Busting the Limits
III Marine Expeditionary Force
At last, I had accumulated enough leave to allow me to take a week off of work. Soon, I would finally be doing what I’d always dreamed — riding a motorcycle. But first, I knew I had to get some safety training.
I called the motorcycle training course office and signed up for a slot in the final session of the month. (Back then, the course was one week long.) My wife knew I wanted to ride and although she supported the idea, I could tell it worried her. It wasn’t that she thought I was reckless; she was concerned by the fact that I had never even been on a bike before and had just purchased a used Kawasaki ZXR-400 Sport Edition. Yes, you heard that right — a 400cc crotch rocket. While far from the biggest bike on the road, its power was still impressive.
After waiting for what seemed like months, my training week finally arrived. The first day consisted of classroom instruction as the instructor covered all of the basics, from the different types of bikes to road hazards. I was fascinated. I still remember how that first day of training ended. Our instructor said loud and clear, “Class, always remember this — don’t exceed your limits.”
The remainder of the training was all about practical exercises, which included riding techniques, braking and defensive riding. I was proud to be one of the few riders that did not drop their bike during the training. As he did the first day, our instructor concluded the remaining training days with his favorite phrase, “Riders, don’t exceed your limits.”
Following a final day of training and testing, I officially graduated from the course. I couldn’t wait to hit the road. I can’t speak for the rest of the riders, but as I left the training course grounds on my bike, our instructor’s words were fresh in my mind — “Don’t exceed your limits.”
I rode to work every day for the next six months and went on long rides on Sundays. I was loving life as I put a lot of miles on my bike. With each ride, I was getting more experience under my belt. I felt I was doing well and swore to myself I would never exceed the limitations of my bike and my knowledge of the road. I’d read and heard stories about riders who had gone down — including some who had attended training with me.
Eventually, my daily bike commute to work changed to riding on weekends only. It was on one of these weekend rides that my life changed forever.
By now, a year and a half had passed since I’d taken the training course. On a Sunday morning, I decided to ride to a remote area alone. That was my first mistake. While traveling about 70 mph on a stretch of empty road, I failed to recognize a steep curve ahead. I entered the curve, flew off the bike and landed head first on the pavement, rolling toward a guardrail that was just feet from a cliff. My bike flew over me and finally stopped about 300 yards down the road in pieces.
I stood up and could not believe what had just happened. I thought I was dreaming. There I was, alone in a remote location with a destroyed bike. I eventually found help and was taken to the hospital, where the doctors called me the Miracle Man. They couldn’t believe I survived such a crash, but there I was with no broken bones or head injuries, just a couple of bruises. I’m living proof that personal protective equipment works wonders.
I could make excuses about what caused my accident, such as the fact that vegetation on the sides of the road had become overgrown and covered the curve warning signs. But let’s be honest; someone who doesn’t exceed his or her limits is always a defensive rider, so I can’t blame the sign. The fact is that just a year and a half after my training, I had become complacent and failed to apply the fundamentals of safe riding. Most of all, I ignored my instructor’s famous words and, in the process, broke a promise I made to myself to never exceed my limits. Regretfully, I busted the limits.
Although I had my bike repaired, it took a while for me to get back on the road. Since then, I learned there had been four motorcycle fatalities at the same location as my accident. I truly am a lucky man. If you get anything out my story, I hope it’s this: Always ride within your limits. When in doubt, go back to the fundamentals you learned in training. Believe me, your life depends on it.