I take pride in the fact that I've only ridden for three years, yet I've been to many schools. Early mistakes in my riding career made me quickly realize the importance of practicing my skills. So I turned to various types of riding schools, where I also learned that there are good riding schools and not-so-good riding schools. I've spent money on both, learning lessons the hard and expensive ways. Hopefully after reading you won't make the same mistakes. So save your wallet and your bike and read the following before registering for your next school.
In this installment of our motorcycle schooling series, we'll discuss the hardest part about schooling: How to pick the right one.
There are many schools to choose from, but for the sake of simplicity and clarification, we've broken it down into three main categories:
- Parking Lot Schools: This is where most people start. The beginner motorcycle licensing course is (like the Motorcycle Safety Foundation or MSF course) a parking lot school. If you've never ridden a motorcycle, this is the best place to get started. There are also more advanced schools that take place in a parking lot. Parking lot courses allow you to focus on finer motor skills, practice cornering, and test the limits of braking without going too fast. In many cases, they are also cheaper or free (depending on the state you live in), which can be attractive if you're interested in more schooling but need to work within a budget.
- Track Schools: As California Superbike School founder Keith Code described, "The track can be considered a laboratory where you can isolate the rider's individual problems and be able to educate them on the correct technology on how to ride a motorcycle." Track schools often let you bring your own bike, or rent one, and give you a distraction free environment to work on your form and cornering. There are usually instructors and control riders that will follow you during your laps, and help critique you before you go to your next session. Fancy schools will even set up microphone systems to give you immediate feedback on each lap.
- Mini Bike / Dirt Schools: Learning to control traction can be difficult on the street because losing traction on asphalt requires speed, and can result in road rash and a damaged bike. Mini bike dirt schools are an excellent solution since you can't ride fast with a mini bike. If you crash, the consequences are small due to the weight and speed capabilities of the machine. These schools allow you to experiment with the limits of traction, and to dust yourself off if you end up crossing them. This feeling transfers to the street—you will know where the limit is and since you've practiced the skills to deal with it. As Cornerspin founder Aaron Stevenson told us, "You get to find the limit on a little bike, it's the same, and it's the same whether you're on the asphalt or dirt, the dynamics and physics don't change. You're still dealing with traction."
Each type of school tends to focus on a specific type of motorcycling skill. If traction if your biggest fear, you should try a mini bike/dirt school. If your form needs work, try a track school or parking lot school. If you're looking to practice some drills with the help of an instructor, parking lot schools are great. It's also good to get a variety of education, so if you've only ever taken one type of schooling then consider trying something new to test yourself.
I've been to some great schools, I've been to some disappointing schools, and I've been to schools that I wasn't ready for. These experiences guide me in my choices for my next school. Here are a few things to consider before dishing out the money for a one:
- My Experience: There have been schools that I'm interested in, but didn't pursue due to lack of experience. Schools will often preface their intensity and have a recommendation of experiences before attending. Pay attention to this! You want a school that will challenge you, but won't go over your head due to a lack of experience.
- Credentials: I prefer a credentialed school backed by an organization such as the Motorcycle Safety Foundation or the Military. I also consider courses taught by those who are licensed racers and have significant race experience. These credentials can typically ensure that you're getting good advice. Aaron Stevenson agreed, "There should be solid expert advice and teaching. This is the stuff of life and death. Bad information could have huge consequences to the student so make sure to vet the school." If you can't find any credentials for the school, then maybe it's better to keep looking.
- Motorcycles: I want to know about the school equipment. Some schools require you to bring your own bike, while others rent or lend you one. If you're required to bring your own motorcycle, then make sure it's properly prepped for any specifications listed by the class. If the school provides a bike, then contact them to find out how the bikes are maintained and how many there are. Personally, I want to be on a motorcycle as much as possible if I'm paying to take the school. I've been to schools where there weren't enough bikes for everyone, and taking turns was a drag. The schools should have a few back up bikes too, just in case any rented bikes get damaged during the school.
- Gear: Additionally, many schools have gear requirements. If you do not have all the gear required for the class, find out if you can rent what you need. Track schools often rent leathers, and dirt schools often rent dirt gear. You can also ask about how the gear is kept clean if that is important to you. If you have to rent a helmet, find out what certifications the helmet has, how old it is, and what the school's policy for reusing helmets is. If a helmet has been crashed, then you don't want to be wearing it!
- Students to Instructor Ratio: You want to ensure that you will get plenty of personalized instruction and attention when you attend school. If there are too many students for an instructor to pay attention to, then it will be difficult to correct any mistakes that you unknowingly make. The best schools that I've been to had a 4:1 ratio or better.
- Ride Time: I like to ask about the schedule before I take a class to ensure that I will get as much ride time as possible. If a class is spending more time in lecture than actually riding, then I try to understand what sort of information and feedback I'll get during that time. I learned to ask about this after I took a school where we spent half the day hanging out rather than riding, which was not what I paid hundreds of dollars to do.
