While all of us at MO clearly like to wrangle the latest and greatest motorcycles, you might be surprised to learn that a larger percentage of our time is spent in a chair (or standing desk in my case), staring intently at a computer screen, typing away as quickly as our little fingers will go. It’s not glamorous, nor is it nearly as much fun as riding, but hey, the site doesn’t run itself.

Like some of you, I hit the gym after work to relieve some stress, unwind, and of course, to get a good workout in (especially important if I want to fit in my leathers!). Recently, after I had finished my workout, I started talking with some of the other members as we were getting our things. As small talk usually goes, the topic turned to our professions, and upon hearing what I do for a living, one of my fellow gym-goers approached me.

Let's leave the collisions to the crash test dummies.

Let’s leave the collisions to the crash test dummies.

“Did you know that 90% of motorcycle accidents occur in the person’s first year of riding?” she said to me. “So don’t be one of those people.”

I contemplated what she said for a second, not sure where her statistic came from, but instead of contesting her claim I simply said “too late.” I acknowledged her concern for my safety while gently letting her know that I’ve been on two wheels for quite some time now and have the scars to prove it. She surprisingly didn’t give me “The Talk” about why I shouldn’t ride motorcycles but, instead, simply wished for my continued safety when I ride.

This whole conversation got me thinking again about my outlook on crashes. Clearly, the best thing to do is not to crash at all; however, not all of us are that fortunate. Still, I think there are lessons to be learned from hitting the deck. My outlook is this: if I can clearly explain the reason behind the crash – which, more often than not, is rider error – then I’ve learned what not to do in the future.

Sometimes, you just have to learn the hard way.

Sometimes, you just have to learn the hard way.

I feel the same whether on the street or track. Analyzing a street crash can help us understand how to handle certain situations more effectively, while closely dissecting a crash on track could help us learn a technique to going faster. Sure, there could always be forces at play that are out of our control, but it’s up to us to do everything we can to keep ourselves alive.

As an example for analyzing a street crash, I remember a time I was riding a Honda CBR1000RR home from dinner one night. I had failed to account for the dew on the ground, which wasn’t there when I arrived only a few hours earlier. As I left the restaurant parking lot and attempted to merge with traffic, I instead gave too much throttle, spun the rear wheel on a paint line and highsided myself at 10 mph. Embarassing? Yes. Haunting? No. Thankfully traffic was light that night, but I broke the clip-on off and had to truck the bike back the next morning. What did I learn? To be conscious of changing riding conditions at all times, respect the bike’s power and, if the bike has it, crank the TC up for street riding.

I'm not happy with myself for flying off a mountain. I made sure not to do it again.

I’m not happy with myself for flying off a mountain. I made sure not to do it again.

Some of you might remember my experience racing at Pikes Peak in 2013, where I tucked the front and flew off the embankment while chasing my teammate in practice. Thankfully, I came away with only a broken foot. It meant I couldn’t walk, but the consequences could have been much worse. Thing is, I knew exactly what I did wrong. This might sound strange to some, but knowing the error of my ways is the reason this crash didn’t bother me (and, you know, the reality I wasn’t too badly injured). In fact, competing in the race two days later was exactly the redemption I needed. Sure enough, when I encountered the corner again, I didn’t follow the same line I had before and made it all the way to the top. Those crashes aren’t the ones that keep me up at night. It’s the ones I can’t explain that haunt me.

What still eats at me is a time I tucked the front while testing in the canyons. We had been doing several passes up and down one of our favorite roads, but this particular time, rounding a left-hand bend, the front simply went away from me. Two riders ahead of me went down at the same spot, so I assumed there was something slick on the road. Upon further inspection, however, the pavement was completely clean. That fall ate at me long after it was all over. To this day I still can’t explain what happened, but, for me anyway, the cure for getting over my angst was to get back in the saddle.

Even the best riders push the limits too far sometimes. They, too, consider it a learning experience.

Even the best riders push the limits too far sometimes. They, too, consider it a learning experience.

This is the internal dilemma I face when speaking to non-riders – some of whom are convinced motorcycles are death traps. They don’t understand why I ride and especially why I continue to ride after a fall. Personally, I enjoy the process of becoming increasingly proficient on a motorcycle, knowing there will always be more to learn.

