By Chief Warrant Officer 2 George Bilafer, Camp Humphreys, KoreaMay 12, 2016
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (May 12, 2016) - As a young, thrill-seeking, soon-to-be Army aviator getting ready to start flight school, I did the stereotypical thing and bought a motorcycle. I'd ridden dirt bikes only a handful of times growing up and thought a street bike wouldn't be much different. Eager to get on the road and start riding with friends that already had motorcycles, I signed up for the required Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic RiderCourse.
Before the course started, I bought a beautiful new Honda CBR600RR and parked it in the garage. I couldn't wait to finish the course so I could start riding it. Looking back, I should have put more thought into what type of motorcycle would best suit a new rider instead of focusing on speed and style. Still, while my skills in the BRC weren't amazing, I was learning quickly. I just kept telling myself, "I'll get used to my bike. It'll be different."
After passing the BRC, I rode my bike every chance I got. I considered myself a very safe rider; I would only ride in fair weather and always wore all of my personal protective equipment, including my helmet, jacket, gloves and riding boots. Since I was waiting to start the primary phase of my flight training, most of my riding was from home, to class and back home. The rest was done on weekends with friends in groups of about four to eight riders. With every mile I put on my bike, my confidence grew.
A few months after completing the BRC, my friends and I signed up for the SportBike RiderCourse. I learned about the mechanics and fundamentals of sport bike riding and believed my skill was matching my confidence level. Every weekend I looked forward to the group rides, but I remained in the back because I wasn't as comfortable as some of the other riders at higher speeds. I had yet to have any close calls or near misses while riding and rarely thought of the saying, "There are those who have crashed and those who will." Then one day, on a typical weekend ride, it happened.
We were a group of six riders traveling on a back road about 70 mph. As usual, I was in the back of the pack when I went over a patch of gravel on the right side of the lane. I slid off the lane and into the grass. At this point, I was still upright on the bike, but my mind was racing. I didn't remember being taught what to do if I ever ended up off road on a sport bike. I thought if I could just grab the clutch and slowly get back on the road that I should be OK.
I squeezed in the clutch lever and slowly started making my way back to the road. Then my front tire hit a small hole on the side of the road and I went over my handlebars, landing on my right shoulder and sliding for what felt like forever. When I finally came to a stop, I just laid face up on the side of the road, trying to figure out what the hell had just happened.
My fellow riders immediately doubled back for me. At this point, adrenaline was rushing through my body and I felt fine. I just kept thinking that if I can get up and walk I wouldn't get kicked out of flight school. My buddies, however, having clearer heads, wouldn't let me get up. Instead, they called an ambulance to take me to the emergency room, where I was treated and released within a few hours.
Fortunately, the only injuries I sustained that day were a separated shoulder, bruised lung, sprained ankle and what looked like a jellyfish under the skin on my hip that stayed for several months. As I said earlier, I always wore all of my PPE. I have no doubt it helped save my life. The state troopers investigating the accident informed me while I was in the ER that things could have been much worse. After I tumbled off the bike, I'd slid between a 10-meter gap between a pine tree and an exposed sewer drain.
Luckily, my recovery was quick and I was able to finish flight school. Looking back, though, getting a sport bike as a cherry rider was not the smartest decision - despite all the precautions I was taking. I'd heard a lot of accident stories, but I always thought, "Eh, it won't happen to me." Well, it did. Any time I think something can't happen, this story serves as a painful reminder that it can.
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