~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Monday, September 17, 2007

After The Fall

An informal poll in one of the motorcycle forums I sometimes visit indicated that over all, about 70% of the riders had fallen off at some point or another in their pavement riding career. We're speaking now about riding on the pavement because dirt riders all know that crashing is a regular part of their game. Bailing off a dirt bike is pretty routine compared to tossing away a street bike although I'm on record as having done some pretty spectacular dirt bike crashes. The simple fact is the motorcycling isn't the safest hobby around and people do crash.

On one forum there have been long discussions of some forum members' recent crashes and their own unhappy mental state afterwards. Often the "why" and "how" of the incident and getting the bike fixed or replaced are easier to answer than the "What should I do next?" issue. Getting the bike back in the garage can be easier than getting the rider's shaken confidence set aright, especially when well meaning family and friends wring their hands and say over and over "Quit riding those %$@# motorcycles!"

A few of the forum regulars have had the misfortune to go down this year, some hard, some not so hard. Some biffed it due to rider error, some due to stupid car drivers, one or two because of deer strikes. Regardless of the cause, getting back on the bike after a hard fall can be a challenge both physically and mentally. I think it might even be more so for older riders because we seem to heal slowly and we're a little more in touch with our mortality after a few decades of living.

Someplace around the age of forty years you suddenly realize that you're not invincible and not going to take up space above ground forever. Your own mortality becomes more tangible and therefore the urge to NOT test it becomes more tangible. Too, we older guys usually have more financial obligations hanging out there than the younger guys. Mortgages, kids in college, career issues, all become more prominent factors as the years of motorcycling accumulate and they tend to inflict a sense of responsibility even when it's not welcomed, and further, conspire to cause the throttle to roll shut and the brakes be applied sooner on the curves than they used to be.

In case you're wondering at this point: No, I have not crashed, at least not recently.

It's been a long, long time since I crashed a motorcycle on the street. The first and last time was back about 1972 when I was riding 2-up on a Suzuki 550 Indy (2-stroke triple) on Highway 154 in California. It was foggy on the coastal side of the Santa Barbara mountains and I was going sensibly slow. A car coming the other way, apparently freaked out by the dense fog, the winding road, and big drop offs on his side of the road and the driver cut well into my lane on a curve. I dodged to the right and onto the shoulder of the road escaping the car but not the broken up edge of the pavement. I got the bike slowed down to about 10 mph before the undercarriage snagged on the asphalt edge. A loud scrape, a nice low speed tank slapper, and down we went.

The Suzuki's Wixom fairing suffered a broken windscreen and the hard saddlebags were a little messed up. The ignition points cover on the side of the engine (you all remember ignition points, right?) was split open. My riding buddies stopped and my passenger and I scrambled to our feet, our riding gear a little scuffed up but unhurt. The Suzuki was up righted, the dirt wiped off, the broken windscreen removed and tossed aside. The cover for the ignition points was broken open by the impact and the points were packed with dirt. I cleaned them out with a screw driver and some blowing and the broken aluminum points cover was taped over with electrical tape. The engine started right up, we hopped back on the bike, and with some increased degree of caution completed the ride up to the little Danish-style tourist town of Solvang, CA.

These days I might not be so likely to continue on after a get-off but back then I was young, studly, and knew that Peterson's Danish Mill Bakery awaited with it's trays of amazing and wonderful pastries. Come to think of it, even now I'd get up and keep going for the pastries unless the bike wouldn't run or I had bones sticking out. When I was racing motocross back in the days of the dinosaurs we had a saying "If there's no blood or bones showing you're not really hurt."

Although I have not crashed on the street in a long, long time (fingers crossed) there have been other unhappy things from which I had to bounce back since then and in each case I was determined to not give up what was important to me. That didn't mean that returning to the fun didn't scare me or that I hadn't had my confidence badly shaken, it just meant I wouldn't give up without a struggle. I told someone recently about dangerous situations "Being scared is normal, not being scared is crazy. Not letting your fears control you is the true sign of courage."

I think it's important to realize and admit that it's NORMAL to be at least a little scared and a little nervous about riding after a crash. Accept that your negative feelings are not unreasonable and then begin a planned, logical process of overcoming them and laying them to rest. Heck, anyone who gets on a motorcycle anytime without feeling at least a twinge of caution is either crazy or stupid.

I do believe it's important to ride again after a crash, even if it's only once, so that you can look back and say you were not beaten by fate, stupidity, the machine, or worse, your own fears. Still, each of us has to make that choice for ourselves and I don't believe there is actually a wrong choice in the matter, just an intensely personal one. I would never criticize anyone who had crashed and decided afterwards to give up riding.

When I was racing motocross back in the days of the dinosaurs we had a saying "If there's no blood or bones showing, you're not hurt." Going home banged up from a crash always sucked. When you're single the girls always go "Oh, poor baby, let me kiss it and make it better." When you're married the women say "Nice work again, Ace. How much is it going to cost us this time?"

Of course the best plan is to avoid crashing entirely but there are no guaranties about that. Philosophical question for the day: If you knew that it was impossible to crash, that nothing could ever go wrong, would riding be as much fun?

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"When my mood gets too hot and I find myself wandering beyond control I pull out my motor-bike and hurl it top-speed through these unfit roads for hour after hour." - T.E. Lawrence

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