Riding within Your Skill Level
NAME WITHHELD BY REQUEST
It was early spring at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and the sights and sounds of motorcycles were beginning to take over the streets. There were beginner, intermediate and experienced riders all thrilled a new riding season was upon them. In the past, I would listen to my fellow NCOs share stories about their riding experiences. I’d always had an interest in riding, and their stories further sparked that interest. So at the age of 32, I decided to purchase my first bike with no previous riding experience.
It didn’t take long to fall in love with riding. There’s just something about the warm weather, clear skies, throttle and, of course, pure style of riding a motorcycle that gets into a rider’s veins. As a beginner, I was obviously quite nervous. I’d taken the mandatory rider training, but I had also witnessed motorcycles accidents. I was determined to not become a fatality statistic, so I rode with extreme caution. I always took the long routes to avoid as much traffic as possible. I figured that would also save me from any embarrassment from my buddies if I were to stall or hold up traffic because I was riding slowly.
As my confidence grew, I felt I was ready to start riding with my co-workers, some of whom were experienced riders. My first ride with the group was from Leesville to Alexandria, Louisiana, on Highway 28, a 50-mile stretch of newly paved roadway. We started as a group cruising at a nice, comfortable speed. As we got further into the ride, however, the pace increased and I found myself falling behind.
Not wanting to be left out of the fun, I increased my speed too. However, I quickly became uncomfortable trying to keep up with the group and slowed back down. Some of the guys in the group didn’t like my decision and others laughed and made jokes. I didn’t care, though. I understood my limitations and skill level. Plus, for me, riding is more about taking in the sites. I didn’t have that need for speed like others in the group.
Fast forward two months and I was still riding for style, not speed. Because of that, I wasn’t getting invited on some bike rides, but I wasn’t bothered. One Saturday afternoon, a co-worker I had ridden with before stopped by the house to invite me on a group ride to the Texas border, but I wasn’t home. There were nine riders in the group that was made up mostly of experienced motorcyclists. They started out on a route they’d been on before with no problems. Then, one of the less experienced riders took the lead.
The rider wasn’t as familiar with the route as the others and as he came upon a slight hill, his vision was obstructed to what lay on the other side. When he crested the hill, the rider hit some loose gravel on the edge of the road and he went down. Because of the obstructed view and the speed the riders were traveling, a chain-reaction crash occurred, causing a pile up. Fortunately, no one lost their life, but there were some serious injuries.
When I heard about the accident, I considered what would have happened had I been there. Although I was able fight the temptation to outride my skill level the first time I went out with the group, would I have done it on this occasion since I had a little more experience? One can only wonder.
My takeaway from this accident was no matter how experienced you might think you are, we all have limits. You know your comfort level. Don’t let the group decide your limitations.