Staying safe on two wheels

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — With winter behind us, many folks are beginning to break out the hiking boots and sunscreen for some outdoor fun. Additionally, many motorcyclists who have been bound by snow and ice for the last several months are making their way onto the roads again.

Lt. Col. Mark Guerber, the 16th Space Control Squadron commander and avid motorcyclist, recently briefed members of his unit about the importance of staying safe riding.

According to the Air Force Safety Center, since 2005 motorcycle and automobile accidents are the leading cause of death among service members while off-duty.

This is one of the reasons why Guerber said he is a strong advocate for motorcycle safety and remains as educated about riding as possible.

“Motorcyclists take recurring training every couple of years and many of us practice emergency skills on a regular basis,” Guerber said. “Although the risks are higher, a well-trained operator practices risk management daily.”

Guerber also explained that being a defensive rider is best, considering no one else on the road is more concerned for your safety than you.

He said that it is imperative to not only pay attention to what other drivers are doing inside of their vehicles, but also to watch the wheels of other cars around.

“A car driver may not do a head check before changing lanes, but the human eye can easily see when the wheels go out of parallel and start heading toward your bike,” Guerber said.

Guerber also offered advice to car drivers who might not understand the risk typical hazards, like oil, water, sand or gravel, can pose to motorcyclists.

“Cars need to be aware of road hazards that have a greater impact on motorcycles,” Guerber said. “Motorcycles will go slower and wider than a car driver expects because the challenge of negotiating these obstacles with less available traction.”

Guerber added that wildlife pose a significant risk to riders, and to steer toward the rear of an animal to try to avoid a collision.

Speaking personally, Guerber recounted a time when his inexperience nearly caused a mishap that could have ended badly.

“I was on a sport bike approaching an intersection, looking at cross traffic while I slowed down with the front brake,” Guerber said. “When I heard tires squeal, I looked forward to see the driver from another lane had merged into my lane and cut off the driver in front of me.

Guerber said rather than releasing his brake and moving into the empty lane next to him, he clamped down on his front brake, stopping mere inches from the car in front of him.

“Although I stopped … my bike collapsed sideways with me under it,” he said. “Proper habits, drilled into muscle memory would have kept me and my bike from a lot of pain and damage.”

Ultimately, Guerber equated safe driving as a matter of “dollars and cents.”

“Whether you’re in a car or on a bike, you’ve only got $10 worth of attention and skill,” Guerber said. “If you don’t practice and develop safe habits, you may spend $9 just driving. When an emergency pops up, you’re left with just $1 to handle a much more challenging situation.”

Guerber added that proper practice and planning allows riders to flip this equation. Riders should spend more time on how to respond during emergency situations