, cornering and braking.

I also discovered on the riding range that when I nail the brakes for a quick stop, I still put too much pressure on the rear brake. That was a flaw I learned about two years ago but had forgotten about.

I was tentative in tight cornering in the rain when I didn't need to be, and my swerving needs work, even though I considered myself a better than average swerver.

MSF ERC hawkSo I learned a lot about myself and what I need to do to improve. Other students gained some insights into their own riding as well.

"I learned I have some bad habits that I thought I had addressed but haven't," said Tom Howard, 37, of Pickerington, Ohio, after the class. "Like braking. I still have a heavy right foot, and the rain really showed that off."

The class also got him thinking more about things like where in the lane to position your motorcycle on the street, and how to take apexes in different turns.

John Meeks, 41, of Dublin, Ohio, discovered some bad habits of his own.

"Like when coming to a stop--my eyes have been coming down to the ground or to the bumper of the car in front of me," he said, "and when I make turns I tend to look down instead of looking through the turn.

"So I came away with renewed attention to fundamentals," Meeks said.

So how would you handle a tight decreasing radius turn? If you took the Experienced RiderCourse, you would know that if you are approaching a blind turn, you should assume it is a difficult decreasing radius turn and set up for that. That way, if the turn is a constant or increasing radius turn, then you can easily adjust.

If it is a decreasing radius turn, you need to select a path that gives you a late/delayed apex, which is an apex beyond the center of the turn.

Suppose it's a blind turn that is, in fact, a decreasing radius turn, and it has a humongous rock right in your bike's path?

There are ways to safely handle this. To find out how, sign up for an Experienced RiderCourse near you.