By MASTER SGT. JOHN COLLINS, Operations Division, U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center, Fort Rucker, Ala. December 1, 2011
For Army riders, like me, it seems there are always new training requirements that make us debate if riding is worth the hassle. For more than 20 years, I've loved cruising on the open road and enjoying the ride. For me, it is worth it.
If you're curious why I brought this up, it is because there is a new training requirement for riders in the Army. If you check out Army Regulation 385-10, you'll see "motorcycle sustainment training" has been added. What is it? Basically, it puts in place a three-year cycle for riders to go back and retake the Experienced RiderCourse, now known as the Basic RiderCourse II, or the Motorcycle Sportbike RiderCourse.
When I heard about this, I thought, "I've been riding for years and have already completed this training before, so why do I need it again?" However, since I work at the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center, I figured I'd better get into compliance, regardless my personal feelings. Therefore, I signed up for the first available Basic RiderCourse II course at Fort Rucker. I showed up with some preconceived ideas of how the training would go. I was in for a surprise.
When I first took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Experienced RiderCourse three years ago, I owned a 2008 Suzuki C90T. This time around, however, I was on a 2004 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic equipped with a full touring package. Trying to adjust to an additional 200 pounds and the Harley's narrower tires, I stumbled going through the corners on the new Basic RiderCourse II. During one of the turns, I drug my floorboard a little. The sound of it dragging on the range surface caught me off guard. The instructor demonstrated the exercise and then began giving me some pointers based upon what he was seeing. I made some adjustments and, suddenly, it was "game on." It was like an epiphany -- my bike and I were operating in sync -- just like we should be. I also realized the training was working, rebuilding skills that had degraded over time. By the end of the day, I completed the course and felt more confident operating my motorcycle. The attitude, "Here we go again," had changed as I saw the bigger picture. And I was about to need the skills I'd just refined.
The following weekend, I rode to Nashville, Tenn., for the Tennessee State University Motorcycle Rally. Riding in bumper-to-bumper traffic in downtown Nashville, I had a near miss with a distracted driver. Too busy talking on his cellphone and not paying attention to the road, he didn't notice the driver ahead of him slam on his brakes. When he finally did, it was at the last second and he jammed on his brakes. This, in turn, caused me to react accordingly by doing a quick stop. In that instant, I was thankful for the way my training had emphasized following distances, evasive maneuvers and using the front and back brakes to stop without sliding. Where I'd originally taken the course to be in compliance, now I was grateful for the way it prepared me for the risks on the road.
As an avid rider, I had become complacent in my riding skills and even developed a few bad habits. Both of these were sure telltale signs that I was in need of the refresher training program. The old adage, "It's like riding a bicycle, you never forget," does not apply to riding motorcycles. The skills needed to ride and operate a motorcycle are perishable and need to be refreshed. It is also important to have refresher training when changing motorcycles, as each brand and style operates differently. So when your command says there is new or additional training required for riding a motorcycle, keep an open mind.
No matter how you mitigate the risk, riding a motorcycle is an activity that will always be risky. However, you can still have fun and enjoy the ride. Take the time to inspect your bike, ensure you have plenty of rest, dress appropriately for the ride and take every opportunity to sharpen your skills for riding. Next time you hear that more requirements for motorcycle training are coming, embrace it and know that it may save your life by keeping you on your "A" game.