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For the rookie rider, safety is just a matter of course

January 10, 2007|Susan Carpenter | Times Staff Writer

NO matter how expert we become at carving canyons and generally high-tailing it through the streets on two wheels, we have to learn the basics to get there. Since 1987, almost 500,000 Californians have learned those basics in a parking lot, where they could dump the bike and go wide in turns without shame.

Developed and administered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and funded with motorcycle registration fees and traffic tickets, the California Motorcyclist Safety Program's Basic RiderCourse is the largest motorcycle training program in the country. This year alone, 58,000 riders are expected to take the class.

For good reason. While specific statistics regarding rider training and accident involvement predate states' mass adoption of motorcycle training programs, the general trends remain: Trained riders are underrepresented, whereas riders who learn from friends account for more than their share, according to the program.

By taking the Basic RiderCourse riders don't just learn proper riding techniques. They're halfway toward getting the M1 endorsement on their California driver's license if they pass the riding skills evaluation.

Here's how it works. Riders can find and register for a class either online ( or by phone at (877) RIDE-411. They then go through 15 hours of training. Five are in the classroom, where videos and a workbook teach riders the risks and responsibilities of motorcycling. Then it's off to the parking lot to learn about clutch control and proper braking techniques, among other things.

Since 2004, the number of California training sites has increased from 63 to 93. Still, there is often a wait for courses, though California law prevents the lag time from lasting longer than 90 days.

The California Vehicle Code requires all riders 15 1/2 to 20 years old to take the Basic RiderCourse; for those riders the state caps tuition at $150 versus the maximum $230 that training sites are allowed to charge. Riders 21 and older are not required to take the class to get their M1 endorsement.

While participants take a written exam, it doesn't waive the written test administered through the Department of Motor Vehicles. The skills evaluation, however, does waive the riding portion of the DMV test.

This evaluation happens in the final hour of the course, during which students demonstrate what they've learned. If riders successfully pass the skills evaluation, they receive a DL 389 certificate in the mail. If they also pass the DMV's written test, they'll get their M1 endorsement.

Riders who don't pass the program's riding test are allowed to repeat it free.

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