SGT. 1ST CLASS SHANE E. COOK
Headquarters, Headquarters Company
1st Battalion, 223rd Aviation Regiment
Fort Rucker, Ala.
It was just after noon on a beautiful Saturday, and I was bored. Looking to get out of the house, I called a few riding buddies and asked if they wanted to enjoy the sun on our bikes. Of course, they were up for it, so we linked up and took off on what would be an all-day ride through the upstate New York countryside.
We left Watertown about 1 p.m. and headed south in search of roads untraveled. We’d been riding for hours when the lead rider spotted a parking lot barbeque and decided this was a good place to pull over and enjoy some dinner. After the grub, we checked the map and decided we would go a little farther and then make the turn back toward home. Unfortunately, we got lost and ended up in a small town just north of Albany, so we stopped at a local bar to ask for directions.
Some bikers at the bar told us the road out front would take us where we wanted to go, but we should be careful because it had plenty of switchback turns and could be dangerous. We thanked them for their help and headed out for home. Just as the bikers had said, the road home was very curvy (and fun to ride, without a doubt). I had been riding in the first position for a while, but one of the other guys was riding a smaller bike, so I decided to move to the third position to ensure our spacing was better since it was getting late and the sun was setting. This would be a decision I’d later regret.
As we rode through the curves, everything seemed great until a deer suddenly darted from the side of the road and right into my bike. The collision caused my front wheel to jerk to the right. I attempted to swerve and keep the bike upright, but the gravel on the small, two-lane mountain road caused me to lose control and head straight toward a guardrail.
I realized I had two options: go over the top or lay down the bike and jump for safety. I chose the latter. As I attempted to clear the bike, my engine guards — which are designed to protect the bike from damage during an accident — caught the guardrail. As my bike flipped upward, it caught my leg, breaking it in several places.
I was lucky. Because I was wearing all the proper personal protective equipment that day, my injuries were limited to a broken leg and clavicle. While there is no substitute for good PPE, it cannot and will not replace practice and experience. I recommend every rider — no matter how experienced — take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course to brush up on their riding techniques. When nature calls, you’ll be thankful that you’ve done everything possible to keep yourself protected.
Sharing the Road
Deer are unpredictable. Here are some tips from motorcyclecruiser.com to help you avoid a collision on the open road.
• Deer travel in groups. One deer means there probably are more, so slow down immediately even if the one you see is off the road and running away.
• Heed deer crossing signs, particularly in the seasons and times of day when deer are active. Slow down, use your high beams and cover the brakes.
• The Wisconsin Department of Transportation says deer collisions peak in October and November, with a smaller peak in May and June. Such crashes between April and August are most likely to occur between 8 p.m. and midnight. Between November and January, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. is the danger time.
• Additional good, powerful driving lights are worth their weight in gold on a deserted road at night. Alternatively, fit a headlamp with a 100-watt high beam.
• Noise — a horn, revving your engine, etc. — might drive deer away.
• Flashing your headlights can break the spell that seems to cause deer to freeze.
• Don’t challenge large animals by approaching them. A buffalo, moose, elk, mountain lion, bear or large deer might attack to drive you off. Stay back and consider turning and riding farther away.
• Stay away from an injured animal. It might attack or injure you unintentionally if it comes to and tries to escape.
• Don’t swerve if a collision appears imminent. Braking hard right up to the point of impact is good, but you want to be stabilized if you do collide, which will give you the greatest chance of remaining upright.
• Spread out if riding in a group. This pattern will keep a rider who hits a deer from taking down other riders with him.
• Wear protective gear. As with other crashes, no one plans to hit an animal. The only way to be ready when it happens is to be ready on every ride.
Did You Know?
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, more than 1.5 million deer-vehicle accidents occur annually in the United States, killing about 150 people and causing at least $1 billion in vehicle damage. Motorcycle riders account for about half of the deaths in vehicle-animal crashes despite the fact that cars, trucks and SUVs outnumber motorcycles on the road 40 to 1.