PLATTSBURGH — You many not know Richard Potiker personally, but you’ve likely seen his signs.
Every spring, he visits local businesses asking them to display signage reminding motorists to “look twice, save a life.”
“We all need to be reminded that motorcycles are back on the road,” said Potiker, who owns and operates the Northern NY Driving Academy in Morrisonville.
Since May in Clinton County alone, two bikers have died in tragic accidents.
May 28, Edward L. Brown, 60, of Lake Placid died from injuries he suffered when he lost control of his 2003 Harley Davidson on Route 9N in Black Brook.
James Wilson, 26, of Chazy died on the evening of June 20 when his 2007 Honda motorcycle struck a car that was making an illegal U-turn on Route 9 near Reynolds Road in the Town of Chazy hamlet of Ingraham.
And a glimpse at just a few examples of Press-Republican accident coverage since spring shows motorcycles often are involved in crashes that cause injury.
On July 16, biker Randy J. Lafave, 53, and a 14-year-old passenger were injured when he attempted to avoid a raccoon in the roadway on Lake Shore Road in Chazy.
On July 13, Michael A. Giehl, 52, of Syracuse was hospitalized after he was thrown from his 2006 Honda motorcycle on Blue Ridge Road in the Town of North Hudson after failing to maneuver a large crack in the pavement.
Also this month, Anthony Smith, 20, of Constable lost control of his Yamaha motorcycle as he attempted a wheelie, police reported. He was later taken to Alice Hyde Medical Center in Malone with minor injuries.
Just the day before, John Welch, 57, of Lyon Mountain was injured when his bike was struck by a pickup-truck driven by 20-year-old Andrew Patterson while approaching an intersection. Patterson was issued tickets for unsafe tires and failure to yield to the right of way at a stop sign.
These types of accidents are the reason Potiker, when he teaches his Basic Rider Course to new bikers, tries to drive home the importance of all motorists sharing the road and working together to be safe.
“I teach everyone to be engaged, be aware and ride at the appropriate speed for their own capabilities,” he said. “This all transfers over to your car — everyone needs to be more aware and be looking around more.”
Chazy-based State Police Trooper David Constanty says that advice is something that should not be ignored, whether on a bike or behind the wheel.
“Accidents can occur when someone is driving recklessly or carelessly and when drivers try to go beyond their capabilities,” he said.
Often, speed is a factor, he added.
“I know in Vermont on the highways there they have caught a few people driving well into the triple digits.”
Road conditions contribute, too, he noted. Most bikers get their machines out of winter storage in April and May, he has observed.
“You have to be really careful (then) because the roads still aren’t ready, and they can be full of sand and gravel that can cause the bikes to slip.”
Bikers should wear white at night, the state trooper said, to increase their visibility to others on the road.
Often, motorist tell police they just never saw the motorcycle their car tangled with, Constanty said.
“It comes down to drivers not looking twice, and all of a sudden, there (the bike is), and then it’s too late.”
And it’s only logical the biker tends to get the worse end of the deal in a crash.
“Bikes are very unforgiving when you hit something.”
In 2003, 26-year-old Robert Sawicki was killed when his motorcycle struck the undercarriage of an overturned truck while he riding to his home in Rouses Point on Interstate 87.
He was wearing a safety helmet with a face shield and abiding by all laws, but did not see the undercarriage blocking the driving lane until it was too late, said Clinton County Sheriff’s Department Correctional Lt. Jody Perrea, who was a colleague of Sawicki’s.
The young man’s death sheds light on the dangers associated with riding motorcycles, no matter how many precautionary measures are taken to ensure safety.
But in life, Sawicki’s love of riding was plain to see. And it shows in the fundraiser coming up Sunday in his memory — the second-annual Robert Sawicki Ride for Education, a motorcycle ride that starts at noon at the Mobile/Dunkin’ Donuts/A&W, 7153 Route 9 in Plattsburgh, and ends with a cookout, music, prizes and a chance to win a 2012 Harley Davidson (or cash). The money goes to the Robert Sawicki Careers in Law Enforcement Scholarship Fund.
Perrea’s longtime interest in riding turned into long-term love, inspired by Sawicki’s passion for motorcycles and by numerous bikers he has worked with over the years.
He has been riding for about two years and will hit the road for the benefit to remember a great friend and biker.
Perrea said even though riding has always been a popular pastime the North County, he has definitely noticed more bikes on the road lately.
Potiker has, too.
“This year, more than any year, I am getting more young riders, which is a good thing,” he said. “I enjoy seeing them come in and learn the right way.”
Potiker reiterated the importance of drivers of all ages knowing their capabilities and the power of their bike.
“They really have to know their limits as well as the motorcycle’s limits,” he said.
Despite the heightened risks, however, he encourages everyone to get on a bike for a unique road experience.
“Riding a motorcycle is like flying on the ground,” he said. “You become part of the motorcycle.”
Find details on the Sawicki Ride at http://sawickiride.wix.com/ride-for-education#!ride.
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