In motorcycle training, the Skill Development Ride has long been referred to as the “Long Ride,” and with that name the training event has sometimes earned a poor reputation. It’s often thought of as a day off, during which motorcycle officers take their departmental motorcycles to the beach for a nice lunch far from their beat. This poor reputation has caused many administrators, and others within the department, to question its benefit.
In my career, and now in my role as a consultant, I have had this question posed to me many times: Is the Long Ride effective? Sometimes even former motorcycle riders will question the intent and usefulness of this training event.
Example of Success
In the mid-1990s, I was a new motorcycle supervisor assigned to an established motorcycle unit. The Area Commander was a friend and a former motorcycle supervisor I had worked for. The motorcycle unit had recently experienced a series of collisions, the bulk of which the Commander had determined to be preventable by the involved motorcycle officer. The Commander sought to reduce the number of collisions and increase the safety of the motorcycle unit. Together, we determined Skill Development Rides (“Long Rides”) were key.
The Commander authorized additional motorcycle training days to be dedicated to Long Rides. We established a Long Ride protocol, much like the one you will see below, and sought to enhance the mindset of safety throughout the unit. Within a couple of years, the motorcycle unit had grown to be the largest in the department and received the Governor’s Employee Safety Award for completing a year with no collisions.
As we’ve all seen with many programs and special teams, there are good times where programs thrive and bad times where programs suffer and deteriorate. Often, it’s during those bad times that training gets scrutinized, including the Long Ride. Without adherence to an agenda, over time you will see breaks in the training day linger. Documentation will become lax or won’t be completed in a timely manner. The quality and value value of the training will dwindle. This series of unfortunate events can cast a dark shadow over what would otherwise be valuable training.
In this article, I’d like to outline for you some of the valuable training protocols and experience that accompany a well-executed Long Ride. During a Long Ride, the training opportunities grow out of the exercise itself. The lessons serve to enhance the observation skills of your training officers and your riders. Participating motorcycle operators develop a spirit of cohesiveness that will lead to a sense of confidence and humility, where constructive criticism and self-evaluations drive officer safety.
Long Ride Training
Law enforcement motorcycles are generally assigned in urban environments where their size and agility are well suited to maneuvering through traffic. Their deployment typically finds them in harm’s way throughout the shift. To remain safe and efficient, motorcycle operators need to always be on top of their game.
Recognizing that operating an enforcement motorcycle is a perishable skill, operators must have regularly scheduled, dedicated training events where they can practice, demonstrate, and be evaluated on their skill and efficiency. Close-quarter and divided-attention work, such as cone patters and various drills, are well suited to maintaining skills, but are limited in their ability for evaluators to gauge and develop good judgement. This is where the Long Ride comes in.
The Long Ride will typically begin in an urban environment and take the operators to a more rural setting. The event follows a designated route and should relieve the officers of their normal response and enforcement duties. Motorcycle operators should use this training event to work on cognitive skills—eye placement and visual horizon, speed adjustments, lane position, surface appraisal, and so forth—throughout the ride.
Motorcycle operators draw heavily on these skills while they traverse unfamiliar terrain, experience varying road and traffic conditions, and react to unfamiliar hazards. These are higher level response skills that motorcycle officers need to be able to engage without thinking—while also performing their everyday duties.
Reinforcing these skills and traits on a regular basis is an effective tool in fighting the safety-compromising effects of complacency. These effective riding skills form the basis of good judgement while officers are operating law enforcement motorcycles, responding to calls and monitoring traffic violations.
The Long Ride demonstrates the effects of mental and physical fatigue as officers operate the motorcycle for extended periods of time. The operators will recognize in themselves the need to take a break, or refocus, when the negative effects of fatigue begin to compromise their skills.
Evaluating supervisors and training officers should follow small groups of officers or place themselves at various locations throughout the route. Motorcycle operators can then be observed and provided with immediate feedback and constructive criticism throughout the ride. Motorcycle operators will also have the opportunity to self-evaluate their own riding and make adjustments. When riding in pairs, peer input through courageous conversations also serve to promote safety.
The Long Ride provides evaluators with the unique opportunity to observe individual operators for extended periods of time, making it easier to recognize bad habits that begin to form as routine and fatigue set in. Exposing operators to unfamiliar roadways also gives evaluators the opportunity to see how they perceive and react to various situations. The lessons learned during these unique training events positively enhance the safety of the individual rider, and encourage the cohesiveness and safety mindset of the motorcycle unit.
As with any training event, documentation is key in ensuring the success of the program. Comprehensive written evaluations should be standardized and prepared by the evaluators for each participant in the Long Ride. The evaluations should include objective observations and constructive criticism where appropriate. The evaluations should be reviewed and acknowledged by the evaluators and operators, then maintained in accordance with departmental policy on training records. These written evaluations will also serve to demonstrate to administrators the on-going and unique training value of the Long Ride.
I hope this clears up the misconceptions about the Long Ride and demonstrates a few of the tangible safety benefits of this valuable training event. The sense of responsibility for your own safety, as well as the safety of your partners, cannot be replicated in any other training event.
It’s the responsibility of all motorcycle operators to view these training events as the skill-development events they are intended to be. This is the best way to ensure the Long Ride has a long future. Stay safe out there.