Line up
Riders in bright, reflective jackets line up and wait their turn to practice a long distance swerve at 50 kilometers per hour at Motorcycle Safety Day on May 4.

GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- On May 4, Soldiers, civilians and local nationals donned helmets, padded jackets and sturdy boots for the annual Motorcycle Safety Awareness Day.

Nearly 90 riders came out to revive their skills in maneuvering, fast breaking and avoiding obstacles after a long winter where bikes stay in storage and even diehards prefer the comfort of a car. This review can play a significant role in keeping the community safe.

According to Acting Garrison Safety Director William Whitman, motorcycle accidents account for the "most off-duty fatalities" in the Army. Whitman cites the hazardous nature of motorcycles as large part of the problem. They're fast, unstable on two wheels and leave the rider vulnerable to dangers on the road.

But, Whitman also lists riders' inexperience as a major factor in motorcycle accidents.

"Sometimes they get into more than they can handle," he said.

In an effort to increase aptitude, experienced riders and local experts, including German polizei and the representatives from the on-post driving school, led a series of exercises designed to keep bikers' skills and wits sharp.

They careened around a corner without breaking, performed a long distance swerve at 50 kilometers an hour, weaved through cones at a walking pace, looped figure eights and stopped short at 50 kilometers an hour using only the emergency brake.

With 20 years of experience riding street bikes and as president of KINGZ motorcycle club on post, Sgt. 1st Class Jason Lopez, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Joint Multinational Training Command, was an obvious choice as a drill instructor for Safety Day. He admitted that it might be a long time before a rider uses one of the skills, but, he warned, it's still important to practice.

"That way when they do have to use it, it's fresh in their minds."

Sgt. Mikhail Chelyadin, Bravo Company, 7th NCO Academy, concurred that for practiced riders, Safety Day reinforced beneficial procedures.

"It refreshes the old techniques and methods we use," he said. "It cleans out the rust."

Lt. Col. Rivers kicked off the day with opening remarks out in Camp Kasserine. After the statements, Capt. Jason Hesseling, a chaplain at USAG Grafenwoehr, kept with German tradition and blessed the motorcycles of the gathered participants.

A "drag test" followed the blessing. Tied to the back of a motorcycle and wearing ACUs over his protective equipment, Stefan Oetter, was dragged 40 meters on the ground to demonstrate the importance of proper gear when riding. The ACUs were torn to shreds, but Oetter emerged unscratched and unharmed thanks to the shielding effect of the equipment.

"It was very dangerous," said Oetter of his safety stunt. "I was very happy I had all the protective gear on."
After Oetter's daring drag, the participants ran through each motorcycle handling exercise before breaking for a barbeque lunch of hotdogs, hamburgers and soft drinks at KINGZ Motorcycle Club. The bikers needed to refuel before their 140-kilometer group ride through Bavaria.

For Hans Oetter, father of the dragged Stefan Oetter and mastermind of the event, the day's goal was to promote social riding, or riding in groups. As a professional German driving instructor and motorcycle racer, Hans Oetter urges other motorcyclists to "get out of the lone rider mentality."

Those riding alone, explained Hans Oetter, tend to accelerate faster and faster. Social riding mitigates this need for speed and keeps bikers alert.

Henrik Klueter, a local national whose brother works on Grafenwoehr, attended the event to prepare for his upcoming motorcycle roadtrip around the world. A week after Safety Day, Klueter left for Russia on his bike. He planned on taking a circuitous route through Czech Republic, Slovenia, Greece and onto Turkey where he will take a ferry over the Black Sea to Ukraine before heading into Russia. From Russia, he will take a boat to Bangkok to continue the rest of his excursion in Southeast Asia.

Safety Day served as an important refresher for Klueter before he headed off and marked the first time he performed safety exercises with all the gear and baggage he will carry through the world.

Page last updated Mon May 21st, 2012 at 00:00