“Experience” is a subjective and relative word

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

My motorcycle riding experience began on a random Saturday in 1993 while snooping through some local garage sales.  I stumbled across a 1982 400cc Yamaha with about 2200 miles which needed a new battery, tires and the carb cleaned. A couple hundred dollars later I was ready to ride.

 

At that time in Minnesota, it was required that I take a written test for a motorcycle permit which allowed me to ride solo during daylight hours with a helmet. To acquire my license, I needed to take the road test on something 425cc or larger to be eligible to ride any sized motorcycle, otherwise I would be restricted to 400cc or smaller. I borrowed a friends 425cc Suzuki and about two months after getting my permit I was licensed to ride any motorcycle my teenage mind and wallet could imagine.

 

I was financially restricted to riding the Yamaha for a couple of years, during which time I experienced my first and only time of failing to keep the rubber side down. I was 18 or 19 and was out riding with a friend on roads that we had ridden many times before. I had my girlfriend as a passenger and we were enjoying a beautiful spring day riding through the twisty back roads of “Hill Country.” I took for granted that I knew the roads well and became complacent. This proved to be disastrous because I mistook an upcoming curve, realizing that my entry speed and angle were not compatible with the curve, I believed I had two viable options; attempt to slow down quick enough and commit to adjusting my entry and risk losing control on the loose gravel which may result in significant road rash, broken bones etc., or I can attempt to slow down enough to make the turn and if I wasn’t comfortable, then take my chances in the ditch. Did I forget to mention that the ditch had yet to be mowed for the year so the grass was lush and long? I know long grass can hide potential dangers, but the gravel was definite. I tried to slow down to make the turn to no avail and ended up in the ditch. 

   

I had and continue to coach any passenger on proper riding which I believe helped my girlfriend walk away unscathed and I limped away scathed, but upright. I told her before we went on any ride that if we went down to get away from bike to avoid getting caught underneath. That she did. She pushed herself up and away by using my shoulders which unfortunately forced me to stay on the bike, which pinned my left leg underneath for the duration of the 50 to 75 feet slide. In the end, she was shaken but unhurt, I had new artwork on my left leg and arm, and my motorcycle required a new shifter, clutch lever and mirror. We were able to ride it back to town, get patched up at the local pharmacy and bask in our luck.

 

I have now been riding for the better part of 24 years to include sport bikes, Harleys, etc. Now I have a Honda 1300 VTX but rarely ride more than to work and back.  Between family responsibilities and physical limitations, I wonder some days if a moped wouldn’t be more my speed. Not too long ago I was recently reminded of that ditch ride so many years ago. Prior to my separation from active duty, I was due to complete the motorcycle safety course to remain eligible to ride.  I arrived on training day with the mentality of “I’ve been riding long enough that all I need to do is go through the motions.” After all, I only ride to work and home.

 

I was again reminded that complacency, assumption and ego have no place in the world of motorcycle riding.

 

First, to dispel any “assumptions”, I did not drop my bike during the class, but there was more than one time that I felt uncomfortable due to my lack of practicing essential maneuvers. Sport bike riders yearn for speed in curves. I ride a cruiser and prefer to cruise so why would I tuck and lower my elbows? So evasive emergency maneuvers don’t first and primarily consist of locking up the rear brake and extending the one finger wave while loudly demonstrating your extensive linguistic skills in ad-hoc inter-personal communication? Why would I shift my rear end in my seat unless I have an itch? It’s not recommended, nay encouraged, to knock on the driver’s window of the car that just invaded your very limited personal road space so you can educate the driver on the aggravation of their attempt to negatively impact your day by causing you to impact the pavement?   

 

I was re-educated that day and remind myself daily to practice even the most basic maneuvers and techniques to drastically improve my chances of returning home each day alive. 24 years of riding “experience” means nothing if I allow complacency and ego to cloud my judgement. The course humbled me; I was reminded that learning never stops, even with motorcycle riding. While I have adopted the expectations and standards of military (and military civilian) motorcycle riders, I know one thing - it only takes a split second for lives to be changed, or ended. If wearing a reflective vest, shifting in my seat or tucking my elbow will get me home to see my family, then this is a no-brainer.

 

I strongly encourage everyone, including those with many riding years under their belt, to educate and protect themselves by participating in the motorcycle safety courses. You will ride away with old skills refreshed and new skills to hone. It may be a few hours out of your day, but it could add years to your life and you get out on the bike, which is never a bad day.