San Francisco Time / UTC Time


2007-04-20

Just a matter of time

One of the general axioms of riding a motorcycle is "it's not of matter of if, it's a matter of when you crash your bike". I've heard this for years and dutifully repeated it, though without much conviction. Until today.

I've been riding motorcycles for nearly 13 years and I've never crashed a bike. I've dropped 2 different bikes a combined total of 3 times, but I wasn't REALLY riding when it happened. The first time was on my 1990/1992 (don't ask) Suzuki GSXR 1100. I was out at Rodeo Beach (aka Fort Kronkite) and being as the bike was still fairly new (to me) and feeling paranoid of thieves, I decided to put my new disc lock on while I walked the beach. On returning to the bike, I mounted up, fired the engine and attempted to back out of my parking spot… only to come to a jarring halt when the lock hit the forks. I was not ready for this and the bike tilted to the left and my left foot slipped while I was trying to get it down.. needless to say, the next few minutes found me feeling rather stupid and abashedly struggling to set the rubber side down again. I had not learned yet THIS technique, so I picked the bike up using my arms and back muscles... the wrong way. I didn't notice right away because of the adrenaline, but later that afternoon my back was very sore. This little mistake cost me a sizeable chunk of pride and a set of bent rotors that a resurfacing job didn't fix. A constant pulse in the front brake whenever applied was a constant reminder to think about the bike lock. I ended up getting a coiled cable that ran from the lock to the handlebar as a reminder so that it wouldn't happen again, but not before...

... the second dropped bike. After I sold my GSXR, I purchased a used 1995 BMW R1100 GS. It was (and is) a tall bike; even with the seat in the lowest position, I could never get more than the balls of my feet on the ground. This made stopping on any crowned or sloping road a real challenge. I always had to slide my hips over when coming to stop so I could get more of my foot on the ground. I got used to it but it was dicey in the beginning. One day while in SF I stopped at my favorite Mission St. Taqueria, El Farolitos at 24th & Misson. Seeing as I was in the heart of SF's Mission Distrct, I put my disc lock on. I parked with the ass end of the bike in to the curb between 2 cars. I was in a hurry when I got back to the bike as I was running late (at this point I don't remember where I had to be) and I forgot to remove the disc lock. I was turning right out of my spot heading north on Mission when the lock hit the forks and I overbalanced on the right side. As the bike went down and I hopped off and managed to slow the bike's pavement bound topple, but I was unable to halt it. The physical damange was limited to minor scratching and a slightly scratched cylinder head guard, but there was massive damage to my ego as there were tons of people (nothing unusual for Mission St. in the middle of the day) walking down the sidewalk. Somehow adrenaline pumping through my veins managed to get the bike back up on it's wheels, but I lifted the bike the wrong way again and I was panting by the time I got the kickstand down and the lock off. I took off as fast as I could, with my proverbial tail between my legs. It was shortly after this incident that I got the "reminder" cable for the lock.

The third time I dropped the bike and the second time I dropped the beamer was in Mendocino on a gravel road. I had been visiting my brother-in-law; At the time he was living way up a mountainside on a gravel road with a deep gravel driveway. You can guess where this is going. A little too much throttle combined with some sloppy clutch work kicked the rear wheel out to the right as I was departing and the bike ended up on it's left side with me standing next to it saying "wow, that sucks". Actually what I said was a lot worse than that, but let's leave it at that. I was a much better rider by this point, but I had zero experience riding a motorcycle in gravel and I didn't realize how unforgiving it can be. Minor scratching to the cylinder guards and none to me and thankfully this time no one witnessed my ineptitude. I had learned another valuable lesson.

So that covers my previous experience with dropping motorcycles. Speed was always less than 3 mph and it was always from a stop that I dropped the bike... until today.

I was heading home from work after a rather frustrating day at work. My ride was going well with several nicely connected green lights that usually don't link up. Riding usually makes me feel better when other things aren't going well. The way I become one with the bike and the way my mind clears and I focus completely on the here and now is a wonderful way to put your troubles aside. This focus was the reason that today's wreck didn't badly damage my bike and I escaped physically unscathed.

I was headed westbound down Fulton Street. Somewhere between 11th & 12th St. I got into the right hand lane in anticipation for turning right on Park Presidio. There was a green Toyota Corolla or Camry in front of me with a bunch of bumper stickers on it. As we approached Park Presidio the traffic stacked up right to Funston in the right lane. The corolla/camry was braking in a straight line, no right hand signal, all indication were that they were going straight past Park Presidio and heading for points further west. I began to move right into the curb lane/right hand turn lane that directs you onto Park Presidio. Map HERE. At this point the corolla/camry driver is nearly past the northbound lane of Funston as I begin to enter the widening turn lane. I've slowed to maybe 15-20mph. Can you guess what happened next? Yeah.. this asshat decides he doesn't want to wait for the cars at the light and decides he wants to shortcut them by going down Funston, so without signal or any indication he turns right onto Funston right in front of me. I locked up the brakes and managed to turn the bars enough to miss creaming his passenger door... I rode it to the end pulling my leg free as the bike dumped over on the right side. I realized afterward that I was howling in anger the whole time the panic braking was happening and I was standing in the entrance to Funston in the northbound lane double arm flipping the bird and screaming obscenities before the driver was even halfway down the block. He never even slowed down. I don't know if he even saw or heard me. A nice irishman by the name of Carl helped me pick up the bike and chatted with me for a few minutes. He told me about how his brother rides a motorcycle over in Ireland and also about another bad motorcycle accident he'd seen a few weeks ago. Somehow I managed to get over the whole thing and regain my composure within a couple of minutes. This is HIGHLY unusual for me and in retrospect I've come to realize that it was Carl's smile, unflappable positivity and his helping hand that turned a potential week long funk into something I was able to basically brush off like a bothersome mosquito. Somehow I was just happy to be unhurt and my bike damage to be relatively minor. Thanks again Carl, wherever you are out there.


Damage Assesment: Slightly scratched mirror casing, slightly bent front brake lever, dislodged right front turn signal and some ugly scratching on my right givi hardbag. The front turn signal still works even and the plastic didn't even break. I was amazed. I tried picking up the bike the way described in the video above, but I'm sure I was doing it wrong as I tried it twice and couldn't get a good grip. I ended up picking it up the wrong way. I don't seem to have hurt my back, but then again I did have some help from Carl. The rest of the ride home was mostly uneventful with the exception of a marin soccer mom in a white Range Rover Defender veering into my lane heading down the waldo grade; I was far enough back that I slowed down AND gave her the horn which sent her cell-phone-to-the-ear ass swerving back into her own lane. I gunned it past after that and didn't see her again.

WHAT I LEARNED (again):


  • Always assume they don't see or hear you
  • When you really need the horn, you won't have time to use it
  • Watch out for last second non-signaling turners
  • Don't get into a place where you can get "Right Hooked"


I can now say "It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when" with conviction. Thankfully I don't have to do it from a hospital bed.

Keep your wits about you out there; watch out for asshats, and as always, keep the rubber side down.

BTW: Happy 420 folks! I didn't partake today but I did try to get drunk when I got home. Emphasis on the "try". The adrenaline left floating round my system must be supressing the alcohol.

CURRENT MUSIC: Jimi Hendrix, Band of Gypsies, Changes

1 comment:

Biby Cletus said...

Nice post, its a really cool blog that you have here, keep up the good work, will be back.

Warm Regards

Biby Cletus - Blog