Motorcycles don’t crash themselves. They simply follow the operator’s commands, and when those commands defy the laws of physics, you fall down. It’s not that our sport isn’t dangerous – I’d be foolish to ignore the inherent dangers – but we all have an acceptable amount of risk we’re willing to take. The goal is always to stay upright, of course, but as strange as it may sound, an occasional, relatively benign crash is instant verification on whether your technique worked or not. Learn from it, keep the lesson in your arsenal and you will also be on your way to becoming a more proficient rider.

  • Tod Rafferty

    Good angle on everyone’s least favorite topic. Re lessons learned to avoid repeat mistakes, even in cases when the cause escapes determination, the brain does file some data. That is, muscle memory can save you the next time, though you may not be consciously aware of how. After more than 50 years of riding and racing, I’ve had maybe ten crashes, half of them hard ones. But no broken bones, largely, I think, owing to so much football as a kid. Learning not to fall is important, but so is knowing how.

  • notfishing

    My rule #1 for motorcycling (and cycling, skiing, jumping horses) is never hit anything solid except the ground. It kept me from major injury so far (knock on wood and with the exception of horses because you start you’re fall way up in the air).

    I have had a motorcycle that crashed itself but that was do to a poor maintenance by the Dealer. Now I know Doveryai, No Proveryai when it comes to Dealers.

    • Piglet2010
      • notfishing

        Thanks, I’ll save the link. I learned first-hand how dangerous they were when I blew my first collar bone jumping fence combinations and I know how to fall.

        A year or so later Christopher Reeve fell doing the same thing.

    • Jack Meoph

      I’ve had too many bikes come back from a service with bolts missing or not tightened, rear wheel out of align, cables run through the wrong places etc etc. not to mention oil and fluids running off it. Same with my cars. I rode a new scooter home after purchasing it from a dealer, checked it over when I got it in the garage and bolts were missing! I don’t know what I’d do if I had to have a shop break the engine open, probably just buy a new engine or sell off the bike for parts. I wouldn’t let a shop work on the internals, unless it was under warranty.

  • Old MOron

    Crashing sucks. But it’s pretty inevitable if you get careless or if you search for limits. When we were kids on BMX bikes, we tried to do things like skid the rear tire, jump over obstacles, ride wheelies, etc. We crashed once in a while, but we didn’t mind. I feel largely the same way at this stage. But I sure hate rashing or denting up my bike.

  • John B.

    It makes sense to study crashes as a means to prevent making the same mistake twice. The trouble is there’s an infinite number of ways to crash. A better strategy is to study the habits of people who have ridden many years and/or many miles without crashing. I go to great lengths to ride safely. Even so, however, I have had a couple very close calls. I focus on the process since I cannot control outcomes.

    • Jack Meoph

      Situational awareness prevents the factors leading to an accident before they can even fall into place. That and riding the road as it, and not as you want it to be. Author says he tucked the front, along with a couple others, on a corner that was clean. I know corners in my area that are worn down so smooth the tire has almost no grip, and if the air temp is either too hot or cold, there is zero grip and if you don’t go around these corners pretty much up right you’re going to have a “moment” and maybe something worse.

  • JMDonald

    Not knowing what caused a crash can weigh heavy on ones confidence. Knowing the cause can increase confidence that you carry on every subsequent ride. My focus when riding is exponentially higher than it is while driving or riding my bicycle even though I consider myself focused when driving or bike riding. Having so much more to lose commands a greater concentration. That is the zen part of motorcycle riding. Processing the environment in total. Flawlessly negotiating a maneuver while working the controls to perfection. All done in the state of total consciousness. My crash experiences without fail were due to inattentiveness. They both happened forty years ago and were relatively minor mishaps. I carry them with me every time I ride. I learned from them. A man has to know his limits. As usual an article well done.

  • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

    100% of motorcycle crashes were caused by motorcycling.

    • TroySiahaan

      Profound, Gabe.

      • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

        Yes. Like 32% of my comments.

  • Kris’s

    Ha- thats Troy Corser on the Ducati 999 above.
    Hows that for a memory Ed?

    • TroySiahaan

      Unfortunately, your memory is not so good. That’s Ruben Xaus on the 999. Corser was riding the Foggy Petronas bike that year.

      • Kris’s

        Dammit!
        I thought Corser always had #11
        Anyway, love your work Troy(Siahaan) :-)

        • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

          Easy tip to remember: If it’s a crash photo, then it’s probably Xaus!

          • Kris’s

            Debatable. More like #41 I think (Haga).

