The Veteran Motorcycle Officer Shares his Thoughts on Rider Safety

David Struwing has been a police officer since 1994 and a motor officer since 2001. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University/Harley Davidson Police Motorcycle Instructor School.

His understanding of advanced motorcycle riding techniques and training is backed by his work as the founding member and Lead Instructor of the Northern Illinois Motor Officers (NIMO), a dedicated group of motorcycle officers throughout the Chicagoland and Northern Illinois region. His passion for riding and teaching led to the founding of T.O.P.S. Motorcycle Training.

Allstate Rider News: How long have you been riding? David Struwing: I started riding in 1998 when I decided to apply for a position in our Traffic Investigation Unit, they are also the motor officers so I needed to know how to ride.

ARN: What kind of bike(s) do you ride? DS: At work we ride the Harley Davidson FLHTP Police motor, my personal motorcycle is a BMW R1100RT.

ARN:Do you ride year round? DS: As much as I can, but being in Illinois, my "season" is dictated by Mother Nature and how severe our winters are. In a good year I can get in 10 months of riding, but once the snow starts, it is pretty much over til Spring thaw and rain washes the salt off the road.

ARN:What is your favorite ride? DS: I really enjoy just jumping on my motor and heading out to the country near my home. There are a lot of really nice scenic rides between Chicago and the Mississippi River, but my all time favorites are when I travel to the Southwest. The areas in and around Las Vegas to Utah and down into Arizona are absolutely majestic! Someday I will have time to hit the California coastal highway, the Smokey Mountains and the Southeast, and then there is Europe - those are at the top of my wish list to date.

ARN:Tell us a little about how you got your start with T.O.P.S. DS: While conducting a police training, our boss had the local paper come out and do an article on us. That led to a phone call from a civilian asking if I would provide private lessons. Initially the response was an emphatic "No" as I figured it would be a conflict with my agency.

Well, after checking into it, I found they were wholly supportive of the concept. So I spent about 6 months looking into local programs and developed a curriculum that would focus on the life saving skills we teach motor officers, and then provide that to the civilian riding public. The rest, as they say, is history. We have been running T.O.P.S. since 2010 and are really starting to hit our stride with rider safety training for all.

ARN: How did you decide to get into motorcycle safety training? DS:I spent nearly 10 years as a Crash Reconstructionist, investigating fatal crashes. I began to see common themes creeping into my investigations. 2010, the year I started T.O.P.S., was a particularly deadly year for motorcyclists in our community. Once I started T.O.P.S. I wanted to try to get the word out about surviving your ride in a metropolitan area like Chicago. That concept led to the development of the Street Survival presentation.

We use it as a marketing tool for T.O.P.S. and I still present it to this very day to riding clubs and motorcycle dealerships in the Chicago area. When I realized there was such a high demand for the presentation, I investigated ways to market the concept on a larger scale, and that led me to Allstate. We have developed a great relationship with Allstate in getting the word out about motorcycle safety advocacy, and it is a field I see myself continuing long after my career in Law Enforcement ends.

ARN:What do you consider the most important safety precaution riders should take? DS: I don't feel there is one specific aspect one should focus on. It is the collective whole of the riding experience. It covers everything from proper gear, ride preparation, pre-ride vehicle inspection, awareness on your ride, and of course training and practice.

The training and practice is what will elevate your skills and confidence levels, which in turn, will help prepare you for your riding experience as well as enjoy that experience even more. The reality though is that we are generally invisible out on the roads, so a strong mental awareness when you ride and taking a defensive approach could be the difference. So if I had to pick one, that would be the one I would focus on.

ARN:Is there a routine you go through when prepping your bike and/or yourself for a ride? DS: I feel the T-CLOCS method by MSF is a very sound approach to pre ride prep, as it covers all aspects of your motor. Tires, Controls, Lights, Oil/Fluids, Chasis and Sidestand.

In theory it should be done each and every time we ride, especially if you are travelling long distances and even more importantly if you are renting a motorcycle while on vacation. As for myself, I avoid riding if I am tired or not well rested. That leads to mental lapses and can ultimately lead to perception delay and prolonging your reaction time, which could lead to a crash. I always ride with proper gear, just because I would rather sweat than bleed, but it is a choice and an option for each rider.

ARN:In your opinion, what is the least-known safety tip for riding? DS: That is an excellent question, and to select one tip is really hard. I say this not to dodge the question, but in my experience investigating crashes, I have learned that each scenario is different. No two are the same.

When I do the Street Survival presentations, I do stress one factor that seems to click with a lot of riders, and most have not heard it before. I call it the 80% Rule. Basically my thought is never ride above 80% of your skill set, regardless of what that level is.

The reasoning behind it is fairly simple - if you are riding at 100% of your skill level, and something goes wrong, you have nothing left to fall back on to help you survive. So I would say that would be the one that I personally believe very strongly in.

Know any great motorcycle safety tips? Share them here.

DISCLAIMER: Allstate Insurance Company is not affiliated with David Struwing. Allstate makes no warranties or representations and is not liable for any goods or services provided by this individual or organization. The views presented here do not necessarily represent the views of Allstate.