AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Airmen and civilians who have motorcycles registered on base had a day of “mandatory fun” on Monday, taking part in a series of briefings, inspections and competitions.

About 100 motorcyclists turned out for Aviano’s first Motorcycle Rodeo. Among those attending was Julie Franklin, wife of the 31st Fighter Wing commander. She’s a Harley-Davidson owner.

Brig. Gen. Craig Franklin, who doesn’t ride motorcycles, said the base is required to routinely hold briefings for riders. But this year, “we decided to turn it into a rodeo.”

Staff Sgt. Daniel Fleig, the wing’s motorcycle program coordinator, said no one is excited about attending a four-hour briefing.

“It’s boring,” he said. “People don’t have fun. People don’t pay attention. People don’t learn anything at it.”

This year’s event — sponsored, in part, by the local Green Knights motorcycle club — started with a condensed briefing in the base movie theater. All the motorcycles parked outside were then inspected and judged for best looking.

Motorcyclists also competed in a slow race to see who could cross the finish line last. Airman 1st Class Michael Kindred used his skills from dirt-biking days to stand up on his bike and ease to the finish line during the slow-ride competition.

The riders then worked their way through obstacle courses and had lunch before separating into two groups for rides into the mountains or to the beach to finish the day.

Franklin said one of the goals of the event was to introduce fellow bikers to each other. Not only is there safety in numbers for motorcyclists, but less-experienced riders can learn from those with more time on their bikes.

Kindred and Fleig — who also rides a motorcycle — said that Italy presents challenges different from those in stateside riding. Roads composed of different materials are sometimes slicker and tend to feature unexpected twists and curves. Mountain roads around Aviano can be tough on inexperienced riders, Fleig said.

But both said that, in one way, riding a motorcycle in Italy is better than riding in the States: Italian car drivers generally notice motorcyclists on the road more than Americans do.

Fleig said the base gets about 100 new motorcycle riders each year and puts them all through a series of briefings and tests to make sure they know what they’re doing.

“It’s not a way to keep them off their bikes,” he said. “It’s to identify people who might have a problem and help them.”

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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