          • kris s

            How dare you?!

          • TroySiahaan

            Zing!

  • Backroad Bob

    I went for thirty years without a close call or anything more than one slow high side, but I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been lucky. I rode for decades before I fit the pieces of the accident-free riding puzzle together and shared them with riders that wanted to read them. There are many high mileage accident free riders out there and we can all learn from them.

  • Rubber_Ducky

    Always remember – The are old bikers; there are bold bikers; but there are D*(M few old, bold bikers. Ride safe.

  • randy the great

    Well said, Troy.

  • Seth Harvey

    Perfect timing on this article! I can totally relate. Last October I had my first fall after 18 years of riding crash free. There is a round-about between Solvang and Buellton, I just went around it the night before so I knew it was there. I entered the roundabout and the next thing I know I’m on my side sliding. It seemed to happen INSTANTLY. I was on my 2014 r1200gs, the safest motorcycle I’ve ever owned. How ironic! Turned out sometime between the time I went around it the night before and my lowside one of the many farm trucks dumped a mysterious liquid right at the point I started to lean in to the roundabout to turn. I definitely understand being haunted by the cause of the crash. I was beating myself up about what happen, after all the crazy crest runs where I should have fallen and didn’t, how did a random roundabout get the best of me. As I picked up the pieces of my bike I noticed the oil slick that caused me to go down. Oddly, I felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. Having said that, the 2 lessons I learned was no electronic gizmo can keep you safe 100% of the time and ATGATT.
    I was 5 minutes from doing that ride in jeans, but one of my riding buddies called to say he was running 5 minutes late. Because of him making me wait 5 minutes I decided to throw on my overpants that kept me completely safe. I literally have not ridden without armored pants on my bike since that incident. It’s okay to crash, just make sure you take away some lesson from it that will make you a better rider.

    • Kevin Duke

      Well said!

    • Jack Meoph

      The roundabout is between Buellton and Lompoc on HWY 246.

      • Seth Harvey

        That’s the one… If you’re headed towards Buellton from Lompoc you can probably still see where my spinning tire left a skid mark on the side of the curb.

  • Backroad Bob

    RE: Seth. I had a similar incident. Rode twenty years, had a low speed high side on a frosty morning, then never another. I’ve always been curious why very experienced riders crash and can usually figure out the cause. Luckily I’ve done a ton of off road riding so I’m used to being on the edge or slightly over it and instinctive off road reactions have saved me many times on the street. This subject would make a great thread that I think could help riders stay safe. The only thing slicker than diesel is ice, but cold wet road snakes are close. The only reason I know is because I’ve ridden on all of them and always managed to save it even with the bike almost sideways. WIDGI.

    RE: Piglet – that has happened to me many times. Fortunately it was always off road although I have ridden up on a smoldering tree stump in a blinding downpour with a 36″ diameter and 20 foot wide tree blocking the trail and had to slide my XT under it in order to continue. Had to go under because it was deep in the WV hills and re routing would have added an hour and the sun was setting. Have a photo taken with a soggy camera somewhere. The waterproof pockets on my jacket had a few inches of water in them and my front tire was creating a bow wave going up the mountain. Yes it was raining hard. I could have used scuba gear.

  • pwndecaf

    I learned one thing last year – remember the kill switch is an option. Cost was relatively small but it was a lucky result. I would have saved myself from several weeks of sore ribs had I hit the switch.

  • Michael Gawley

    My last crash was in 1979. My son and I were making a left turn at a city intersection when the rear tire started shifting left and right. At first I thought it had gone flat, but I was unable to keep the bike upright. It laid down on its right side and it, me, and my son slid about 35 feet until we hit the curb. The police were there in an instant and, as we tried to get the bike upright, we discovered something on the road surface had caused the blacktop to start dissolving and become VERY slippery – we could hardly stand up. Just then another man and his son came around the same corner on their bike and quickly went down too. About this time, cars started sliding sideways so we all headed for the safety of the sidewalk. There were no serious injuries, and minimal damage to the bikes, other than scraped side covers and mufflers. Lesson learned – you can never be sure of the road surface 100% of the time. To this day, I don’t know what I could have done differently, so I encourage everyone to wear all the safety gear they can afford. BTW, my son is now grown and has bikes of his own. I still own the ’77 Honda 750A (plus a ’02 Goldwing and ’13 Harley Heritage). Hopefully the “Crash of 79” will be the last. Ride safe.