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Living the Dream

Living the Dream

1st Armored Division
Fort Bliss, Texas

Author’s note: The story you are about to read was written by a Soldier-rider and is true. The events are retold to give insights into the many hazards riders face when they are on the road. The lessons will help us all become more experienced motorcycle riders.

Spec. Sprain did what many of us only dream of doing. Almost two years ago, he decided to combine his desire for a fun vehicle with his need for everyday transportation, so he bought a small Honda sport bike. Wanting to be a safe and smart rider, he took the time to learn about motorcycling by enrolling in the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Basic RiderCourse. Over the next year, he continued to build on what he learned in his training. He wore good equipment to protect himself in the event of a fall, he learned to spot the signs of inattentive motorists and how to deal with west Texas crosswinds and sand coating the roadway.

In that first year, Sprain rode more than most motorcyclists and continuously improved his skills. Soon afterward, he took the MSF’s Military SportBike RiderCourse, where he learned more advanced riding skills that would allow him to take corners with a greater margin of safety, stop in much less distance and swerve to miss objects that would take a lesser rider down. Sprain continued to ride every day for another year and gained experience and learned at a faster rate than most other riders that only ride on weekends.

Although Spec. Sprain is not his real name, his story is true. He is a smart rider. He has plans further out than tomorrow, so he does not take risks just for the thrill of it. On this day, however, a series of choices and events will conspire against Sprain that will cause him to give up the motorcycle for some time. Today, he will wreck his bike.

The morning is cold, but the sky is clear and the wind is not blowing. It is a great day for a short ride on Paisano Drive along the Mexican border in El Paso. As Sprain tops the bridge, he is in the left path of the left lane, just a bit over the 40-mph speed limit (as is most traffic). The bridge makes a sweeping left decreasing radius turn as it descends into downtown. About midway into the turn, Sprain starts worrying about traction. Realizing that he has just a bit too much speed, he transitions back to his brakes. The bike stands up, his track goes wide, bumps up over the curb, crosses an intersection, hits another curb and the rider goes down on his side.

Sprain’s right leg is in pain, but he realizes he will live and this accident could have been so much worse. There was no car making the turn, and by the time he actually went down, he had scrubbed off quite a bit of speed. But the bike! There are pieces of plastic everywhere. The wheel is pointed left while the handlebars are pointed right. It is going to take a lot more to fix the bike than he is willing to spend. At the hospital, Sprain finds out just how lucky he was. The injury to his leg will probably be healed within a month.

So what went wrong? What are some things Sprain could have done to prevent this crash?

Let’s go back a year. When Sprain took the Military SportBike RiderCourse, he learned he could shift his body to the inside, placing his chin just over his inside hand, while pushing harder on the inside bar to tighten his cornering line and lightly feeding in throttle to stabilize the bike. Over the following year, he usually played it safe. There was no need to practice these advanced cornering techniques — that is until he needed them. Without practice and repetition, Sprain reverted back to instinct. When he realized his speed exceeded his current lean angle for the corner, his instinct was to slow down. This caused the bike to stand up and the cornering line to go even wider. After that, he was just along for the ride. Riders must always practice their skills.

Let’s go back a month. Last month, Ken Condon, a renowned author, riding instructor, public speaker and dedicated advocate of motorcycle safety, wrote an article for one of the big motorcycling magazines. The article was called “How to Survive Downhill Curves.” If Sprain had read that article, he might have realized that when he topped the bridge on Paisano Drive, he was facing one of the most difficult category of curves in motorcycling. He might have recalled that all the basics still apply: Look Ahead, Slow, Lean and Accelerate. Look ahead to identify the category of curve and select your line and entry speed. Slow even more than you would for a fast flat sweeper scrubbing off speed and weighting the front tire in preparation for turn-in. Lean by initiating countersteer, but for a downhill curve, let the bike drop in deeper for a quicker turn in (a great opportunity to use the techniques taught at the Military SportBike RiderCourse). Accelerate to stabilize the bike and manage traction. The trick is to slow down enough before the curve so you can crack the throttle ever so slightly and hold that setting (on steep hills) or accelerate as you round the bend. This will get some of the weight off the front tire so the bike will track easily around the corner. Riders should study to become a proficient motorcyclist.

Let’s go back five seconds. The speed limit was 40 mph. Sprain and the rest of traffic were traveling about 45 mph. This speed was fine for the cars, but a motorcyclist must always be managing traction. That’s especially true here in west Texas, where there is always that light dusting of sand on the roadways. So, five seconds ago, Sprain should have slowed to an entry speed that would enable him to accelerate through the curve. Traveling 45 mph at set up, 38 mph at corner entry and 45 mph at corner exit are faster than 40 mph through the whole corner. Riders should slow down! They can always get on the gas if they slow too much.

Finally, let’s go back one second. Sprain held his line of just left of center in the left lane through the corner until he lost control. The line (path) he chose around the turn is also important. He chose the outside-outside-outside path through the corner, maximizing his space between other vehicles and visibility through the curve, but also increasing the amount of cornering forces. The outside-inside-outside path is the gold standard, but it’s not cast in stone. This path reduces the cornering forces by opening up the radius of the corner. In this instance, it may have given Sprain just enough traction in reserve to make the corner. Riders should choose their path based on the conditions, sightlines and obstacles.

No one event or condition caused this crash — or any crash, for that matter. So what could Sprain have done to prevent it? The answer is Practice, Study, Slow and Path. Doing any one of these things would have likely helped Sprain avoid this crash. Let’s all work together to reduce the number of motorcycle crashes this year by taking these four things to heart — Practice, Study, Slow and Path. See you out there and ride safe!

  • 1 April 2015
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 10481
  • Comments: 0
Categories: Off-DutyPMV-2