Never Outride Your Ability
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 MATTHEW ROLAND
A Company, 1st Battalion, 111th Aviation Regiment (GSAB)
Columbia, South Carolina
It was the beginning of fall, and my friend, Joe, and I planned a trip with the motorcycles we’d bought earlier in the year. Our bikes weren’t new, but they were new to us and had all the power one could ever need. We decided to visit another Army buddy, Ben, in Charleston, South Carolina, which was about a two-hour ride from Columbia. We figured we could make the trip in an hour and a half — you know, since we were “expert” riders.
We liked visiting Ben because we could crash at his place and still be able to go crabbing, partying and sightseeing on our bikes without blowing a lot of cash. So, on a cool October morning, we set out for Charleston in our boots, padded pants, protective jackets and helmets.
Joe and I made it to Charleston in record time — about an hour and 40 minutes. So, not only were we speeding, we were drafting each other on the interstate. I don’t say this to brag, but, rather, to show you our frame of mind about just how good we thought we were. Today, I wouldn’t even think about riding that way.
When we arrived at Ben’s house, everyone was glad to see us and commented on our bikes. It made us feel good. Our confidence was now at an all-time high. We eventually sat down for dinner and caught up with each other. Everyone was having drinks except for Joe and me. We had plans to ride downtown later and knew better than to drink and drive. So, after dinner, Joe and I set off again, this time riding at a leisurely pace into downtown.
We parked our bikes on the street and hung out in beautiful downtown Charleston until the sun began to set. At that point, we figured it was time to go because we weren’t sure of how to get back to Ben’s house. We hopped on our bikes and started heading in what we thought was the right direction but, of course, soon realized we were lost. Fortunately, a taxi pulled up next to us, so we asked the driver for directions. He told us to turn left and go over the James Island connector. We thanked him and sped off.
The James Island connecter is a road that quickly rises and turns to the right before joining a four-lane highway over about a quarter-mile span. The speed limit on the connector road is 35 mph, but on a motorcycle, you can easily take it at 50 mph-plus, right? Wrong!
Joe was out front and I followed behind, giving him enough room to maneuver. As he leaned into the right turn, his bike started edging its way toward the 3-foot outside barrier wall. I remember telling him in my head to slow down and turn sharper, but that didn’t happen.
Joe’s bike continued toward the outside shoulder in a right lean and then suddenly high-sided, catapulting my best friend over the wall, where he disappeared into the darkness. As I hurried to see if I could spot him, I stopped myself and thought, “Do I really want to see Joe’s lifeless, mangled body on the pavement below?” All traffic stopped and I heard a lady screaming, obviously witnessing the same thing I’d seen.
A guy walked up and asked me Joe’s name. He then went over to the wall and yelled, “Joe!” Almost instantly we heard, “What?” I ran over to see if I could spot Joe. Luckily, there was no pavement below, just an enormous footing for the pillar that supported that part of the bridge. The footing was surrounded by pluff mud — a thick, sticky, malodorous goop found around Charleston’s marshlands. Not only did Joe miss the concrete pillar, the tide was also out, so he landed in the pluff mud, which cushioned his impact.
Joe didn’t come out of this accident unscathed, though. He suffered scratches, bruises and a torn rotator cuff, which he still has trouble with today. As always, though, he was wearing all of his personal protective equipment, which likely kept him from suffering a catastrophic head injury.
Joe and I often talk about our adventures, but this trip tops them all. If there is anything we learned from this, it’s to never outride your capabilities. We thought since we’d taken Motorcycle Safety Foundation training and had been riding for several months that we were experts who were ready for any challenge we could face on the road. We were overconfident in our abilities, and Joe nearly paid for that mistake with his life.
Motorcyclists can avoid most hazardous situations by simply obeying the posted speed limit, especially in a curve. A rider should apply S.E.E. (Search, Evaluate, Execute) when operating their motorcycle and identify potential hazards. In a case where a motorcyclist is in a situation where they have either entered a turn too fast or are surprised by a hazard in the road, such as a stopped car or debris in a blind turn, threshold braking is the method to use. Threshold braking is applying the brakes just prior to the point where the wheels begin to slip without producing a skid. On ABS-equipped motorcycles, you will feel feedback through the brake controls.
Motorcycle training curriculum covers emergency braking in a straight line and a curve, and these are the techniques to be used to avoid crashing if you are unable to maneuver around a hazardous situation. In the Basic RiderCourse, making an emergency stop in a curve requires the rider to use available traction for both braking and leaning. The rider basically has two choices: One is to straighten up first before you emergency stop, but you must have enough space to complete the stop. The second option is to apply the brakes while leaned, which must be done with progressive smoothness. As the motorcycle begins to straighten, more brake pressure can be applied. Remember to always ride within your ability to control a motorcycle and attend the follow-on motorcycle training required by Army Regulation 385-10.