• Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Derek Conrad
  • , 917th Fighter Group
In March, I found myself wedged under the front bumper of a Ford pickup with my bike next to me in a thousand pieces. I am fortunate to be alive and I limped away from the experience with a renewed perspective on motorcycle safety.

While the overall trend has started to shift downward for motorcycle fatalities involving Air Force members, we have already exceeded last year's numbers with 85 days to go, the majority of which are embedded in the 101 Critical Days of Summer. So far this year, 33 percent of all off-duty ground mishap fatalities in the Air Force have been attributed to motorcycle accidents. As I read, I caught myself wondering what made me so lucky.

Safe riding wasn't always a priority for me. I bought my first street bike a month before my sixteenth birthday. My Dad rode, so it didn't take much to convince him my first ride should be a bike but he knew that youth and wisdom rarely walked hand in hand and that left unchecked, I could easily find myself in a situation where my riding skills were insufficient to cover my lack of good judgment.

I got my very first speeding ticket after tech school while home on leave. It was costly and the Justice of the Peace, who was a family friend and retired Air Force, showed no mercy. Looking back, I'm grateful he didn't. It started to open my eyes. I often took unnecessary chances and didn't practice good risk management, but I was better at it than when I started.

I sold my third bike in 1996and took a 12-year hiatus from riding, but in 2008, I got back in the saddle with the purchase of a Triumph Sprint ST. It was a great bike that handled well, and it was good for the commute to work as well as some middleweight touring.

At the ripe old age of 40 I've settled down quite a bit and have a firm grasp on risk management principles and the consequences of bad decisions. But, even though I am careful rider and fairly well read on motorcycle safety skills, I let complacency sneak into my riding habits.

The accident happened at the intersection of Knight Street and East Preston Avenue. The other driver didn't see me as he was pulling on to East Preston. I saw him look in my direction, but I never made eye contact with him. MSF training teaches you to make eye contact with drivers at intersections as you approach them. I let myself believe he would look back - it almost cost me my life.

I should have grabbed the brakes as soon as he looked away but I kept on. It was too late to do anything but brake hard when he pulled into the intersection. I remember feeling the front wheel sliding, the handlebars shaking, and then hitting the truck. I was stuck under the bumper of the truck, flat on my back, my knee was touching my chest, and I burned with pain. I grabbed the front tire and bumper pushing as hard as I could. I got out, but couldn't stand up. Passersby kept me lying down until paramedics arrived.

My protective riding gear minimized my injuries. There was a hole all the way through the palm of my left glove, but not a scratch on my hand. My reflective vest was shredded, as was the back of my jacket. The helmet took a little road rash on the back, but my bike didn't fair that well. It was a total loss.

Looking back, it's hard to believe I didn't care about the bike for an instant after the crash. It's strange how priorities shift in the blink of an eye.

Now, I observe fellow motorcyclists with a more critical eye. I look for safety gear, and I have a tendency to criticize those who don't wear it. I know it's hot. I know it takes some extra time to gear up, but let me tell you this--it's worth the hassle.

A seasoned rider will tell you, it's not a matter of if you will go down; it's a matter of when. I was one of the guys who thought it wouldn't happen to me. I was wrong.

My advice - try learning motorcycle safety lessons the easy way. I can assure you it's better than the alternative. Wear your gear, and exercise sound personal risk management. Jump at every opportunity given you to enhance riding abilities through rider training classes, even if you are a seasoned rider. They're great ways to meet other riders and take your skill set to the next level.

Many people have asked me if I will ride again. My response--heck yeah, there is a new bike on my horizon riding alongside a fresh perspective of safety. See you on the road.