Caught in the Sun CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 4 BRIAN MCUMBER
160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)
Fort Campbell, Kentucky
As a motorcycle rider with more than 26 years of experience, I consider myself fairly seasoned. Seasoned, however, doesn’t always equal smart. As human beings, we are still susceptible to simple mistakes, overconfidence and errors in judgment. I’d like to share with you one particular experience I had recently in which all of these mistakes almost played into a serious accident.
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Tennessee — the kind of day that riders hate to pass up. The sun was shining and there was slight breeze keeping the temperature about 70 F. I had spent the day catching up on some cleaning and maintenance on my vehicles, and my 2007 Triumph Speed Triple was now all shined up and begging to be ridden. When my wife mentioned she needed something from the store, I figured that was the excuse I needed to go for a quick ride.
The trip to the store was uneventful enough. I picked up what my wife needed, threw it in my backpack and set off for home. About two miles from the house, I stopped at a traffic light and was faced with a decision. I could either go straight and head back home, or I could turn left and take a three-mile detour onto a nice, twisty back road that ran behind my house. Like every self-respecting motorcycle rider, I took the left turn and headed toward the twisty road.
Up ahead, I knew the road made a slow sweep to the left and then doubled back to the right before entering a wooded area with ditches on either side. I was very familiar with this road, which ran through a sparsely populated area, because I frequently took it on my way home from work. As I started down the road, I passed two gas stations, one on my left and one on my right. At the gas station on my right, there was a family out front, and I could see one of the kids pointing and admiring my bike as I passed by.
Lost in the moment, I figured I would demonstrate my assumed riding skill and rolled on the throttle. By now, it was late afternoon and the sun was beginning to set. I started into the left-hand turn and was blinded as the sun shined directly in my face. At the time, I wasn’t too concerned because I knew I would soon turn back to the right and the sun would be out of my face. What I didn’t know and what I couldn’t see was that the public works department had started to repave the road and had laid down fresh tar and loose gravel.
My first indication that I was in a bad situation was when the rear of the bike started to slide out. By now I was out of the blinding sun and had spotted the gravel. I reduced the throttle a little and slowly raised the bike enough to keep it in the turn, regain some traction and get the rear tire back behind the bike. I continued to slow and coasted through the right-hand turn and began to silently chastise myself for being so stupid.
The one thing that saved me from scraping pebbles out of my butt — and possibly wrapping my bike around a tree — was experience. Over my many years of riding, I have been lucky enough to ride all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes and street bikes. I’ve also ridden several open track days at race courses. Needless to say, this was not the first time I had found myself unintentionally sliding through a turn. Luckily, this time it didn’t land me in the hospital like it had once in the past.
At the end of the day, this close call was caused by indiscipline and was easily preventable. I was riding too fast for the conditions (blinding sun) and assumed the road was in good condition because I had ridden it a few days before (overconfidence). This is a prime example of no matter how much experience you have, you are still susceptible to simple mistakes. Hopefully, your experience will also save your bacon when you get into a bad situation.