Ride smart, ride safe, stay alive

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Keith Higley
  • 509th Medical Support Squadron commander
Over the past few years motorcycle fatalities have increased noticeably in the Air Force. Within the past month, we lost one of our Air Force brethren at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., and of course, we experienced a loss here at Whiteman only a year ago.

As commanders we try to learn from every case to help find root causes and prevent future losses. When you look at the statistics, almost all of the fatalities caused by motorcycle accidents were absolutely preventable. Very seldom do we lose someone that was doing everything right. Typically it's a matter of simply riding too fast, not wearing Personal Protective Equipment or, unfortunately, involving alcohol.

As a rider myself, I thought it best to take a few minutes and give you my thoughts on preparing to ride as we head into summer. I like to break down motorcycle safety into three areas: your bike, your brain and your environment. So hang on for this quick ride; maybe I can share something that will keep you alive.

Your bike. Really this area is probably the easiest to control but is frequently overlooked. It's not too complicated; to start, make sure you get a motorcycle that you are capable of riding. Often I see new and inexperienced riders purchase motorcycles they are not ready to handle. Sure we all want the bigger engine and to be quicker off the line...ask yourself, "Am I really ready for that bike?"

Additionally, make sure the bike fits you. I always love pulling up to a stop light and noticing someone trying to hold the bike up on their toes, because they are not tall enough. Next, make sure you inspect your bike thoroughly at least monthly and do a pre-ride inspection before every ride. There are plenty of checklists out there to walk you through the inspection process.

Finally, don't skimp on the maintenance of your motorcycle. Take it to a reputable service location with certified mechanics. They will see things you won't and good maintenance can save your life.

Your brain. One of the things I hear is, 'I've had a bad day, I need to go for a ride and get my head right,'....Stop! You absolutely need to have your head "right" before you get on your motorcycle. You need to be alert, well rested and able to concentrate on what you're doing. Often, it only takes a split second reaction to prevent an accident; you need your head in the game to give you that extra edge.

I also love seeing the 'joker' on a sport bike going 85 mph wearing shorts and no helmet. Think about the PPE you're wearing; a helmet, jacket, gloves and long pants give you much needed protection. As for your helmet, it can save your life, no question, wear it!

Your environment. This is probably the part of your ride that has the most variables and potential for negative outcomes. The first thing you can do to minimize the risk is to plan your ride.

Understand where you are going and potential dangerous circumstances; bad roads, curves, weather, intersections, etc. You also want to understand that there are horrible drivers out there that are trying to ruin your day. Never assume anything. Just because you think they're stopping doesn't mean they are. Just because they should see you doesn't mean they do.

Always be ready to take immediate actions to protect yourself and make yourself seen. You can also minimize environmental risks by using mentors. Ride with someone that is already familiar with the route. If you're a new rider don't be afraid to ask a mentor to ride with you. Finally, alcohol and motorcycles don't mix...period!

You are important in many ways. Of course your family and friends want you around. Let me also say, the Air Force needs you. Everyone is vital to mission accomplishment and makes a difference every day. Absolutely enjoy the ride, do it safely and remember almost all motorcycle fatalities are preventable. See you after the ride.