It’s a sunny and brisk Saturday morning, you dress for the occasion – pants, boots, long sleeve shirt and a jacket – you walk to your ride, get on, turn the ignition and the engine rumbles. A smile comes across your face as you put on your helmet. You start off down the road and while navigating through traffic, the driver in the sedan fails to look and cuts you off to turn into the local shopping center. It’s an all too familiar scenario for motorcycle riders, but a scenario that riders can handle.
A passionate spark for motorcycle riding ignited around World War II. Because of their easy handling and maneuverability, there was an enhanced demand for motorcycles in the military, which in turn increased their popularity during and after the war.
As popularity grew with motorcyclist or “bikers” – through movies like “The Wild One,” so did the demand for increased safety and improved protective equipment. Deaths among bikers peaked with more than 1,500 fatalities per year between the late 50s and early 60s. This changed as the population’s concern grew and greater emphasis was put on motorcycle safety.
Over time, improved motorcycle design, equipment, riding apparel and safety courses have increased survivability among riders.
The military continues its efforts to educate uniformed riders on motorcycle safety and procedures with courses such as the Motorcycle Mentorship Program.
The purpose of the program is to have voluntary installation-level motorcycle clubs where novice riders can team up with more experienced riders in a responsible and supportive environment.
Staff Sgt. Robert A. Martuszewski of Company, A, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, has led HHB’s Motorcycle Mentorship program since spring of last year. Martuszewski started riding dirt bikes when he was nine and at the age of 35 is now a 26-year veteran rider.
“The program is very beneficial because it allows Soldiers, in a controlled environment that’s safe and secure, to coordinate with one another and gain experience without all the outside factors coming into play like local traffic in town,” said Martuszewski.”
“They can ride at their own pace in closed off areas and courses that are set up.”
Acquiring bad habits while operating any piece of machinery can result in catastrophic incidents and taking the appropriate measures is key in preventing these types of occurrences.
“The more experienced, older riders who have been doing it for a number of years can teach the younger riders to give them the tactics, techniques and procedures on how to ride safely and effectively,” he said. “That allows them to avoid the bad habits they may pick up and identify them at the unit level in a safe and secure environment without continuing that bad habit in public and possibly having an accident.”
In 2011, there were over 4,900 motorcyclists reported killed in traffic accidents nationwide. Improper riding skills were a factor in over half of the crash fatalities, and a quarter of motorcyclists involved in fatal accidents did not have a valid license. Bringing it closer to the home of the All Americans, North Carolina’s motorcycle death rate is the eighth highest in the nation.
Commanders need to be aware of motorcycle safety and what’s out there for the Soldiers, so that they understand some of the factors affecting their riding and motorists.
“Motorcycle riding is inherently dangerous because of the rider and car operators,” said Sgt. Maj. Joseph M. Collier Jr., the 82nd Airborne Division provost marshal sergeant major and veteran motorcyclist of 33 years.
All motorists, regardless of vehicle type, need to be mindful of the other drivers on the road. Motorcycles can be in a vehicles blind spot easier because of its smaller size.
“You have to be made aware on both sides, for the motorcycle operator and the vehicle operator, that bikes are out there,” said Collier. “You’re in an area that motorcycles operators are very plentiful.”
Some Soldiers save for an entire year while on deployment just so they can return home and buy the bike of their dreams.
“Soldiers enjoy different things, and one of those is motorcycles, which are a means of transportation, but they are also a toy,” he said.
Marrying the enjoyment of riding, while still maintaining safety and alertness comes natural to the body; you have to be more alert on city streets than down a country road, but although alert, your body will naturally relax.
Any Fort Bragg rider who plans to purchase a motorcycle must go through all the proper procedures prior to hitting the road.
Start with a smaller motorcycle, know your limits, take the required safety courses, know the bike’s limits and take steps to be seen, then get out and enjoy the freedom of the open roads.