Ride Smart

  • Published
  • By Raquel Sanchez
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
With more than 900 reported motorcyclists on base it's every Airman's responsibility to practice motorcycle safety. The Air Force declared 2011 the Year of Motorcycle Safety, asking every member of the Air Force to focus on and commit to motorcycle safety.

To help motorcyclists stay safe on the road, Darreld Pearce, president for the Sentinels of Freedom motorcycle club and 34-year veteran rider, offered this simple advice for riders: slow down and watch your mirrors.

"You may be doing everything right and watching for cars, but you don't know what's behind you unless you watch your mirrors," Pearce said.

Riders must exercise special caution, know his or her limitations, and make the right decisions when it comes to speed, reckless riding, and alcohol use, said Gen. Philip Breedlove, Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and Terry Yonkers, assistant secretary for Installations, Environment and Logistics. Staying aware of motorists and the surrounding traffic conditions could also help reduce the number of mishaps Airmen are involved in.

Since Oct. 1, 2010, five Hurlburt Field Airmen lost duty time, and a sixth Airman lost his life as a result of reported motorcycle accidents.

The motorcycle safety program is in force to ensure motorcyclists on base have the complete knowledge and skills needed to ride safely.

It's important that Airmen identify themselves as riders to their unit motorcycle safety representative to ensure the appropriate training and personal protective equipment requirements are met said Kevin Ennis, deputy chief of Safety for the 1st Special Operations Wing. Airmen are required to attend a motorcycle rider's safety course, either the basic rider or experienced rider course, before operating a motorcycle on or off base.

"The motorcycle safety foundation basic rider course is your first step," Ennis said. "Airmen are not authorized to ride without this training."

The basic rider course is a 14- to 15-hour program consisting of classroom and on-motorcycle training. The course is designed to teach new riders the very basics of riding a motorcycle from how to start and stop a motorcycle to learning how to maneuver a motorcycle in tough situations.

Once the basic rider course is completed, some Hurlburt Field riders may also be required to take a refresher or experienced rider course every three years to further their riding skills. Some Hurlburt Field Airmen who ride a sport bike on base may also be required to take an advanced rider course or a military sport bike rider course, Ennis said. The 1st Special Operations Wing will reimburse military and civilian government employees for the cost of these courses.

The Air Force also mandates in Air Force Instruction 91-207, U.S. Air Force Traffic Safety Program, all Airmen wear PPE such as Department of Transportation certified helmets, eye protection, protective clothing, foot protection, brightly colored outer upper garments and, reflective upper garments while riding at night.

Motorcyclists don't have the advantage of wearing a seat belt like motorists, therefore proper training can help riders stay safe on the road. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers these general guidelines for riding a motorcycle safely:
1) Be visible, use reflective strips or decals on clothing and motorcycles. Be aware of the blind spots motorists have.
2) Dress for safety, wear the appropriate protective gear.
3) Apply effective mental strategies and constantly search the road for changing conditions. Develop safe driving techniques.
4) Know your bike and how to use it, get formal training and take refresher courses.

Although training is important, Airmen can also be good wingmen and watch out for each other. For example, the Sentinels of Freedom motorcycle club is a network comprised of active duty, retired and base civilians dedicated to promote motorcycle safety, organize and participate in charity events and offer mentorship and fellowship among riders.

The club meets at the Soundside club the first Tuesday of each month at 4:30 p.m. Mentorship rides also provide experienced and inexperienced riders with an opportunity to share their riding experiences to be better informed and safer riders. Airmen don't have to be a member of the Sentinels of Freedom to participate in mentorship rides.

Master Sgt. Fred Gamblin, Ground Safety superintendent for the 1st Special Operations Wing, has been riding for three years and still finds himself learning new things when it comes to riding a motorcycle.

"Have a mentor, someone who can help teach you," Gamblin said. "It's a whole lot easier to learn from an experienced rider than to learn on your own."

For more information on base-required motorcycle courses, contact your unit motorcycle safety representative. To learn more about motorcycle safety, visit the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's website.