MAJ. SCOTT BARRETT
203rd Military Police Battalion
Several years ago, a friend asked if I would be interested in going on a group motorcycle ride to the Smoky Mountains to camp for the weekend. I didn’t have any other plans, so I said yes. To set the scene, there would be 10 of us on this trip. Four would ride single and three would ride double. We had riders whose experience ranged from novice to expert. With this being a ride that I didn’t plan, I only knew four of the other riders. Normally, I would not have joined a ride that was going to be about 800 miles round trip without knowing what kind of rider everyone was, but it was last-minute and, like I said, I really wasn’t doing anything else that weekend.
We planned to head out early on a Friday morning as soon as rush hour was over. The night before, I inspected my bike to ensure everything was good to go. The oil looked good, both tires were properly inflated, and I had my extra glasses, rain suit, a change of clothes, enough tools to almost tear the bike completely down, tire plugs, air compressor, hammock and blanket. At this point in my life, I’d been riding for about 15 years, so a lot of this stuff was second nature. You know, you plan a big trip, make sure your bike is ready, and then prep for just about anything you think could happen along the way.
The morning of the trip, we all met at the designated location. When riding with a group, I always like being in the back, especially when I don’t know some of the people or their experience levels. So, as we headed out, I fell in last. Everything was going well for the first 50 or so miles until one of the other riders began having problems with his bike. It started with the shift linkage breaking. This was no big deal. We just pulled off the interstate, found a dealership, got the part and were off again.
About 100 miles later, the handlebars on the same bike came loose and laid flat against the fuel tank. Unlike the first incident, this was a dangerous situation. What made it even more dangerous was this rider had his girlfriend on the back of his bike. We made it to the side of the road safely and assessed the situation. Come to find out, this rider had just installed those handlebars and, unfortunately, he was not very mechanically inclined. He told us he learned how to do it by watching a YouTube video. Of course, this guy had no tools with him. Luckily, he rode the same kind of bike I do, and I was well-equipped to handle this issue.
After torquing down his handlebars, I asked if he was OK to keep riding and if there was anything else we should know about his bike before we got back on the road. He assured us nothing else should happen. I asked when the last time the bike was serviced. He said it had been a while because he didn’t ride often and figured he could put it off till after this trip. Looking at his tires, I noticed they were at the point that I would not have trusted them on this ride. He said he wasn’t worried about the tires and that they were fine. As we continued to talk, I found out this guy had only been riding about two or three years. This was his first motorcycle and he’d only put about 3,000 miles on it. He was adamant about continuing the trip, so back on the road we went.
About two hours later, it started raining, making the roadway slick. This rider didn’t have the ability or experience to handle the changing conditions and ended up laying down the bike. Fortunately, there didn’t appear to be any injuries other than his wounded pride. But we did take a trip to the emergency room just to be sure. This effectively ended our ride.
There are several lessons to be learned from this ill-fated trip. First, always inspect your bike before you go on a long ride. If you do not know how to do it yourself, take it to a reputable mechanic to have it checked out or have one of the other riders look it over before departure. If you’re a novice rider, make sure everyone in the group knows you’re less experienced. We will pay more attention to what you’re doing and help you out any way we can. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from those who have been riding a while. There’s a good chance we have learned a lot of the same painful lessons you are about to learn. Remember, a small fee to have someone look over your bike and listening to your fellow riders could keep you out of the emergency room or, even worse, the obituaries.
It’s a good idea to conduct a T-CLOCS inspection on your bike at least twice a year to ensure safe riding. T-CLOCS was developed by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation to assist riders in completing a comprehensive pre-ride (or pre-purchase) motorcycle inspection. The individual letters stand for the specific areas to be checked (Tires and wheels, Controls, Lights, Oil and Chassis, Stands). To print your own copy of a T-CLOCS inspection checklist, visit https://safety.army.mil/Portals/0/Documents/OFF-DUTY/PMV-2/PAMPHLETSCHECKLISTS/Standard/TCLOCS_2022.pdf. For additional information, visit https://safety.army.mil/OFF-DUTY/PMV-2-Motorcycles.