Some years ago Cycle Canada used to run a feature in which
people described accidents that they had experienced and from
which they learned a real lesson. Recently the magazine of
the American Motorcyclist Association has started printing the
same sort of stories. So, I though I might describe the
most convincing lesson I ever had.
1. First Time Lucky.
I bought my first bike in 1982 at the age of 46. It was a Yamaha Vision.
It was a good-looking bike with a nice 550cc V-Twin engine,
horrid suspension, a really vicious flat-spot and a tendency
to stall - although I loved the look.
A year later, I bought a 1983 Suzuki GS750ES and then, about another
year later I bought a Suzuki XN85 Turbo. I was a cafe racer, after all.
I was obviously interested in sport bikes and fell in with some like-
minded fellows (all of whom were in their comparative youth) and took
to chasing them across the countryside on weekends - sometimes with
my teen-age son on the back.
November 18th was cold, gloomy, and grey and not exactly the perfect
riding day. About 6 of us had arranged to meet at my place for a ride
to Sussex county in north western New Jersey. Sussex is quite rural
with narrow, two-lane, winding, hilly roads through mostly farm land.
Perfect motorcycle roads, actually. My friends were riding things
like FJ1100s and 750 Interceptors with a single Moto Guzzi for variety.
It took about an hour to get to Sussex and we stopped for some lunch
before continuing. For some reason, I happened to be in the lead,
perhaps I knew the roads better or something. Normally, I would never
be the leader since all of the others were more experienced and faster.
We had been riding for a while and we approached a slightly uphill
right turn. At the apex of the turn, the road went downhill. It was
a blind corner because of banks on the sides of the road.
As I approached the corner, with which I was not familiar, I realized
that I was going too fast and hit the brakes - too hard, actually. The
bike stood-up and steered itself directly across the opposing lane and
onto the gravel on the other side of the road.
Thank God there was nothing coming the other way - First Time Lucky!
2. Second Time Lucky.
As I ran onto the gravel, the last thing I remember is that I said to
myself "I hope it doesn't hurt too much"!
The gravel area was about 20 feet wide and next to a ploughed field.
There was a bank next to the field which was about five feet high.
The bike (I was most certainly not in control) ran up the bank
and along it for about sixty feet. The bike was still leaned over
somewhat and was arrested in its progress by hitting a telephone
pole head on. Since the bike was leaning somewhat, I was ejected
to the side of the pole and into the air. The bike remained standing
with its headstock pushed into the bottom half of the pole. It was
Although the bike hit the pole head on, I was very lucky not to
do so - Second Time Lucky.
3. Third Time Lucky.
When the bike hit the pole, the pole snapped cleanly in two. It turns
out that the next pole in the sequence happened to be on the OTHER
side of the road. So, the top half of the pole swung out into the
roadway and planted itself vertically in the lane in which we
had been riding. The pole was supported in the vertical position
by the cables it carried. My friend Craig Bottrill, who was
immediately behind me said afterwards, that the pole narrowly
missed him as it planted itself in the road. He was lucky, too.
The other riders who made the corner were also lucky not
to hit the transplanted pole.
After I hit the pole, I was thrown about thirty feet and landed
face down in the middle of the road. My full-face helmet
hit the road and the pockets of my Belstaff were torn off, but
apart from that I was remarkably unscathed. Until the next day,
that is, when I woke to find my left side, from ankle to shoulder
a veritable rainbow of interesting blue and purple bruises.
Nothing was broken however. So, I had hit the pole but only
a glancing blow. Of course, the bike was totalled.
The force of the hit was such that the swingarm was kinked from
the impetus of the wheel and swingarm.
Thank God there was nothing coming the other way when I hit
the road - Third Time Lucky.
4. The Lessons Learned.
The first lesson is that accidents happen within two or three seconds.
Once the situation gets out of control, things happen too fast for
you to do anything much about it. You're a passenger.
The second lesson is that if you lose concentration for even a
fraction of second, you can be in trouble. Two of the other riders
that day also ran off the road but were fortunate enough to run
into the ploughed field. I think the reason for this is that they
were so astonished to see what was happening to me that they
lost concentration for a second and then it was too late.
This can explain the situation where two or more bikes will crash
for no apparent reason at the same place at the same time.
The riders see someone in front get into trouble and become
almost hypnotized by the events. They lose concentration and
crash themselves. Remember, you will go where you are looking.
The third lesson is that if you do not understand the dynamics of
your bike, the odds are that you can get into trouble. I was aware
that some bikes stand-up when you hit the brakes hard but I had
never experienced it myself. Had I been prepared, I might have
been able to recover - but I doubt it.
The fourth lesson is that crashing is expensive. Not only did
I lose my bike, but I had to pay $1,500 for a new pole plus
the ticket I got from the nice State Trooper.
I sometimes think that I am glad, in a way, that I had that
accident. Had I not had it, the odds are that I would have
had another with possibly different results.
You learn the hard way.
To survive successfully on the street, you have to not only
be thoroughly familiar with all the things which might happen
(left-turning cars, etc.) but also you need to understand
what your bike will do under all conditions. If you don't
you are at risk.
Finally, my injuries were relatively insignificant. I broke
no bones but woke up the next day with vivid bruises from
my thigh to my shoulder on my left side. It seems that I
had hit the pole a glancing blow with my left side, but I
have no recollection of that happening. Obviously, it could
have been a lot worse.
The bike was totalled. So, I went out and bought a 1985
Kanawake Circle, Harriman State Park, New York.
The bike was leaned over when it hit the pole - The wheel missed, the headlight didn't.
The force of the impact caused the swingarm to be kinked...