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Thinking about taking the class?
Thinking Outside the Box...
   So, you are thinking about taking the class? There are lots of reasons why people want to take the class, but I feel that one of the best ones is to learn how to ride more safely in the most enjoyable way, and get your License at the same time.

Download the current MA Rider Ed. Program registration info here. (PDF)

   How would you prepare for the class in a way that ensures the best possible outcome? Here are some suggestions I can offer after teaching thousands of students since I began in 1997:

Disclaimer: You are NOT advised that this is essential to succeed; these suggestions relate to the types of difficulties students experienced in the class. ANY physical activity has an element of risk. If you have concerns about your safety in these suggestions, consult a qualified Physician or other Professional before undertaking new activities.

1. What is the present level of your experience riding a motorcycle? If you have ridden before, you're lucky. Many who come to the class have never even sat on a motorcycle, let alone ridden one. If you've never ridden a motorcycle or only been a passenger, here are some things you might want to do:

  • Find a bicycle that is in proper working order, put on a bike helmet and any other protective gear you might want, and spend some time riding at a speed that is fast enough to require you to lean while turning, and take some corners while leaning. This will help you feel more comfortable when you begin to lean in corners on a motorcycle. If you haven't ridden a bicycle in years, this will be especially beneficial. And yes, even on a bicycle, I recommend wearing a helmet. Also, do some weaving from side to side as you ride along to get a feel for using the handlebars to turn the bike and get it leaning back and forth. Don't over analyze what you are doing, just have some fun riding. Obey your local traffic laws regarding the use of bicycles; many municipalities forbid riding on sidewalks. An empty, unused parking lot might be best.
  • Learn how to drive a Manual Transmission in a Car. If you learn how to shift gears before you get on a Motorcycle, it can be very helpful. Your hands and feet will do different parts of the job on a Motorcycle: the clutch is operated by the left hand, throttle with the right, and gearshift with the left foot. This means you will still be learning some new things about shifting when you get on the Motorcycle, but the advantage comes from understanding the value of smoothly operating the clutch, and getting a sense of when and how quickly to shift to higher gears, and applying that knowledge to the Motorcycle. If you already know how to use the clutch in a car, keep in mind the direction of movement of the clutch lever is reversed from the clutch pedal in a car; the lever moves away from you as you apply power on the motorcycle.

    When you first begin to ride in the class, keep in mind that finding Neutral is NOT a riding skill; it is a safety requirement during the turnaround procedure; if you have difficulty, it most likeley caused by the wear and tear your bike has accumulated from all the other beginning riders. Simply shut the engine off with your cutoff switch and find neutral with the engine off.

  • Strengthen your hands and wrists. Riding a motorcycle requires the use of significant effort when squeezing the levers and twisting the throttle. You can strengthen your hands by squeezing a tennis ball, or some other type of ball that requires a good squeeze before it deforms: a paddle tennis ball, a "stress ball", or similar. Don't overdo it, just spend a minute or two squeezing with both hands every day. To strengthen your wrists, use a hand towel and a pan of warm water as follows: Immerse the towel. wring it out by twisting the right hand forwards. Then immerse the towel again, and wring it out by twisting the left hand forwards. Keep alternating the direction you twist. Again, don't overdo it, just spend a minute or two every day. 
2. What priority are you giving this undertaking? Many students feel conflicted about having to take time off of work or away from other important responsibilities, and choose a class schedule that minimizes this concern. If you are facing this issue yourself, be prepared to accept the increased level of effort required if you are participating in a 2-day format. ALL of the classes actually take the same amount of time to complete. The thing that is changing is the amount of time you get to rest in between the segments you are doing. In my opinion, here's the sequence of increasingly higher demand levels of the classes most commonly offered in MA:
  • Two separate weekends: Classroom and riding for 1 day on each weekend. This offers the lowest exertion, but is not widely available. The drawback: If you are forgetful, you may have difficulty remembering prior activities and skills. Each riding exercise builds on or relies on previously learnt skills.
  • Friday-Saturday-Sunday:  Classroom Friday night, followed by both riding and more classroom work during Saturday and Sunday. This is the most popular format, and works very well for the majority of people. If there is a Group A/Group B format, Group A will be getting up early on both Saturday and Sunday; Group B doesn't come in early on Saturday. You may not be able to request a specific group, so don't bother the site coordinators over it unless they offer you the choice.
  • If you are planning to ride with friends and want to be sure all of you are in the same group, be sure to get together and register all at the same time by mailing the applications together in one envelope or submitting the forms online in rapid succession. Choose a name for your group and include it in the questions/comments box so the coordinator knows your needs.
  • Two-day, Alternating:  Some combination of classroom and riding on each day. Many of the midweek classes are run this way.
  • Two-day, unmixed: This is the most demanding format. Riders will attend all classroom portions one day, and spend the entire second day riding. The Acton-Ayer Sunday-Monday or Sunday-Tuesday classes are examples of this format. One way to offset this problem is to allow time between the classroom day and the riding day, but if you're forgetful...
The bottom line is:

It's going to require a lot of effort no matter how you slice it. If you want to get through the class as quickly as possible without missing too many days of work, please don't complain to the Instructors about how hard you are working. You have a choice about which format you will take. If your priority is to take your time and get more rest between segments, choose the appropriate format.

3. What is your sensitivity to adverse weather conditions? Do you hate to be cold? Are you like me, and find it more unbearable to be too hot instead? Be sure to get a date that fits your personal thermostat. If you are worried about getting wet, move to Arizona, New Mexico, or Southern California. If you are worried about getting cold when you are wet, sign up for July classes. These seem to be the warmest days, with the lowest average amount of rain in Eastern Massachussetts.

4. Do you already have a DOT-approved helmet, or have a friend who would loan you one that fits you well? Full-face helmets do offer the best protection and will keep you warmest when it's cold, but can make it very difficult for the Instructors to hear what you are saying, especially with your engine running and other bikes running nearby, too. If it's warm enough, an open face helmet is fine. But it MUST be DOT- approved. When it's really hot, you'll most likely want something less than a full-face helmet. Most of the helmets provided at the different locations are open face, with some locations having a higher number of full-faced helmets. Be sure to choose one that is COMFORTABLE. If you haven't bought a helmet yet, it's best to wait until after the class, since helmet selection is a topic of discussion covered in the class. You will get some very good information about this important decision from the class. Just borrow one for the class if you can instead.

5. In MA, pre-pay the additional $15 License fee at the Registry before you sign up for the class, when you go to get the permit. It isn't included in the course tuition, it's separate. It's the quickest way to take care of this, and ensures you get your License in the quickest possible manner after you succeed in class. The person at the counter might not bother to ask you if you want to pre-pay the license, especially if they are busy, and some of the staff may not even know about this less common type of transaction. You may need to show them the MREP brochure to persuade them of your intentions, or ask for a supervisor.

If you already have the permit and you haven't gone to take the class yet, you can still pre-pay for the license by going back to the registry or paying by credit card over the phone. From the 508/413/978 area codes, call the Registry at: 1-800-858-3926, or from 617/781 area codes, call 1-617-351-4500. When you pass the class, all you have to do is sit back and wait for a new license with Motorcycle endorsement added to come in the mail. It's the quickest and easiest way to do it.

Remember that until you have a Motorcycle License in your hand, you are still restricted to a Learner's Permit: Daylight only, No passengers, and it's a good idea to stay in MA, unless the adjacent state you are going to is satisfied with letting you ride on a Learner's Permit in their state.

6. Are you already in Olympic training? Do you exercise regularly? Are you a weekend warrior? Are you a couch potato? What exactly is your energy level? How easily will you become tired when you are working hard? Some students find that they're working along just fine and then they hit a brick wall and discover they are exhausted. If you are sensitive to strong sunlight, you might want to consider the Acton-Ayer site, as there is more shade immediately available whenever you take a break. Or you could take the class at any location in April or October and minimize the probability of strong sunlight being a problem.

   Bring food and refreshment items that will provide appropriate sustenance: When it's cold bring a thermos of something hot to help keep you warm, and wear extra layers. Layering is GOOD. It allows you to adjust to changing conditions. Since you are working hard, treat yourself to some extravagances on the food to offset it!

   When it's hot, I can't tell you how important it will be to wear a light-colored or white longsleeve T-shirt! I even have a few pairs of white denim jeans for the really hot days! I see more students struggle against heat than cold, because we can always add another layer against cold or wear more effective insulation, or warm our hands up by holding them next to the engine during a break. But heat needs to be removed from the body when it's hot out, and stifling dewpoint temperatures above 60°F will heighten the chance for some people to overexert themselves. If you are taking medications, check with your physician or phartmacist about the risks associated with your medicine. Over the counter weight loss products or allergy products with antihistamines can also put you at risk. Know the weather conditions when you are getting ready the day before. On the hottest days, I prepare as follows: Fill three 1-litre containers about 3/4 full with water and FREEZE them solid with the caps loosened. Fill a fourth completely and refrigerate it. Pack together (with all caps tightened) in a cool bag to go with my food for the day, and feel confident that I'll have enough cold water to get me through a hot day.

