Crash and learn
YOKOTA AIR BASE – As the last day of summer approaches, Yokota motorcyclists are still getting out to enjoy the beautiful scenery and reduced-traffic roads that can be found only minutes from base. The convenience, economical and social aspect of motorcycles encourages some to ride regularly. However, as Staff Sgt. Tyler Bishop found out, any time of year is a good time to remember the principles of safety that come with the territory.
Bishop, 374th Maintenance Group unit safety representative, has been riding since he was a teenager. Perhaps that makes what happened on one of his rides in the mountains of Okutama a more poignant reminder for riders of all levels.
One of the riders with Bishop that day was Master Sgt. Aleric Hebert, 374th Airlift Wing chaplain’s assistant and motorcycle safety representative. As Hebert described, it was beautiful weather with sunny skies and clean roads when he, Bishop and about 10 other motorcyclists were riding in mid-August. They were enjoying the camaraderie and green forested landscape about two hours into their ride when Bishop’s accident happened.
“I was coming in on a turn and was visually fixated on the center dividers, saw the wall coming up in front of me, closed my eyes and braked.” Bishop said. “Bam!”
In the video taken from Bishop’s helmet, his line of vision can be seen pointing at the center dividers before he strikes the wall. The bike then leaves him behind as he tumbles on the ground.
“When I came around the corner and saw Tyler laying in the road my heart jumped,” Hebert said. “His bike was about 50 to 65 feet from him. I ran to him and I just wanted to make sure he was okay.”
Bishop’s spine had suffered from the impact, but other than that his injuries were minimal.
“My gear absolutely saved me,” Bishop said. “My motorcycle was totaled, my jacket was destroyed, my helmet was damaged and I came out with a compression fracture.”
He had more than riding gear in his corner, though. Bishop’s fellow riders came to his aid with procedures that every Airman is taught.
“I assessed the scene and started checking him for shock and injury,” Hebert said.
Hebert found that Bishop seemed fine but he complained of a sore back, so the riders got him off the road and made him rest on an incline until the ambulance came. No one knew the significance of those precautions until later, when it was revealed that Bishop’s back was fractured. Proper handling minimized the damage and Bishop expects to recover within two or three months of the injury.
In retrospect, Bishop counted a lack of vigilance as the cause for his accident.
“The best advice I could ever give a rider is make sure you’re aware of what’s going on around you, even if you’re tired,” Bishop said.
As an experienced rider, Bishop explained that one can get tired, overconfident, or lose focus after hours of riding; that’s when accidents happen. Bishop knew he had forgotten one of the basic rules of riding after he fixed his eyes on the road dividers instead of looking through the turn, causing his bike to follow his line of sight.
From his 15 years of riding as well as his experience as a motorcycle safety representative, Hebert said that all but one of the mistakes he has witnessed has been preventable. One of the most common mistakes he sees is pride: trying to keep up with riders of higher skill levels, or to do things the bike isn’t designed to handle.
“Motorcycling itself isn’t inherently dangerous, but it is very unforgiving to stupidity, immaturity and lack of control,” Hebert said.
Hebert reminded riders to recall the basics.
“No matter how advanced you are, slow down and ride within your skill level,” Hebert said. “Also, spend money on good protective gear before you spend it on a good bike. You only have one head.”
Even though it might not seem like plastic, leather and mesh could protect much in an accident, personal protective gear is specifically designed and tested to withstand the kind of impact and abrasion sustainable in a crash. It absorbs and protects the body from impact and wears down against scraping so that the wearer doesn’t have to.
According to Hebert, gear needs to be comfortable. Less comfort means less focus. It also needs to fit properly or it might not function as designed. Hebert also suggests never sacrificing quality for economy, especially on helmets or tires. Bringing a knowledgeable advisor when buying protective gear is also important to ensure the quality of the purchase.
Lastly, Hebert explained the importance of having a plan. Ask every “what if?”
What if someone gets hurt? Make sure no one rides alone, remember first aid principles and have reliable communication to call for help. There are also free smartphone applications from the Red Cross that can assist with identifying problems and choosing treatments. What if someone falls behind? It’s good to have a road sweep at the back of the group, as Bishop and Hebert’s group did. What if it rains? What if it is colder at the route destination? What if some riders are less experienced? Whatever the plan is, always have one.
Due to proper protective gear, planning ahead and the actions of his fellow Airmen, Bishop has recovered well in the month since his accident. He plans to get back on a motorcycle in a month or two when he is well and with a renewed sense of respect of the road.