COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. – When people think of stupid and reckless decisions, buying a motorcycle is usually on the top of their list. However, while knowing this, I personally canceled a plane ticket and bought a motorcycle in North Carolina and drove it to Columbus AFB; to say the least, my leadership was a little unsure about my decision.
At the time, I thought I would just wear a t-shirt and some jeans and be just fine, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I quickly learned as an Air Force member you must first take a required Motorcycle Safety Foundation beginner course, and you have to have the proper personal protective equipment.
The difficult part about the safety course on base is that you have to use your own motorcycle, as opposed to some places off-base that will provide a bike for you. You can take a MSF approved beginner rider’s course off-base that will count the same as your course on-base; I took mine at a Harley Davidson dealership. The courses that are MSF approved usually take around four days and include both classroom and actual riding portions. The best way to get all the needed information is to talk to your command and contact your wing safety office.
The required PPE includes long pants, long-sleeve shirt or jacket, over-the-ankle shoes, gloves, reflective vest and a Department of Transportation approved helmet. Never buy a used helmet under any circumstances. Modern DOT helmets are specifically made to protect you in just one collision and are not safe after a crash. You could be buying what looks like a new helmet and risk further injuring yourself. You may also find full-face helmets with tinted glass which is great for blocking the sun during the day, but makes it very difficult to see at night. If you wear a backpack over your reflective vest, you also need to cover the backpack with more reflective material; it’s easiest to just use another vest.
There are safety concerns with your motorcycle as well. When you buy a motorcycle, especially if it is used, it’s worth the time and money to make sure your headlights are aligned properly. If they are pointed at the ground when you’re driving at night you might not be able to see how far it will take you to stop in an emergency. This is a big problem around Columbus AFB with the high population of deer. Aside from adjusting your headlights to prevent from hitting deer you can also purchase deer whistles, small devices that help alert deer to your presence, for around five dollars, they are cheap and easy to install. To help other cars see you while night driving you can purchase modular lights to mount on your bike, they constantly flash to help people notice you.
When buying PPE it is worth investing in good, and more importantly, safe gear such as a full-face helmet and a jacket that is made for falling. Leather is the most protective material when falling on pavement but is the most expensive and very hot in the summer. However, fashion leather like you would find in the mall is not for motorcycle riding and will shred on pavement. When you buy gear make sure that it is specifically made for motorcycle riding. There are also pants that are made for riding and will protect you much better than jeans if you happen to fall. It’s better to buy the gear now, rather than learn you need it after you’re covered in road rash. A full-face helmet is also useful in Columbus due to the oversized population of bugs. Hitting a dragonfly at 55 miles per hour hurts. It may not seem like a big deal, but at the speed those little guys pack a punch.
One of the most annoying parts of driving a motorcycle is simply how long it takes you to get ready to ride. Putting all the gear on before you can go anywhere takes longer than you would expect. Most people start to get lazy and just throw on some tennis shoes and a t-shirt to ride. I strongly advise against this. No matter how long you have been riding people make mistakes. It may not necessarily be your fault, but you will be the one physically paying the consequences.
You can have all the safety gear in the world but you are obviously more exposed to injury than you will ever be in a car. Riding isn’t just like driving. You always need to be thinking, planning and paying attention to what is happening around you. That is why taking all of the proper safety courses is not just recommended but required. Learning to be a safe defensive driver is not something you want to just learn as you go. Get the proper training and invest in the proper gear. Riding can be safe and fun if you take the proper safety precautions.