Airmen hit the road on two wheels

USAF Photo: Airman 1st Class Erik Cardenas Goggles, wraparound glasses or a full face shield that is properly attached to the helmet must be worn on a motorcycle. All must meet or exceed American National Standards Institute standards for impact and shatter resistance.

By Airman 1st Class Erik Cardenas, 27th SOW Public Affairs

With gas prices at record highs, some airmen may consider adopting two-wheeled transportation in the form of a motorcycle to travel around New Mexico.

“Bad idea,” said Master Sgt. Daniel Eilenstine, “There are a lot of great reasons to ride, but saving money is not one of them. It’s just a side benefit.”

Eilenstine is the 27th Special Operations Wing Law Office Superintendent and has been riding motorcycles for more than 20 years. He currently rides a Harley Electra Glide Classic and said that his wife’s small car gets just about the same mileage as his bike. A love of the open road, camaraderie with a motorcycle community, or a sense of freedom are some of the reasons why dedicated motorcyclists ride.

There are about 100 Cannon Airmen and civilian motorcycle riders on base according to Richard Peterson, 27th SOW ground safety officer. He said that during fiscal year 2007, which ended in October, there were three reportable Class C mishaps here that resulted in 32 days of hospitalization, 45 lost duty days while on quarters at a cost to the Air Force of $3,787.

In comparison, Peterson said that during fiscal year 2006, while there were also three Class C mishaps, only eight days were spent in the hospital with an additional six days convalescing at a cost of $2,978.

Class C mishaps, he explained, are accidents that result in one or more lost duty days.

Throughout the Air Force 18 Airmen died in 2007 because of motorcycle accidents. Eight more have died so far this fiscal year.

One requirement to ride is successful completion of a motorcycle safety course. This three-day program includes classroom instruction and actual riding. Master Sgt. Brian Sapp, 27th Special Operations Mission Support Squadron, said the basic course is good because it breaks down the operation of a motorcycle, from how the clutch and acceleration work together, to braking and maneuvering as well as safety.

Veteran riders at Cannon are the backbone for the mentorship program required by Air Force Instruction 91-207, the Air Force Traffic Safety Program. This AFI acknowledges that motorcyclists have a special bond and uses that bond so neophyte riders can learn from experienced motorcyclists.

As a mentor, Eilenstine does more than give the required commander’s briefing. He spends time with Airmen discussing how different motorcycles handle. He offers to go with them when they purchase their motorcycle or riding equipment and will go out with new riders to help familiarize them with the terrain.

Another longtime rider is Dennis Chalker, who works at 27th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron. He maintains the wing roster of riders and works with Peterson by forwarding all safety-related issues to base riders.

Chalker said that many new riders are not clear on exactly the correct type of personal protective equipment, or PPE, that must be worn. AFI 91-207 provides the standards riders must meet, and reading it should be the first step for a novice rider. It includes the proper head protection a rider needs, as well as the types of clothing, gloves and footgear that must be worn. The motorcycle guidelines exist in the AFI because riding is inherently more dangerous than traveling in a car. In 2007 the AFI was changed in to ensure that Airmen who ride avoid complacency and stay refreshed on basic skills and safety measures.

Summing up the riding experience Sapp advised new riders that, “if you want to enjoy the motorcycle lifestyle, approach it with the dedication you would if it were a sport or hobby.” He also suggested that riders take the experienced rider course once they’ve spent time on the road because “there is a lot more to [riding].”

By listening to the advice of those who “rode there and did that,” and adhering to rules of the road and Air Force instructions, new riders can enjoy all that New Mexico’s Llano Estacado has to offer, and live to ride another day.