Changing the Rules, Mixing My Emotions


All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

On the last October weekend of the 2014 MMSC training season, I taught a “Seasoned Rider” class (aka Experienced Rider Course, ERC, BRC II, etc.) for a few Polaris company employees. Because the course had some experimental qualities (“There will be a test.”), the course was prepaid to the college regardless of the number of students. Saturday morning was right at freezing and no one was compelled (either by work or because they’d laid down $60) to be there, so only four students showed up. On top of that, due to the lateness in the season and the “test,” the Polaris employees were allowed to ride the course on the state’s 250-and-under motorcycles, instead of bringing their own rides. Due to those points, I was the only guy on the range who rode to the range. The first 3 1/2 hours were identical to the usual course, but it was pretty obvious that we all had a different kind of edge on due to the impending “evaluation” (PC for “test”). The students, because they were in a pass/fail situation and instructors because we’d never conducted a BRC II with a test at the end.

The big exception to this course was the students were offered the choice of riding their own bikes or the state’s. Because it was specially offered to Polaris employees by Polaris and some of them are beginning motorcycle owners and may or may not actually own a motorcycle, it made for an interesting experiment. By design and purpose, the BRC II is intended, I think, to be ridden on the students’ bikes. At least, that’s the way we’ve always done the course as long as I’ve known about it. And, of course, there has not been an evaluation at the end to determine what has been learned in the course during the time I’ve been an instructor. That has not always been the case, though.

I took my first prototype-ERC at Willow Springs Raceway, back in the late 1980’s. It wasn’t called the ERC, as I remember, but I don’t remember what it was called. There was a fair amount of lecture along with the usual emergency stop, obstacle avoidance, turning, and riding technique instruction. There was a short performance test at the end of the course and, as I remember, we were presented with a certificate that could be used for a drivers’ training discount with our insurance companies. The next time I took the course was in Denver, at Bandimere Speedway, the drag racing track. The “range” was a marked-up and coned section of the speedway where the cart racing is today. The course used the same kind of exercises, along with an opportunity to play panic-braking on their big training-wheeled 500 Nighthawk. You could wind up the bike to about 40-50mph and hammer the brakes and the skids kept the Nighthawk from falling over. I don’t think there was a test with that course. The last time I took the course as a student was in Minnesota on the Guidant parking lot in Arden Hills. The parking lot had been oiled earlier that week and employee cars had been sliding into each other at low speeds, morning and evening. I know because I worked there. I usually bicycled to work, so I missed out on the parking lot fun until Saturday at the ERC. The course continued the sliding and crashing the cars had demonstrated earlier in the week. Almost everyone in the class crashed at least once and a lot of chrome and plastic looked worse for the wear. I “anticipated” the emergency swerve exercise because I didn’t think my Yamaha TDM would look better coated in greasy black oil. The next week, another asphalt contractor cleaned and recoated the parking lot, this time with materials that didn’t come from the county oil recycling sludge pit. That’s the history of my student experience with the ERC and it’s ancestors and all of that was on my own motorcycles.

That behind me, I had a little built-in resistance to teaching the course to “experienced riders” on what most of those riders would consider to be “beginner bikes.” The fact is, a lot of experienced riding course students do not ride well enough to be called “experienced.” Maybe that’s the motivation for the recent renaming of those classes as “Basic Rider Course II” or “Seasoned Rider Course.” Another fact I have often expressed is that I think about 90% of Minnesota motorcyclists choose motorcycles that require skill levels far beyond the riders’ capabilities. Unlike ABATE, the AMA (the motorcycle group, not the doctors’ AMA), and the Industry, I believe tiered licensing is just common sense and that our current license testing is a joke. Not a funny joke, but a cruel, sarcastic, vicious joke that costs lives and billions of dollars in death and injury. From observing street riders over half-a-century and training them for a dozen years, I’d estimate about 50% of Minnesota riders should be limited to 250cc-and-under motorcycles, 90% should be limited to 650cc-and-under, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the 10% who are smart, competent, and safe enough to be on 650cc-and-above would probably choose to ride their big bikes on closed courses 90% of the time.

All that baggage under my belt, we started this course with a little apprehension. A lot of my doubts dissolved quickly, though. After the first couple of exercises it became clear that our students were riding a lot more aggressively and testing their skills more confidently than the typical BRC II class. Some of this was because this was a younger-than-typical class, but I have to give a substantial credit to the fact that we all ride small bikes more competently and confidently than large ones. We decided that I’d administer the test, since I’d studied the BRC II test procedure and had a couple of on-line conversations with California MSF instructors who’d done the test in the BRC II’s early years. The BRC II test is more like the DOT’s test. Which means all four sections of the test are performed by each student, more or less non-stop. More concentration is required, along with competence, memory, and attention, all qualities directly related to being safe on the road. Again, this was a small class filled with better-than-typical students, but at the end they all scored well enough to be qualified as MSF instructors.

I thought about this class for several days afterwards. There are some subversive reasons I am inclined to like the whole concept. The test is more important than I’d imagined. We often have old, unskilled, and/or arrogant riders who simply ride through the harder exercises on their abysmal hippobikes, imagining that there is no relationship between low speed closed course exercises and their delusional “real world.” The apehanger crowd that is overrepresented in mortality/morbidity statistics is typical of this character. Handing them a card that indicates successful completion of the course is particularly galling. Mostly what that group achieves is four hours of an out-of-control riding demonstration on an overweight, unmanageable motorcycle that has put the other riders and the instructors at risk. Most of that alcohol-demented bunch would totally blow the BRC II test because they’d forget half of it before they left the gate. If they were allowed to perform the test on a small bike or their own, the result would probably be the same; massive failure. Nearest and dearest to my heart, allowing these intermediate-level riders to do the course on our small motorcycles might encourage some of them to consider, or reconsider, their choice of motorcycle. A tiny percentage of riders might discover that “small is fun” and take that lesson to the street. If that, alone, happened, I’d be all for letting BRC II riders take the class on whatever motorcycle they chose.

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