A harsh lesson in attentive riding

No one to blame but myself
Published January 25, 2014

Yesterday morning, I crashed my motorcycle.

It sounds worse than it objectively is, but personally I’m still gutted. A broken bar end mirror and a few square inches of rash are all the bike suffered in a spill that happened at under 10 mph. I thumped my head (helmeted) and hurt my right heel, but am otherwise untouched. No one else was involved in the crash. Objectively, it hardly happened.

Over the previous night, I received a letter from Bike’s managing editor sharing a proof of the magazine spread featuring my writing and set to hit British newsstands in late February. Before the day had even started, I’d hit a high, excited to see my words and photographs in (nearly) print. Moments later, I’d be launched — o’r the high side — to the lowest low of my motorcycle experience.

Frustratingly, I can’t say for sure what happened. Possibly I was lost in thought, a habit for which I often scold myself when caught. Indeed, I sharply remember my thoughts before the crash. I pulled on my new Shoei helmet, regretted slightly the cost of it, and told myself as I mounted the Street Triple and exited my driveway toward the office, “This is why I work, to fund my motorcycle things.” I work to ride, and I ride to work. I smiled and winced at the accidentally quaint circle of words.

The rush of waking from a falling dream, a sensation of momentum

And then the rush of waking from a falling dream, a sensation of momentum pulling me sideways and down, but without a visual to confirm or a memory of what got me there. I hit the ground and stood up in an alternate reality, completely separate from the morning before the crash.

A line of cars stopped in front of me, drivers mouthing an offer of help. I lifted my sad Triumph and rolled it to the curb as one driver exited his car and asked if I needed medical attention. Nope, I was fine. Another driver, sitting in her car parked on the curb, seemed as shocked as I. “What happened? You stopped there [pointing] and then you were on the ground.” My thoughts exactly.

What the hell was that. Utter disbelief shook my confidence in reality, that I wasn’t dreaming, that it was Friday, and that I was standing in the middle of the road. After traffic dispersed, I scanned the intersection for an answer, a puddle of oil, a patch of sand, or a giggling gremlin responsible for shoving me sideways onto the asphalt.

I high-sided. Making a left turn, I landed on my right. I remember the sensation of lost traction to the rear, the back of the bike swinging sideways before the fall. An examination of my rear tire revealed evidence of free spinning, a unique wear pattern around the entire perimeter of the inside edge. Why did it spin? Why did I lose traction at such low speed? Is this the dumbest motorcycle accident anyone’s ever had? Had I broken a record?

I’m confident I didn’t cause the spill by riding quickly. Ironically, I had been riding the Street Triple hard the previous weekend, without a hint of incident. On my favorite back road, with the suspension newly adjusted for my weight, the bike felt perfect beneath me. I was hard on the brakes, hard on the throttle, and reached the end of the road minutes ahead of my friend. The Triumph and I were melding as wholly as I’d paired with my Ninja 250. So how did I so forcefully fuck up a left turn off a stop sign, at nothing-mph?

My wife tells me it doesn’t matter, and she’s probably right but it’s not satisfying to give up on an answer. I need a reason to point at, a cause to blame, something I can say I’ll never do again.

The lack of memory a moment before the fall is the best evidence of a cause. I wasn’t paying attention. I found in the road some small plastic debris, and an arc of spilt liquid that may have initiated the loss of traction, but it’s not enough to say for sure. And I should have seen it before the crash, not after. My habit of indulging thought on the motorcycle is one I need to temper.

Maybe I should break the habit entirely, but that would change my relationship with riding. I don’t need it on my commute, or in traffic, but time alone to dwell on thoughts is high on the list of reasons why I ride a motorcycle. Perhaps that’s why, emotionally, the crash feels worse than the reality of a mildly-bruised bike.