Momentum, Inertia and You.

"Dude, crashing sucks!"

Lying on my side in the middle of the road was not on my list of things to do that day.

I could feel the sharp pain in my right ankle and I knew something was wrong. Looking up from my position I could see the light brown pick-up truck that had sideswiped me. The specifics of the accident didn't really interest me as I heard the wail of the sirens get louder. The only thing that I could be sure of was that I was injured. I didn't realize I was about to become an unwitting health-insurance guinea pig.

Fast-forward one week: Once again, I'm lying down. This time on my back as a nurse is desperately searching for a vein in which to insert the I.V. needle into. I was minutes away from being operated on and getting nervous. Having no luck with the I.V. they wheeled me in and strapped the gas mask on. My right ankle had been broken bad enough to necessitate surgery to pin everything in place.

Other damages sustained include a bone contusion and some cartilage damage to my left knee along with a few minor scrapes, none of which were severe enough to even draw blood. All in all, not too bad considering the impact of the car was severe enough to throw me across three lanes of traffic.

I consider myself to be an above-average rider. I commute every day and use the motorcycle for just about all my transportation needs. I also enjoy the occasional track day and following Minime through our local "fun" roads -- all within legal and personal limits, of course.

Most of the damage was situated on the right leg where the impact occurred. As many paramedics will do, this particular chap that was looming over me began to regale me with tales from the front line. Although there is no need to go into specifics, the moral of the majority of his stories was that, no, I was not lucky. Luck would have been walking away with no injuries.

You get the idea: surviving this accident with only a broken ankle had nothing to do with luck. It had to do with being prepared. In this car-happy world, it is up to you, as the motorcyclist, to be prepared for mistakes. Both yours and theirs.

In this car-happy world, it is up to you, as the motorcyclist, to be prepared for mistakes. Both yours and theirs.

Let's face it, in today's driving world the automobile has become an appliance. People don't realize that they are in command of a vehicle that can easily be used to kill, maim or injure. And why should they? That, after all, is a moral decision. Considering that more people are driving everyday, is it really worth it to ride on public roads?

If we're being honest with ourselves, it becomes readily apparent that everything involves risk. After all, within 100 yards of where my accident took place is a kindergarten/day-care facility. At the time of my accident (roughly 3:30 pm on a Friday) the facility had just let out for the day. The streets were clogged with moms and dads picking up their kids. I distinctly remember a paramedic telling me, "I know this isn't going to make you feel much better, but at least it was you that got hit by this truck instead of a little kid." He was right, it didn't make me feel better."I know this isn't going to make you feel much better, but at least it was you that got hit by this truck instead of a little kid." He was right, it didn't make me feel better.

Now that a few weeks have gone by, I realized what he was getting at. I was prepared to get into an accident. Those little kids walking home from school were not. I had been wearing AGV racing boots, an Arai RX7-RR4 helmet, an Aerostitch Roadcrafter suit as well as a pair of AGV racing gloves, and it was very evident that had I not been wearing that safety gear, the outcome of this accident could've been very different indeed.

The moral of the story? It's been said hundreds of times, but here it is again: quality protective gear is a must. So are good riding skills, but sometimes things happen that are out of your control and you need to be prepared for them.

Will we keep riding? Working at a motorcycle magazine sort of answers that question for you. But rest assured, we'll be wearing the same sort of suits and helmets that have saved us before. Yada, yada...

Ratner's Addendum: Brett Ratner, Managing Editor:Strangely enough, I myself wiped out only days before Calvin's rant about crashing was scheduled to be published.

After logging tens of thousands of accident-free street miles, I took my inaugural spill while attempting motocross for the first time. When you ride motocross, you sort of expect to go down, especially when you're inexperienced. Truth be known, I went down twice that day. What I didn't expect was to go down as hard as I did.

The first spill was a low-side when the front tire slid out in a sharp, right hand turn. I was back up and riding as quickly as I went down (I didn't even kill the engine). Better yet, the experience taught me how to control the front wheel in a slide. Subsequent passes through the same turn, therefore, were successfully navigated, even at higher speeds and more severe slides.

Ratner, in happier times just prior to his "learning experience." The second and more serious fall came after a series of small jumps. I was trying to stay ahead of a pair of more experienced riders and I hit the last jump much harder than my abilities allowed. While in the air, I let the wheel turn to the right (why, I don't know). When I landed, the bike buckled under me, launching me head and shoulder first into the ground.

I instinctively rolled with the momentum of the fall (thanks to four years of high school wrestling). This, I think, lessened the impact. Even still, I hit the ground pretty hard.

I'm not happy it happened, as I have felt incredibly sore for the past several days and there is a huge bruise on the left side of my body. That said, the silver lining to this dark cloud is I learned several important lessons in time to share with MO readers.

That said, the silver lining to this dark cloud is I learned several important lessons in time to share with MO readers.

The first lesson is not push oneself to keep up (or stay ahead) of more experienced riders. This will often result in a fall.

The second lesson is to spend a day or two at a motocross track if you can. Even though I fell, I still learned a lot about controlling the bike on uneven surfaces or when the front, rear, or both wheels lose traction. I also gained more respect for falling. And I would much rather learn this lesson on soft ground than on hard pavement. If you can't find a motocross track, take a motorcycle safety course. Either way, you stand to learn important skills that could come in awfully handy one day on the street.

The third lesson is to wear proper protective equipment. When I low-sided, I landed square on my hip. Then when I went over the handlebars, I landed on the side of my face, my shoulder, my elbow, my kidney, my hip, my knee and twisted my ankle.

It doesn't seem like much of a coincidence, therefore, that many serious riders wear a full-face helmet, tall boots with ankle support, a kidney belt plus padding on their knees, hips, elbows and shoulders. Racers take it one step further by wearing a spine protector.

And back to the full-face helmet. The Hurt Report, regarded as the premier study on motorcycle accidents, noted that a high percentage of strikes to the head occur just left or right of the chin. That open-face or "shortie" helmet may look cool, but it might not do the job when you need it to. Still don't believe us? Each helmet worn in Calvin's three career crashes incurred damage on the chin and visor.

Finally, use the upcoming winter months to read up. Keith Code's Twist of the Wrist books are well respected. Several readers also have recommended Proficient Motorcycling by David L. Hough.

I'm currently reading Hough's book and already can see many ways to improve my own skills. Stay tuned for a full-review when I'm done reading it.


Get in your Inbox