You Can't Know it All
August 23, 2011
On Sept. 10, 2010, while on my way to work, I had one of the worst scares of my life. I was riding at the speed limit when a driver in the oncoming lanes attempted to make a left turn as I rode toward her. As I approached, I just knew she had to see my fluorescent vest and the big, bulky Suzuki Hayabusa sport bike I was riding. Just as I was about to go by her, she turned left in front of me to enter a McDonald's parking lot. I quickly pumped my rear brakes and lightly hit my front brakes to slow down and swerve so I didn't T-bone her. As it was, I barely missed going into oncoming traffic and only cleared her passenger-side taillight by inches. What saved me from injury in this incident? It was my experience, training and individual safe riding attitude.
I was surprised that morning. I found out you can't take anything for granted when you're riding. Unfortunately, not all Soldiers who ride have the experience or self discipline to do the right thing. Since fiscal 2004, more than half of Army motorcycle fatalities were single-vehicle accidents where riders exercised poor judgment and made bad risk management decisions. Those were fatalities that didn't have to happen. As riders in the Army, we are given the tools to prevent them. In view of the spike in motorcycle fatalities in fiscal 2011, it's worth taking a moment to review these.
If you're a Soldier, Department of Defense Instruction 6055.04 and Army Regulation 385-10 require that you go to motorcycle "boot camp." Nope, it's not the basic training you went through when you joined up; it's the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's (MSF) Basic RiderCourse (BRC). You're given the opportunity to trade what you don't know for the skills needed to survive on the street. Under the guidance of trained instructors, you learn a number of valuable riding techniques, including proper braking, cornering and obstacle avoidance. Aside from the training being a requirement, it makes sense to get all the skills you can before going onto the road. Remember, on the road your motorcycle isn't at the top of the "food chain." Those Soldiers who choose to be reckless reflect poorly on the rest of us riders. Because of that, it's in our own interest to police ourselves and our fellow riders.
Motorcycle Mentorship Program
Not every Soldier out there has 27-plus years of riding experience to call on when things go wrong on the road. But there is a practical answer to that within the Army's Motorcycle Mentorship Program (MMP). The MMP takes new riders out of the controlled environment of their BRC training to give them hands-on experience on the street with seasoned riders. Among the things stressed are wearing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE), how to ride in groups, how to avoid other motorists' blind spots and how to properly corner and maneuver around obstacles. Under the watchful eyes of seasoned riders, new riders don't have to learn the rules of the road the hard " and sometimes painful " way. MMPs also offer riders a positive alternative to off-post clubs where they may be encouraged to ride recklessly.
Dress for the Crash
No matter what kind of motorcycle you ride, eventually you're going to meet the road "up close and personal." When those moments occur, you'll appreciate having something separating your head and your hide from the highway. Asphalt tends to be harsh on bare skin, and concrete can crack even the hardest skulls. Therefore, wearing good PPE is the rider's ace-in-the-hole when things go wrong on the road.
While riders like to look good and there's plenty of expensive, "sexy" gear available, you don't have to put a hole in your wallet to avoid putting one in your hide. You simply need to make sure your gear meets the following standards:
• Department of Transportation-approved helmet that fits well and is in good condition
• Impact or shatter-resistant goggles, wrap-around glasses or a full-face shield properly attached to the helmet meeting American National Standards Institute Code Z87.1
• Sturdy footwear, leather boots or over-the-ankle shoes
• Long-sleeved shirt or jacket, long trousers and full-fingered gloves or mittens designed for motorcycle use
• Brightly colored, outer upper garment during the day and reflective upper garment during the night for on-road riding
• For dirt bike and other off-road riders, knee and shin guards and padded full-finger gloves
While even the best PPE can't fully protect you if you're hit by a car or strike a solid object, it can lessen your injuries and speed your recovery by keeping your wounds clean.
Although it's impossible to eliminate all riding risks, you can lessen your chances of winding up in an Army Ground Accident Report. Your most important piece of safety gear is the one your helmet is designed to protect " your brain. Practice the skills you learned in your MSF training; don't let them get rusty. Seek the wisdom of more experienced riders so you don't have to learn from "scratch," bruise or broken bone. And never assume you know it all when you're riding. Someone's likely to come along and prove you wrong.