FORT BLISS, Texas –
Author’s note: The story below was written by a Soldier-rider and is true. The events are retold to give insights into the many hazards riders face when they are on the road. The lessons will help us all become more experienced motorcycle riders.
I had just gotten off work and my buddy and I were leaving post. There was just a little more than 1,000 miles on my new bike, a Suzuki GSXR, and I was loving it. I’d been riding for more than eight years but had been without a bike for about a year. Man, I missed riding.
My buddy went straight on Sergeant Major Boulevard and I hung a left onto Airport Road. I gently rolled on the throttle around the long, sweeping corner.
As the turn progressed and my ability to see it completely opened up, I spotted sand and gravel that had washed onto the road. My eyes fixated on the hazard as my mind worked to swerve around it. My body tightened and I had a death grip on the bars as I wrenched the bike around. The rear wheel bobbled. I managed to get the bike upright, but then hit the outside curb and was thrown onto the asphalt.
I slid and rolled on the ground. My buddy, who had happened to look back, raced toward me, convinced I’d been killed. As I laid in the dirt, I was surprised I survived. It was hours later before I realized just how much I hurt. At that moment, however, the road rash on my arms was the only injury that registered.
A week later, my wife was no longer upset and the insurance company had sent a check for the totaled bike. Since then, I have spent some time thinking about what I might have done differently that day. Of course, I initially blamed the gravel on the road. But this is the real world, not the race track.
In the real world, people cross the street in front of you, trucks spill their loads, animals dart across the road and traffic jams stop the flow of vehicles unexpectedly. Also, there is no one sweeping the sand and gravel off the road every day. So what caused my accident?
I took that same corner every day for the past two months. I loved it. It was perfectly banked and almost always had no traffic. It begged to be ridden through. But that day was different. I was expecting the turn to be the same even though I could not see the entire road surface all the way around the corner. Luckily, I survived to learn to treat every corner in the real world as though it is the first time I have encountered it. From now on, I will go to the race track for predictable corners I can blindly accelerate through.
Once I spotted the gravel, it took me a moment to comprehend it was a danger. When I was a new rider, I always assumed any change in the road surface could signify a change in traction and pose a threat. Back then, I did not need time to comprehend what the change in surface appearance represented because I treated every change with respect. That split-second advantage may have allowed me to manage the crisis with much more skill rather than just reacting badly.
Skill or reaction?
I used to do track days on my old bike. With good coaching, I developed some great bike skills that translated well to the real world. But after taking a year off from motorcycling and then getting on a new, unfamiliar bike, those skills were not the first thing to rise to the surface in a crisis. I got target fixated on the gravel, stiff on the bike and put a death grip on the bars. Everything I did was driven by instinct. Everything I did was wrong.
On the race track, I learned to stay loose, look where I wanted to go and how to let the bike slide in a turn without crashing. Of course, these things take practice, but I don’t have access to a race track. However, Fort Bliss offers the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Military SportBike RiderCourse that would have would have helped polish my rusty skills and given me ways to practice them without access to a race track. Right after I buy my new bike, I will ask my supervisor to schedule me for the next available course.
(Note: When normal operations resume at Joint Base San Antonio, service members may sign up for motorcycle safety courses at https://www.jbsa.mil/Resources/Safety/.)
Personal protective equipment
I wear the gear I am required to wear by the Army. The gloves worked, but, fortunately, I never tested my helmet. My uniform top, however, did nothing to protect me from road rash, and my pants didn’t protect me from the impact with the ground.
There are mesh motorcycle jackets and pants with built-in abrasion resistance and padding that may have left me uninjured. This gear can be worn over my uniform. Even in the hottest weather they remain cool while riding. In cold weather, most of these jackets and pants have zip-in liners to keep riders warm, allowing them to extend the riding season far into winter. I plan to buy a jacket along with my new bike.
I learned from my accident. I will treat every corner in the real world as though it is the first time I have ever encountered it. I will treat every change in road surface with respect. I will practice my skills and seek out training whenever I get a new bike or after a long break from riding. I will wear good motorcycle gear. I hope you will do the same. See you out there. Ride safe!
Did You Know?
Each year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration designates May as Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. The observance coincides with the beginning of riding season for many Soldiers and serves as an early kickoff for the critical days of summer. To learn more, visit the USACRC’s motorcycle safety page at https://safety.army.mil/OFF-DUTY/PMV-2.aspx.