Under 21 and Motorcycling in California

As we approach the heat of summer, the popularity of motorcycle increases like the mercury in August. Unfortunately, many of those who adopt motorcycling in the summer don’t always practice safe motorcycling. Many of those who do adopt motorcycling are also under 21 and impulsive. So I would like to detail how to safely obtain a motorcycle license when you are still under 21. In California, if you are underage, the state requires that you complete the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Rider Course. This is a course offered by the Motor Safety Foundation to teach people of all ages the basics of motorcycling. The Pacific Safety Council in Mira Mesa, San Diego, California was where I took my motorcycle course.

The Rider Course consists of 2 days of in class time where you learn the basic mechanics and road rules of motorcycling. The in class instruction totals 5 hours and the riding practice is 10 hours. This is invaluable information even for riders who have ridden for decades. There are some bad habits that experienced riders don’t know that they do because they haven’t learned better. For example, unlike in a car, you don’t want to put your bike in Neutral at a stop light. Instead you leave it in first gear and just hold down the clutch as you wait for the light. The reason for this is that motorcycles aren’t as visible as cars so there may be the occasional bonehead that fails to slow down fast enough at the light. Having it in first gear allows you to quickly get out of a dangerous situation. The 2nd day of class ends with a test that you must pass before they let you out on the riding range. The test is mostly common sense knowledge but it is an invaluable refresher especially when you are preparing to be out in the open road in a vehicle that doesn’t have the luxury of steel cages and bumpers.

My experience with the instructors in the class has been positive. We were given 2 different instructors, both of which had years of motorcycle experience. Unlike traffic school teachers who seem like they just want to get the class over with, these Rider Course instructors are genuinely interested in making sure that you will ride safely out in the dangerous roads. They also share funny and educational motorcycling stories that made the classes not droll off fact after fact.

The in class instruction is usually during the weekday at night and the riding practice can be scheduled for the daytime on the weekend. This is perfect if you have to work on attend summer school. The riding range was in Chula Vista. Before attending the riding range class, you are told to bring boots that cover your ankles, long sleeved clothing, jeans and gloves. The helmets are provided if you don’t own one of your own already.

The instructors at the riding course are also very knowledgable of motorcycling. They try real hard to make it a fun and safe experience. My experience with my instructors were that they knew to be serious when they were teaching something important yet corny enough to keep the learning atmosphere fun. I came onto the driving range in Chula Vista and a row of motorcycles were lined up. I signed in and soon enough we were on the motorcycles. We were shown the basic parts of the motorcycle and the turning on sequence. We were already shown this in the classroom but motorcycles can be different so they were shown to us again. We didn’t start the motorcycles right away. We were told to get on them just to get a feel of it. Then we got off of them just to take it all in. Then we went back on them, this time we were allowed to put it in neutral and straddle the bike, unpowered, to the other side of the lot. We took our small break again to take it in. These breaks and slow steps were helpful especially for a person that had never been on a motorcycle before. They started off with very comfortable steps and instructions. We were then allowed to turn on the bike and put it into first gear and straddle it to the other side. Before we knew it, we were riding the bikes on our own around a track. We would then progress to learning to corner, swerve out of trouble, emergency brake and other skills you would need in the road.

The second day was more of the same stuff but with tougher courses. The toughest course was to ride in a figure 8, basic make two u-turns in a very small rectangular area. This taught counter steering; which would be a very important technique later on the road when making u- turns or just getting into and out of tight turns. The second day ended with the riding test. Passing this riding test would allow us a permit to ride on the road. I was very nervous about doing the Figure 8 test as two fails would require you come back another day to try again. I didn’t have the time though because the next week I would have started college. So I had to pass. I guess I respond well to pressure because I did a lot better on that test than I did in all the practice runs. So it was a relief to hear that I passed. It was even more suspenseful because the instructors don’t tell you if you’ve passed until all the courses have been completed by everyone. So it is not until the very end that I found out. It was great.

Although, honestly at the moment, having just passed the course, I still wasn’t confident enough to take a motorcycle out onto the street. Regardless, I was still just one step from taking my permit and turning it into a M1 motorcycle license. After the stress of completing my first week of college, I walked to the nearest DMV and took the written test for motorcycles. I passed it and there I was with my motorcycle’s license. Of course, it was just a piece of paper still but it was still a motorcycle license. An added bonus was that you get to take another picture for your driver’s license. So a few weeks later, I got my shiny new driver’s license with the M1 designation on it.

I was ready to hit the road on a motorcycle. I would recommend further practice in a parking lot. Don’t get cooped up in the parking lots though. After a few hours of practice and when you’re slightly more comfortable find a quiet street to start practicing on. Then move onto a bigger street with a little more cars. Then move onto the freeway. Riding in the parking lot is fun, but riding on the freeway is really fun.

Most important thing is to make sure you’re aware of your abilities and ride within them. Take the time to practice and plan your riding strategy. Of course the most important thing is to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Course. It is probably the best thing that you can do to learn motorcycling. Oh yeah, and its required if you’re not 21 and you want that license.

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