Back on October 17th (2009), on our online forum “Back Talk” someone named Will was recounting how a bad day had opened his eyes a little. Here is his post:
“Had a crap day on Thurs, but had an epiphany because of it. Was riding to work about ten to eight, getting ready to pull into the parking lot. Now I haven’t owned a car in about 9 years, and I have been riding for 23 years, so I don’t really think too much about just getting on the bike and going. Was running a few minutes late and really wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have been. Signaled to change lanes and miscalculated the speed and distance of the vehicle in the lane next to me, and got clipped by an SUV. Not her fault at all, and it could have been a hell of a lot worse. Bike was rideable (after I replaced the clutch lever that broke), and I have a little road rash and a sore, swollen leg, but I am limping around fine. Came to the realization, though, that having ridden 23 years with no major incidents, that I had let myself get way too comfortable and complacent while riding. If I had been like some of the guys I have seen (riding in shorts, t-shirt and sandals) I would be getting skin grafts right now. I had on a set of military surplus “tactical pants” made from ripstop fabric with my summer riding jacket with armor, and my work boots. The only thing that didn’t survive was the boots. Tore the sole of the heel away from the boot. We have all gone to ride somewhere and had someone say “be careful,” “Keep the Shiny side up,” or any one of a million other things that has been said and replied to with a casual “yeah, you bet” or other contrite response so many times it is almost cliché, but we all need to remember that this is a dangerous activity that we love, and it could take our life at any minute if we let ourselves get too comfortable with it. Don’t mean to get anyone down, or anything, and I got up and rode home the same day, and have ridden every day since, but I will do my best to avoid getting too comfortable while traveling through traffic.”
This sparked a few responses about how complacency can be dangerous, if not fatal.
Familiarity breeds contempt. Some of us are so familiar with our bikes it’s easy to forget they are heavy, hot dangerous machines with whirling pieces just waiting for you to get too close so they can take a bite out of you. I have been running open primaries for a long time, so I don’t even think about it, of course. I remember what happened to the new owner of the Sucker Punch Sally bike at the Smoke Out West 1 a few years back: a few beers plus new open belt drive plus fingers do not go well together.
But just yesterday, on an unusually nice day (for the Detroit area at this time of the year) I walked up to the trusty Shovelhead, two squirts, two kick throughs and one live kick and she roared to life, as she always does. For some unknown reason I got on the bike from the right side. I don’t know why I habitually mount the bike from the left side... goes back to horse riding days maybe? Anyway, I jumped on from the right and lifted the bike off the side stand… and she bit me! The spinning clutch ate its way through the leg of my pants and started slicing n’ dicing the skin underneath. I was shocked. This had just never happened before. Sure, I’ve ‘zinged’ the heel of my shoe numerous times on the front pulley, but nothing like this. Of course I was left to curse my own stupidity. The clutch didn’t dive out there and grab me. I put my leg right against it. Dumb. Some of us (including me) ride without mirrors. This seems reckless (not to mention illegal) but it keeps you paranoid and makes you LOOK every time. You even develop a ‘sense’ when something is coming up on you, but it would be crazy to rely on that. Most people have done something dumb around their bikes when they just ‘forget’ that you can get hurt, even if it was only touching a disk brake after a long ride and stopping moments ago. Who knew they got that hot?
Well, you should. Bill from Austin made some great points also:
After last year’s serial catastrophes, I have to admit a good chunk of it was due to complacency. After thirty years of riding, I took for granted things that should never be taken for granted, trusted things and people I shouldn’t have trusted, and ended up wiping out several times. In May, a moss-covered low-water crossing, just like dozens I’ve crossed over the years, turned out to be slicker than owl snot, and had me flat on my back before I knew what happened. Based on prior experience, I took for granted it would be safe to cross. Even with a DOT helmet, I got a concussion that bothered me for weeks afterward. In June, an asshole pulled across the
street in front of me. I took for granted he would behave in a normal manner, and go on his way through the intersection, so I didn’t slow down enough. By the time I realized he had stopped for no apparent reason and completely blocking my lane, my only choices were to T-bone his cage, ride into oncoming traffic, or lay the bike down. I laid it down, destroying the clutch and damaging the tranny in the process, and narrowly avoiding serious injury.
In early October I towed a loaner bike to Arizona, so my brother and I could finally take a long-anticipated ride together. Although he is an experienced (and usually skillful) rider, I knew the statistics about crashes on unfamiliar bikes, and knew he was having trouble getting used to the BMW’s shifter. Still, I took for granted he could handle the differences, right up to the moment he missed a downshift in a curve and grabbed a fistful of front brake. He was left with numerous fractures, and I towed a badly damaged Beemer back to Texas. In December, I got a wild hair to pull the 21” off the front of my shovel, and stick a 16” back on there. Got it all done and took it for a lengthy test-ride. Everything felt good, so on a chilly Sunday morning I loaded up the toys I intended to donate to the annual toy run that day, spun a couple laps around the neighborhood to warm the tires, and hit the road. I took for granted the tire I had mounted was fine, right up to the moment I hit the turnaround lane to get on the highway. Then I really hit the road, so fast that I swore for days afterward, someone must have spilled diesel fuel in the curve. Only later did I figure out just how long that 16” tire had been sitting up under my workbench - ‘way longer than I realized when I put it on the bike! There wasn’t any diesel fuel; just hard-ass ten-yearold rubber!
I want to thank you for posting this, Will. I believe a reminder is in order for all riders that motorcycling entails risk, that our best efforts will not eliminate all risk, but that we can do certain things to manage risk. Things like Beginner’s and Experienced Rider Safety Courses, studying and practicing safety techniques like counter-steering and powerbraking, riding sober and alert, not taking things for granted, and making sure our bikes (and tires) are roadworthy, etcetera. “Ride Hard, Die Young” or “If it’s my time to go...” may sound really bad-ass, but not every rider who crashes dies. Pavement hurts, broken bones suck, and paralysis really bites.
Don’t go there if you don’t have to.
These are all great points to remember next time you’re out there. My leg is reminding me right now, but that will heal quickly. Hopefully, I’ll be smart enough to avoid the same thing.