Goodbye MSF, It Was Nice Knowing You

My old site, San Francisco City College via motorcycle

My old site, San Francisco City College via motorcycle

12 years ago I committed to becoming a certified rider coach with the motorcycle safety foundation. Last month I gave up that commitment. To some it's not a big deal. Just a job, whatever. 


To me, it meant meeting new riders, feeling their excitement and helping many of them overcome fears, anxieties of learning how to ride. After I took my first safety course in 2004, it led me to incredible confidence, happiness and a passion for riding I never imagined.

I learned so much in my short coaching career, and I definitely owe it to the San Francisco school that made it happen for me. They were incredibly supportive, encouraging and positive. I never left that school to teach anywhere else because I couldn't imagine finding another school that treated students the way we did. My bosses were always focused on creating positive learning experiences for their students. Sometimes there would be folks that didn't quite follow that philosophy but they didn't last very long. If they were there only for Themselves, then it was painfully obvious they really weren't there for You.  

Im so sad to give up my certification for now but I hope someday I can get back to teaching again. I really loved every minute although it was hard at times.  

It was one of the most rewarding jobs I've ever had and I'll never forget what I learned, who I met and how it helped me evolve as a person. 

In the meantime, I'll do what i can from over here... 

New Rider Tip

Taking the MSF Class? Just getting started? 

Here's a really great quote from an email that I received from a student last week who picked up a full riding outfit from me at Scuderia.

"Having real, protective gear during the class gave me a lot more confidence, and I don't know if I would have leaned that motorcycle over nearly as far if I hadn't had it."

I think it's telling how important wearing gear is. You don't have to all the way with street leathers like this person did, but gearing up with more than jeans and sneakers really makes a difference! 

Recent MSF Graduates = Highest Risk Group?

San Francisco Ninja 250 Say it isn't so! That's what this article from the WSJ is saying, based on accident rates in the Golden State from recent MSF graduates.

MSF Training won't prevent some people from making terrible judgment calls in terms of what they're going to buy and how much time it can take to build up enough experience to that 800cc, 150hp motorcycle they've just bought. (Doesn't matter if it's a cruiser either. If you don't know how to manage your entry speed, you're screwed).

I think that although "..... collision claim frequency was 10 percent higher (in CA) compared with 28 states without those requirements", the claim frequency would be Even higher without any requirement for people under 21.

And, women represent 20-30% of students in "some" states. How many is "some"? If it were all 48 states that the curriculum is in, that would be a pretty strong argument for 20-30% of riders in the US being women? Hmmmm.

Article: Data show risk highest for new motorcycle riders. Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2012

City Bike Article

Just in case you can't get your own copy of City Bike magazine for April, I'm pasting a copy for you to read below.   I wrote it  for those of you who are new to motorcycling, might be a vertically challenged (not short!) man or woman, and could use some tips to help you overcome the obstacles you may be facing as someone new to riding a motorcycle. Enjoy!


Selling Yourself Short City Bike Magazine New Rider Issue April 2010

Congratulations! You’ve completed your MSF course.  You found a bike, and you’re out there practicing every day.  If you’re not out there practicing every day, why is that?  Maybe you’ve even dropped it a couple times, and now you’re doubting yourself and your ability to ride.    It also doesn’t help that you’re vertically challenged, with a 28”-29” inseam.  You’re also wondering how you’re going to get any better at this, gain confidence and at the same time, increase your skills?

Having a short inseam, I know how challenging this can be.  When you decide to ride a motorcycle, it’s a bit like jumping into a relationship.  Taking your MSF class signifies the ‘marriage’ between you and the decision to ride a motorcycle.   Now that you’ve taken the plunge, it’s time to put all those skills to use.  Only riding a few miles a week, or worse, every couple weeks isn’t going to take you and your new commitment very far.   You now know that riding is a body/feel or “muscle memory” intensive activity.  If you don’t get out there and practice every minute you have a chance, everything you’ve learned will go to waste.   When I first started riding, I really had to force myself to get out there and ride.  I was so intimidated by the height and weight of my first scooter and my first motorcycle.  But pushing myself further and further has brought me to where I am today.

