Respect Your Ride
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 JAMES C. TOOTLE
B Company, 2nd Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment
As a kid, I had two dreams. My first dream was to become a pilot and fly; my second was to own a motorcycle. After starting flight school at Fort Rucker, Alabama, I finally had the money to make that second dream come true and bought a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R.
This was my first bike and I thought I would use it to learn to ride. I found a group of more experienced riders with bikes and interests similar to my own who could give me guidance and instruction on riding. Riding with a bunch of buddies was fantastic. I thought to myself, “This is what I’ve always wanted to do!” Then we had some new riders join us, which is when things got interesting.
It was a Saturday and we were on our way to Panama City Beach, Florida. The eight of us were at the last stoplight before heading south out of Enterprise, Alabama. The most experienced rider, who was basically the leader of the group, was at the front with one of the new guys. When we got the green light to turn left, they took off like bats out of hell.
As I cruised down the highway, I noticed the rider next to me was paying more attention to her phone than the road. She was riding unpredictably — slowing down, speeding up and swerving — so I decided to back off and keep her in front of me. When I looked toward the front of the group, I saw the lead rider do a wheelie while going up a hill. He was way ahead of the rest of us. At the time, I was still accelerating through 65 mph as I tried to keep up with the rest of the group.
I looked at the female rider again to see how she was doing when I noticed that the second guy in the formation was also doing a wheelie up the hill. In what seemed like slow motion, his back tire started to wobble. The front wheel came down with the handlebars slamming from side to side as the bike began a high-speed wobble. In an instant, the bike went down and slid up the hill in a cloud of metal, plastic and fiberglass pieces.
I got on the brakes, pulled over and stopped on the side of the road. The female driver was still playing with her phone and reacted too late to avoid the crumpled motorcycle lying in the middle of the road. As her front tire hit the downed bike, she flew head-first over her bike’s handlebars and landed on her back.
After the excitement subsided, we checked the condition of the fallen riders. The wheelie rider wasn’t wearing a jacket, so he had road rash over a large portion of his body, and his T-shirt and jeans were shredded rags. Fortunately, he was wearing his helmet, which was cracked, scratched and gouged. All in all, he was lucky to walk away. The female rider had only a minor patch of road rash on the small of her back. It wasn’t life threatening, but it was enough to remind her of what happens when you don’t pay attention while riding.
This was an eye-opening experience for me. It was the first motorcycle accident I had ever witnessed and showed me how riders need to respect a two-wheeled machine that can outdrive most of them. Since then, I have never been tempted to ride without the proper protective equipment. This accident didn’t deter me from riding, but it taught me the importance of riding safely, staying within by abilities and always remaining alert. After all, I have seen the dramatic results when people don’t.