updated 9/30/2009 3:43:55 PM ET 2009-09-30T19:43:55

Sgt. Adam Bosley was back from his third tour of duty in Iraq and waiting to head to Afghanistan when he bought a sleek, souped-up motorcycle capable of high-speed cornering and explosive acceleration.

Days after buying the machine in August, the 29-year-old Marine was dead after he lost control of the sport bike on a San Diego highway ramp, struck a guardrail and tumbled down a ravine.

"I always knew there was a possibility he might not come back from Iraq," his mother, Carla Wilson, said from her home in O'Neill, Neb. "That's why I'm feeling a lot of anger, that it was just a motorcycle wreck."

Alarmed by hundreds of motorcycle deaths by off-duty marines, soldiers and sailors over the last several years, the military is requiring riding classes, screening riders for risky behavior, and organizing racing events for a safe adrenaline rush.

The military lost 124 members to motorcycle accidents in the fiscal year ending Sept. 1, 2008. That number dropped to 72 in the most recent fiscal year.

Motorcycle deaths are also up nationally, as bike sales and registrations rise. Deaths last year increased for the 11th straight year — from 2,116 in 1997 to an all-time high of 5,290, the National Highway Traffic Administration said.

The Army reported a 34 percent rise in motorcycle fatalities from 2007 to 2008, and the Marines and the Navy also reported significant increases.

"We don't have the luxury of losing people to preventable mishaps, that's why there's an urgent need to do something," said April K. Phillips, a Navy spokeswoman.

'Crotch rockets'
Military safety officials say nearly all of the fatal accidents occurred with riders on racing-style sport bikes. Speed, a lack of riding experience and inability to handle the high-performance motorcycles were factors in the vast majority of the crashes.

Just 20 minutes after buying a sport bike from a Boston-area dealership in May of 2008, a sailor was killed when he swerved in a sharp turn and struck a wall, the Navy said.

Last fall, a young Army soldier speeding about 100 mph died after losing control of his bike while trying to pass between a garbage truck and a van on an interstate highway near Savannah, Ga. The Army said he died four days after returning from deployment.

On Sept. 13, a 21-year-old servicewoman from Miramar Marine Corps Air Station was killed on a remote highway northeast of San Diego after her new Yamaha sport bike hit the ground on a curve, slid off the road and struck an embankment. The California Highway Patrol said she was speeding.

The so-called "crotch rockets" are known for quick acceleration, nimble handling and flashy colors. The rider is positioned aerodynamically, leaning over a powerful engine.

Freedom on open road
For young troops returning from deployment with disposable cash, the roughly $10,000 price tag presents a cheaper, appealing alternative to buying a car. Some motorcycle shops offer military discounts for parts, services and accessories.

Lonnie McKinnie, a 28-year-old gunnery sergeant at Camp Pendleton, said he bought his yellow-and-black Suzuki SXR-600 even though he had never ridden one before.

"I like the freedom on the road, you're not restricted the way you are in a car, you can cut through traffic and it's fuel efficient," McKinnie said.

It's little surprise the bikes appeal to adrenaline-seeking soldiers. What worries military brass is that young men and women underestimate their abilities to handle the machines and without training get hurt or killed.

"They live life at a higher pace than the average civilian. They jump out of perfectly safe airplanes and they enjoy it," said James Greer, a retired Army warrant officer who teaches safe riding courses at Camp Pendleton. "They survived combat and they come back and think they're invincible."

'Good therapy'
The military ramped up safety training last year by requiring members to take a sport bike riding course within three months of buying one. More than 10,000 riders have been trained over the last 1 1/2 years.

The course developed by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation allows those about to return from a long deployment to use computer simulators to practice riding in traffic, and other maneuvers.

All motorcycle riders in the military are required to take a basic riding class and must get helmets and other protective gear. As they advance in training, riders undergo "sensation seeking analyses" to assess the type of risky activities they engage in and what motivates them to ride motorcycles.

The psychological evaluation teaches them to become aware of their capabilities, manage risk and ride within their limits.

McKinnie, the gunnery sergeant, said he thought he knew how to handle a bike until he took a basic riding course and had trouble making figure 8 circles without slowing down.

"I thought I was a Jeff Gordon kind of racer, but I realized I'm really not," he said.

The Department of Defense prevailed upon motorcycle makers to change the way they market bikes in military newspapers. In one ad, Yamaha Motor Corp. paired images of an armored tank next to a sport bike with the message that both require special training.

Curve ahead
The Marine Corps is reaching more skilled bikers by offering track days where they can ride full throttle on closed aircraft runways. Instructors offer tips and medics are prepared to offer first-aid.

"It's good therapy," Greer said. "When you're focused on getting through a curve, what else are you thinking about?"

About 100 students are enrolled in the sport bike course at Camp Pendleton per week, with more on a waiting list. Greer acknowledged more could be done to quickly enroll new buyers in a class.

In the case of Sgt. Bosley, they didn't reach him fast enough.

After his body was found, officers discovered a card in his wallet, his mother said. It showed he was supposed to start the safe riding course Aug. 31 — nearly two weeks after his death.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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