Thoughts on the Military Sport Bike RiderCourse

MSF military safety rider course

The airfield at the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, Calif., is an odd place to find yourself if you're a lifelong civilian. Law enforcement agencies — local, state and federal — refuel their helicopters there or practice aerial maneuvers. A large collection of military aircraft sits idle but menacing. Just being there makes you feel as if you're an outsider getting a special inside look.

I'm a bit of a fetishist for things that seem off-limits so my trip to the JTFB in May to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Military Sport Bike RiderCourse was tempered by a strong sense of being in someone else's world. The institutional feel of the classroom where we spent half the day. The grand expanse of tarmac where we rode the course. The uniformed National Guard personnel cruising around. All in all, a very unique day.

The main draw was the MSF's sportbike training class designed for military personnel. The program was developed upon request by the Army, Marines and Navy, and has gained a higher profile as of late given the high number of military riders killed while riding sportbikes.

It's believed that many of these riders are inherently risk takers attracted to high-performance bikes, which, when combined with no formal training or even proper licensing, is a lethal mix.

Thus, the Military Sport Bike RiderCourse.

Very soon into the classroom portion, I realized that a major focus was getting riders to assess their own risk level vs. their own skill level to determine their risk offset. A healthy risk offset balanced the two and fell at average or lower.

In our classroom the ages ranged from 27 to 58, and we all pretty much fell within the average risk offset for many of the same reasons (wife, kids, family). A risk offset any higher, and you're riding into your safety margin. Probably not the best place to be.

In fact, keeping a healthy balance between skill and risk is a major focus of all MSF training. The idea is to stay within one's own personal limits, motorcycle and road surface limits and space limits.

This got me to thinking. How many dealers take the time to ask if their customers are ready to ride the bikes they're buying or already riding?

Most branches of the military want their personnel to consider these question as they require them to take the MSF courses, including the Navy and Marines, which also require the sportbike course. The difference is that these organizations can force its people to comply, while for the rest of us it's optional.

Apparently, the MSF has also been thinking a lot about this. Recently it launched an addition to its Quick Tips information series called Should You Ride a Motorcycle? The guide is an attempt to help potential riders gauge their physical skills and capabilities, and consider their judgment and risk management attitudes. For some people, perhaps the best way to be safe on two wheels is to remain a passenger, the MSF suggests.

Motorcycles are inherently risky, even without all the variables common on the open road. Riding them might not be for everyone, even those who are already out there riding.

Maybe this is a good jumping-off point for a sales employee working with a potential customer of anything from a scooter to a literbike. Do you send them out safely or just send them out?

Dennis Johnson