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Motorcycle safety requirements contribute to military riding culture

Oregon Air National Guardsmen from the 142nd Wing practice advanced motorcycle riding techniques in Portland, Ore., Aug. 24, 2020. Riders from Portland Air National Guard base routinely find ways to practice safe riding together and are planning to form a motorcycle mentorship group after the threat of COVID-19 has passed. (Photo courtesy of Master Sgt. Ken West)

Oregon Air National Guardsmen from the 142nd Wing practice advanced motorcycle riding techniques in Portland, Ore., Aug. 24, 2020. Riders from Portland Air National Guard base routinely find ways to practice safe riding together and are planning to form a motorcycle mentorship group after the threat of COVID-19 has passed. (Photo courtesy of Master Sgt. Ken West)

Oregon Air National Guardsmen from the 142nd Wing practice advanced motorcycle riding techniques in Portland, Ore., Aug. 24, 2020. Military riders are required to wear specific personal protective equipment and complete Air Force Safety Center approved training in order to prevent mishaps to preserve the team and mission. (Photo courtesy of Master Sgt. Ken West)

Oregon Air National Guardsmen from the 142nd Wing practice advanced motorcycle riding techniques in Portland, Ore., Aug. 24, 2020. Military riders are required to wear specific personal protective equipment and complete Air Force Safety Center approved training in order to prevent mishaps to preserve the team and mission. (Photo courtesy of Master Sgt. Ken West)

PORTLAND, Ore. --

The riding season in Oregon is coming to a close for some motorcycle enthusiasts, while others may choose to ride through the rainy winter. But no matter the season, motorcycle safety requirements are different for military members.

Riders in military status, whether active duty or in the guard or reserves, are required to complete approved training and wear specific personal protective equipment. However, the requirements are more than just rules and regulations.

“Preventing mishaps preserves the team and mission,” said Senior Master Sgt. John Peterson, 142nd Wing occupational safety manager, who oversees the wing’s motorcycle safety program. “Personally, I also care about our members on a human level. I want them to go home to their families and friends safe and healthy; hopefully my job contributes to that.”

Air Force Instruction 91-207 mandates motorcycle training responsibilities, members track their training on an online platform, and required PPE includes full-finger gloves, a long-sleeve shirt or jacket, a Department of Transportation-approved helmet, among other items. But military riders also tend to take it upon themselves to become safer riders.

“One of the most significant things I find to be generally true about military riders is the passion with which this group approaches their riding, and the disciplined manner in which they apply skills and learning, to become a better, more precise, skillful, intentional rider,” said Master Sgt. Ken West, 142nd Maintenance Squadron motorcycle safety representative.

This passion to ride safely has become the backbone of military riding culture. West saw the need to conduct motorcycle training here early in his career and has been a safety representative at Portland Air National Guard Base since early 2000.

“The first course we held was in the motor pool parking lot, after Chief Nutter graciously moved a few vehicles,” West reminisced. “Over the years, we have done other courses on the base as well, even piloting a brand new course called the Circuit Rider Course. This year, with base leadership approval, we took training off base and executed an Advanced Rider Training clinic on a closed-course local raceway.”

West’s passion to teach people how to safely ride goes beyond base. When it is not a drill weekend, he can usually be found teaching some element of Team Oregon, one of the Air Force Safety Center’s approved programs that conducts motorcycle licensure courses.

“My children got used to having a garage and driveway full of motorcycles for either going to training or coming back from,” said West, whose wife is an advanced motorcycle instructor.

West said there is discussion of forming a Portland ANG Base riding group once the threat of COVID-19 has passed.

“Base riders have often discussed an on-base mentoring group where we could meet after drill events or on normal days off, go ride, discuss, rinse and repeat,” West said. “There is more work to be done on the mentoring planning.  We have many talented and skilled riders on the base willing to share ideas.”

Peterson said a mentoring program will help less-experienced riders.

“It’s a peer-to-peer interaction in a hands-on environment,” Peterson said. “This allows likeminded people to share valuable experience and training and learn from each other within their sport.”

Even with the safety and training requirements, riding a motorcycle has inherent risks. For those who assume the worst about the risks of riding, West suggested looking at the bigger picture.

“Carefully consider the variables of exposure, visibility, predictability, riding skill and technique, and finally rider judgement,” West said. “Riding a motorcycle is a perishable skill set and must be done well and given serious attention. Riding can be challenging, even daunting for some.”

West also said most students are surprised to learn that very few accidents are caused by drivers, but instead due to a lack of rider awareness or proper gear. Peterson also gave advice to hesitant new riders.

“My best advice to a reluctant person who wants to try it out, but is nervous about the risks involved, is to speak with your group’s motorcycle safety representative first,” he said. “MSRs are chosen because of their skill, experience, and enthusiasm for riding.”

Safe riding can also be used as a tool to limit the stressful nature that may result from being in the military.

“Also consider that riding is an outlet, a vent if you will, for life stressors,” West said.  “I suppose that riding, in the existential sense, is an expression of identity or perhaps even freedom.  There is a very real sense of control or mastery in riding well.”

Both new and experienced military riders should remember safety requirements and training are mandated for a reason.

“Give riding the credence and seriousness that it deserves,” West said. “Training is the key, because ultimately the ride is about you. It’s your expression.”

For more information on the motorcycle safety program at Portland Air National Guard Base, contact the Safety Office at 503-335-4023.