If you’re feeling discouraged, don’t give up! First, if you think you’re having trouble due to your height, I want you to consider all the flexible options you may have with adjusting your bike in small ways such as: a narrower custom seat, adjusted suspension, handlebars, etc. Most modern motorcycles have lots of after market options that will allow you to make these kinds of adjustments with surprising results.  Sometimes the slightest difference in handlebar height or seat position can make the bike feel completely different to you.

Second, make sure that you’re riding the right bike for YOU.  If someone else chose the bike you now ride, I strongly urge you to consider the possibility that the bike is having a negative effect on your riding skills. It may have nothing to do with your height at all!  If you talked yourself into the wrong bike, why aren’t you looking for the right one?  Ask yourself if the bike fits your needs. Are you really riding something that’s appropriate for your skill level?  Or, did you get talked into a bike that really isn’t the best one for you? Keep in mind that it’s more important for you to choose the right bike for right now, not 6 months down the line.  You can always sell a bike and buy something else when the time comes.  Perhaps a 250cc sportbike isn’t the best option.  What about a 200cc street legal dirtbike, or a 150cc scooter? When you ride something that weighs ~250-275lbs, it can be a lot easier to jump from that to something that weighs ~350lbs.  When you get used to the weight of a small dirtbike, or even a scooter, it can make that next step so much easier and less stressful to deal with.  If I hadn’t spent 3500 miles on a 50cc scooter, I don’t think I ever would’ve been able to make the jump to a 250cc sportbike.

Third, are you following the braking procedures you learned in your class? Are you grabbing your front brakes, instead of squeezing them? Maybe you’re not using your rear at all, which can add stability when you come to a stop. Or maybe your throttle control still needs a little work. You’d be amazed at how improving these techniques can change and/or improve your ability to ride.  Remember that you’re trying to achieve a seamless transition from going 20-30mph, slowing down and then braking to a complete stop.  When your braking technique is messy, it can ruin your ability to stop smoothly, and handle the full weight of your bike.

Lastly, what kind of riding boots are you wearing? Are you still wearing the cheap hiking boots you bought just for the class? Maybe it’s time to invest in a good pair of solid, protective boots that give you far more traction in the ball of your foot.  I’ve never been flat footed with both feet on any of my bikes, or even my first scooter! I worked on stopping with my left foot first and finessing my braking technique so that I didn’t feel the need to have both feet down at every single stop.  When you put your feet down, that can send a strong message to your brain, in terms of how you feel about the motorcycle.  If you’re wearing regular street shoes,  I can almost guarantee that you have minimal traction at best, and probably minimal protection.  Protective boots will also have slightly thicker soles, and in some cases, enough to add up to 2” of vertical height, depending on the brand.

I know there’s a lot to think about right now, and you might be a little overwhelmed, if not discouraged by this stage in the learning process. But I hope that you won’t give up unless you’ve explored all the options available to you as a new rider.  Remember that riding is truly a lifelong experience, and even those of us who have ridden thousands of miles (because it’s not about time, it’s about miles!) have trouble every now and then and we could all use a little help on the journey to become a proficient rider.

Joanne Donn is the proud owner of a 2003 Suzuki SV650S. Prior to that, she rode a 2006 Kawasaki Z750S, a 2004 Kawasaki Ninja 250 and a 2003 Aprilia Scarabeo 50cc scooter.  When she’s not riding, she works part time for the Int’l Motorcycle Shows, runs her website, works part time as an MSF RiderCoach in San Francisco and at Scuderia West in apparel sales.

You can find her at, or send an email to

Experienced Rider Class Oct. 25th!

If you've been riding for a few years or have at least 3,000 miles under your belt, then sign up for an ERC in San Francisco!! There are still a few seats left for this session. Sign up with a couple buddies and then have lunch afterward to celebrate. When: Oct. 25th, Saturday Sunday 7:45am-12:45pm

Where: City College SF Parking Lot

Why: Refresh your skills! Maybe you bought a new bike? Maybe you NEVER learned how to swerve, stop in a corner, or stop quickly in straight line without locking up your brakes?


