Spring brings out the two-wheel riders

Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman: Spring brings out the two-wheel riders

Mar 21, 2016

WASILLA — Despite the latest spring snowfall, dry pavement will soon emerge once again, and for many residents the urge to climb onto something with two wheels will kick in as the days lengthen toward summer.

But whether it’s a motorcycle, scooter or pavement bicycle, safety advocates say spring is the time to take stock of gear, conditions and others sharing the road.

For bicyclists, being visible and being aware go a long way toward safe riding, whether it’s on the bike path or the road.

“Cyclists will fare the best when they act, ride and abide by the rules of the road just like any other vehicle,” said Beth Schuerman, a project director at the Alaska Injury Prevention Center in Anchorage. “That means riding with traffic, being visible with clothing or lights and using hand signals.”

Schuerman said one of the biggest safety issues and causes of accidents happens when cyclists are struck by a vehicle turning right on red in a controlled intersection. According to the Alaska Department of Transportation, 40 percent of vehicle-bicycle crashes involve the scenario.

A cyclist was struck and injured March 12 at the intersection of the Palmer-Wasilla Highway and Seward Meridian Parkway by a vehicle making a right turn.

“For cyclists, making eye contact with that driver turning right on red is essential,” Schuerman said. “And just in general, be aware that drivers are often distracted with hand-held devices and just generally may not be paying attention.”

Plus, springtime has arrived and drivers’ thoughts are often elsewhere, she said.

Drivers’ springtime thoughts are also on the mind of motorcycle safety advocates Brendon Knox and Jim Jett, members of Valley ABATE, which stands for Alaska Bikers Advocating Training and Education.

Knox said Friday that the while it’s early in the game, the motorcycle season has begun, and riders should be aware of their surroundings.

“For one thing, people aren’t used to seeing motorcycles again right now,” said Knox, the group’s program director. “Plus, there is a lot of sand and gravel on the road from the winter which guys need to watch out for. We have heard of a few people going over.”

The nonprofit Valley ABATE has been around since 2000, and has offered motorcycle education courses since 2005, Knox said.

“We have probably trained 1,000 people in that time,” Knox said. “Whether it’s a beginner course or those for more experienced riders, it is always good to have the training.”

Valley ABATE is a sponsor of the annual bike blessing May 14 and will be part of the Alaska Vintage Motorcycle Show at the Palmer Ale House June 11.

Knox said ABATE offers a basic rider course for $275 that consists of five hours of classroom study and 10 hours of riding time on program-assigned bikes. Classroom sessions are held at the Matanuska Telephone Association building in Palmer, while the riding is held at Butte Elementary School. The instructional curriculum is endorsed by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, Knox said.

Valley ABATE is sponsoring the annual bike blessing May 14 in Palmer

“Once the skills test is passed at the end, you can go to the DMV and get your license endorsed. You don’t have to test at the DMV,” Knox said.

The group also offers an experienced rider course for $150 and a three-wheel instruction course for $375, which focuses on “trikes” like the Can-Am Spyder or Honda Goldwing. Knox said Valley ABATE was the only group in the state to offer the three-wheel course.

“The experienced rider course is a five-hour session on your own bike,” Knox said. “It’s a refresher. Generally people do develop bad habits after a couple of years and it’s good to get back on track again.”

Beginner courses begin in April and typically run through September, while the experienced rider and three-wheel sessions run from May through August. Class sizes in all courses are limited to 12 participants. Knox said beginner class students are entitled to a year’s membership in ABATE.

Now that the days are getting warmer and more riders are venturing out, both Knox and Jett said cyclists should be more aware.

“One of the biggest things I notice with other riders is that you need to be looking around,” Knox said. “You have to fend for yourself because you will get the losing end of the deal.”

Jett, the ABATE president, said he has seen a trend toward riding in larger groups, which can be dangerous.

“There is no training out there on riding in large groups,” Jett said. “They may ride in a stagger, but how close are they? Bikes can pile into the back of each other,” when too close, Jett said.

“Those are the types of people we need in our classroom,” Jett said. “They want to go right out after sitting for eight months. Come in and take a refresher class before going off on that first long ride.”

The organizational group meets on the third Thursday of every month at the Palmer Moose Lodge. For more information on the group or the courses, call 746-7295 or visit valleyabate.com.

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