Lessons learned from a minor motorcycle incident

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Evan Castillo
  • 28th Communications Squadron Knowledge Operations Manager
As riders flock to the 69th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Aug. 3 through Aug.9, it's important for Ellsworth riders to remember how even small motorcycle incidents can lead to big lessons. 

My incident, though not life altering, was still significant. It happened recently as I started a seemingly normal workday. I opened the garage door and checked the weather. 

Before I rolled out from my driveway I checked my tires, my lights, proper protective equipment and gas. It's a procedure I learned from the motorcycle safety class I took in June 2008 at the Rapid City fairgrounds. 

As I rode to work, just three miles from Ellsworth, my motorcycle suddenly lost power. I was surprised but I didn't panic. Instead, I exerted more effort into controlling my motorcycle, slowed down and got off on the left side of the highway. When I finally stopped and pulled away from the oncoming traffic, the soft and sloped ground under the motorcycle gave way and fell to the right. The motorcycle hit and bruised my left leg just between my left knee and foot. 

I immediately assessed myself for injuries, but only found I had bruised my leg and was still able to move around freely. I checked my motorcycle for damages, and was glad there was no damage. As soon as I was able to start my motorcycle, I continued driving towards Ellsworth. 

When I reached my office I immediately called the 28th Medical Group clinic appointment line for a proper medical checkup of my bruise. I also reported the incident to my supervisor and the unit safety representative. After I had more time to think about the events of that morning, I thought about the lessons I had learned from the incident. 

I eventually figured out my bike had lost power because it ran out of gas. Even though I had inspected the gas before I left, I was unable to switch to the reserve tank. I knew my bike was low on gas but it should have had enough gas to get me to the next gas station. 

One of the important lessons that I learned from this incident is that I need to know the capacity and capability of my motorcycle. A rider cannot trust the content of the gas tank by visually checking the gas, because they cannot see the other half of the gas tank. Getting a bike with a built in fuel gas gauge helps to solve this problem. Practicing switching from the normal tank to the reserve gas tank while the vehicle is moving is also a useful skill. It is a skill that could have saved me from having the incident that morning. 

The second important lesson I learned is no matter how many precautions a rider may take, things will happen. I tried my best to be in control, but again there are other factors that are beyond a rider's control. For example, I parked on uneven ground which I did not know was soft. If the ground was flat and hard, I probably wouldn't have bruised my leg (and ego). 

The third lesson I learned that is the importance of wearing proper protective equipment. After looking at my knee and my bruised leg, I was thankful I had worn my boots. Without my boots, the impact of my bike could have snapped my leg like a twig. My safety vest caused drivers to steer clear from me, and was also helpful.

Finally, I was grateful that I had taken the motorcycle safety course --because without it I would not have been so alert during my incident. In the course, I learned to be alert for all the possible road hazards one may
encounter along their ride; this includes a motorcycle suddenly losing power.

Our instructor showed the class the safety and proper riding techniques and how to avoid hazards as safely as possible. The importance of the proper riding position was also emphasized during the course. By riding properly I was not only able to control my motorcycle and able to steer away from the main road, I was able to steer clear of a potential disaster.