Taking the Step: Getting Your Motorcycle License With MSF

Sarah gets her motorcycle license with the MSF, and it was better than she thought it was going to be

Sarah working on her old Honda 400 FourVintage Steele

I didn't have one of those initiations on two wheels where I had been riding with my big brothers on dirt bikes since the age of six (I don't have big brothers). I had always been intrigued by motorcycles and scooters and thought they seemed fun in an innocently dangerous way, but was never drawn to them where I lost all of my senses when it came to them. I was in my late twenties before I had even considered that I might be interested in riding on my own. At that point in my life, my partner and I started on small 25cc mopeds. We would cruise around on backroads in Vermont and struggle up hills, feeling like 25mph was insanely fast as we "flew" down long hills. I quickly became frustrated at how limited they were and at how other motorists saw me as in the way, even when I was able to keep up with traffic. This led me to upgrading to a vintage 1974 Honda CB200T and needing to get my permit. I was convinced that I could do it just like my partner had. Practice on my permit for a while and then just go and take the test. Well, despite my hopes, I'm just not like that, I'm more the over-planning, calculated type. I renewed my permit a few times and eventually, I realized that the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) course was my best bet.

I didn't have high expectations for the course. I expected it to be awkward, badly run, and mostly a waste of time. It was state-run, and I was convinced that it would likely be similar to taking a bad GED course with droning instructors dreaming of being anywhere but there at that moment. Boy, was I wrong. Well, of course the first night was a little awkward as we all gathered in the small DMV classroom to meet our instructors and each other. I had originally expected it to be a majority of dudes and taught by some macho ex-statey. Wrong again. The lead instructor was a retired cop, but a woman. The supporting instructor was a sweet man that made sure everyone was happy and comfortable. And I'd say a little over half the class were women. Folks' riding experiences were all over the map, too. Some had been riding all their lives and some had never even touched a bike before. I felt at ease immediately.

Josh Steele of Vintage Steele cruising the backroads of Vermont on a Norton Commando cafe racer he restored and customized — after getting his license with the MSF, of course.Vintage Steele

That first night was basically an introduction. We got to know each other, went over the basics and got an outline of what to expect for the rest of the weekend. The next day would be spent half out on the course on the bikes, and half in the classroom going over laws and regulations. The final day would be a quick review before the riding then the written tests. The second day, they started everyone out the same. You get your bike, and stand next to it — on the left side. The bike is off and they show you how to mount it, where the ignition and kill switch are, and they make sure you understand their hand signals all before they even let you touch your bike. Once you're on the bike, they don't even let you start it until you're able to maneuver it back and forth and around, just with your legs. Slowly they work you up to riding around in first gear and practicing small maneuvers. Then they teach you what to expect for the test, and they run you through everything over and over until you are comfortable. You get tips and encouragement, laughs and support. You feel like these guys are rooting for you, and they are. It's the same in the classroom and then the next day during the review. Before they run through the tests, they make sure everyone is ready and help each person with reminders of how to overcome their weak spots. Then it's all business as they run you through the tests.

I can't say enough about the riders course. It is brilliant and very thoughtfully put together. I recommend it to anyone that is a new rider or even vaguely interested in riding. They walk you through everything, basically setting you up to pass, NOT to fail. The way I figure it is that whomever put this set of courses together figured the best way to have careful thoughtful riders, is to teach them how to be that from the get-go. That to have safer roads, you have to do what you can to ensure safe operators. Taking the course basically ensures that you'll pass the riders test, and that you'll be someone I'd feel comfortable riding with.