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Rules of the road

Father and son teach safety at Motorcycle Xcitement Day

May 22, 2010|By TIFFANY ARNOLD
  • Chuck Banks Jr., left, and his son, Chuck Banks III, stand in their business, Motorcycle Classics of Maryland in Boonsboro. Father and son teach motorcycle safety classes in the Tri-State area. Chuck Banks Jr. will teach classes Thursday, May 27, at Motorcycle Xcitement Day at Summit Point Motorsports Park in Summit Point, W.Va.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer,

It was love at first ride.

"Flying low to the ground, rocketing over the asphalt," said motorcycle enthusiast Charles "Chuck" Banks Jr., explaining the sensation of being on a motorcycle. "When I get off the bike I feel invincible."

Banks, 55, teaches riding courses for Hagerstown Community College and will be one of the instructors at Motorcycle Xcitement Day at Summit Point Motorsports Park in Summit Point, W.Va., on Thursday, May 27.

Banks and his son, Charles "Chuck" Banks III spent years competing in motocross events as a father-son team since "Little Chuck" (as his dad calls him) was 7. Lately, their lives have been devoted to keeping riders on the road. They own Motorcycle Classics of Maryland in Boonsboro, where they "bring bikes back to life," Bank's son said.

On Thursday, they'll help keep riders on the road in a different sense, teaching riders how to ride safely during at Motorcycle Xcitement Day. Because the event is on a paved track, it is not a motocross, which is racing on rough ground.

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"It's an added bonus that I get to ride, too," said Chuck Banks III, who lives in Hagerstown.

On the surface, Motorcycle Xcitement Day could be thought of as a playground for grown-ups. Between 50 and 140 motorcycle riders will hit the pavement. Tape will cover the speedometers of their bikes and force riders to pace each other around the track. If you're looking down, you're not paying attention - a safety hazard.

"Motorcycles are like speed cars, they can go fast and they do it quickly," said organizer Roger Lyle, who's head of the Motorcycle Xcitement Road Racing School. "You can't do that on public roads."

But fun is a consequence, said Lyle, 55, of Hagerstown. Motorcycle Xcitement Day is about safety.

Riders will be split up into groups based on ability level. In a controlled environment, they practice safety techniques for riding - things you can't easily recreate on a public road, Lyle said. To participate, entrants must sign a liability waiver. Bikes are inspected before they hit the road, and emergency personnel are on standby, Lyle said.

Fatalities at the track are rare. Lyle said he knew of three motorcycle fatalities on the track in 41 years.

"Automobiles pose the biggest risk to motorcyclists," Lyle said.

In 2009 there were 4,762 motorcycle fatalities, according to a report released in April by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). The GHSA is a nonprofit association that represents the highway safety offices of U.S. states and territories.

It's a topic that hits home for Lyle, who grew up in Prince George's County, Md. His father, Jack Lyle, a motorcycle enthusiast, died from injuries he sustained after his motorcycle was struck by an automobile.

Lyle said he was 5 when it happened.

"It's something I've had to battle my whole life," said Lyle.

He said he picked up motocross when he was 14.

"It's in my blood," Lyle said.

Chuck Banks Jr. said he picked up motocross when he was 22. He said riding the bike was addictive. After taking his first ride, all of his energies were focused on motocross racing.

The elder Banks started his family in Colorado where he had a farm. Biking was not his full-time gig, instead he took a high-paying job as a communications system engineer. With two kids, he couldn't afford to quit his job and pursue his dream of owning his own motorcycle shop.

He later divorced and was a single dad for 10 years. He had to continue to put his dream on hold.

"You can't risk your family's food and living indoors," Banks said.

So he compromised by working his "real" job from midnight to 8 a.m. He slept a few hours in the parking lot of the motorcycle bike shop he worked at until it opened and then worked there for a few hours. After that, he returned home, "collapsed," he said, and then went back to the real job at midnight.

But he kept up riding as a hobby. Banks and his son competed in motocross events. Chuck Banks III said when he was growing up, the child-sized bikes were too small for him, so he had to try his father's full-sized bike. He recalled that his feet were too short to touch the ground when he was riding.

"Yeah, I was afraid," said the younger Banks. "But I wanted to race."

Perhaps he was feeling the same thing his father felt when he rode. Chuck Banks III said that once he started racing, it was all he ever thought about.

"I was a C student because all I wanted to do was race motocross," he said.

Today, the Banks aren't racing a whole lot but motorcycles are still their passion.

"We eat, sleep and breathe motorcycles," Chuck Banks III said.

Chuck Banks III said he and his father spend 80 hours a week in the shop.

Outside the shop, Chuck Banks Jr. is developing an intro to motorcycle racing class. His wife, Lois Banks, runs a riding school for kids at their Myersville farm and helps run things at the shop, as does daughter Cori Marshall, 26, of Brunswick, Md.

Chuck Banks III said when he's not fixing bikes, or trying to urge his wife, Chandra Banks, to ride, he's hitting the road.

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