Safety in Numbers
April 9, 2008
Fort Lee, Va. (April 9, 2008) -- Promoting motorcycle safety may take many forms, but nothing turns heads (and rumbles the earth) quite like the roar of 375 motorcyclists cruising down the interstate.
That was the scene April during Operation Rolling Thunder when a trail of cyclists, police-escorted and a quarter-mile in length, made a deafening 100-mile trip from Fort Monroe to Fort Lee to raise motorcycle ridership issues.
"It was wonderful," said Chris Gruszkos, a Fort Lee motorcycle instructor who made the trip. "It's camaraderie. It's saying that no matter if you're riding a Harley, sport bike or a cruiser - it doesn't matter - we're all here for one purpose, motorcycling."
The event, one of several organized in the past year, brought out an assortment of riders - young, old, Asian, African American, military and Civilian. Their common cause was to impress upon the public that it needs to be aware of motorcyclists on the road and that motorcyclists can ride safely.
"When people see 300 bikes on the road, they realize they're going to see motorcycles more often," Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Luigi Cuzzi.
Cuzzi, assigned to Naval Station Norfolk, was one of the many riders from southeastern Virginia to participate in the event. It included Fort Monroe's Maj. Gen. Abraham Turner, Training and Doctrine Command deputy commanding general, G3/5/7. Others who made the trip hailed from Little Creek Amphibious Base, Naval Station Norfolk, Fort Monroe, Langley Air Force and Fort Eustis.
About 30 riders from Fort Lee travelled to Fort Monroe in the early morning hours to make the two-and-a-half-hour trip back with the group. That group included Maj. Gen. Mitchell H. Stevenson, Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee commanding general.
When the group arrived on post, it snaked its way through the post and gathered at the parking lot near the Installation Safety Office. There, the scene took on the appearance of a motorcycle convention, complete with riders sporting leather jackets, bandanas and wind suits, the growl of engines layered over loud music blaring from an audio system and the shimmer of polished fender chrome and exhaust pipes.
Sgt. Jillian Underriter, a Soldier assigned to Fort Story, was one of the first hordes of cyclists to arrive at the gathering point. The Fort Story Soldier treated herself to the complimentary soda, chips and hot dogs available on site and chatted with fellow riders.
"It's a good opportunity for riders to meet each other, ride and promote safety," she said.
Safety was also what brought Fort Eustis Soldier Sgt. Derrick Johnson out to ride. He said a fellow rider and unit member lost his life two years ago in a motorcycle accident.
"So now we're supporting (the cause) and rallying around it," he said. "We're getting all the old bikers and new bikers together, coming together as one."
Spc. ShadAfA Earl isn't an older biker, but she is an experienced rider. The 20-something Fort Eustis Soldier said the ride was a way of connecting seasoned and novice riders.
"For a lot of the new, inexperienced riders, it's a chance to teach them, to mentor them - you know, you don't have to speed, you don't have to do wheelies just to have fun" said Earl, who has been riding six years. "It's everybody getting together, having fun and having a safe ride."
Safe riding has been one of the top priorities of the Army within the past year. The number of deaths from motorcycle accidents are almost double what it was in the last fiscal year. Young Soldiers comprise many of the deaths.
Friday's event attracted a large number of 20-something military members. The majority of them rode in on bikes commonly know as a 'crotch rockets,' ones in which the cyclist rides in a forward-sitting position. Their aerodynamic shape and ability to quickly gather speed are selling points.
Those bikes are in contrast to the bikes preferred by older riders like "Buffalo" Nate Martin, a retired Army first sergeant. He rides a larger touring bike, the ones with the windshields and side storage compartments. Nate didn't say whether the type of bike is a factor in accidents, but that age is certainly an issue and that's why he participated.
"I'm one of the old-school guys," he said. "Anytime you promote safety, it enlightens the people that are out there. It's a good tool to teach the younger guys, who think they're invulnerable, that there's another method to riding a bike."
The method of riding bikes, type of bike, age or level of experience may distinguish one biker from the next, but for one day, one event, they found common ground in keeping one another safe. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Cooper summed up the event this way:
"You can always learn something, no matter what type of rider you are or how long you've been riding. There's always something to learn."