The crash and the lessons learned


I wrecked my bike. I'm pissed off at myself, and embarrassed. And you know what? I'm also relieved.

The day was perfect — sunny, but not hot enough to sweat. I was zinging along on some of my favorite Pennsylvania back roads when I came to a fork. I realized that in all the times I'd been through that intersection, I'd never taken the left branch. Well, today would be different. How different, I would soon find out.

Pennsylvania State Route 841, I discovered, has a sweet mix of curves and straights, with basically no traffic. How the hell had I missed this road? I liked it so much that when I got to the end, I turned around to do it again.

But now that I had gone over it once, I could go faster, right?

I hit a nice straight that dumped into an S curve. I'd done curves like this dozens of times. I felt a smile of anticipation forming as I approached. I let off the gas, expecting engine braking to slow me down. I got nothing. Shit, I'm in fourth, not third! Big mistake.

I was already leaned into the curve and couldn't brake hard without sliding. I looked at the shoulder, not the road. Stupid. I was done, headed off the pavement. My initiation had begun.

I plowed into deep grass. The front tire dumped almost immediately. I landed on my shoulder and rolled, coming to a stop in a sitting position, smeared with mud. Wow, that was over quick. I stood up and looked around. No one saw. Maybe I could just pick up the bike and get out of here before anyone came by. I reached up to take off my helmet and God damn my ***ing shoulder!

Something was very wrong. My right shoulder hurt like hell when I lifted my arm. I couldn't tell for sure because of my jacket, but it felt like something was sticking up where it shouldn't.

crashed motorcycle

I wiggled my helmet off with one hand and surveyed the damage. Headlight bracket bent at a 90-degree angle, headlight shell torn and jammed with grass and mud. Both bar-end rearviews dangling. Something shiny in the grass next to the engine. Shit. The brake pedal. Thanks to the grass-and-mud landing, the engine case and pipes were fine.

While I stood there looking stupid, someone drove up. "Are you OK?" "Yeah, I'm fine," I said, waving with my good arm and smiling a little too big. Yeah, I lied. It seemed like the thing to do. The last thing I wanted was to have my bike towed, ride in an ambulance and deal with my wife freaking out when I phoned to tell her what happened.

I had to get the bike up, but with the mushy ground and my shoulder, no way could I do it by the handlebars. I stood with my back to the bike, grabbed the frame near the seat and lifted with my legs. Spears of pain shot through my shoulder. I got it about two-thirds up before I started struggling and sliding, my shoulder on fire. It felt like forever, but after about a minute I got it righted and turned myself around. I spied a plate-sized piece of hard black plastic in the grass, a broken part off a car whose driver made the same mistake I did. I reached out with my foot, slid the plastic under the kickstand and swung my leg over.

The bike started right up, no problem. Even the headlight and signals worked. I put the brake pedal in my pocket, slipped the bike into gear and cautiously let out the clutch. I was gonna get home! I eased it back onto the road and limped home at around 25 mph. It was 20 miles, normally a half hour ride back to suburbia, but a good deal more at this speed. No one seemed to notice my trashed headlight or dangling mirrors, not even the state trooper sitting next to me at a light.

Wendell EvansMy wife took me to the hospital emergency department. Separated shoulder. The doc praised me for being in full gear, but said that even with pads, if I had hit my shoulder on the road it would have been a fracture for sure. So maybe it was good luck after all. Or at least not completely awful luck.

I've had time to think about it, and I have to say I'm angry with myself for being so careless. I can’t believe I got suckered into target fixation! As Bugs Bunny would say, what a maroon!

On the other hand, part of me (not my shoulder) is glad it happened. I got it over with. I had my lay-down. Now when some non-rider says "Have you ever crashed?" I can say "Yeah, I have," and I won't have to listen to the smug bastard tell me there are two kinds of motorcyclists — those who have and those who will. I'm now a member of the club. As someone said online, you ain't rode till you've been throwed. And I have been throwed.

So I'm out for a while. I have time to scrape together some repair cash and rehab my shoulder, which already feels much better.

Of course the only really good thing that comes out of a crash is the lesson learned that can help prevent a repeat performance, and the lesson here, as far as I'm concerned, is stupid-simple: Stay focused and never, ever forsake the basics. I looked at the edge of the road, where I didn't want to go, so of course that's where I went. In hindsight, when I realized I was into the curve too hot, I could have just leaned harder, looked through the turn, and would have made it through without drama.

And maybe one other thing: If you’re going down and have a choice between muddy grass and pavement, take the grass. Learn from my example, and ride safe.

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