AMRTP: the way forward in motorcycle education

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. AnnMarie Annicelli
  • 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Like most motorcyclists, I thought I was a pretty good rider. I mean, I've taken the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Basic Rider Course, I've been riding for three years, and I've spent most of my time practicing good motorcycle riding techniques with a veteran rider. I can even admit that I've encountered a few incidents where I had to react intuitively, and luckily, my intuition kept me out of harm's way.

In response to motorcyclists like me, the 317th Airlift Group sent a test group of 10 Airmen to partake in a proposed Advanced Motorcycle Rider Training Program, the first of its kind in the Air Force, at Eagles Canon Raceway, Decatur, Texas, on Aug. 22.

The proposed course consisted of learning the racetrack layout, understanding the proper fit of the gear, trail braking and braking in a curve, negotiating curves, proper body position, fast braking with proper braking technique, the all important apex of a curve, as well as instructor demonstrations and track time.

However, unlike most trackday organizations where one rides around following a self-proclaimed instructor with no solid curriculum or academic foundation, this course alternated between classroom instruction and discussion, with practical application on the track.

"It's a mixture of academics in a class room setting discussing motorcycle principles and control theory mixed with practical riding drills on a racetrack in a controlled environment where you can take a motorcycle up to speed and use it the same way you would on the highway, but without any of the hazards of traffic, congestion or risks associated with being on a highway," said Capt. Van Blaylock, 40th Airlift Squadron navigator, avid rider and professional road-racer.

The Air Force currently requires all riders to take at least one of the MSF rider training courses. These all do a solid job of teaching the basics of motorcycling. However, these courses have inadequacies with regards to facilitating practical application of the motorcycling principles taught at road and highway speeds.

Additionally, the Experienced Rider's and Military Sport-Bike Courses are not mandated Air Force-wide. And, like the other MSF courses, these training programs are conducted on limited sized ranges where Airmen seldom reach speeds in excess of 25 mph. Airmen build confidence and skills in these courses, but not necessarily the skill levels needed to safely anticipate and respond to potentially life-threatening situations frequently encountered at road and highway speeds.

The goals of the proposed AMRTP are to teach and develop new skill-sets that better apply where riders spend the majority of their time, at highway speed, raising riders' skill level to match their confidence level.

Gen. Phillip M. Breedlove, Air Force vice chief of staff, declared 2011 as the Year of Motorcycle Safety, as motorcycle incidents and fatalities have increased significantly since 2010 and maintained higher trends over the past decade.

"Motorcycle fatalities are up over 150 percent since January 2011, compared to the same period last year," Breedlove said. "These losses are unacceptable for the Air Force."

In 2011, the Air Force suffered 11 motorcycle fatalities with all incidents having one common factor -- everyone lost control of their motorcycle. Supplemental factors included alcohol, improper braking techniques and poor passing and curve negotiation skills, according to the Air Force Safety Center.

"After taking the AMRTP, guys would be more aware on the street and much more in control of their levers. Those two skills alone would probably reduce fatalities by 50 percent," said Ty Howard, Typhoon Roadracing Academy owner and lead AMRTP instructor. "But also, in general, their bike skills would increase as well as their ability to control the bike."

Since motorcycle riding is a personal choice combined with the shrinking Air Force budget, non-riders may believe the Air Force should not be responsible for paying for these types of courses.

However, even a non-rider can determine it's in the Air Force's best interest to support and pay for this type of course when a cost-benefit analysis is applied.

"The Air Force spends literally millions to get an aviator trained," said Lt. Col. Keith Green, former 40th Airlift Squadron commander and chief of safety. "As an academy graduate, the cost of my education was over $500,000 and the cost of me going to pilot training for the 14 months I was there, was close to one million dollars."

"The cost of me learning to fly C-130s and building the experience I have as an instructor is an outrageous cost in dollars," Green added. "To lose me because you didn't want to spend $100 to $200 on a training course just seems like poor math."

After taking this course and riding on a roller coaster of emotions throughout the day, I can say I will never look at riding the same, and I'm not alone in my sentiment.

"This course was wonderful," said Staff Sgt. J.D. White, Jr., 39th Airlift Squadron engineer and long-time rider. "I learned the proper way to lean my bike, body position, and proper braking on a turn, techniques that could save my life in the future."

"In this one day of riding, I learned more than all other courses I have attended combined," said Staff Sgt. Chad Howell, 39th Airlift Squadron crew chief and test group participant.

Ultimately, Green and Blaylock wanted to take a group of riders of varying levels, with me being the greenest of all, and show us the holes in our current training.

"To show this is a very effective way of teaching riders how to be safer by helping them understand their machines and their equipment and its limitations and their limitations," Blaylock elaborated. "Also, I'd like to demonstrate to the Air Force that this training is a worthwhile investment because it not only makes the riding experience more enjoyable, but it also yields a more tangible benefit of improved safety and confidence for motorcycle riders."

As the originator of this new motorcycle program, Green hopes to see the training grow Air Force-wide.

"I hope to develop a program that can be implemented on a quarterly basis, at least base-wide, with the hopes that it grows Air Force-wide," Green said.

For this type of program to be implemented Air Force-wide, the Air Force will need to find adequate, reputable schools in relative proximity to bases, standardize syllabi and agree upon a purchasing price for the course. And, the course should be taken, at minimum, once a year.

Whether the course is taken once a year or quarterly, the AMRTP instructors recommend obtaining personal protective equipment early, as it could save a life when properly used. Fortunately, Pros for Vets and Ducati Oklahoma provided the gear that allowed my fellow test mates and me to participate in this first-ever Air Force training program.

So, a word to the wise, if at a minimum, a rider doesn't know what the apex of a curve is, then he or she should consider taking this type of training before getting back on a bike. Understanding the meaning of one simple word could be the difference between life and death.