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Respect the Road

Respect the Road
A Company, 168th Aviation Battalion
Idaho National Guard
Boise, Idaho

They say there are only two kinds of motorcycle riders — those who have crashed and those who are going to crash. While I do not take pride in this fact, I must admit that I am a rider who has crashed … twice.

I don’t consider myself to be rash. And in all the years I’ve ridden motorcycles, I don’t think anyone would call me reckless. But, like most people, I do suffer from an occasional lapse in judgment. More on that later.

As I mentioned earlier, I have crashed twice, but I should clarify. The first accident occurred on a street bike when I was 18. I had been riding off-road bikes since I was 10 and was very comfortable in the dirt. The road, however, was a whole new ballgame. I was cautious, but I lacked street experience. The primary contributing factor to the accident was mechanical failure, and due to my discomfort with a heavier motorcycle and higher speeds — not to mention an unforgiving paved surface — I lost control and found myself on my back in the middle of the highway. There wasn’t any serious damage to me or the bike, and I was able to limp it home. No harm, no foul, drive on.

Fast forward five years to early spring in the high deserts of the northwest. I’m now 23, married, in the National Guard and attending college. I own a house, two cars and, once again, a street bike. This one is a bit newer and bigger — and a lot faster. It’s an air-cooled, high-speed/low-drag, sport-touring, all-around-fun bike with a lot of low-end torque. It’s the perfect bike for a responsible guy who doesn’t race on the weekends, run away from cops or ride like he’s got something to prove. That was me, and life was good.

The craziest thing I had done on that bike was dent the gas tank while pushing it into the garage. I wore all my protective gear every time I rode, including a helmet, riding jacket, riding pants, boots and gloves. It was cumbersome and hot at times, but it felt right (and it won me brownie points with the wife). It also saved my life. Here’s how:

My best friend growing up was AJ. We did everything together. In fact, I consider him more like a brother than a friend (except we actually get along). I called his parents Mom and Dad and practically lived at his house when I was a teenager. In early spring of 2007, AJ moved to the same town I lived in and, of course, brought his motorcycle. He never rode motorcycles when were growing up and only had this bike for a couple of months. However, he did have all the proper gear, a level head and a learner’s permit. There was a long riding season just around the corner and some sweet “twisties” we would be able to hit up. Our state of mind could probably have been summed up as, “Four wheels move the body, but two wheels move the soul.” Neither of us rode reckless or illegally; we just rode to enjoy the ride. Perhaps our folly was we didn’t think we were dangerous.

The same day AJ got to town, before he even unpacked his toothbrush, he had his bike off the trailer and I had mine out of the garage. The sun was shining, the snow was gone and the roads were dry. It was a perfect day to kick off the dust and twist the throttle. We were only going to be gone about 15-20 minutes because we needed to unload the trailer. AJ’s bike was about 100cc smaller than mine and geared for less low-end torque, but it would get you moving if you wanted it to. It was also a sport-touring-style bike — perfect for a novice rider, yet one that would not leave you disappointed as you gained confidence.

We took off about 9 a.m. Since I knew the area, I was in the lead. I got caught at a stop light about a quarter-mile from the house, but it turned green just as I hit first gear, and AJ shot past me. Here’s the lapse in judgment. I rocked the throttle back and popped the clutch like I was being chased by an angry sergeant major. There was no way that smaller bike was going to out-strip me. I’m sure AJ could see me gaining in his mirror and he didn’t let up. There was a curve left and then right up ahead, and I was ready for them. AJ, however, didn’t know they were there. As he hit the edge of the first corner, there was no hope. The loose gravel and sand on the side of the road from winter sanding was pretty unforgiving, and he went straight into the ditch. Enter folly No. 2: I got tunnel vision. I watched him go off the road in slow motion. I’m not sure if I even started the turn, but I do know I went right off the road after him.

I pitched over the handle bars and did a sort of dive roll, then another, and another and another. Each time I tumbled over, I caught a glimpse of my bike doing summersaults in the air, following me at an uncomfortably close distance. Eventually, I skidded to a stop, made a quick inventory of all my limbs and jumped to my feet to find my partner in crime. He was laying about 50 feet back, his bike in several pathetic pieces, just like mine. I helped him get his helmet off and sat him up. He was white as a ghost and clutching his wrist. “I think I broke my arm,” he said kind of distantly. When he let go of his wrist, his arm, from about five inches below his elbow, flopped strait down. Yep, it was nasty.

A minute later, I made the call of shame to my wife. We had crashed not even a mile from my house, so she was there in less than two minutes. When all was said and done, I think that ride turned out to be well over $20,000 per mile.

I haven’t given up riding and neither has AJ, but we do it with more respect for the road. We still ride because we enjoy it. We still obey the laws, wear all our gear and we like to glide through curves. I have almost been smashed by inattentive drivers, run over by tailgaters and blown away by strong crosswinds. I’m a safe rider, but I never let my guard down, not even once. I guess that’s the price to pay to stay alive and still get out there to enjoy the sport. I gained some priceless insight on the day we crashed. So did AJ … along with two metal plates in his arm.

  • 1 February 2014
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 13368
  • Comments: 0