Cost: $125.00

So You're Taking an MSF Class. What To Wear?

Me on my first ride, a 2003 Kawasaki Ninja 250. Woo woo!

Me on my first ride, a 2003 Kawasaki Ninja 250. Woo woo!

Before the Ninja there was me and my 50cc Aprilia Scarabeo for 3,599 miles in 1 year

Before the Ninja there was me and my 50cc Aprilia Scarabeo for 3,599 miles in 1 year

Maybe you've decided to move up from your 50cc scooter like I did. Or maybe you're going to take the class on one? Congratulations!! You've made a smart decision on your lifelong learning adventure in motorcycling. One thing you'll hear over and over again from seasoned riders is that you always learn something new every time you go out for a ride.

Once you sign up for the class you might be asking yourself "What Should I Wear ?" Well, here are my recommendations, based on what I've seen students wear that can make a real difference in the outcome of the class. On your first day of class you're going to be nervous, maybe a little scared and anxious. Adding to that by not wearing the right gear can really hamper your ability to learn and keep up with what we're trying to show you. When small details like the wrong footwear and improperly fitting gloves get in the way, it can slow down the rate at which you are learning and achieving the objectives we're putting in front of you. We want 100% of your focus to be on learning the skills, the bike and having fun.

Here's a really great quote from a student that emailed me after she shopped for gear with me:

"Having real, protective gear during the class gave me a lot more confidence, and I don't know if I would have leaned that motorcycle over nearly as far if I hadn't had it."

A couple of general rules to remember when gearing up for your class.

  • Anything you'd wear to an office job will NOT be suitable for riding. Neither will your workout clothes, sweatpants or shorts. You're going to ride a motorcycle! Not sit down at a desk and work on a computer or go to the gym. Everything you wear is going to affect your ability to ride. Your intention is to be comfortable riding, given the weather conditions and everything we're going to ask you to do. That means no slacks, dress clothes, wing tips, loafers, high heeled boots, basketball sneakers or Uggs (Yes, I had someone show up in those once. She said her feet were cold. I had to send her home). You get the idea. A coach will not hesitate to send you home if you haven't followed the requirements that you were given.

  • Read the confirmation letter and/or the guidelines that the school gives you. It's YOUR responsibility to be proactive and make sure you know what they expect of you before you get there. If you have any questions on what you should be wearing, bring it up to your teacher in the classroom portion and even bring some items to class for them to look at if you're not sure your gear is suitable.

  • If you're interested in a sport like Motorcycling, it's time to take it serious as a sport and be prepared to risk everything from injuries to failing to meet the objectives. If you were going to go skiing, would you wear sweats, flip flops and a tshirt? Probably not. You'd go out and get snow pants, an insulated, waterproof jacket, ski gloves (not mittens) and a beanie to keep your head warm. Why does a sport like motorcycling demand any less?

My first time ever, riding my Ninja in the parking lot (before I swapped the fairings for yellow)

My first time ever, riding my Ninja in the parking lot (before I swapped the fairings for yellow)

Now it's most likely that the school will have a full face (yes!) or 3/4 helmet for you to use. What they probably won't have are leather, full fingered gloves, eye protection or a footwear. If you can, I'd highly recommend buying a helmet for the class if you have any fit issues (ie you have a very small or very large head measurement). The school will probably have average sizes between Small and XLarge. But if you have any issues that might affect the possibility of the school having a helmet that fits you, you may want to get one beforehand. Otherwise, it's perfectly fine to just use the helmets that the school supplies. If you have your own already, make sure it's Full Face or 3/4, and DOT Certified. You cannot use a half helmet in the class (nor should you ride with one. Yes, even if you're *just* buying a scooter).

At the school I work in, here are the items that we require students to wear for the range portion of the class:

Over-the-ankle sturdy footwear. A couple of examples:

Notice that all of these boots have a substantial rubber sole and really good traction! You're going to be putting your feet up and down over and over again, to hold up a 200lb+ bike. If you don't feel stable when your feet are down, how's that going to affect your ability to maneuver it? Especially if you're vertically challenged like me. They also cover your ankle bone. There's a chance you may drop the bike or tip over and if your ankles are caught between, you need something in between to minimize any injury.


