Somebody on a bike forum recently posted a Youtube video of a guy with a new motorcycle running into a parked car trying to get it out of the lot. Some of the members express sympathy, while others believe he got what he deserved as a result of his failure to respect the machine. I find myself in the first camp, remembering my own unfortunate incident.
Truth be told, I know exactly when and what I did to start the ball rolling and will take responsibility for a poor decision, but I wouldn’t characterize it as sheer stupidity. It was an incorrect analysis of my capabilities, and the danger inherent in the maneuver I was attempting.
I was on my Victory 92TC Deluxe at the time. I was riding two up with my wife on this heavy, and top heavy, bike. We had gassed up and were about to pull out of the service station. There were two ways out, with exits at opposite ends. The leader of the pack took the one behind me. This is the point where I should have had the wife dismount and duck-walked the monster around. Instead I watch the nimble Valkyries easily loop around 180 degrees and decided I could probably do the same.
As I began the turn, the bike started to lean. I let off the clutch a little more to stand it back up, but the engine lugged for a second. Things started to happen very fast after this. I’m certain that I opened the throttle to get RPMs back up, because the bike was really leaning now and threatening to go down. The engine caught, over revved, and stood the bike up completely, straightening out the turn. It also threw me back some altering my grip on the bars and completely changing the dynamic between me and the bike. I’ve now turned 90 degrees, the gas pumps are 10 feet straight in front of me, and the bike is moving too fast to make the turn. In that strange instant when time almost seems to stop, and ideas seem to come at lightning speed, I decided to try for the gap between the pump islands. I even remember noting that there was no traffic on the other side of the pumps.
While my mind was furiously working out escape routes and identifying potential obstacles, it completely missed the salient point that I was leaning back with such an awkward grip on the bars that I had very little control of the motorcycle. What’s more, as my hand was pulled back, it had rolled on the throttle and I was actually accelerating toward the pumps. As the distance between me and the barrier decreased I began to realize that the machine simply was not going where I wanted it. I was now too close and moving too fast for the gap between the island to be a viable option. At this point, my brain really did seem to be operating on two levels. Almost like two pilots in a cockpit. As one part was analyzing the new situational data, another part was thinking, “My God! I’ve GOT to get off the throttle.”
These two mental operations reached a consensus on the best course remaining. Even dumping the bike, I can’t stop before I get there. I’m too close and moving too fast. If I continue to try for the gap, it means going left. There is still momentum from the bike righting itself, forcing it to lean to the right. Trying to go left means fighting that momentum and getting the bike to lean back the other way. Failure to make the turn will result in either a head-on into the pump, or a high-side lay down going between them.
Going right requires a harder turn, but I’ve got the bikes momentum working with me. It is still in the process of a longitudinal rotation that makes it lean to the right. The point of failure here will be the tires losing grip. I remember seeing the debris on the blacktop including pea gravel from the asphalt, and thinking, “The tires will never stick.” But the aftermath of failing this turn is a low-side into the concrete pad of the pump island.
Let me be clear here that at no point did I decide to “lay it down.” But I did make the decision on which way to turn based on the probable aftermath of the turn’s failure. I decided to go right.
It was, of course, inevitable that the tires lost grip and we went down. The bike rolled my right leg beneath it, twisting my knee. It struck the concrete pad, tires first. It felt to me that the impact must have carried roughly the same energy as the asteroid impact that created Meteor Crater in Arizona. The truth was, fortunately, less spectacular. I must have gone down at almost the moment of impact, because there was very little damage to the engine and bag guards on the bike. You had to look very close to see any scratches. If fact, the bike showed almost no damage at all.
Everybody in three counties was suddenly there showing concern and trying to see if I was all right or if they could help. These wonderful people were all very sincere, but I think I would have preferred death to the embarrassment.
I got off lucky. The wife and the bike were both undamaged. I had a sprained knee, and began shaking so violently that I couldn’t hold a cup of coffee. Eventually I calmed down and we were able to get home. I arrived a MUCH wiser rider.
I’m not so quick to laugh at Youtube video of motorcycle wrecks now.
− Guy Wheatley