More soldiers in Europe riding motorcycles to save on gas
Stars and Stripes May 17, 2008
GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — A spike in gas prices has led to a hike in young soldiers riding motorcycles in Europe, say Army officials who want to boost motorcycle safety programs.
"Riders have increased rapidly lately," U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwöhr safety specialist Bob McGaffin said Tuesday at Camp Kasserine.
Throughout Europe, the number of motorcycles registered by U.S. Army Europe has remained relatively steady in the past three years despite a drop in the number of soldiers in Germany. In 2006, 3,184 motorcycles were registered.
Today, there are 3,125 motorcycles registered, even though there are some 15,000 fewer soldiers.
McGaffin said he believes the higher gas prices are a factor in the increase in military motorcyclists.
"A motorcycle gets 45 miles to the gallon. It is better than twice the economy of a typical vehicle that a soldier would own," he said, adding that he expects 300 to 500 motorcyclists within the garrison by year’s end when 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment troops return here from deployment.
The biggest problem for safety officials is identifying inexperienced riders, he said on Tuesday, when some 40 riders showed up for a motorcycle safety course.
"A soldier might buy a motorcycle at AAFES while they are deployed, do a two-day instruction course on block leave, then come back to Germany and start riding," he said.
In contrast, German motorcyclists must complete 39 hours of instruction including day and night rides, autobahn training and rural and urban rides, McGaffin said.
The most popular motorcycles among soldiers are Harley Davidsons, which are sold by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service with up to $2,500 discounts.
Exchange New Car Sales Grafenwöhr salesman Pete Thorneywork said Wednesday that sales of Harleys are up 200 percent in the last few months.
AAFES purchase prices include free stateside instruction courses for people buying their first motorcycle, he said.
"Soldiers like the Harley. There’s the mystique and the brand, and they can purchase them at a really good price through AAFES," said McGaffin, who has been riding for 35 years.
But he warned that a large, powerful motorcycle can be dangerous in the hands of an inexperienced rider.
"Every motorcycle is a little different, and the rider has to know the limitations of his bike," he said. "A 900-pound Harley will perform differently than a 450-pound Honda. If you are staying on nice easy roads the Harley is great. In the alps on roads with tight turns the Harleys are lacking because there is no clearance and they grind on the turns."
To reduce the risk for new riders, safety officials at Grafenwöhr are looking at adding more safety courses.
"V Corps has decided that if a rider is deployed for over nine months, they will take a course when they come back before they start riding again. We’d like to see it mandatory every year in spring because riders park their bikes for six months over the winter," he said.
Safety officials also are talking to Morale, Welfare and Recreation about starting one or two-day motorcycle tours that would double as training sessions for new riders, he said.
According to U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwöhr spokeswoman Kim Gillespie there has not been a serious motorcycle accident at Installation Management Command — Europe installations in fiscal year 2008.
But so far this fiscal year the Army has lost 25 soldiers in motorcycle accidents, an increase from 13 soldiers who died in such accidents last fiscal year, she said in an e-mail.
One soldier motorcyclist involved in Tuesday’s training, Capt. Justin Trisler, 28, of Atlanta, Ga., said he’s been riding for six years but still picked up some useful tips at the safety course.
"Some of the best tips included turning your head to look where you want to go and looking ahead down the road for trouble," said Trisler, who rides a yellow Honda CBR 600 bike.
High gas prices are a big incentive for motorcycle riders these days, Trisler said.
"This isn’t my primary mode of transport but when the weather is like this I’ll take this over a car. It gets twice the gas mileage," he said.