Mentorship Ride Mishap
SGT. 1ST CLASS ANTHONY FISCHETTO
U.S. Army Office of the Program Manager –
Saudi Arabian National Guard, Aviation
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
As the D Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade motorcycle mentor, I wanted to conduct a ride in light rain showers to prepare my less experienced Soldiers for the typical weather conditions they’d encountered while stationed in Hawaii. At the time, I had 18 years of riding experience, with nearly three of those years on Oahu. I wrote up my deliberate risk assessment worksheet, which came out as a moderate risk overall. I planned for the risks by ensuring we conducted a weather call twice before leaving. If the weather was deemed too dangerous, we would cancel the ride. I then developed a route, a plan for the ride and a brief to discuss with the company commander.
The commander asked why I’d want to conduct the mentorship ride in the rain. I explained that our unit’s riders should be familiar with operating their motorcycles in all types of weather, not just clear, sunny days. After reading through my brief and seeing I’d covered all of my bases, the commander gave me approval to conduct the ride. We were now set.
There were 22 riders in D Company, and 18 of them would be participating in the mentorship ride. The morning of, we met as a group and conducted our T-CLOCS (Tires and wheels, Controls, Lights and electronics, Oil and other fluids, Chassis and Stands) inspections and ensured everyone had the proper personal protective equipment. Once completed, I did a weather check. The rain had stopped 30 minutes prior, but there was a 60% chance of light showers in the next two hours. I called the commander and briefed him on the wet roads and upcoming weather and received the go-ahead to conduct the ride.
I briefed the Soldiers on the conditions we would be riding in, the route and the expected speed limits we would maintain. For additional safety, a truck would follow us in case one of the motorcycles experienced mechanical issues or any unforeseen incidents occurred. I asked the Soldiers if they were comfortable with the riding conditions and they all gave me the thumbs up. We then set up our formation. I would lead the pack, while my alternate mentor would bring up rear so he could observe the Soldiers’ riding behaviors. He would also let me know if there were any issues via our internal communication system (ICS).
We left Wheeler Army Airfield and hit the H2 freeway toward Kaneohe, where we encountered major traffic that forced us to slow our speed to 20 mph. We ensured we maintained a safe distance from one another and stayed in the far-right lane with the follow truck behind us. Just 20 minutes into the ride, my alternate mentor called me over the ICS. One of our riders had laid down his bike.
I safely pulled the formation to the side of the road and walked back to where the Soldier went down. He’d sustained some minor injuries, but his bike had little damage to it. I immediately informed the chain of command and the battalion’s safety NCO about the mishap. As a group, we then lifted the Soldier’s bike into the back of the truck and returned to base so he could be examined by a medical professional. An X-ray later revealed he’d suffered a hairline fracture to his wrist.
After the injured Soldier was treated, I went to the office to fill out the appropriate paperwork. I sat down with my alternate mentor and asked for the details of the incident. He told me the formation was moving fine when the Soldier engaged his brakes for unknown reasons and the back end of his bike slid out from underneath him. I then asked the Soldier what he thought happened. He wasn’t sure. He said he just tapped his brakes. The next thing he knew he was on the ground. Finally, I called the rest of the riders into my office to get their accounts of the accident.
After putting everything together, I determined the injured rider had only been on the freeway two times prior to our mentorship ride. While we were traveling in a straight direction at a slow rate of speed, he engaged his brakes for unknown reasons, causing them to lock. When he released the brakes, the rear wheel was no longer lined up with the front wheel. This caused the bike to slide out and fall down.
When I met with the battalion commander, he asked me to describe what happened. At first, he’d assumed we were speeding or goofing around on the ride. I told him the accident was caused by the rider’s lack of experience, but there was a silver lining. I explained that if this rider had been out on his own and got caught in the rain, chances are he most likely would have been traveling faster than we were that day. The outcome probably would have been significantly worse. Plus, he wouldn’t have had anyone around to help him had he crashed. The commander agreed and we discussed our plan of action moving forward.
Thanks to our careful planning and preparation, a potentially bad situation had better outcome than expected. While our mentorship ride was cut short, our Soldiers did learn some important lessons about operating their bikes on wet roadways. We mentors were also able to identify some of the riders’ bad habits and provide corrective guidance. You never want to see one of your Soldiers get injured in a preventable mishap. Although this ride didn’t go quite as expected, in the end, I believe the lessons learned resulted in our Soldiers becoming better riders and improved our motorcycle program.
Riding in the rain can be dangerous if you don’t take the proper precautions. The following tips from soundrider.com can help keep you safe when the sky opens up on your ride: Choose riding gear that’s weatherproof
Riding in soggy gear is a bigger deal than just feeling miserable. Riding soggy is an invitation to hypothermia. At highway speeds, the evaporative cooling of wet riding gear can quickly chill you to the core, and your thinking and muscle control will be slower. Staying dry and warm is a big part of keeping your brain and muscles functioning.
One reliable approach to weatherproof riding gear is a fabric shell with a breathable membrane bonded to the inside. It’s very helpful to have a removable insulated liner. An electric liner or vest can provide additional heat. Waterproof glove and boot covers help keep your hands and feet dry and don’t take up much space to pack. If you’ve been wearing open-weave or mesh gear for summer rides, remember to bring along your waterproofs — either an insulated waterproof liner to wear under the shell or separate raingear to wear over the shell. Read the surface
Clean, wet pavement has something like 80 percent of the friction of clean, dry pavement. It’s those slippery areas you need to avoid. You can assume that painted or plastic lines and markings will be slick, including crosswalks and directional arrows. Brick surfaces will be slick when wet. Railroad or streetcar crossings will be slippery, especially the plastic or wooden aprons on both sides of the shiny rails. Oil and grease on the pavement will cause water to bead or streak and may have a rainbow sheen. When you see a change in the color or texture of the surface, ride more conservatively until you can feel what’s happening. Practice smooth control inputs
The key to avoiding a slideout on a wet surface is to make all control inputs smoothly. To maintain steady front tire traction when approaching a curve, transition smoothly from throttle to brake and then ease off the brake as you lean in. As you lean the bike in, smoothly sneak on the throttle as you steer into the curve to help balance traction between the front and rear tires. An “outside-inside-outside” line will maximize the radius of turn and minimize slip. Even if you feel your tires let go for a moment, avoid that sudden disastrous instinct to snap off the throttle or jam on the brakes. If the bike can recover, it will. Brake early
When approaching a situation where you must decelerate, brake early. It’s difficult to comprehend how much braking force can be applied on the wet surface. Braking early gets the bike slowed sooner and more gradually, reducing the need to suddenly brake harder toward the end of the stop. To give yourself more time for evasive maneuvers, drop back farther behind other vehicles. The minimum following distance in the rain should be four seconds. Take a break when it first starts to rain
High-mileage commercial vehicles tend to dribble engine oil, grease and diesel fuel on the surface. A little moisture mixed with those contaminants can create a slippery goo that really reduces traction. That’s why the road seems so treacherous after just a light rain or morning dew. It takes about a half hour of a steady downpour to wash the pavement clean. The clever rider takes a half-hour break when it first starts to rain to avoid sliding out and collisions with less-than-astute drivers. Be smart about lightning
A motorcyclist is very much exposed to lightning. A motorcycle’s rubber tires won’t insulate it from the pavement. Lightning is so high voltage that it can travel on the surface of objects, including rubber. Enclosed vehicles such as automobiles and airplanes are seldom penetrated by lightning strikes. A motorcyclist, however, is exposed to serious injury.