Motorcycle training course shares space with aircraft at Yokota Air Base
By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 20, 2015
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Jets and motorcycles seldom share the same roadways, but at Yokota, home of U.S. Forces Japan, airmen operate both in close proximity.
The air base recently authorized motorcycle training courses on “golf ramp,” a vast expanse of tarmac that juts east of Yokota’s main runway.
“Last month, a plane taxied past the course and we had to stop for a while,” said Wendel Dunn, a motorcycle instructor who was training riders there on Saturday.
Motorcycle courses for servicemembers are mandated by the Department of Defense. More than 1,100 U.S. military members were killed in motorcycle accidents between 1999 and 2012, according to the department.
In Japan, for example, several U.S. military motorcyclists have been killed in recent years. Last year, a young airman was killed in an on-base crash in front of the Yokota Community Center.
Despite the focus on safety, it’s not always easy to find room for motorcycle training on a military base. Yokota lacked a motorcycle range before the “golf ramp” training was authorized. Riders had to travel an hour or more to Camp Zama or North Dock in Yokohama for training.
Servicemembers are required to take a basic rider course to operate a motorcycle. Service branches require additional training, such as the advanced rider course and the military sportbike rider course. Military motorcyclists are required to take refresher training every few years, Dunn said.
“The key to safety is continued learning. All you can do is get better,” he said. “Also, get out there and practice and get the skill and experience of riding a motorcycle.”
Senior Airman Joshua Flint, 23, of Nashville, Tenn., who was honing his skills at the “golf ramp” last weekend, had a blast zipping around cones on his new Ducati Monster 916.
“I’ve only been riding it a couple of months, but I’ve been riding motorcycles since I was 10 years old,” he said.
Flint took a basic rider course when he joined the Air Force in 2011, but he couldn’t ride during a tour to Osan Air Base, South Korea, because most airmen are not authorized to use personal vehicles there, he said. The welder/machinist waited a year after moving to Japan to buy a motorcycle and take the advanced course.
“It was kind of weird being allowed out on the flight line (for the motorcycle training),” he said.
Flint, who added he thinks he can outrun a plane on his Ducati, has ridden backroads to the Mount Fuji area in Yamanashi Prefecture and the Skyway route, which features fantastic views in Okutama, near Yokota. So far, he has been impressed with Japanese drivers.
“I feel like the Japanese drivers are a little more attentive,” he said. “They are more used to motorcycles than we are in the states. When I’m on the road back home, it feels like all the other drivers are texting.”
Instructor Wendel Dunn demonstrates advanced motorcycle riding techniques to airmen on Saturday, Aug, 15, 2015, at Yokota Air Base, Japan. Yokota lacked a motorcycle range before training on the tarmac was recently authorized. Riders had to travel an hour or more to Camp Zama or North Dock in Yokohama for training.
SETH ROBSON/STARS AND STRIPES