Back in the Saddle
LT. COL. MIKE MORGAN
Asymmetric Warfare Group
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Just get back from a deployment? How about a mid-tour leave? Or maybe you’re just getting ready to ride again after a winter break. If you’re like me, you’re probably itching to take your bike out for a long-overdue ride along some back country roads. A couple of years ago, while home from Afghanistan, I got back in the saddle again, enjoying the freedom only a motorcycle provides. During my leave, I covered nearly 900 miles without a scratch — something to consider when you think about how many Soldiers die on their bikes soon after returning home. Here are some tips to help keep you safe. Use your head
The most important thing you can do is a good risk assessment. This doesn’t necessarily have to be difficult. It’s mainly using common sense and good judgment to blunt some of your eagerness to do things you shouldn’t when you first get back. The things I considered in my personal risk assessment included the condition of my bike, length of my rides and time when I rode. I also considered whether to carry passengers and where I would ride. Is your bike ready?
You hated putting your bike into storage before you left. I’m certain you did all the right things like changed the oil, connected the battery to a trickle charger and put stabilizer in the fuel. Now that you have returned, it’s time to be just as meticulous about your bike’s maintenance before riding it on the road. Check the pressure in your tires because it will have gone down. Check your cables to see if they need adjustment. Ensure the nuts and bolts that were tight when you left are still tight now. Dust off your Motorcycle Safety Foundation training and use TCLOCS — tires, controls, lights, oil, chassis and stands — as a guide as you check your bike. Plan a reasonable ride
When I first got back, I wanted to take a 600-plus-mile ride from Fayetteville, North Carolina, to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. However, that would have been a high-risk trip because of the hot weather, my need for rest, the length of the ride and the unfamiliar terrain. Instead, I took short rides — none of which lasted much longer than an hour — to brush up my skills. To reduce my risks, I began by riding on back country roads, where I would encounter less traffic. Also, I didn’t carry any passengers at first because that dramatically changes a bike’s handling. Additionally, I avoided riding at night because of the reduced visibility and huge bugs, which make things less enjoyable. When I did ride after dark, I kept to routes that had bright street lights.
The downside to riding mainly during the day, however, was afternoon temperatures often topped 100 F. As my rides got longer, I needed to make sure I kept myself hydrated. One afternoon, as I was riding back from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (about a 3½-hour ride), I had to take a 30-minute break to drink some Gatorade and sit in the shade. When you’re riding and enjoying the breeze, it’s sometimes hard to realize just how hot it is.
I also avoided riding in metropolitan areas at all costs. I’m convinced it’s a high risk for bikers anytime they ride around a city’s shopping district. The worst thing a biker can see in their mirrors is a minivan full of out-of-control kids with a driver talking on a cellphone. There are a lot of vehicles that fit that profile in congested urban areas. Adjust your attitude
Even though I’ve been riding for quite a while, I still think of myself as a novice. I keep that attitude because I still want to be riding in my 90s. If you start thinking you’re good, you’re likely to get overconfident and turn into an accident waiting to happen. That’s why I broke myself in slowly when I first got back, treating every ride as a training session so I could get used to cornering, braking, scanning and positioning in traffic. These are all skills that require constant refinement regardless of a rider’s experience level. The intersection of safety
When I’m sitting at a red light, before the light turns green, I try to make eye contact with as many drivers as I can. You can never tell what type of effect this has; it’s just something I like to do. The key, however, is realizing you’ll always come out the loser in a right-of-way confrontation with a car or truck at an intersection, regardless what the traffic light says. Wear that PPE
I wear the required personal protective equipment whenever I ride. Most PPE is reactive, being designed to help you survive a crash. However, one piece of PPE that can help prevent a crash is good protective eyewear. While I was home, I bought a fitted pair of Wiley-X goggles with foam cups designed to keep the wind out of my eyes. They cost way more than I would have ever expected to pay for glasses, but it was worth it to see clearly and keep my eyes from drying out. Drinking and riding
I saved this one for last. The bottom line is that I just didn’t do it. This is an area of personal responsibility that, despite countless safety briefings, counseling and policy letters, ultimately rests on your shoulders. If you’re redeploying from an alcohol-restricted tour, I can understand your desire to imbibe. However, for your sake and that of your friends, family and unit, please don’t drink and ride. Conclusion
Riding is a sport that befits a band of brothers and sisters. If you’re an experienced, safety-conscious rider, mentor a Soldier who is new to the sport. If you’re a leader with Soldiers who ride, show them their safety is your concern. As Soldiers, we are responsible to keep each other safe. How can we do anything less?