Approximately one out of 100 motorcycle riders crash every year.
When it's your turn, what will you do?
No one wants to crash and hitting the pavement or something else often becomes the elephant in the room no rider cares to talk about. But not discussing the potential for a life altering crash doesn't make it any less problematic for those who ride on two wheels.
So do something about it.
You can't always plan for the driver at the next intersection who pulls out in front of you or the SUV that suddenly swerves into your lane on the freeway. But you can prepare for these circumstances and learn how to react accordingly to prevent a collision or at least walk away.
And, time behind the handlebars doesn't cut it. Carving off miles helps but just like practicing the guitar without an instructor to help get you to the next level your skills turn stagnant and you remain a hero only in your own mind.
"Research suggests that the experience you gain in your first six months of riding is about the same as you'd get from a 15-hour basic riding course," said Patrick Hahn, communications and outreach manager for Team Oregon, a non-profit program of Oregon State University and partner to the Oregon Department of Transportation that teaches rider training and safety classes.
In fact, Oregon joins just a few other states requiring mandatory rider training before a motorcyclist can get a license to ride. Team Oregon began in 1984 and now teaches more than 9,000 riders a year in 24 locations across the state.
Hahn said riders who forego training, thinking they can do it alone, have some treacherous miles ahead of them. The smart way, just like driver's education for those turning 16 and wishing to borrow the keys from their parents, includes learning to ride in the confines of a closed-off course, with low speeds involving structured exercises and well-trained instructors guiding you every step of the way.
Statistics from Team Oregon show a correlation between a drop in fatalities and the number of riders training. Two years after Team Oregon was founded Oregon recorded its deadliest year of motorcycle fatalities - almost 80 - a number that dropped below 30 in 1990 just four years later as training ramped up. Yes, fatalities have projected upwards since 2000 but so has the number of motorcyclists on the road.
"The modern roadway is a complex environment with hundreds of different users. You need to understand the collision traps waiting for you," Hahn said. "You need a good visual lead to anticipate conflict, to see into the future, and position yourself where no one can touch you."
Which helps demonstrate why motorcycle training doesn't just belong in a beginner's hands. Much of Team Oregon's curriculum revolves around the experienced rider because you only get so much experience riding by yourself.
"Most veteran riders actually scoff at the idea. They say 'I've been riding for years. What's there to learn?'" Hahn said.
Hahn, a 28 year veteran of the road who saddles up on a Honda VFR or Honda ST1100P, sympathizes with those already in the know and in many ways sees their point. They figured out how to balance, work the clutch, shift and throttle, and have not had any problems for years, he said. Once you have that mastered it's no different than driving a car, right?
Actually no, and expert riders would be the first to say riding a motorcycle is nothing like driving a car.
"Advanced training isn't for expert riders. It's how you become an expert rider," Hahn said. "If we've never taken training, or have only taken basic training, most riders' skills are basic skills. No matter how carefully we ride, no matter how many years we've ridden, eventually our number will probably come up."
Hahn, who has not had his number pop up (yet!), said people who have crashed describe the experience as a brief moment that first starts with comprehending the situation, followed by fear or surprise, then the failed attempt to avoid the accident. Afterwards, the questions flood in - It wasn't my fault, right? I rode carefully right? I didn't take chances, right?
"So we ask, when it's your turn what skills do you want on tap?" Hahn said. "This is where training comes in. Think of it like ABS, traction control, or good riding gear. Basically an insurance policy to help you get home at the end of the day."
Training builds upon a rider's experience because after logging a number of miles a rider notices things a beginner doesn't and can do things a beginner can't. Training, Hahn said, helps you connect the dots between the experienced rider you are and the expert rider you could be.
Paul Nagy, a MotoSport employee took the Experienced Rider's Course in 1995, and learned to keep the motorcycle upright and straight with the front wheel pointed straight ahead when coming to a stop. This lesson helped explain a previous incident when he dropped his bike after grabbing the front brake on a turn.
Nagy took the Advanced Rider's Course in 1998 to improve his skills at high speeds on open roads. The course put into practice proper cornering procedure, lane positioning and throttle control at higher speeds.
"I learned that I should enter a turn hugging the outer shoulder longer before turning in, which gives me more space to make the turn, and allows me to accelerate through the turn better. It also improves the line of sight," said Nagy, who also became an instructor with Team Oregon that year.
This advanced training works for the veteran rider with 20 years of experience without a crash, the backcountry dirt biker who feels they have the skills already and the stereotype tough guy who just doesn't need or want the help. All three personalities have walked through the doors of Team Oregon.
"There's a difference between a skilled rider and a skilled street rider. Street riding is more than just knowing how to work the controls and maneuver around obstacles," Hahn said. "And, asphalt is way different from dirt. You also have to know how to share traction between braking, accelerating and turning forces. It's a tricky balancing act and without training, you may never get this part right."
Like the motorcycle tune-up, riders require a tune-up from time to time, too. Skills fade just as riding gear does and riders need to be ready to perform when needed, Hahn said. Training gets your hands, feet and brain back in tune with the bike and the road.
"You don't know what you don't know. And what you don't know can kill you," he said.
The following excerpts from Team Oregon training videos highlight just a few of the situations enhanced training addresses:
When You Need to Suddenly, and Immediately, Change Your Path of Travel
Summary: To manage this situation skillfully and successfully, you need to understand the concepts of counter-steering, visual directional control, and escape route. Awareness of the danger of target fixation helps, too.
When You Enter a Curve Too Hot
Summary: To survive overcooking a corner, you need to understand the concepts of maximum braking, delayed turn in, and visual directional control. Awareness of the danger of target fixation helps here, too.
When Somebody's Coffee is More Important Than Your Safety
Summary: To get the bike stopped skillfully and successfully, you need to understand the concepts of maximum braking, weight transfer, and visual directional control.
When Your Plans Midway Through a Corner Suddenly Have to Change
Summary: To survive this, you need to understand the concepts of sharing traction, maximum braking, and visual directional control.
Riders practice and learn all of the above concepts - counter-steering, directional control, maximum braking, weight transfer, traction sharing - through Team Oregon training programs.
"If you don't know how these concepts apply to these situations, it's time to come dust off your skills," Hahn said.
Check out Team Oregon for more information on their motorcycle training courses and classes.