I hate to bring it up and taunt the gods, but I have to for the sake of literature (sarcasm). I have administered some pretty gnar soft-tissue damage to myself, mostly thanks to my abortive attempts to race my old SRX-6 at Willow Springs years ago. But the only bone I ever broke was a collar one courtesy of a hopped-up Zephyr 550 that unexpectedly expectorated me onto Pacific Coast Highway decades ago at the end of a horrendous tankslapper as I was riding home one night. It hurt for a long time. Now I can’t even remember which collarbone it was? Thank you Jesus.
Other motorcyclists have been way less fortunate, mostly as a result of being way more fearless – but I worry that the same people may derive a lot more moto-pleasure than I do: the people who whip past you on the track like you’re stationary when you’re pretty sure you’re on the very edge of physics, the flying monkeys who pass you overhead when you’re moto-ing hard as you can (not very), the people who can do ten one-handed stoppies in a row right in front of the photographer’s lens in the pouring rain. I love riding motorcycles, but I wonder how much better it could be if I was better at it? One of the downsides of my profession is that I have to be exposed to such people; I used to take comfort in assuming I could probably go as fast as Josh Hayes with his bike and a little practice. Right up until I rode on the same track with him.
Maybe I just never tried hard enough? Who was the race car driver who said being really fast requires a certain lack of imagination, by which he meant an inability to imagine what’s going to happen to you if you pile into a tree at 120? My imagination is way too vivid.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is my little friend Mark Cernicky, who was and maybe still is an Associate Editor at Cycle World. It’s hard to tell, since he’s been out of combat for going on three years thanks to an unfortunate moto accident: The short version is he landed wrong on a YZ while wearing some prototype knee braces. The good news is his knees were fine. The bad is that when he rode back to the pits, he seemed to have driven his tib/fibs into the soles of his boots, leaving both ankles pretty much destroyed.
I’ll spare all the details, but they’re of exactly the vividly imaginable type which kept me from ever being much of an MX guy. For a while, Mark wore an external fixator on one leg, then both legs (even orthopedic surgeons hate to do that to people), and now we’re back down to just one again and walking around pretty good with crutches, with the remaining fixator scheduled to come off soon. At one point there was a blood infection and a refrigerator full of self-administered antibiotic IVs. At various points, it looked like we’d be calling him Stumpy instead of Cernicky.
Even without the pain, the sitting on the couch for three years should’ve killed him; Cernicky is famous for not sitting around. I remember a few long CW meetings where we discussed, again, what to do with our dyno before the magazine’s impending move, a topic that went chronically unresolved. One day I heard a clanking outside my window, and looked out to see a Dynojet 250 rolling down Monrovia Avenue on a forklift. Where he got the forklift (or permission) I know not. But the thing was done. When one long-winded editor paused during a discussion of commas in another long meeting, Cernicky quietly interjected “comma…”, and ended that discussion.
I could only listen to the story once of how the Doc removed the kidney stone after Cernicky insisted he had a plane to catch right now: think grilled hot dog. I thought I’d heard all the horrible medical stories, but on our ride up to Sacramento last weekend, I mentioned I had a cracked molar to be careful about, and he told me how bad those hurt when the tooth actually falls apart, at altitude in an airplane, and how he remedied the situation. It was a good thing he was in first class, where they have metal silverware. Maybe he’s just a masochist after all?
You don’t have to be a glutton for punishment to race motorcycles, but it doesn’t hurt. A story he wrote about his innocents-abroad trip to race the Isle of Man in ’94, “Grindstone Cowboy,” is one of the best things I’ve read in a motorcycle magazine in years. (Well, I helped him write it, so…)
There’s a lot more emphasis on safety and protective gear today than there was when we were crazy teen-agers. One evening after work, Cernick was taking the 405 South ramp to the 55 North at a high rate of speed on his brand-new 500 Interceptor, in the throes of young love, when he ran over a piece of metal and found himself sliding along the freeway, off the shoulder and into a big median of ice plant. God is cruel and kind simultaneously; the juice of the ice plant is a lot like aloe vera. One of the guys who stopped to help was a paramedic. “Don’t look down,” he told Cernicky, who heeded the advice. It was then that he experienced the unforgettable feeling of the wind in his skeleton, right through a knee joint, specifically. The feeling of Eternity. But he couldn’t be too upset, because he’d missed a big pipe on the slide into home by inches, which would’ve sent him to Eternity. Keep on the sunny side of the street.
Some of us are just set up to fail. A Black Sabbath drummer from Huntington Beach bought him a TZ250 (or was that the Yosh R1 he got later?), but Roland Sands ran into Cernick at Willow and destroyed it. Roland went on to become AMA 250 champ; Cernick got a one-way ticket back to Palookaville. (I don’t have the Roland version, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it is quite a bit different.)
The last Cernicky yard sale I witnessed was during a Big Magazine something-or-other shootout at Inde Motorsports Park in Arizona, maybe 2010 or ’11. The Road Test Editor’s Plan was that MC, as our Designated Official Test Rider, would ride an out lap followed by one hot timed lap on the six Open-class bikes we were testing that day – once with traction control on and once with it off (TC has come a long way in five years).
To make sure his timed laps wouldn’t be compromised by other riders, we’ll all stand around and watch while he does all 24 of them, back to back, along with all the support guys from Kawasaki, Aprilia, BMW, Metzeler … I forget who all was there, but quite a captive audience for a guy who still thinks he has a shot at resurrecting his race career. Say, ahh, does anybody think this is a bad idea besides me? Basically Cernicky is a dog who wants to please, with a long heavy tail, a classic bull in a china shop. The more senior dogs and bulls may feel a bit threatened.
Then again, he is also an awesome, fearless rider of motorcycles. I stood there with my fingers crossed by the start/finish line and watched the show, listened to all the bikes climb through their gears up to 150 or so mph at the end of Inde’s front straight. It was all going swell until the last corner of the last lap on the last bike: Cernick slalomed in sideways on both tires as usual, but this time the rear regained traction at just the wrong millisecond, uh-oh!, wobble, slide, spit!, and our hero and the Aprilia RSV4 APRC SE came sliding across the finish line – separately, unfortunately.
Did I mention we’d borrowed Road & Track’s V-box data logger? I’d assumed it would be a small thing, but when we opened the case, it was the size of the shoebox a pair of Nike high-tops comes in. Seriously? We’d used a couple laps of duct tape to hold it in place on Cernicky’s back, but it somehow abandoned ship in the crash, sliding to a halt in the dirt alongside the track in a couple of pieces; the Aprilia data was unrecoverable – and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway since you lose a second or two when you slide across the finish line instead of accelerate through it.
Our stubby pal lay motionless on the track for a minute. I saw a twitch or two and knew he was okay. I knelt down on the hot asphalt and opened his bug-crusted faceshield. His sky-blue California kid orbs were just blinking open, trying to ascertain the situation.
“Mama,” I asked, “are the cookies done?”
You can be certain Cernick took some blame for ruining the test, whether anybody said it to him or not. But nobody else I know was going to break that many big rocks in the hot sun, jumping on six different Open-class motorcycles and wringing the snot out of all of them (actually I think a couple were 600s). And if you were wondering why you haven’t seen any new videos of Husqvarnas wheelying off loading docks and Bonneville powerslides in the dirt lately, on a certain competing site, now you know.
Sorry for the long story, but I left out a lot. I just wanted to say I hope you get back on your feet soon, Cernicky of Death. I can’t wait to see what happens next.