The Crash That Wasn’t
Since this essay deals with motorcycle safety, I should begin with some background for those who are not frequent perusers of my musings. I’ve been riding motorcycles for 51 years. After three decades of enthusiasm, including riding across all or part of our country several times, I wangled a job in the motorcycle business as a sort of glorified customer services representative. In this capacity I led customers on rides from a day’s duration to nine days, did the initial break-in on a few dozen Harleys meant for a rental fleet, did test rides of service bikes and proposed new products, and rode every used bike I could get my hands on. By the time I retired in late 2013 I had ridden well over 500 different motorcycles. I posted my notes on most of them about three years ago on this site. I have taken several rider safety courses, and helped with the curriculum for one. I have been trained in dual sport riding.
I have published eight books, all of which are either about motorcycles of feature motorcycles prominently. And all of which can be purchased right from this site – shameless plug! – as e-readers (all), or paperbacks (most).
None of this is mentioned to brag, (OK, a little bit), but to make the point that this is not my first rodeo. None of what follows was due to lack of experience or knowledge, or lack of concentration, or drugs or alcohol or any of the other factors that usually factor in.
Yesterday, I essentially crashed my 2016 Triumph Bonneville. The “essentially” is added because I did not actually hit the ground, and neither the motorcycle nor I was damaged (more on the latter later).
For decades, various ad campaigns have proclaimed that “anyone can learn to ride a motorcycle.” I disagree. Most people can learn to ride a motorcycle, but simply knowing how to do it is not enough. You need to really want to do it, with passion. You need to accept the challenges and responsibilities that will come to you, which are far greater than in a mere car, and to acknowledge that you must always be open to learning something new. And that even when things are ideal, the world can go turnip-shaped in a second. Like today, for example.
I was romping down Ben Howard road, ironically the same road that featured in my last essay about a hapless Mustang GT 350 driver who launched himself into a swamp. But my incident was not comparable to his.
On this occasion, I was leading three good friends on a perfect day, riding at an invigorating pace, but not really pushing it all that much. The sun was breaking through scattered cloud cover, and most of the corners were in deep shade.
Except for the corner than wasn’t. I have been riding this road for 40 years, and I had never seen this. What appeared to be shade was actually a patch of deep and dark gravel. Not a few random pebbles that might cause the front tire to skip and elevate your heart rate, but a section about 10 yards square with dark gravel about two inches deep! I have no idea how it got there, as it was much too much to be the run-off from dirt driveways that can occasionally provide a threat.
Suddenly the motorcycle made a violent yank to the right. The front wheel was plowing into the gravel, while the rear was sashaying the left. The bike was crashing to the right, and I was falling off the saddle. I could see the left handlebar up to the right, and I knew it was all over. But my right foot hit the ground at about the same time the front wheel got back to solid pavement. The bike then yanked itself and me back up and now it felt like I would “highside” off to the left. Instead, the bike shook violently a couple of times and settled down to straight ahead, while my brain struggled to keep up with events.
My first thought was to pull over and stop, but as I continued down the road and past the site of the Mustang driver’s crash, I began to take stock. The bike was not damaged, and neither was I. My foot was a little sore where it had slammed into the gravel, and I could feel where my left palm had slapped onto the hand grip as the bike righted itself, but there was really no reason to stop. If I kept going I might have a chance to calm down and not have anything negative happen. Like throwing up.
A couple of miles later I came to a stop and my friend Bob rode up next to me. His face made me feel worse, as he was white as a sheet. He asked if I was OK, obviously shaken by what he had seen. Actually worse for him as an observer, as I was too busy to be aware of what was happening. Pat and Tony were further back, and later told me that from the gravel being thrown to each side and the flashes of chrome, they just assumed I had crashed and were preparing to stop and assist.
When we stopped for lunch a half hour later I could see the gravel dust on the right side of the front tire. It was a close thing.
So what saved me? Years of experience? No. My incredible skills and top level reaction times? No. I believe that the Triumph saved itself. The wheelbase was long enough that the front tire reached solid pavement before the bike hit the ground, and once there the forces of physics were enough to yank it upright. The relative lack of weight compared to some other motorcycles kept it from pitching me off to the left. If I’d been on the Triumph Speed Triple I loved and rode for eleven years and 50,000 miles, for example, I think I would have crashed. The Speed Triple has a much more aggressive turn-in and a shorter wheelbase.
Another factor that bears mentioning is physical fitness. I am 71 years old, after all. For the past year I have been taking a class called “Essentrics” at my local YMCA. At first glance, how tough can an hour of stretching and flexibility and muscle exercises be? Ten minutes into the first class you notice that you need to pause here and there as your muscles scream out for relief, and then you notice that instructor Natalia does not pause – ever. I’ve been doing this twice a week for almost a year, and I still cannot complete 100% of the exercises every time, but I am getting there.
This incident with the gravel wrenched my body in several directions in less than a second. Again, I am 71. I am positive I would have strained or pulled or torn several muscles had I not been taking this class. It is also quite likely that improved flexibility helped me when I really needed it. Once back home I realized that I was not in any pain, but simply filled with the pleasant fatigue that comes from a few hours of riding a motorcycle at a good pace on winding back roads.
There are other programs out there, but Essentrics I can wholeheartedly recommend, and Natalia and the Northshore YMCA if you live near me.
Thoughts in conclusion? Safe riding classes are a cheap investment. Really good equipment is a great place to reward yourself for good behavior. Experience is helpful. Getting in shape and staying there offers more rewards that might be apparent.
But sometimes – stuff happens.
Ride safe, ride fast, and ride often
David A Preston Copyright 2018