As a long-time MOA member and occasional Owners News contributor, I’ve attended the MOA National rally when it’s within a thousand miles or so from the “Left Coast.” Anyone who’s wandered the rally grounds has seen an area cordoned off with a sign about something called Camp G.E.A.R.S. Training. Until I recently looked it up on the web, it was somewhat of a mystery. All I knew was that it was some sort of motorcycle safety training for younger riders. What I discovered is that G.E.A.R.S. stands for “Gaining Early Advanced Riding Skills” and was scheduled for the two days preceding the start of the 2015 rally in Billings, Montana.
GEARS training has changed a bit from previous years and the 2015 camp is the first with the new format and how the MOA Foundation will provide motorcycle safety training and experience for those in the 14-18 year-old range before the rally, and “refresher” and other training (in future years) to those who are older, both during the rally as well as other times during the year.
The day before the beginning of GEARS training I expected to see a bunch of teens pitching tents. In reality, most “camped” with their parents in an RV, motel, or a real tent somewhere nearby on the Billings MetraPark fairgrounds. The first day of GEARS training everyone gathered to get GEARS underway.
Karen Umphress demos a technique while Bruce Sanders holds the bike.
Twelve GEARS participants were split into two groups of six. This number was flexible because some GEARS participants arrived late, left early, and a couple of GEARS graduates showed up to help out. The average gear participants’ age was 15 with most too young for a drivers license, let alone a motorcycle license endorsement. But many had off-road riding experience.
The curriculum’s main components were an interesting mix of classroom and practical split into two, half-day and quarter-day sessions for eachgroup. There was lots of active, hands-on instruction, which couldn’t help but engage teen interest and interaction.
Sydney proudly shows off her SMARTrainer score.
After the morning introductions, I joined the first group heading to the range. Once there, students were assigned dirt bikes to ride and practice basic skills like starting, stopping, turning, and how to use their body for balance and control. Karen Umphress, an MSF instructor from DirtBike Tech in Minnesota was responsible for the on-range instruction as well as and post-ride seminars. Bruce Sanders, MOA Foundation Director and Secretary, also pitched in help.
It was fun going out and watching the first group on the range the first day. Because they had just met, they were quiet and were probably wondering what’s about to happen to them. On the way back they were all best friends and, as expected, making lots of noise.
GEARS didn't stop when the rain did, and neither did the young riders. Photo by Voni Glaves.
Back in the classroom, Rick Wallace was responsible for both the Accident Scene Management and Medical First Aid instruction. His background includes extensive EMT management and hands-on experience in the field. Simulated accident scenarios got the GEARS teens engaged and thinking. They quickly learned that there’s a lot of subtleties to the process of assisting a down rider both in terms of not assuming that what you see as well as personal safety when moving around on foot, possibly in the midst of distracted and gawking traffic. Voni and Paul Glaves, who were the original Camp GEARS organizers also assisted.
Additional classroom instruction included Medical First Aid instruction where each of the GEARS had a chance to perform hands-on CPR (breaths and chest compressions) as well as basic defibrillation on training manikins. Additionally, every GEARS participant spent time on the BMW MOA Foundation SMARTrainer set up by Tom Pemberton. Each rider got to “ride” several scenarios to see how well they could anticipate and react to the unexpected. GEARS participants received certificates for new skills learned and the satisfaction of improving their skills. Skills that could make them safer and more helpful when the unexpected happens.
Blake's lessons from GEARS may have extended to the social arena.
So what were these kids really like? I’m not sure what I was expecting, but these were just normal kids who wanted to learn and be safer. They are former strangers who are now BFFs (Best Friends Forever).
Without the teens GEARS wouldn’t have happened. Without the instructors it also wouldn’t have happened.
Particular thanks go to Peter Perrin, GEARS Program and MOA Foundation Director, who took over the responsibilities for Camp GEARS at the last minute. And thanks to George Rice, MOA Foundation President.
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