So....you want to ride a motorcyle?

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- It's that time of year where we are seeing an influx of motorcycle riders out on the road. Warm weather brings with it more motorcyclists; some experienced and some not so much. With rising gas prices, a motorcycle looks like an even more promising alternative to a car or truck. So if you are looking around at all of the riders out on the road and thinking you might like to join their ranks for the first time, there's probably a few questions you need to ask yourself about whether or not you are a good candidate to be a motorcycle rider.

Let's face it...some of us are not cut out to be a rider. I include myself in that group. Case in point: two years ago I bought a used scooter. After a month of off- and on- practicing around my neighborhood, my husband thought that surely I was ready to venture out further. So we headed out onto the back roads. We did not get far from the house when I lost both confidence in myself and control of my scooter and headed toward one of the mile markers...on the wrong side of the road. I hit the post scooter first, face next, then flipped off of the scooter. Luckily my full face helmet took the brunt of the force, leaving only a cut and swollen lip as visible evidence of my ineptitude. I made off pretty easily with only minor injuries. However, I now know the hard way that I will never be a motorcycle rider, as I am too clumsy and cannot multitask well.

So, what about you? Here are some questions to consider.

First off, can you ride a bicycle and can you ride one safely? I know that most of us can ride a bicycle, but if you don't have the balance and coordination to ride one at all, or you can ride, but have had a lot of bicycle accidents, the same will probably apply to riding a motorcycle.

Getting into a lot of accidents leads me to the next question, are you clumsy? If you can't seem to do simple tasks without getting hurt, perhaps you should just enjoy being a passenger instead of a rider.

Are you a thrill seeker/risk taker? If you like to speed in a car or get road rage easily, riding may not be for you. These behaviors make you even more likely to get into an accident. Although risk takers tend to think that accidents only happen to others, the facts are that aggressive driving/riding raises your chance of getting into an accident. If you like the thrill of going fast, keep it confined to a controlled motorcycle track, not for normal roads where you put other motorists in danger.

Can you drive a manual transmission vehicle? Almost all motorcycles have manual transmissions. If you cannot master a stick shift vehicle, mastering a motorcycle will probably be just as frustrating and difficult. However, scooters usually have automatic transmissions, so if a manual transmission is not an option for you, there is still an alternative. Starting on a scooter is a good idea anyway if it has a small engine size; it will give you an idea of whether or not you can handle a more powerful motorcycle.

Are you good with tools? You need to be able to check your motorcycle periodically and make minor adjustments according to your motorcycle owner's manual. Leave the big repairs to a mechanic, but there are many things you can do on your own to keep your motorcycle in top running condition. If you are not good with tools, then be prepared to pay to have your motorcycle checked more often by a mechanic to keep it running safely.

Are you willing to wear the required safety gear every time you ride? Military members are required to wear a helmet, eye protection if your helmet does not already incorporate it, sturdy over the ankle footwear, full fingered gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and highly visible gear on the torso which translates to bright colors in the daylight and reflective gear during reduced visibility. No matter if local laws require less protection, this is the minimum that service members must wear whenever they ride. Add a motorcycle jacket and chaps (if you really want to be better protected against the possibility of road rash) and your gear can start to feel heavy and constrictive. Are you willing to wear this all the time, even when it is hot outside?

Can you afford both a vehicle and a motorcycle? A motorcycle is not the safest or most comfortable mode of transportation when the weather starts to get cold and snow and ice enter the equation, so you will want to also have a nice toasty enclosed vehicle for those times. Also, can you afford insurance on both and the upkeep in order to keep you safe on the road?

Can you focus and can you respond quickly and calmly in an emergency? Drivers of vehicles involved in a crash with a motorcyclist often claim that they just didn't see the motorcycle. This leaves the burden on you as a rider to be even more vigilant and aware of potential dangers on the road, including vehicles that might drift into your lane because the driver doesn't know you are there. Also, items in the road such as metal drains, bumps, small potholes, etc. don't pose much danger to a vehicle, but may require quick evasive or defensive action on the part of a rider.

So after your self-assessment, did you make the cut and do you still want a motorcycle? If so, visit your squadron's Motorcycle Safety Representative to find out more and get signed up for a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) rider's course. You will be provided both a motorcycle and a helmet for the course, so this will be your last chance to see if you really have what it takes to be a rider before buying a motorcycle. Good luck and safe travels!