- Reputation: As Keith Code said, "Not all good riders are good coaches." Many schools, like the California Superbike School, can boast well known riders as former students. Keith continued, "Certainly there have been schools that have really famous guys attached to them, and they went on and then they collapse. It's not just the name. You have to look a little deeper, talk to people who've been to the schools." This is often how I pick my schools—I look into a school based on the recommendation of another rider who I respect. If I find a school that I'm interested in but I don't know anyone who's attended it, then I also try to find reviews of it online.
- Fun: The final thing I want to ensure before I attend a school is that it will be a blast. As Aaron said, "You can find that out if a school is fun from talking to people who've taken the school. You want to be with a staff who is fun, personal, engaging, and of course, professional. Make sure they have your best interests in mind." If you're not having fun on two wheels, then you're doing it wrong.
These criteria can help you determine is the school is worth it.
If you've ever seen our idiot of the week articles, then you should already know YouTube isn't the best place to look for motorcycle instruction.
Keith put it pretty succinctly, "A lot of the stuff on YouTube (laughs) is full of crap."
Aaron added, "Anyone can post on YouTube, and a lot of those people don't have the credentials, knowledge or experience to really know what they are saying. The truth of the matter is there's a lot of disinformation on there. A lot of people are talking about how to do it when they can't do the technique themselves, and they don't understand the dynamic or the forces at play. That's just one example. Even people offering advice on setting up motorcycles, what does that really do the geometry? Again, be careful."
So if you're going to rely on the internet for information, make sure you know that the advice your getting is from an actual authority on the subject. Endorsements by racers or instructors are always a plus. You can also check out books or videos written by racers and motorcycle instructors. A few that I'd recommend include:
- Keith Code's Twist of the Wrist Series
- David L. Hough's Proficient Motorcycling
- Lee Parks' Total Control
- Kenny Roberts' Techniques of Motor Cycle Road Racing
- Nick Ienatsch's Sport Riding Techniques: How To Develop Real World Skills for Speed, Safety, and Confidence on the Street and Track
Ready to look for some instruction? Here are some classes to consider for the new year, as well as their length and price ranges. It's February, so if you see a school you like you can start saving now. These are not all the classes in the country though, so check your local track or dirt track for more options.
Parking Lot Schools
- Basic Motorcycle Safety Foundation Licensing Course
- Locations: Almost every state in the USA
- Length: Varies from a weekend to several days
- Cost: Varies by state. Some states offer this course for free, while others charge a fee. Look up info for what your state offers on their website
- Total Control Advanced Riding Clinic:
- Locations: All over the country, including Arizona, California, Tennessee, Texas, and Illinois
- Length: One Full Day
- Cost: $300
- Motorcycle Safety Foundation Advanced Rider Course
- Locations: All over the country
- Length: Usually one day or possibly a weekend
- Cost: Depends on the state. In Illinois, they are free!
- California Superbike School
- Locations: All over the country (and world), including California, Ohio, Alabama, Nevada, Virginia, and many more
- Length: One or Two Days, depending on the course you choose (go big or go home)
- Cost: $400 - $2500
- Locations: Virginia
- Length: One day
- Cost: $500
- Jason Pridmore's STAR School
- Locations: All over the country, though class locations were not listed at this time
- Length: Two days
- Cost: $750
- Locations: Illinois, sometimes other Midwest locations
- Length: One day
- Cost: $175 - $250, depending on the course you choose
- Jason DiSalvo Speed Academy
- Locations: All over the country, including Illinois, Alabama, Ohio, and many more
- Length: One or two days, depending on the course you choose
- Cost: Not available on their website at this time
- Apex Rider Development Course
- Locations: Florida
- Length: One Day
- Cost: $320 + track fees
- Yamaha Champions Riding School
- Location: Millville, New Jersey
- Length: One or two days classes (sometimes they offer three day classes)
- Cost: $999-$2500
Mini Bike / Dirt School
- Location: North Carolina
- Length: Two days
- Cost: $445 - $545 depending on the time of year; discounts for bringing a friend, veterans, and returning students
- RIDE Academy
- Location: All over the country, including Illinois, Virginia, North Carolina, California, and more
- Length: Two days
- Cost: $500
- American Supercamp
- Location: All over the country, including California, Georgia, Delaware, and more
- Length: Two days
- Cost: $600
- Shelina Moreda's Girlz Moto Camp (Girls Only)
- Location: California, though it has traveled once
- Length: Two days
- Cost: $425 for the course, more to rent a bike
- Colin Edwards' Texas Tornado Bootcamp
- Location: Colin's ranch in Texas
- Length: Four days
- Cost: $2,250
Photos courtesy the California Superbike School and Jen Tekawitha
What schools have you been to and enjoyed?
This post was written by Jen Tekawitha.