Motorcycle course blends knowledge, rider attitude

by Sgt. Anna-Marie Ward
JFHQ-WV Public Affairs Office

WILLIAMSTOWN, W.Va. (May 8, 2013) -- Spring is in the air! The weather is getting hotter, days are getting longer and the birds and frogs are singing louder. Another sound permeating the local air is that of motorcycle engines roaring down our highways. Seasoned bikers shake off the winter dust and new enthusiasts start shopping for their first ride.

If those riders wear a uniform, one thing they must take into account is whether or not they have had the Basic Rider Course. This course is a requirement for military motorcyclists.

“If they wear that military uniform, they have to take the course,” said Sgt. Chris Zack, West Virginia National Guard safety office noncommissioned officer. “This gives them the basic fundamentals on how to ride a motorcycle.”

The West Virginia National Guard has offered this course to its Soldiers and Airmen free of charge since 2005.

“We received funding from [National Guard Bureau] to start a program,” said Lt. Col. Craig Lambert, a Rider Coach instructor with the W.Va. National Guard. “Prior to 2005, a service member would have to pay their own way through a BRC.”

With the funding and development of a National Guard-based motorcycle program, military riders are now able to take the course without worrying about how to pay for the program.

Another bonus to the course was the implementation of military rider coaches.

“We made the decision early that we wanted Soldiers training Soldiers,” Lambert said. And the course has proven valuable.

“If you look at the statistics, there has been a 57 to 59 percent reduction in motorcycle fatalities in the past year Army wide,” Zack said.

The West Virginia National Guard’s Motorcycle Safety Course has taken many leaps since that first year. Other states have sent service members to this course for basic rider training. Other National Guard states have also sent their riders to West Virginia for training as Rider Coaches. This has allowed those states to start their own BRC programs.

“To date, our Motorcycle Safety Program has trained more than 120 rider coaches from more than 30 different states,” said Col. Don Lockard, Rider Coach Trainer, W.Va. National Guard. “We have also taught Basic to Advanced Training courses to more than 1,000 personnel … active duty and reserve from all military branches.”

In addition to students coming to the state, West Virginia’s coaches have travelled to Active Duty bases such as Fort Rucker and Dobbins Air Force Base to train those service members on motorcycle safety techniques.

Another bonus to the program came last year with the addition of training motorcycles.

“Up until last year, we did not have motorcycles to train with,” Zack said. “Now people no longer have to bring their own bikes.”

He added that this also allows people who are on the fence about riding to train and get their feet wet before making the financial investment into their own bike.

“I started because my daughter wanted to take the course, but didn’t want to take it alone,” said Staff Sgt. Raymona Grant, Joint Forces Headquarters - WVNG, who joked that she had never even been on a riding lawnmower. “They took me from ground zero to confident … I wouldn’t mind getting a bike now.”

The National Guard program also gets a boost from its partnership with the State’s Motorcycle Safety Program. This partnership allows geographically dispersed Soldiers and Airmen -- those who cannot make it to one of the ranges offered by the Guard -- to sit in on a State course at no cost. In addition, civilians who are unable to attend a State course can use a vacant seat in the WVNG class.

As the program enters its eighth year, focus is high on the coaches and the dynamic of how this course has evolved. National attention from National Guard Bureau and the National Motorcycle Safety Foundation can be attributed to the program’s continual effort to achieve the highest standards of training.

“The state of West Virginia has two of the three Rider Coach Trainers Guard-wide,” Zack noted. “Our course is so successful because we have Generals, Colonels, Command Sergeants Major … who endorse it. We have a love of this sport … we take it seriously.”

The level of expertise of West Virginia’s coaches has allowed the program to grow exponentially. The state now boasts 12 ranges and can conduct the Basic Rider Course (I and II), Advanced Rider Course, Experienced Rider Course, Returning Rider Basic Rider Course, Military Sportbike Rider Course and Introduction to Motorcycle Experience. In addition, West Virginia also has a Smartrainer -- a fully-enclosed motorcycle training system -- at their disposal.

All of this drive and command-level backing has helped garner the latest endeavor of the WVNG MSP. Leaders of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation have been working with WVNG instructors to revamp the current MSF BRC curriculum.

“We are working on the BRC Generation II update,” Zack said. “We’re pilot testing the new program … when this goes live, it will take the place of the current course we run now.”

The course conducted in Williamstown in May marks the third round of pilot testing for the new curriculum. West Virginia is one of very few select sites chosen by the MSF to test the new BRC.

“We’re extremely grateful for the West Virginia National Guard allowing us to test out the new course,” said Dr. Sherry Williams, director of quality and research for the MSF. “It has been very invaluable to try out the new systems. “

The majority of these new changes take place in the classroom. Williams noted that there are a lot more discussions about rider attitude and safety, as opposed to a repetitive slide show of “dos and don’ts.”

“It has always been our belief that rider judgment and attitude is paramount in keeping a rider safe,” she said. “We try to let riders give themselves a great deal of feedback on the bikes.”

Riders are given more time on the bike, more exercises on cornering and potential hazards to allow them to take safety into their own hands. Williams added that the working relationship between WV coaches and the MSF has been a wonderful asset.

“The willingness of the leadership and the trainers to allow us to work with them has been great,” she said. “It is all about learning what is working and what is not.”

Course instructors are hoping that the recent growth and national attention on the program will help situate West Virginia for additional Motorcycle Safety accolades.

“[These achievements] are helping our program to achieve the next step …” Lambert said, “to elevate the West Virginia National Guard to a Motorcycle Center of Excellence.”

It would seem that students also look forward to the future of the program.

“It’s beneficial to everybody,” said Capt. Donnie Carpenter, force protection branch chief, JFHQ-WV. “Anybody who has a motorcycle or if you’re even considering purchasing a motorcycle ... you need this course.”