Novice and experienced motorcyclists improved their riding skills during Fort Belvoir's Basic Riders Safety Course May 13 at the 23rd Naval Mobile Construction Battalion.
The two-day course, sponsored by the Army Traffic Safety Training Program, teaches basic riding skills such as turning, stopping and balancing. Experience varied amongst the riders as one participant never rode a motorcycle before, but each student enjoyed the lessons.
"You learn good fundamentals of basic riding in this course," said Sgt. 1st Class Adrin Young, 71st Forward Engineer Support Team-Advance noncommissioned officer-in-charge. "It's good hands-on learning."
Active-duty Soldiers, active Reserves and active Army National Guard are required to complete the course (offered for free on military installations) before operating a motorcycle. Belvoir's class is typically offered every other week at the 23rd Naval Mobile Construction Battalion located on Stuart Road. Participants are provided training bikes and safety equipment. A state motorcycle endorsement is not required for the course.
"You feel a lot more freedom and closer connection to the environment when you're riding a motorcycle. It's a risky activity so you have to be much more alert … it requires intense focus," said Patrick Gallagher, Motorcycle Safety Course lead instructor. "This course teaches basic skills of how to operate a motorcycle and basic knowledge on how to identify risk and what to do to mitigate those risks."
The Motorcycle Safety Course starts with video clips and group discussions. Participants watch instructional clips of real-life riders demonstrating the proper way to ride, inspect, mount and operate a motorcycle. Participants also read the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Handbook to learn about motorcycles. Riders discuss topics such as checking tire pressure, starting the bike properly and maintain safety while operating the vehicle. Participants also learn about the various controls of the bike such as the clutch, brakes, throttle and the stand.
Personal Protective Equipment such as a fastened helmet and long-sleeve jacket is another talking point. PPE must meet the Department of Defense Instruction 6055.4 and Army 385-10 approved requirements. In addition to a helmet and long-sleeve jacket, DoD requirements include eye protection such as goggles or a full-face shield, sturdy shoes, full-fingered gloves and long trousers. PPE should fit each individual rider comfortably and be visible to other motorists.
The Army Safety Program Regulation 385-10 encourages, but does not require, motorcyclists to wear fluorescent or retro-reflective safety vests or jackets while riding. However, garrison officials still recommend riders wear the vests and any equipment that increases rider visibility to other motorists. That visibility reduces the chances of an accident.
Creating space is another big key to safety, Gallagher said. Motorcyclists should avoid riding side-by-side with other riders and they should also leave enough room between themselves and vehicles in front of them.
"Motorcyclists are much more vulnerable in a crash. Even in a fender bender, you're much more likely to end up in the hospital," Gallagher said. "You don't want to call on your skills as a rider to avoid an accident if you don't have to."
After the classroom discussion, participants hit the range on Motorcycle Safety Course motorcycles. Gallagher led members through various exercises designed to help riders gain comfort on the bike. The training includes lessons in how to start the bike, corner, operate the clutch and stop and go. Riders share ideas and opinions throughout the entire time on the range to help each other improve. Class size benefited the riders as only six students took the course, said Sgt. Rodney Stewart, 104th Maintenance Company automotive logistics specialist.
"You can get the necessary attention you need if you're not grasping an exercise," Stewart said. "You're learning the skills you need to be safe on the road, so it's good to get extra help."
The Basic Rider Course is a great way for new and experienced riders to improve their skills, according to Staff Sgt. Algerita Landry, Fort Belvoir Community Hospital licensed protocol nurse. Landry, who has operated motorcycles prior to taking the Basic Rider Course, said the class allowed her to work on her fundamentals.
"It's a good way to familiarize myself," Landry said. "It's an excellent course to start you off with basic knowledge you need to know to operate a bike."
Currently, the basic course is not a licensing course and does not substitute for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles road test but Gallagher said Virginia legislators will start accepting the class as a licensing course July 1. It's unclear whether motorists who take the course prior to July 1 will be eligible to receive a license after July 1, Gallagher said.
Gallagher, a motorcyclist off and on for 42 years, likes to tell participants that motorcycle riding is a life-long learning process and the U.S. Army leadership agrees. Active-duty Soldiers, active Reserves and active Army National Guard are required to complete either the Basic Rider Course 2 or the Military Sport Bike Course within 12 months of completing the Basic Rider Course. The Basic Rider Course 2 is available on Fort Belvoir but the sport bike course is not. Both courses are designed to sharpen riders' abilities. Instructors challenge students with techniques such as abrupt stopping and swerving. Participants should bring their own bikes to these courses because it allows them to gain familiarity with their vehicles, Gallagher said.
"The more you can fine tune your skills, the more likely you'll enjoy the rides and be safe," Gallagher said. "The advanced training provides more tools to add to your tool box to stay alive because it's not all taught in the Basic Rider Course."
Active-duty Soldiers, active Reserves and active Army National Guard are also required to take motorcycle refresher training if they have been deployed for more than 180 days. Soldiers must also take sustainment motorcycle training every three years following the completion of the Basic Rider Course 2 or the Military Sport Bike Course.
DoD civilians, Family members and retirees are not eligible to take the garrison's motorcycle safety courses but are encouraged to take advantage of the MSF courses through other means.
Northern Virginia Community College offers a basic rider course which is open to anyone willing to pay the $150 registration fee. The 15-hour program runs from mid-March through mid-November each year.