By Capt. Marvin J. Baker

First Army Division West public affairs

The end of summer is around the corner, but that will not mark the end of motorcycle season for more than 200 riders in First Army Division West.

The extended warm weather season in Central Texas keeps riders on the road through October, and Division West helps ensure its riders have the proper training and experience to safely enjoy their motorcycle-riding hobby.

Twenty-five of those riders participated in an Aug. 10 safety mentorship ride that left the division headquarters and headed north for 160 miles through the Central Texas Hill Country.

The ride was important to help riders learn to safely operate their bikes in groups and to learn from each other, said Lt. Col. James Stitt, the division's senior motorcycle mentor.

Sgt. 1st Class Keith Laird, a trainer with the 120th Infantry Brigade's 2nd Battalion, 395th Regiment joined the ride on his dual sport bike. Laird, a Michigan native, said he enjoys riding the hundreds of miles of off-road bike trails in his home state. This is his third ride with the Army, and he said he has enjoyed riding his bike this year.

"I have put more than 9,000 miles on my bike in two years," Laird said. "I have the best of both worlds with my bike. I can go off-road and take this bike on the street."

The division safety mentorship rides help remind riders of the rules of the road, Laird added.

According to the Army Safety website, riders of sport bikes are more likely than riders of other bikes to have accidents and fatalities on their bikes. In fiscal year 2008, the Army reported a 34 percent increase in fatal motorcycle accidents, with nearly 70 percent of those fatalities involving sport bikes.

Capt. Delsina West, a medical planner with Division West, bought her first sport bike earlier this summer. Although this is her first bike, she said she is prepared to learn more about her new hobby.

"I only have about 400 miles on my bike," West said. "When you get on a bike, you are accepting a certain amount of risk. These rides help reduce that risk. I want to do everything I can to reduce risks because that will increase my longevity and ability to ride my bike."

Safety and rules are important to minimize risks for soldiers, but the rides are not all rules and regulations. The soldiers get to have a lot of fun too, West said.

"I don't ride regularly with a group, but when I do, it's nice to socialize and meet new riders with your same interests," she said.

"Riding with a group builds camaraderie for us," Laird agreed. For anyone considering taking up the hobby, he recommended that they complete Fort Hood's basic rider course. The course provides instruction for beginning riders and a safe bike on which to learn.

The next Division West motorcycle safety mentorship ride is scheduled for mid-September.

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