Twelve two-wheeled speed machines sat parked in the empty lot next to Clark Hall. The promise of spring floated in the air as 12 Soldiers approached with anticipation.
Fort Drum’s Command Safety Office offered its first Basic Rider Course on April 30 to May 3, marking the beginning of motorcycle riding season in the North Country.
While the morning was cool and drizzly, the students were anxious to hop on and get acquainted with the motorcycles. A variety of motorcycles – dual-sport, sport bikes, standard and cruisers – were available to fit the students’ interests.
The open road, independence and freedom are some of the things avid riders like Jim Farney and Tom Wood say they enjoy most about motorcycles. Farney and Wood teach all of the Motorcycle Safety Program courses to Soldiers of all skill levels at Fort Drum.
MSP classes are required for all active-duty Soldiers who wish to ride motorcycles on or off the installation, Farney explained. One year after completing the Basic Rider Course and once every three years, riders must take the Experienced Rider Course or the Military Sport Bike Rider Course – depending on the type of motorcycle they have. Both of the advanced courses take one day to complete.
Even though the courses are required per Army Regulation 385-10, they also play a role in reducing traffic accidents and fatalities, Farney said.
“The Army has been averaging just under 150 privately owned vehicle fatalities per year, of which approximately 1/3 are motorcycle-related,” he said. “Army motorcycles likely represent less than 5 percent of Soldier-owned vehicles.”
“The most important part of traffic safety, and particularly motorcycle safety, are the tools that individuals use to enhance their abilities and reduce their risk,” Farney continued. “Training is one of the primary tools to reach the goal of safety; (however), riders must attend to their equipment – keeping their motorcycle and safety gear in top condition.”
During their first Basic Rider Course of the year, instructors introduced two dozen men and women to the world of motorcycles during the classroom portion. The class split into two groups of 12 to complete the next two days of hands-on training.
While a handful of students had experience riding motorcycles, the majority were new riders. However, regardless of their skill level on the first day, students are guaranteed to learn something, Farney said.
“(The course) covers the basic fundamentals to develop the capabilities to become a safe and responsible motor-
cyclist,” Farney said. “It provides the opportunity to learn the physical and mental skills important for operating a motorcycle.”
During classroom instruction, students learn ways to minimize risk and handle different situations they may encounter on the road. Riders also learn what required personal protective equipment they must wear, which includes:
wLong-sleeved shirt or jacket with a minimum of 40 inches of reflective material
wSturdy, over-the-ankle shoes or boots
wFull-fingered protective gloves
wDepartment of Transportation-approved helmet that fastens under the chin
wHelmet face shield or wraparound eye protection
During the hands-on training, Farney and Wood coach their students to help develop the basic control skills required to ride, which include clutch / throttle control, straight-line riding, stopping, turning and shifting. Later, students learn more advanced skills, like stopping quickly, cornering and swerving.
As the course progressed, students’ nervousness and tension on the motorcycles began to subside as looks of hard concentration were replaced with wide-eyed grins.
“Our job is fun; we get paid to do what we love,” Wood said, adding that he has 47 years of riding experience.
Pfc. Stephen Goodson, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, was one of the many students with no motorcycle experience. A lot of the maneuvers he learned during the hands-on portion of the course came naturally, but he found everything he learned to be valuable knowledge.
Another student new to the two-wheeled machines was Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Oldroyd, Fort Drum garrison senior enlisted adviser.
“We learned a lot of skills in a short amount of time,” he said. “I’m very impressed.”
Oldroyd said he has wanted to get into the course for a long time, but he was never able to fit it in his schedule. He added that he sees a motorcycle purchase in the near future.
“I’ve been hooked (on buying a motorcycle),” Oldroyd said. “It’s a blast. I had a ‘eureka’ moment out there today where everything just clicked.”
Spc. Terence Blanks, 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, was one of the veteran riders in the class.
“This is good training. I’m learning a lot,” he said, adding that he has 10 years of riding experience.
Blanks added that his experience also helped some of his classmates as they began learning the basics of riding.
“I just went in with a beginner’s attitude,” he said. “If you haven’t ridden in a while, it’s a good class to take before you jump back on a motorcycle.”
It’s not the type of motorcycle or expensive gear that makes a safe rider. The most important part of motorcycle safety, Farney said, is rider mindset and behavior.
“All of the training and top-quality equipment does not make up for poor decisions,” he said. “Choosing to challenge the road and other riders is what leads to the accidents and fatalities. Choose to ride within your skill level regardless of motorcycle type and environment, while always remembering to never drink and drive.”
Fort Drum is also one of the only installations that provides motorcycle licensing in addition to the course certification, Wood said.
“It’s much less legwork for the Soldiers,” he explained.
The Safety Office also offers the Experienced Rider Course and Military Sport Bike Rider Course. Course dates are available through September. Soldiers can go to https://apps.imcom.army.mil/AIRS/default.aspx
to register for upcoming classes.