Lenny, Steve, and Rob



Becoming a Motorcycle Safety Foundation RiderCoach

Why would you want to?

What's in it for you? If you like teaching, this is a terrific position to have. In my state of Massachusetts the course isn't required by the state, so all the students want to be there. Little can compare to being in a course, in any capacity, where the students are motivated and having fun.

Few will find it a full-time job, but there is some money in it. When I started in 1999, we got $18/hour. It is my impression that the pay was uniform all over the state, though I don't know this for sure. There was a shortage of coaches for a time, and perhaps as a result, the pay started climbing. Today, in 2007, I know that the pay rate isn't uniform. The various sites are all independent businesses, and their owners pay what they see fit to attract and keep coaches. Some sites have different rates for new and experienced coaches. As a new coach, you can probably expect between 20 and 25 dollars per hour. Check with the site or sites where you hope to work.

One thing that is not in it for you is the pleasure of being an expert in front of novices. You will not stand in front of the class and dispense wisdom to adoring fans. Your business is to lead adults to answers, not to supply answers. You will be asking questions, not answering them. If your ego needs stroking, you are not suited for this job. But if you enjoy helping people master new skills, and like motorcycles and motorcycling and motorcyclists, keep reading.

What will be expected of you?

First, you must have a good driving record and a clean criminal record. If you have two traffic tickets in three years you're on the edge, and you better not get another. I don't know what the disqualifications might be for the criminal background check. If that might be a problem, talk with the site administrators.
This is a complex course, and coaches who do it only two or three times a year do not do well, and do not last long. Before you're admitted to the training, you will probably be asked to commit to a minimum number of classes. That number will be set by the site or sites sponsoring you, but my advice is that if you can't commit to at least one weekend (both days) per month, from March through September, read no further. Two weekends per month would be much better.

Your riding must be impeccable, and not by your standards. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation requires certain techniques: For example, all four fingers on the front brake, use of both brakes on every stop, that sort of detail. If you have your own idiosyncratic way of doing things which not only works for you, but is actually better than the way the MSF does things, then read no further.

You are expected to teach the MSF curriculum, not your improvements to it. This is not to say that there is one right way to do everything. Different coaches have different styles, stand in different places, intervene in different ways to help students. Still, the curriculum is fixed and you have to teach it, not something else.

Classes run in nearly any weather, and many classes start early. 7AM is common. You'll have to be there half an hour early to get the range and the motorcycles ready. If you can't get up at 5 (when it's 38 degrees and hosing down rain outside), or can't function until 9, or can't be depended upon to be on time, every time, then read no further.

Most of your students will be adults. There are few teenagers, and lots of people in their 40s and 50s and 60s. My oldest student was 75. They're paying good money to be helped to learn to ride. You have to be pleasant and supportive to everyone. You will have students who have no business on a motorcycle. You must keep that opinion to yourself. Adults decide for themselves whether they will ride.

How do you do it?

The process of getting certified by the MSF to teach their beginner and experienced classes will vary from state to state. What follows is how it works in Massachusetts in 2007.

First, you have to find a site that will employ you. This is not hard; there's a steady trickle of coaches who quit teaching, requiring a steady supply of new ones. You can find all the sites in Massachusetts at the Registry's web site. Go there and then talk to the administrators at the sites you'd consider.

Many site managers have been a little huffy when one of "their" coaches works at another site. This trend has intensified as more sites have opened, increasing competition between the sites, and it has also intensified as the sites have had to bear increasing costs to train new coaches. You may find that an employer requires an agreement to work only at that site (or sites, some companies run more than one training site) for a period of time after getting trained, until they feel that they've gotten their investment returned. This time may be a year or two. After the exclusive time period elapses you may be free to teach anywhere in the state you can get work. The exposure to different coaches, different motorcycles, different ranges, and different student populations is valuable.

Note that one of the justifications for requiring you to work only at one site is the expense of the training. If you are willing to pay this yourself — it'll be $500 or more — then you may be able to get two or more site managers to agree to hire you after you complete the training. Most coaches are not trying to make a bundle of money from teaching, and coach only at the site most convenient to their homes, so this is not an issue. But if you hope to make a significant contribution to your income, the ability to work at any site will be valuable. Just three additional classes will pay for the training cost.

Once you get in the queue, there are several requirements that the state imposes before you can even start the coach training course. You must take the beginner class as a student. The site may or may not require you to pay for the class. (As an aside, when you're in that class, you will probably know more than most of the other students. Your job in the class is to listen, and not to speak unless spoken to. When the coach asks a question of the class, do not answer it. Remember that the coach is trying to draw the information from the class, not feed it to them.)

After taking the class, you may be required to assist — "range aide" as we call it — at two more classes. This will probably be unpaid time. You will be present for the riding time, and will help the coach set up the exercises. You will observe how that person runs the exercises. It will benefit you greatly if you can observe more than one coach. You will not assist in the coaching. You will be required by the coach or coaches you're assisting to stay off the range while the exercises are in progress.

After successfully meeting the preliminaries, there is an 8-day RiderCoach Preparation class. It's run by one or more RiderCoach Trainers, certified by the MSF. It'll cost something like $500, which you may be required to pay yourself. Generally, the first 4 days are run over a long weekend, followed by a break of several days, followed by another 4 days, including a weekend. During the last two days you and the other candidates will teach a complete beginner class, being graded by the trainers.

The coach preparation class is, ah, arduous. My class started with 12 people and actually graduated 5. The best advice I can give a participant is to devote the entire time to the class, and only to the class. There'll be a hotel specified for the participants near the class site; stay in it, even if your home is nearby. Don't read your email during the time you're in the class. Don't call home and talk to your spouse about your children, or your job, or the house.

If you take it seriously, you won't have much trouble in the coach preparation class. After you pass it, you still aren't quite done. There's a further requirement to teach three classes with an experienced coach, who will report to one of the coach trainers. When the experienced coach says you're ready, one of the trainers will observe you and, if satisfied, will then certify you as fully ready for duty.

"You don't make it sound like much fun."

Well, I thought it was fun. And being a coach is even more fun, watching people overcome obstacles and accomplish something — something that may save their lives. But so often I see prospective coaches who want to get into it for reasons that will, essentially, ensure their failure. They've been riding for years, decades, and have learned a lot and want to impart that knowledge to others. That attitude, however understandable and even laudable, will not do the job in the MSF's Beginner Rider Course.

If I haven't discouraged you entirely, here's a suggestion for deciding whether to proceed. Take the Experienced Rider Course. In addition to learning what you can from the course and exchanging knowledge and opinions with the other students (and getting a 10% insurance discount on the mandatory parts of your motorcycle insurance), pay attention to the way the coach conducts the class. If you like what you see, go ahead and look into the process of doing it yourself.