PLATTSBURGH — For Keith Ashline, a motorcycle ride is the perfect prescription for happiness.
The 50-year-old Rouses Point man often barrels down the open road just to clear his mind.
“I love riding. It’s like medication at times, and it allows me to refocus and regroup,” Ashline said.
He has manned many motorcycles since his first ride in the mid-1970s, but an incident in 1981 almost made him hang up his helmet for good.
During a routine ride alongside a friend on Interstate 95 in Virginia, a truck driver driving erratically on the busy multi-lane highway nearly cost him his life.
Although Ashline vividly remembers the “major collision,” the traumatic event is something he would like to forget.
He was ejected from his bike, which was completely totaled in the accident, leaving him with serious injuries.
Ashline said he took a long break from riding
following that crash.
“I know a lot of people who, after a bad accident, were ready to never ride again,” Clinton County Sheriff’s Department Correctional Lt. Jody Perrea said. “People are scared. Their loved ones are scared.”
Ashline, like a lot of riders, faced his fears and headed out on the highway once again in 1995.
Today, he owns and rides two bikes, including a new 2012 Harley Davidson, with the Combat Vets Motorcycle Association.
JUST A WRITTEN TEST
Richard Potiker says getting on a bike to relax is one of the biggest “dont’s” he teaches prospective motorcyclists who take his Basic Rider Training Course at Northern NY Driving Academy in Morrisonville.
“You don’t ride to blow off steam because your mind is not on the ride,” he said. “You need to be fully engaged, grading corners and stopping in time.”
Potiker has 25 sessions scheduled throughout the summer with 12 riders per class — the training is not mandatory New York state.
In fact, obtaining a license is not difficult at all.
“In order to ride a bike, all you have to do is take a simple written test and then you are legal to start up and go down the road,” he said. “You are kind of on your own.”
Potiker said many new motorcyclists opt for no training and run the risk of getting into their very first accident.
“Most driving is about spotting something dangerous and adjusting before it becomes an emergency,” he added.
Chazy-based State Police Trooper David Constanty says bikers are riding some pretty powerful bikes these days.
“Police are seeing a surge in Japanese bikes and Harley bikes,” he said.
The result is a growing number of riders on the roadways.
“You have different kinds of motorcyclists, too,” he added. “You have those that belong to some serious and not-so-serious motorcycle clubs, and then you have your enthusiasts.”
Ashline has noticed an increase in the number of baby boomers on bikes.
“That generation is growing older, and they may have always wanted that certain muscle car they had when they were younger,” he said “But they find they don’t necessarily have the money to spend.”
He thinks their decision may be as simple as cost.
“It comes down to the price of that muscle car compared to the price of a motorcycle and the changes in the economy,” Ashline said.
“It is scary sometimes to see baby boomers on bikes and younger riders on some pretty high-performance motorcycles,” he added.
An even more disturbing trend, Ashline said, is motorcyclists who don’t wear proper riding attire.
“I’ve seen people with sandals, shorts and tank tops,” he said.
The minimum requirements are heavy-duty boots, long pants (preferably leather) and a Department of Transportation approved helmet.
The point is protection — if a bike goes horizontal, a rider showing lots of skin, at the very least, can pick up a nasty case of road rash skidding across pavement.
Constanty’s biggest concern is riders without helmets.
“New Hampshire is scary because they have no helmet laws,” he said.
According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are two types of helmet laws.
The universal helmet law requires all riders and passengers of any age to wear helmets when on a bike, while partial helmet laws requires specific groups of people, such as those of a certain age, to wear the head protection.
Each state is responsible for the specific requirements.
As of May, 19 states and the District of Columbia had a universal helmet law in place, and 28 states enforced a partial helmet law, said the CDC.
These laws and requirements spark great debate among riders.
Potiker said he is pro-helmet use, but ultimately motorcyclists should be in charge.
“The decision should definitely fall on the individual,” he said.
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This concludes a two-part series about the risks and joys of riding motorcycles.
HELMETS SAVE LIVES
In 2010, 42 percent of motorcyclists fatally injured in accidents were not wearing helmets. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says helmets saved the lives of more than 1,500 bikers; 700 more would have survived, though, had all riders worn head protection.