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Summertime safety: motorcycle safety a must for Airmen

Master Sgt. Robert Wilson, 790th Missile Security Forces Squadron, models proper motorcycle riding personal protective equipment for Airmen. On the left is an example of proper civilian motorcycle riding attire, and on the right is an example of proper attire in uniform. The reflective vest on the military uniform is encouraged, but not required. (Illustration by Senior Airman Jason Wiese)

Master Sgt. Robert Wilson, 790th Missile Security Forces Squadron, models proper motorcycle riding personal protective equipment for Airmen. On the left is an example of proper civilian motorcycle riding attire, and on the right is an example of proper attire in uniform. The reflective vest on the military uniform is encouraged, but not required. (Illustration by Senior Airman Jason Wiese)

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. -- Summertime in Cheyenne usually means three things: construction, Cheyenne Frontier Days and people dusting off their motorcycles or hopping on one for the first time.

Airmen are responsible to perform their duties safely, and motorcycle safety is no exception.

"You always hear, 'It's not if, but when' while talking about motorcycle accidents," said 90th Missile Wing Traffic Safety Manager Troy Weaver. "Hopefully, we can change this thought process."

To change that mindset, people have to not only understand  the importance of safety, but also execute the necessary steps to be safe.

"Motorcycle safety is important because it helps protect Airmen," said Master Sgt. Robert Wilson, 790th Missile Security Forces Squadron and 14-year motorcycle rider, "but the being safe part doesn't happen without training."

Before riding, Airmen must complete the Basic Riders Course provided by the Department of Transportation (offered on base in conjunction with the 90th MW Safety Office), or an equivalent course endorsed by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

A great aspect of the BRC on base is that training officials provide the motorcycle and helmet for the training, Weaver said. Out-of-state pricing is typically higher, but reduced cost is not the only benefit to the BRC.

"It's good training," Wilson said. "You learn skills you wouldn't otherwise learn on your own if you just went out and started riding. Many times, the only way you'd learn them is through years of experience, or possibly the hard way, which is a motorcycle accident."

Once the course is completed, Airmen can obtain a motorcycle endorsement on their driver's license from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

After taking the BRC, Airmen must get additional training coordinated through the safety office within a year. Refresher courses are required on an individual basis within five years of completing secondary training. In advanced training, Airmen must use their own motorcycles, and various courses are offered depending on the type of motorcycle used.

Airmen who have complete the BRC and are current on additional training requirements are authorized to ride their motorcycles while wearing the proper personal protective equipment.

Service members are required to wear PPE while riding both on and off base, Weaver said. All personnel, civilian and military, riding on base must wear a helmet with a face shield or helmet with shatter-resistant goggles, over-the-ankle boots, long pants, long-sleeve shirt and full-fingered gloves.

"If you notice someone without the proper protection, correct them," Weaver said. "Be a good wingman. These common-sense rules add to the safety of our people."

Weaver warned that according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, motorcycle riders are 26 times more likely to die in a collision than drivers of enclosed vehicles.

Wearing PPE can help protect riders during an incident, but knowing the risks involved with riding motorcycles can help avoid an incident entirely.

Weaver said he always checks behind him when stopped at an intersection and pumps the brakes to make him more visible to the vehicles around him.

"When the light turns green, I get honked at all the time by the vehicle behind me because I don't look just once or twice," he said. "I'll look back and forth and then go. If [the car behind me] get sideswiped, most of the time it's going to be from the passenger side anyway and they'll be fine. If I get sideswiped, I'll probably pay the price."

He also mentioned it is not usually motorcycle riders who cause accidents and recommends riding defensively as a precaution against other vehicles.

"You'll hear folks say, 'Well, I didn't even see the biker. I was looking down the street and didn't realize he was actually coming through the green light,'" he said. "Also, know that intersections are the most dangerous places for motorcycle riders."

Weaver said that although the dangers are high, for both experienced and non-experienced riders, being knowledgeable about safety can help mitigate risks.

Check out the below safety tips for all motorcyclists:


Some Wyoming-specific risks

Wind:
Wind can more easily push motorcycle riders around than those in enclosed vehicles due to the lighter weight. When passing semi-tractor trailers and other large vehicles, riders must be prepared for wind gusts because those vehicles may block the wind.

Sudden changes in weather:
Wyoming weather can be unpredictable, which means motorcyclists can find themselves in the middle of a rain or hailstorm.

Sand:
Through the winter months, many Wyoming roads are covered with sand to add traction during snowy/icy conditions. When the warmer months melt the ice away, the sand is left behind and can reduce traction. Riders turning or stopping too quickly might find themselves sliding on the pavement.

Wildlife:
Much of Wyoming is teeming with wildlife. Unsuspecting motorcycle riders can collide with pronghorn, deer, rabbits or other wildlife.
 

Preparing to ride, especially after a long hiatus (such as winter or a deployment)

If not driven for an extended period of time, some motorcycle systems can become faulty or damaged.

Some important things to check:
- Tire pressure
- Oil pressure
- Clutch and brake fluid
- Chain or belt tension
- Gear shifter
- Head- and taillights
 

To register for a motorcycle training course, contact the 90th MW Safety Office at 773-2430 or 90mw.se@warren.af.mil.

For more information, refer to Air Force Instruction 91-207, The US Air Force Traffic Safety Program.