Common Tread

The crash and the lessons learned

Sep 28, 2015

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
The state trooper didn't even question the rather unorthodox position of the mirror. Photo by Wendell Evans.

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 Evans
As winner of the crashing lottery, our author gets a trip to the hospital and a broken brake lever for a trophy. Photo by Allison Kerry.
My 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.