Thursday, April 15, 2010

Speaking of motorcycle dangers...

I am having the weirdest day. I am not free to talk about it all. It is not bad, just weird. I'll explain.

Ever have a day that just starts out wrong? This morning I made a tiny mistake. I have two real motorcycle jackets. One is a gray and black all-weather jacket. It is sturdy and utilitarian. It was, in fact, the jacket I was wearing at the time of my accident, and only shows some slight road rash. My other jacket is a summer affair. It is a racing-styled, yellow Icon mesh jacket. The only thing it keeps out is the road. I wanted to wear that one today. I shortly learned it was a bad choice.

It is warm enough standing still in North Carolina today, but reaching speeds of anything close to 40mph thing tend to get chilly. Two miles from the house and my teeth are chattering slightly. Not a good sign. Chattering teeth is the first sign of hypothermia. I have not hit the highway portion of my commute, where 60mph is the norm. Should I go home and change? Probably. Do I go back? No. If I had, today might have been totally different.

As I continue to ride, I concentrate on keeping my body under control. It is kind of a Zen thing I guess. It works a bit, kind of like when your heart is racing and you need to calm it down. I start thinking about how the cold is effecting me, analyzing it rather than being annoyed. I start thinking about writing a story about the way it feels. I am concentrating on the road and the traffic, but keep this sideline running in my head.

I hit the highway and get up to 60mph. The traffic is light, but as is typically the case, the cars are packed a bit behind the two in front. I am two cars back with some cars behind me. We round the big bend on Murchison Road just before the Gruber Road intersection. This light is always green, as Gruber Road has been closed by the military here. I guess they changed there mind.

My fellow commuters and I come barreling round the bend. I look up and the light is yellow, and we are close. I look down to see brake lights and the slightly raised bumper of a fast stop on the SUV in front of me.

Everything slows in my head.

There is often a point where skill and instinct clash, as well as when they combine. It is hard to tell which is in control, but they seem to work together. I know I have to stop as the light is red to allow left turn traffic from the oncoming lane.

For those who don't know, motorcycles are like bicycles, in that you have a front and rear brake. The front brake is operated with your right hand. The rear brake is operated with your right foot. Left hand is the clutch, left foot is the shifter. Many people are scared of the front brake. Many of us know what happens when you jam on the front brake on a bicycle; you can jack knife, or high-side in motorcycle parlance. I immediately go for the rear/front combo, the preferred method of braking, but it is not braking fast enough. Fearing the high side, I press harder on the rear brake.

The rear brake, however, has its own danger. Namely, the low-side. A locked rear wheel will cause a motorcycle to fishtail. I hear it happen. That sure sign of a skid - the screech of the rear tire. I know it is me, and shortly feel it.

There is always talk of a pucker factor in these kind of situation. I am not an overly ballsy person, and daily will pucker in traffic. It's the things you can't do anything about that cause it. "This person is either going to hit me, or he is not." Then it is over. This was a do-or-maybe-die situation, and the pucker did not happen.

The rear wheel lurched to the right, twisting the bike slightly. I kept the front wheel on its course and used my body to try righting myself. The bike began fishtailing back and forth. The best thing to do here is to release the rear brake and let the wheel spin again, but I did not think I was stopping fast enough. The control of the front wheel was a major factor in keeping me upright, and if I lock that wheel, I am a goner. I apply the front brake more, regardless, and continue riding the skid. I feel like it is taking forever. The bike lurches to the right again in a last effort to go to ground, but I fight it to stay up. At this point I am also inching towards the turn lane.

Finally, like a flash I am stopped. My feet hit the ground and the engine dies. I am no more than a meter from the SUV at this point, and exclaim, "mother fucker." I start the engine, and look behind me (as I am in the turn lane). There was a car behind me, that seemed to stay at a point to protect me from other cars should I fall. The light goes green. At the next light, the car that was behind me is in another lane. He rolls down his window and yells, "that was awesome!" I reply, "it scared the shit out of me."

I am not a particularly brave man, but I don't think I was scared in this instance, even though that is what I said to the other driver. I think the calm I felt scares me a bit, or perhaps awes me. I lack confidence in most areas of my life. Despite being good at my job I never claim greatness, only that I am passable. I have hobbies that people think I do great work with, but I think it all winds up terrible. This boost of confidence is strange for me. I handled a real life situation of danger with the best possible outcome; not getting hurt.

I don't know why I posted this. Whatever. :-)


Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

"At the moment of surrender
I fall down to my knees
I did not notice the passers-by
And they did not notice me." - U2

That was an awesome story. I was so there in my mind like I was watching the individual frames of the Zapruder Film.

Take this gift from the jealous and petty gods and have that extra serving of pie tonight. You earned it.

wv -repte - is that 'repeat' or 'repent'? Goosebumps.

Darius Whiteplume said...

Glad you liked it. The wife didn't ;-)

I realised later that I did not say God or Jesus, or even Holy Shit. One more for rational self-determination!

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