I haven’t wanted to write about my motorcycle accident, more because I’m afraid of worrying my parents than embarrassing myself, but what caused it has taught me about far more than bike safety. I approached riding motorcycles with caution. I wanted to make sure that I understood what I was doing before I went and did it. That was only possible to a point, and then I had to trust my instincts. And I wish I could say that I never looked back, but I did. About a week after I bought the bike, I thought I had made a huge mistake. Learning to ride a motorcycle is difficult, and figuring it out is frustrating, but I’d hardly given myself enough time. I guess I was expecting that loving it would be enough to make it easy, but as in most relationships, that was hardly the case.
When you first start riding bikes, you have to spend about 80% of your attention driving the thing. It takes time and practice for the physical action of riding to become intuitive enough to enjoy it. It takes a lot of work, and while that is something I’m in no way opposed to, I assumed I'd catch on faster.
I’d ridden almost every day for a month when I went down. I was super comfortable at this point, but the day before had been rough. I was angry and emotional, and it was dark and pouring rain when I left the office. I made the decision to take my truck back into the city and leave the bike at work. I’d come back for it the next morning.
I woke up feeling better, and went to get my motorcycle. It was finally sunny and warm after a week of pouring rain. I was excited to get out and blow off some steam. I had the day off and it was looking like a perfect afternoon for riding. I picked up the bike, got her started, folded up the cover and, though I normally strap it to the back of my seat, stuffed it into my backpack instead.
I was three blocks from my apartment when I noticed the mat of wet leaves. The storm drain on the corner had been flooded from all the rain, and fallen leaves had collected there. I wonder if those are going to be slick I thought as I approached the intersection. ZZZZZZ ZZZZZZ in my pocket, indicating a text. I’d forgotten to turn off my phone. Shit, I need to call her back. In the split second between my noticing the leaves and preparing for them, the phone had hijacked my attention just long enough for me to forget the potential hazard and slip into the muscle memory that we all ride with close to home as I turned onto my street like I had so many days before. Slow down to make sure the dum dums actually stop at the stop sign, ease into the turn and accelerate through it and up the hill.
Suddenly, the bike was completely out of my control. The back end slid off to my left as I turned right, and I steered left to counter as I gave her gas to straighten up. The throttle did the trick, but I’d overcorrected with the handlebars and was headed straight for a parked Prius. I was still wobbling, the gap between me and the car was closing quickly, and knew I couldn’t brake hard without seriously fucking up, so I decided to lay her down and try to get out of the way.
I spun away from the bike on my ass and she slid to a stop inches from the Prius. When I could focus, I found myself sitting cross legged on the side of the street, the bulky bike cover in my pack cushioning my back from the curb. Two guys ran toward me and had the bike up before I had processed what happened. I think they were asking if I was okay as I tried to get my helmet off. Yeah, I’m ok. I’m ok. I was ok. In fact, I wasn’t hurt at all that I could tell.
After I’d assured the guys that I really wasn’t hurt, I looked down at the deep scars on the pavement and then at my bike. One mirror hung limply off the handlebars. The brake reservoir was at an odd angle. My brake lever was bent. I leaned over and looked at the side of the motorcycle - broken footpeg, dent in the gas tank, pancaked exhaust. Well, shit.
I looked back at where I’d been sitting. The curb had stopped my spin, and, now that I thought about it, if I hadn’t had that cover in my bag, I could have really smacked my back on the edge of the concrete. The bike wasn't rideable, so I rolled her down the hill and parked her next to a row of BMW adventure bikes that lived in the neighborhood. No point in locking her up, who’d steal my broken Triumph next to those things?
I called the shop for a tow and then phoned my insurance company. When I got the estimate a few days later I was shocked. Almost five thousand dollars worth of damage. Almost totaled. How was that even possible? I’d been going like ten miles an hour, tops. But that’s how it happens - it's always a hundred miles an hour. And if you’re not paying attention for whatever reason or for whatever fraction of a second, that distraction can be the difference between cruising through it and going down. The difference between a trip to the hospital and riding home. The difference between having a bike in the garage and a bike in the shop, or even a bike at all.
The takeaway for me wasn’t that I should have known about wet leaves. It wasn’t that I shouldn’t have been riding. It wasn’t that I should have had on more or better gear. It’s that I should have been focused on enjoying a sunny day on the bike and eliminated all possible distractions. It’s that I should not have had my damn phone in my pocket. Even on vibrate, because that buzz took me out of the zone long enough to forget that I’d been worried about the leaves. If I’d stayed in the moment I might have waited to accelerate. Or I might have kept going straight and turned at the top of the next hill where the road was clear. If I hadn’t been taken out of the moment, I’d have had my bike for the last couple of weeks and been enjoying some much needed time off out on the road and not stuck in my apartment while she was in the shop.
And I see this as more than a lesson about riding. Anytime we’re doing something we love, we should let ourselves be swept up in it - whether it’s coffee or our kids, reading a book on the sofa or watching a movie with a friend. Certainly if it’s face time (not FaceTime) with people that we care about, we should be there. Because that’s how life happens - at a hundred miles an hour. And if we’re not paying attention for whatever reason or for whatever fraction of a second, that distraction could change everything.
Coming back into a conversation over tea after pausing to respond to a text disrupts the flow. Asking what happened in the movie while you were checking your phone is annoying. Why watch something through your phone screen when it’s right there in front of you? Being anywhere other than where you are right now is a disservice to yourself and plain rude to the people that you’re with. I know that there are exceptions - doctors, parents, etc. - but for those of us who can unplug to have actual human experiences, take advantage. Please. Please, take advantage. Especially as we go into this crazy time of year, we travel so far and through so much to be there, let’s remember to be there. Yeah?
Oh, and drive safe.