7. Follow the instructions given in your confirmation letter once you have registered for a class!

One of the easiest ways to get yourself all stressed out is to not take the time to read and follow the instructions in your confirmation letter, and then find out the hard way, which can get you DISMISSED: no refunds, no riding, YOU GO HOME NOW.

Arrive at the first session early at best, on time at worst. If you are doing a Friday night classroom, leave work early! Traffic is the most frequent cause of tardiness on Friday nights. Most Instructors are inflexible about this and will dismiss you on the spot, NO REFUNDS.

It's a really good idea to know exactly where the class will be, and you will benefit by going there beforehand and previewing any portion of any class in progress at any location that is not at a Military Base (understandably, Military Bases aren't too keen on unscheduled unfamiliar visitors these days). Ideally, you would go to the location where you will take the class in the future. 

Watch from an unobtrusive spot until the Instructors and students take a break (this may be as long as an hour or more, depending on the students' desire to continue riding; a good way to be sure they are on a break is when all of the students move away from the bikes and the Instructors in different directions, and begin sitting down or eating/drinking). Then go right up to one of the Instructors and introduce yourself, tell them about your plan to take the class, and where you plan to take it. If they have time to answer questions, and this page along with the information at the site coordinators' websites somehow leaves you with unanswered questions, then go ahead and ASK THEM whatever questions you can think of to help you prepare for your upcoming class.

If they don't have time to answer all of your questions, re-read the information at the website for that particular class and the FAQ about the classes in general. If this still leaves your questions unanswered, contact the site administrator where you are scheduled to take the class and ask them. If you haven't signed up for a particular class yet, ask the coordinator of the site you are most likely to choose.

A limited number of helmets are provided on an as-available, first-come, first served basis. Most sites have enough helmets for everyone, but in some instances there will not be enough of the exact size everyone needs. This is one of the principal advantages to bringing a helmet yourself if you can borrow one that fits you well. 

Have all the required clothing: Long pants, Long sleeve T-shirt as a minimum to cover the arms, a jacket and rain gear for adverse weather conditions, full-fingered gloves, eyewear to protect your eyes, footwear that covers the ankles, and for women especially, be sure to keep the heel at no more than one-half inch in height. I can hear you thinking, "But I'm only 27" on the inseam, won't heels help me reach the ground better?" Yes, they will, but with the very significant consequence of making it extremely difficult, or maybe even impossible, to correctly position your foot to operate the gearshift lever... The shorter you are, the more this will work against you as well if you disregard this suggestion and choose to wear heels/platforms. Since shifting the gears is required for success in the class, keep the heel to one-half inch or less. It might be a good idea to bring an extra/alternate pair of footwear, and give yourself options.

Similarly for men, don't wear boots that are GIGANTIC, as you may have trouble fitting your foot under the gearshift lever. If you have size 16 feet, it might be better to wear a pair of High-Top sneakers. Bring an alternate pair of something that covers the ankles to be safe. The bikes are typically 250cc trainers and the scale of things is smaller than what you would see on most larger bikes, even though some women may be having the opposite problem of reaching the gearshift comfortably.

8. If you are taking the Experienced Ridercourse, you must come to the riding portion of the class on your bike, or bring it on a trailer.

If you are taking the Basic Ridercourse in MA, leave your bike at home. Unless you are already a very solid rider, leave your motorcycle at home. Sometimes students will ride to class on their new bike, wanting to immediately apply what we practiced on the way home from class.

I do not recommend this. Instead, I recommend students conserve their energy, and put it into completing the class. Once they have finished the class, then they will have a complete set of skills to apply to their bike. What will you do if you ride your bike to class, work really hard, and now you are fatigued to the point of being dangerous on the ride home? I usually take the car when I go to teach the class, for similar reasons. Wouldn't you prefer I had more energy to give you my full attention in class? I rode my bike to class less than 20% of the time last year, and I'm a rider with 30+ years of experience... Choosing WHEN to ride is an important step in managing the risks of Motorcycling.

9. Try to relax and allow yourself to enjoy the class. I believe you will be able to relax and get the most out of the experience if you follow the above suggestions because you will be more prepared to succeed.

10.Stay involved in the classroom discussions and remember to BREATHE when you are riding on the range. While it isn't one of the instructions specifically given in the class as it is being taught, breathing sure does help a lot of the students...

You still want to do more to prepare? Try this little online quiz...