FORT DRUM, N.Y. (May 11, 2018) -- There are roughly 300 registered motorcyclists currently within the 10th Mountain Division (LI) and that number is rising as Soldiers take advantage of the warmer weather to attend the free Motorcycle Safety Foundation training courses at Fort Drum.
The Basic Rider Course is available to new and less-experienced riders, and it is mandatory for every Soldier to take before riding a motorcycle on- or off-post.
"The Basic Rider Course starts out in the classroom with about four hours of instruction and a knowledge test," said Larry Owings, BRC instructor. "The rest of it is all hands-on practice on the range."
Owings said that, in the classroom, Soldiers learn everything from motorcycle parts and protective gear to risk assessment and accident avoidance scenarios. Outside, the students pick out a bike they are comfortable with and instruction begins with an overview of all the bike components. The motorcycles will only move several inches during the first hour, as students learn to use the brakes and clutch.
"We start slow," Owings said. "They come in with little to no experience, so the course is designed for those students."
First Lt. Chris Myrtil, a mobility officer with 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade, is one of those inexperienced riders.
"This is the first time I've even sat on a bike. I've always wanted to ride a motorcycle, but have lacked that experience because the first thing you tend to learn is how to drive a car," he said. "I'm ready to experience something else."
Myrtil said that his wife is learning how to drive a car since they had relied mostly on public transportation while living in Brooklyn.
"Now we can both learn new things," he said.
Owings said one of the first lessons taught is heads-up riding.
"Looking down can take away from your balance, so where you look on a motorcycle is important," Owings said. "New riders tend to look downward at the spot where they want to stop the motorcycle and that actually effects how well they can come to a stop."
Instructor Tom Wood said that is something even experienced riders will do.
"People don't look at their tires when driving a car. So on a motorcycle, just because you can see the front wheel, people think they have to look at it or something," he said. "That's the hardest thing -- to get people to keep their eyes up."
Owings said that he wouldn't call that a mistake on the part of new riders because they've never experienced that in an automobile.
"We practice stops a lot on the first day," he said. "Making sure they get a mastery of that is crucial."
Wood said that clutch control is a technique practiced continuously during the two days on the range.
"It's all about control," he said. "It's like learning to drive a standard shift in a car along with learning how to ride a motorcycle."
Students also practicing cornering and getting used to leaning the motorcycle to make turns.
Owings said that 90 percent of the class is about practicing good motor skills and the rest is mental acuity.
"But out in the real world, 90 percent is mental focus and 10 percent is skill," he said. "That's the swap after you leave the class. You learn the skills here, so that when you're on the road you can focus on everything around you."
Owings said that after completing the course, students should have the skill and confidence to continue practicing what they've learned.
"Would I expect a brand new rider to finish this course and ride to Syracuse the next day? No. I would hope that person goes to a safe area and develop those skills to become a competent rider on the road," he said. "After that, then they can go on short trips and gradually build up to longer distances."
Riders have a year after completing the course to take the follow-up BRC II training, which does not have to be retaken for another five years. A sports bike course is also available.
"The BRC II has a couple more advanced maneuvers, but the real benefit is that it is conducted entirely on the range and with the riders' own motorcycles," Owings said. "You get to practice with your clutch, with your tires, with your throttle - and maybe learn something you didn't entirely know before."
Wood said that after a Soldier completes BRC, he or she can take their driver's license, MSF card and motorcycle permit to the Department of Motor Vehicles and get their motorcycle endorsement.
Requirements for motorcycles on federal installations:
• AR 385-55 requires that Soldiers attend the Motorcycle Safety Course prior to operating a motorcycle on or off the installation, on or off duty. Enrollment into the course does not provide for a temporary post registration or a temporary riding pass (except for the dates of the course).
Required protective equipment:
• Full-fingered gloves
• Over-the-ankle sturdy boots
• Face shield or shatterproof goggles
• Department of Transportation-approved helmet
• Long-sleeved shirt or jacket
• Long pants, made out of heavy material (jeans or better)
Soldiers who need to register for an MSF course should contact their battalion motorcycle mentor to be placed on a division order of merit list for training.