In order to cruise the streets legally, you’ll need to get a motorcycle license. Completing a basic riding course is a great way to build confidence and often satisfies the DMV’s knowledge and on-cycle skills requirements.
Getting a motorcycle license is a critical step when becoming a new rider. It entitles you to legally to ride the public streets, but also requires riders to go through a modicum of training and education, both of which help reduce the incidence of accidents.
In the U.S. all riders are legally required to have a license or endorsement to ride on public roads and each state differs in its process to obtain a license. Most states require written and on-cycle exams, though in many instances completion of a rider safety course will waive the need to take these tests at the DMV. Check with your local DMV to find out the specific requirements for your area, and check here www.dmv.org/motorcycle-license for a quick reference guide of the different states’ rules.
Experienced riders can often simply take the DMV’s written and on-cycle skills tests. For those with limited to no experience, there are beginning rider courses available in all 50 states that offer in-class and on-bike training in the basics of riding a motorcycle. Most states utilize curriculum and/or skills tests developed by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and beginner courses generally run 15 hours, with five spent in class and 10 spent on a small-displacement motorcycle in a controlled environment. Other states, such as Oregon, have developed their own programs similar to those of the MSF. All will teach a new rider how to operate the machine and navigate the typical situations encountered on the road. Check with your local DMV to find out if the rider safety course serves as a license test waiver in your area and to find out whether such courses are mandatory for licensure, as many states now require new riders to complete such courses if they’ve never been previously licensed.
Learning the curriculum and practicing in a beginning rider class can help a new rider determine if motorcycles are really a pastime to pursue. Considering the money needed to buy a bike and gear, register the bike and insure the machine, starting out can be pretty pricy. Prices for new rider training courses vary state to state, but are often less than $200 and they provide valuable seat time in an environment where the chances of a serious accident are relatively low.
The Team Oregon basic rider course is conducted in a large, empty parking lot and gives new riders the chance to develop essential riding skills in a safe, controlled environment.
I got my motorcycle endorsement by taking a basic rider course offered by Team Oregon, a state-run program through the Oregon State University College of Public Health and Human Sciences and Oregon Department of Transportation. It provides similar courses as Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) rider training programs and successful completion of the Basic Rider Training means the new licensee doesn’t have to take state-knowledge and on-cycle tests at the DMV.
Some of the things a fledgling rider needs for the BRT course are a DOT-approved helmet (which Team Oregon provides if a student can’t bring one of their own), eye protection, long-sleeved shirt or jacket, long pants, full fingered gloves and over-the-ankle boots or shoes. Of course there’s also a fee, which is $179 for BRT with Team Oregon. You’ll also need a little free time, since the 15-hour course is split between three days.
Day 1 was a 2.5 hour in-class session where the course was introduced, some basic operating functions of a motorcycle were reviewed and the criteria for successful completion outlined. Class time during all three days is spent going through the BRT handbook and watching informational videos.
The second day was split between classroom instruction and riding drills on a course in the parking lot. Prior to each drill, one of the two instructors would outline the goal of the exercise and provide an overview of how to successfully complete the task. They would watch each rider and provide immediate feedback on performance; each student got multiple opportunities to execute a drill and implement improvement suggestions.
Instructors provide immediate feedback on a rider’s performance and there’s plenty of time to practice skills in order to get them right before the on-bike test.
We started from square one, sitting on the bikes to feel their weight, practicing the ignition sequence, feeling for the friction point and duck-walking in a straight line at a slow pace. From there we practiced switching gears up from first and back down, looking through both left and right hand turns, executing emergency stops, swerving to avoid obstacles and weaving in and out of cones.
Day 3 was much the same as the previous day, though near the end of the riding portion there is an on-bike skills test where instructors run students through the different drills conducted during the two days on course. They also set up a simulation of real-world traffic with a four-lane intersection that gave us a chance to navigate tight turns, use our blinkers and manage ourselves in very, very light traffic. If a student can make it through all that without dropping the bike or knocking down too many cones, then it’s back to the classroom for the written test.
We got our results on site that day, and if you passed you received a completion card that would waive the skills and written tests at the DMV. Check with your DMV to find out where your local safety training course is held. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation also offers a Rider Course database that’s searchable by state and provides links to the different training programs available in your area.