Over 30 Soldiers, civilians, and Family members from the 232nd Medical Battalion, the United States Army Institute for Surgical Research, and Brooke Army Medical Center participated in their first joint Motorcycle Safety Day May 7. The 232nd Medical Battalion has conducted several of these events over the past few years as has BAMC, but this effort was an attempt to broaden each program by bringing three organizations into one ride. One of the many underappreciated aspects of motorcycle safety is the mentorship that riders can provide each other. Motorcycles come in an array of sizes, capabilities, limitations, and challenges. This offered a chance to experience a diverse group of bikes with riders whose experience level ranged from over 20 years to just over a week. The opportunity to talk about sport bikes versus cruisers, old bikes versus new bikes, big engines versus small, riding on highways versus rural routes alone would have been enough to be considered a successful day. But these riders took their training well beyond that.
The day began with a safety class and videos showing the importance of Personal Protective Equipment, rider safety, and obeying and knowing your own and your bike's limits. Following, the group had a short class on hand and arm signals, conducted a route brief, and then headed back out to their bikes. In the parking lot, they used buddy teams to inspect their bikes, verify documents (license, insurance, registration, and safety card), and ensure everyone had the proper PPE. Once complete they split into two groups of sport bikes and one of cruisers.
The ride was about 100 miles out to the Texas Hill Country and back. This area of Texas is world-renowned for some of the best motorcycle riding one can find. For this group, it offered a great course for training. These riders (many of whom had never ridden with a group) had the opportunity to negotiate their way off post, managing the challenge of integrating auto traffic and then reforming on Highway 35 South. As the ride continued, the group was able to experience all the aspects they discussed during their briefings. Hand and arm signals were used to navigate through downtown and through a lengthy construction zone on US 90 West that caused the groups to shift from staggered riding to single file in order to avoid loose gravel spilling into their lane. "Everyone looked good. The hand and arm signals were passed back quickly and all the riders moved right into line" said Sgt. 1st Class Gordan Corcoran, of the 232nd Medical Battalion. Successfully through stage one; they stopped in Castroville for their first pit stop to discuss the ride, refuel, and refit.
After a quick review of the next leg, they headed north for a completely different type of ride. The high speeds and traffic of multi-lane roads were replaced by the curves of rural riding. It also offered some very tricky curves as the roads run around the ranches and farms, which seldom have straight-line boundaries. This provides stretches that can go from 55 mph straight runs to 25 mph curves very quickly. Cornering (negotiating a curve or turn) is the most dangerous part of motorcycle riding as the surface area of the wheels in contact with the ground lessens due to the "lean", traction is reduced. Most motorcycle accidents occur due to improper cornering usually by going too fast. So this exercise provided multiple opportunities to practice proper cornering with several 90 degree curves. Group leaders were able to manage the speed of the group entering each turn, so the less experienced riders who had yet to ride on these types of roads where able to safely maneuver through and see the proper way to enter and exit curves. "It was a little tricky; it was definitely better to be with the group" said Spec. Michael Howard, of the USAISR; "I wouldn't want to try this for the first time by myself." The group stopped in Lake Hills for lunch and a short rest. Again, the riders discussed the second portion of the trip allowing for coaching and mentorship. Many riders talked about the difference of the two legs and how their focus and style of riding had to shift. As they ate, the experienced riders discussed different techniques, road hazards to be aware of depending on your location (highway traffic versus rural animals), and the final leg that lay ahead.
The last portion of the ride took the group from Lake Hills to the east toward Helotes on a route that increased the amount of curves and turns while adding rolling hills. This exhilarating 10 mile stretch often had riders cresting blind curves. It challenged their abilities to corner, communicate, and maintain awareness of their surroundings. With the route being so complex, one group took the least experienced riders and headed out for a slow run though the hills. At the end, they turned and headed back to Lake Hills. After a quick discussion, they headed out again for a full speed ride of the course.
The group met for the final time in Helotes for an After Action Review. The discussion highlighted the benefits of this type of training. Riders got to meet other riders of differing experience levels. New mentors and coaches were found. Less experienced riders got to ride in situations that were brand new to them amongst the supervision of very proficient riders. Lessons were learned for riders as well as leaders. Tough, realistic training was the target of the 232nd Med Bn, the USAISR and BAMC on this Motorcycle Safety Day and that is exactly what they accomplished. "Today demonstrated the value of motorcycle days from the academics, to the ride to mentorship; today's gathering greatly enhanced the awareness, safety and skill levels of everyone that participated" said Lt. Col. Peter Lehning, commander, 232nd Medical Battalion.