WIESBADEN, Germany, June 9, 2011 -- With sunnier days and warmer temperatures, more motorcyclists are taking advantage of the longer days by hitting the streets for open-air views of the German countryside.

After the long winter with little to no riding, motorcyclists find their skills are a little rusty. The U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Safety Office offers a course for novice and experienced riders alike. A state-of-the-art motorcycle simulator, located on McCully Barracks in Wackernheim, allows students to climb on board a motorcycle without the risk of injury while brushing up on their safety skills.

Five experienced riders from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers attended one of the simulator courses to safely practice their skills.

Lt. Col. Randy Bolz, a district program manager, attended the Emergency Situation Course as a way to formally improve his riding skills.

“Since I was never formally trained on a motorcycle, the simulator helped to reinforce some of the basic skills that I missed,” Bolz said. “I actually practiced what I learned on the simulator in the parking lot. I didn’t realize that I was doing all of those (bad) things, but I was.”

Jonathan Bach, the district’s safety manager, advocates the use of the simulator as one element of advanced training that he defines as any training that exceeds the driver’s experience and basic training.

“While experience helps, advanced training can increase [motorcycle] safety skills,” Bach said. “Riders can be subjected to risks in the form of dangerous situations, which could only be experienced safely using simulation.”

The simulator features computerized riding exercises and options to modify weather, visibility, time of day and traffic conditions.

“As per guidance from the Installation Management Command, only servicemembers can take the class,” said Helmut Schartel, a safety specialist with USAG Wiesbaden, said. “Classes are free. Everyone who rides a motorcycle or is thinking about riding should take a class.”

Participants have three class options at a variety of skill levels, including Basic Riders, Motorcycle Emergency Situation and Advanced Riding Skills. Training is conducted by a Motorcycle Safety Foundation-certified rider coach, and each course is offered twice a month.

“Training with the simulator is good for any rider at any experience level,” Schartel said. “The simulator is great because you can train year-round. It allows riders to maintain their skills during the winter when we have snow and ice and motorcyclists normally would not ride.”

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association’s website, more than 4,350 people were killed in motorcycle accidents in the U.S. last year. While only one motorcyclist died in U.S. Army Europe this fiscal year, the Army lost a total of 21 motorcyclists so far in fiscal year 2011.

Schartel said, Col. Jeffrey Dill, the Wiesbaden garrison commander, implemented the simulator training in a hope that the courses would not only improve riding skills but save lives too.

Working with the garrison, the district managed the $390,000 renovation to the simulator building. By upgrading the electrical system the district completed its transformation from a post-World War II building into the only motorcycle simulator in U.S. Army Europe.

Living in Europe and driving on the German Autobahn can present challenges and temptations. With no speed limits in many areas, riders might drive faster than their skills allow, and that this is one of the reasons Dill wanted a simulator here, Schartel said.

As part of the three-hour Emergency Situation Course, the simulator provides riders with hands-on, practical experience in obstacle avoidance, safe cornering, traction management and environmental hazards.

Before starting a course, students are given the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the simulator, which is modeled after a BMW R1150 motorcycle, during a 10-minute orientation ride.

Alex Tomosieski, a district program manager, said the orientation ride is needed but a rider can get the full benefit from the simulator.

“In the beginning, you’re trying to fight the simulator because it’s not the same as riding a bike,” Tomosieski said.

Tomosieski, who has been riding for 15 years, initially felt that only novice or new riders would benefit from using the simulator. After completing several computer-generated situations, including heavy traffic and city riding along with various weather scenarios, he understood the benefits.

“The simulator is a valuable tool. Experienced riders can learn the importance of leaving room to react and more importantly the consequence of not leaving enough space without anyone getting hurt,” Tomosieski said. “Beginners could learn some skills that might even save their lives.”