Sreet Savvy - MSF Military Sportbike Rider Course - Rules Of Engagement

Preparing for combat at the MSF Military Sportbike Rider Course

By Teri Gorrell, Photography by Andrea Wilson

Train harder than you ever thought possible and you'll be prepared to meet the challenges of present and future battles. That is what a Marine Corps recruiter will tell you. Soldiers don't always fight a known enemy these days. But any Friday afternoon in commuter traffic is a battle, and you'd better be ready to engage.

The Marine Corps has a considerably higher percentage of motorcycle riders in its ranks than the general population. With approximately 5000 of them stationed at Southern California's Camp Pendleton alone, you can imagine the potential for trouble. Between October 2007 and September 2008, 24 Marines died in combat while 36 died in motorcycle accidents. And 80 percent of those motorcycles were sportbikes. The Corps takes such numbers very seriously.

For starters, anyone riding on a military installation must take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) Basic Rider Course. And since October '08, the MSF has also offered the more advanced Sportbike Rider Course. Though it remains undetermined as to why the percentage of sportbike incidents is so high, speculation attributes it to Marine Corps demographics and the accessibility of high-performance sportbikes. Either way, the need for sportbike-specific training was clear.

I had last attended the Basic Rider Course in September '01, as a Sergeant stationed at Camp Pendleton. Barraged by out-of-date videos, we performed various drills for a few hours on a mix of full-dress Harleys, scooters and sportbikes. Instructors didn't have the time or knowledge to address specific bikes or riding styles.

I recently had the opportunity to attend Camp Pendleton's version of the Sportbike Rider Course, and was pleasantly surprised by the professionalism of the staff and the focused curriculum. This sportbike-specific instruction allows four hours on the bike executing specific techniques, plus three hours in the classroom, which may be more important.

The initial assignment was to rate our riding ability from one to 10. I gave myself a six, which considering the likes of Mat Mladin on this planet might have been a bit high. But there were sevens and eights around the room, some with less than four years behind the bars. Marines ooze confidence. We touched on the importance of image, and how police officers love to see full leathers and knees out on highway off-ramps. Instructors shared hard data on stopping distances versus speed, and whether lane-splitting in California is necessary or a hospital stay waiting to happen. Our classroom time ended with some bike-maintenance information and a tech inspection.

The afternoon range session started with braking drills-a great way to find out if you're in tune with your bike or not. One 20-minute exercise proved I could brake a lot harder in much less distance that I'd ever imagined. The day progressed with everything you would expect from a motorcycle course. Perhaps the most valuable part of the experience is it allows you to push the limits of your bike in a controlled environment with a trained professional at your side.

As sad as it is to hear about military personnel losing their lives to a roadside bomb or rocket-propelled grenade, it's even sadder when they make it home only to die in a motorcycle accident because they weren't properly trained. A combat first-aid course and weapons-handling drills save lives on the battlefield. The Sportbike Rider Course is the first step toward saving lives on the street.

By Teri Gorrell
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