Being a motorcyclist is being part of a community. An old person might be rolling down the highway on a fully-loaded bagger while a younger person on a street racer travels the opposite direction. These two people don’t know each other, they’ve never met, and they don’t have the same walks in life, yet both will acknowledge one another, waving with two fingers pointed at the road. It’s a form of salute that means, “Keep two wheels on the ground. Be safe.” Additionally, this recognition connects motorcyclists to one another in a kinship.

But what draws people to motorcycles in the first place? Maybe it was the first time they heard the rumble of a V-twin. Maybe they wanted to look cool like James Dean, wearing a leather jacket and leaning on a bike. Some simply like the mental solitude as they answer “the call of the open road.” Others prefer the therapeutic enlightenment that can happen as wind rushes across the body. Perhaps it’s a bit of everything. When I first started riding, it was a matter of practicality and economy, but I quickly grew to love the certain sense of freedom that comes with the affordable form of transportation I had adopted. I love riding, and I know I’m not alone.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all sunshine, zen and cool breezes on a motorcycle. Weather can be wonderful, but it can also be unforgivingly brutal. It rains in Georgia… a lot. Even with increased safety considerations set aside, those drops of water hitting you at 50 miles per hour can sting. And when it’s not raining, Georgie likes to be hot. When I sit at a traffic light in July, I sometimes swelter in my protective jacket and gear. But these safety measures are worth it, and the discomfort is only temporary once I start moving again, cooled by the breezes of momentum. But I digress. Operating a motorcycle has obvious risks above being in a car. For that reason, I am constantly vigilant, watching and listening for every potential hazard with my head on a swivel and my eyes on alert. I don’t trust anyone to give me the space I need to travel safely. I make my own safe travel zone by falling back from other cars on the road. That’s right, I fall back to create space. I don’t race ahead of other vehicles or zip in between cars, splitting lanes recklessly. Why would I risk danger through idiotic choices?

Like horses, each bike has its own sort of personality requiring familiarity in how to ride it. Some bikes have a lot of power and are more comfortable to operate on highways but are uppity in city traffic. Some have more weight, providing a smooth cruise while lighter bikes can send shockwaves up your spine from small bumps or cracks in the road. Whatever the case, when you get a new motorcycle, take your time to get to know it and learn its quirks. And once you’ve learned it, continue to be safe. Always respect the power and potential danger of your bike, and recognize it may buck you off the saddle if you are reckless with it.

The best advice I can give to motorcyclists across all levels of training is to take a motorcycle safety class, even if you are a veteran on bikes. Take one every few years. Though I have 40 years of motorcycling under my belt, I recently took the beginner motorcycle safety class on Fort Stewart. I not only reinforced good riding habits I’d developed over the years, but I also learned some useful new techniques. I also got a discount on my insurance because of the safety class. We’re never too old or too experienced to learn new things that are on the roads ahead of us. As Alexander Pope wrote, “Hills peep over hills, alps upon alps arise.” Now bring me that horizon.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Stephen Dornbos

50th Public Affairs Detachment, 3rd Infantry Division

Fort Stewart, Georgia