And contrary to what you might think, steel toe boots are NOT a good idea for riding. The steel toe can actually make it harder for you to feel the shift lever. You'll need to get your toe in and under the lever so you can shift. Having a steel toe can get in the way of your ability to feel that. Some riding boots do have reinforced toes so that you don't wear down that part of the boot, but steel toes make it harder to feel the lever. The other thing you don't want is a high heel. The heel of your boot needs to rest on the foot peg when you're riding. Having more than 3/4" heel will make it difficult to rest your foot comfortably and go back and forth between shifting or braking. Don't worry, there will be bikes of varied seat heights so if you're worried about the bikes fitting you, the school should have plenty of options. Feel free to call the school and see what kind of bikes they have in their fleet and then go online and check their seat heights.

  • Long non-flare denim pants or material of equivalent durability. Denim jeans, or heavy cargo pants would be a good option. Make sure the legs are long enough for your legs to be fully covered when in a seated position. Remember to check your backside as well, as we shouldn't see any skin while you're on that bike. Ladies, this means you can't wear your low hip slung jeans which will probably expose your lower back while riding. Gentlemen, it might be time to throw away the pair of 10 year old jeans you have that have shrunk so much they're too short to cover your legs anymore. Leathers are not necessary for this class. But if you can go to your local motorcycle apparel shop and get some overpants or riding jeans, of course those will work well.

  • Long-sleeved shirt or jacket to below the waist. You need to be long sleeved when on the bike. It's best to at least wear a jacket or something non abrasive. A cotton long sleeve shirt really isn't the best thing to wear. Bring a jacket (waist length only, No trenchcoats) something sturdy. And again, sit in a chair or assumed a seated position and make sure your sleeves are long enough and the length is adequate to cover your back too. A couple of good examples would be a ski jacket, leather or denim jacket.

  • Full-fingered gloves, preferably leather, but at least with leather palms. Street motorcycle gloves range in price from $25 - $300. Your hands are going to be manipulating the clutch, the front brake and the throttle. You want decent gloves that are going to help you manipulate everything without any problems. If you can get some real motorcycle gloves for your class, they will help tremendously. Being able to grip the throttle and the front brake will make such a big difference in your performance. There are hundreds of styles, types and brands to choose from, so if you can purchase at least one new thing for the class, buy good gloves. Especially if you're going to be riding in wet or cold weather. Keeping your hands dry and warm are really go to make a difference.

  • Your eyes must be protected at all times. This means that when you're on the bike, you must have your visor down or if you have an open face helmet, you need to wear eye protection. Preferably with shatterproof lenses, such as safety glasses. Most schools will accept regular sunglasses or eyeglasses. Visors are shatterproof, so that's why they're considered eye protection. Here’s a pair of cool photochromic sunglasses that would work well.

So now that you know what to wear for the class, get a GOOD night's sleep, have a solid breakfast and bring some water/snacks to the range! Try not to 'study' for the class, as all you need to know is what you were taught in the classroom.

These gear preparations are simply my opinions as to what will really help you on the range and set you up for success in the future. More often than not, people put less thought into their gear and too much thought into studying more than they're taught in classroom. Everything you need to know is in the Rider Handbook. If you're going to study anything, just stick to that and you're golden.

Remember, the MSF Basic Rider Course is only your FIRST step into the world of motorcycling! You have your whole life ahead of you to keep learning. Why overload yourself with more information than you need? Keep it simple and remember that this class is designed for the true novice in mind (never seen, sat on or ridden a motorcycle).

And most importantly, Have FUN!

Useful information from the MSF

Here are some useful bits of information from my friends at the Motorcycle Safety Foundation:

You can even download the coursebook before you take the class! There's some information about helmets and protective gear too. Of course, nothing as insightful or interesting as what I'm going to tell you in a bit! :)