NEWS | May 24, 2016

Game of Cones: My weekend becoming a better motorcycle rider

By Brig. Gen. Don Laucirica Colorado National Guard

By Brig. Gen. Don Laucirica, Assistant Adjutant General for Army and Commanding General, Colorado Army National Guard

Earlier this month, I spent two days knocking down cones, a game of sorts, learning to ride my motorcycle better in traffic.

Considering the trail of orange cones I knocked down, even after 30 plus years and six different motorcycles, I had plenty to learn.

Six students, including five Colorado National Guard motorcycle riders, completed the "Civilian Top Gun Rider Training" provided by T3RG Motorcycle School of Aurora, Colo.

Motorcycle accidents continue to be a leading cause of Soldier fatalities and injury. Last fall two Colorado Army National Guard Soldiers were injured in motorcycle accidents. Both Soldiers were wearing helmets. Both survived.

The Army requires that, in addition to the civilian licensing requirements, you take mandatory training, the Basic Rider Course (BRC2) and continue with sustainment training, like the Top Gun course, every five years.

If a bashed-in helmet isn't reason enough then note the statistics. Data gathered by the National Motorcycle Institute shows that riding a motorbike is 27 times more dangerous than driving your car.

The combination of training, experience, and equipment are your best steps to mitigate your risk.

Most military installations require that you provide proof of your motorcycle training, in addition to your insurance and licensing information. You can also find yourself in trouble if you are stopped or injured in a motorcycle accident and you are not wearing your motorcycle personal protective equipment consisting of gloves, solid footwear, long sleeved shirt or jacket, trousers, protective eyewear and a helmet.

If you have a passenger, they must also wear the proper PPE.

Motorcycle Mentorship and Fun

Colorado Army National Guard 89th Troop Command Assistant Operations and Training Officer, Army Maj. Chris Stutz, organized the weekend course as sustainment training and as part of the Army's Motorcycle Mentorship Program.

The Army established the MMP as a "voluntary installation-level" motorcycle program where less experienced riders and seasoned riders can create a supportive environment of responsible motorcycle riding and enjoyment."

The Army will pay for your motorcycle course.

Last fall, Stutz suggested I take the Top Gun course. I replied somewhat indignantly, that I'd been riding for over 30 years with no tickets or accidents.

The basic training I took in 2010 was sufficient, if somewhat boring.

Stutz reminded me that sustainment training was required, and the Top Gun course was specifically designed as a sustainment course targeting riders of the bigger bikes like my Goldwing.

"And finally, Sir, it would be a great example if a general took the course," Stutz said.

He had me – and at 8 a.m. sharp on Saturday, May 21, I arrived ready to unlearn any bad habits that I might have picked up over the years.

The Cones Game

During the next two days, our instructor, Dave, put us through a number of exercises; riding courses set in various configurations using orange constructions cones.

As a former motorcycle cop of 20 plus years, Dave demonstrated each maneuver with ease.

I knew I was in trouble. Sgt. Whitney Waldron, the youngest on a BMW, powered right through most of the course on the first or second try.

Chief Warrant Officer-4 Dave Vasquez and Lt. Col. Eric Games performed admirably on their Harleys, and Stutz on his Valkyrie received style points in addition to not embarrassing himself on the course.

But I was the worst, killing cone after cone, but, after extensive remedial training I got the hang of it.

Like most, I can drive at highway speed, keeping clear of drivers not paying attention, but learning to balance and turn my Goldwing through the myriad of circles and figure eights was another thing entirely.

While fun, it was no game. As fewer cones were crushed or knocked down, our motorcycle skills improved. 

Many a cone gave their all so the general might drive better. I expect every cone I demolished was one less car or person I won't hit in the future.

After two days, I can speak for our group that the motorcycle sustainment training was as fun as it was challenging and useful.

The fact that the Army paid for it makes it a no-brainer for all our motorcycle riders - no matter what your skill level and experience.

Get with your fellow bikers. Get with your unit and safety leaders. Set up your motorcycle training today.

Whether it's basic or sustainment training, you will be a better driver for it.

Take advantage of training, be a mentor and have fun, and be safe!

I hope to see you on the road enjoying the motorcycle experience.