Gray matter: Use your brain to ride smarter, safer

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- As the saying goes there are two types of motorcycle riders, those who've crashed and those who will. This year, only a few months into the season, we seem to be doing more crashing than riding. So far luck has been on our side, but at this rate it's only a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt or worse -- killed. The question is: what can be done to prevent the crash that might kill? 

Since working in safety, I have seen the gamut of personalities in riders. The majority of folks do everything right. They want to learn and they want to help others improve their skills. But, let's take a look at the rest. There are those who think rank gives them the right to do what they want; those who think ignorance is an excuse to ride however they please; those who whine and complain about everything; and those who have no business being on a bike period. 

I don't have the perfect answer to fix these attitudes, heck I've been guilty of doing just about everything wrong at one point or another during my 23 years of riding. Contrary to what the Air Force wants us to believe, orange vests and ECE helmets is not the "fix all" solution to this, since this is not the over-arching problem. The main problem lies between our ears. You know, the grey matter commonly referred to as your brain. 

I like to think that I speak for most people when I say I like living and love my family. That's why when I ride I use my gray matter to protect myself. I always wear the proper protective gear. I also continuously train to improve my riding skills. Will this keep me safe each time I throw a leg over the seat and hit the road? No, but it will increase my chances of survival should something go terribly wrong.

For me, the track has been the answer to improving my skills. Once you start riding hard at double digit speeds in a safe controlled environment, street riding becomes a bore; however, there are some real benefits to this training. After practicing lap after lap when you're back on the street cruising at the speed limit, any obstacle is easy to deal with high speed, hard breaking, extreme lean angles and running in close proximity to others. I don't care who you are, if you think you're fast on the street, think again. Your wake-up call comes at the track and you have your ego destroyed by a 16-year-old girl or 60-year-old guy. You realize you still have a lot to learn, and learn you should.

I'm not saying everyone should become a track rider. What I am saying is you should have that desire to improve your skills and ride on the defensive all the time. Before the track I had been riding close to 20 years and thought I knew it all. Boy, was I wrong I have learned more in the past three years than all my years combined on the street. 

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation is a great way to start working on your skills. But don't think passing the class makes you a great rider, think of it as graduating from high school; something that pretty much anyone can do with a little effort. Like education if you want to be smarter you study more. It's the same for riding. Seek out ways to continuously improve your skills, and like school, you are never too old to learn something new.

I've had my share of crashes over the years; all except my last one were my fault. It was either inexperience, too fast for conditions, panic and stupidity (the matter part)! Fortunately for me, I learned from all of them and have never done the same thing twice. My last crash was at the Hockenheimring track last year. Basically, I got hit when I leaned over in a corner at around 100 mph. Now I can add to my experiences: I crashed and it wasn't my fault.

I'm not trying to say I'm too good to get in a wreck or that I ride perfect every time I get on by bike; I just want to get the point across to use your head. The 52nd Fighter Wing has had multiple motorcycle crashes recently. While I don't know the circumstances surrounding each incident, I do know that when we crash, it's usually because of something we did, not the fault of others. If you are brutally honest with yourself I bet you would agree with me. I'm not saying car drivers are never at fault (I've experienced not being seen, pulling out in front of me, etc.), but being prepared, with proper training, gear and using your head can get you out of ugly situations. Don't forget the basics of how to ride a motorcycle at any speed. If you have, get some additional training or find another hobby before you become a statistic. 

Come on everyone, use your brain: ride smart and all come home safe.