Motorcycle Beginner - Year 2: The First Accident

The wrong place at the wrong time


I seem to be making a tradition out of laying a bike down in the name of motorcycle journalism. Last year, I crashed during the exit test of the rider training program. Later, when I rode the CBR250R, I had to return the bike to Honda Canada headquarters for minor repairs after it tipped over while parked outside the office.

That tradition continued this year as I got rear-ended on my way to the office. Ironically, the accident occurred two weeks before we published Content Editor Tom Roderick’s Crash Avoidance article in our recent Safety Series. T-Rod introduced that article with a familiar adage about the two kinds of motorcyclists: “Those who have crashed and those who will.” I know which of those two categories I belong under.

The fact is motorcycle riders face greater risks than car drivers. Every rider is aware of that fact every time they climb on the saddle and hit the ignition. My parents are also well aware of the dangers every time I ride, as is my girlfriend, Jackie. Fortunately, they support me in choosing to ride a motorcycle, though they would probably sleep better at night if I didn’t.

1989 Suzuki GS500E

I’ve had several close calls in my short time riding. Most involve drivers trying to merge into my lane without checking their blind spots. Fortunately, I do as Tom advises and “ride paranoid”, always assuming the worst from other motorists. It soon became natural to be ready on the brakes or prepared to maneuver away from dangerous situations.

Shoulder checks have become a reflex and I take advantage of a motorcycle’s high seating position to look over cars and see when a lane is blocked and recognize when a cab driver wants to suddenly merge into mine. The skills I’ve picked up have carried over to when I’m in my car and I truly believe riding a motorcycle has made me a better, safer driver.

But no matter how prepared you are, accidents can still happen. This is the story of mine.

The Accident

The accident occurred just a block away from the office, which made it all the more frustrating. I was coming in an hour later than usual that morning as I had to run an errand before work, and if I had been traveling at my usual time, things probably would have worked out differently. As clichéd as it sounds, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Accident scene

I had just crossed through an intersection when I noticed the van ahead of me slowing to make a right turn onto a side street. The van came to a sudden stop as a car tried to pull out from the same small laneway. I saw that car coming out so I was prepared to come to a safe stop behind the van.

Accident sceneA moment after I set my foot down however, I heard the sharp squeal of hastily applied brakes behind me and the next thing I knew, I was violently jolted forward.

Time seemed to slow down as the rear of my Suzuki GS500E was pushed hard to the left and I began tilting to the right. Off balance on a 400-plus pound machine, I knew I was going down. I did what I could to cushion the fall and minimize the damage.

As my bike fell on its side, I made sure to get my right leg out of the way to avoid being pinned under it. What I didn’t do but probably should have, was let go of the handlebars. By instinct, I held on tightly to the grips and tried to straighten the front wheel in an attempt to control the bike’s descent. As a result, my arm chicken-winged under me and my right wrist absorbed the brunt of my weight before I rolled off and onto the ground.

After I hit the ground, I rolled over to my back and began a mental check for any injuries. I knew my right wrist was at the very least sprained from carrying my weight. My legs felt sore from the impact and the fall but were otherwise okay. Most importantly there was no impact to my helmeted head and I had full feeling all through my body. I knew I was going to be okay. The crash was at a very slow speed, thankfully, and I knew it could have been much worse.

Suzuki GS500E rear

My safety gear also did its job. Despite the warm weather I wore a full-faced HJC helmet, an armored Scorpion jacket, a thick pair of jeans and Joe Rocket gloves and boots. Even though it was a slow speed accident, I shudder to think what could have happened if I wasn’t as well protected.

A small crowd had gathered around me when I slowly sat up. The horrified expression on his face identified the driver of the car that hit me. He readily admitted his fault as I removed my helmet. He explained he was from out of town and the car was a rental he was not yet familiar with. He said he looked down for a moment after crossing the intersection and realized too late that traffic had stopped in front of him. He was insured, but the fact he was from another province and the car was a rental complicated matters.

The driver of the van I was following was also standing over me. He told me he saw the whole thing in his rear view mirror and was willing to attest the other driver was at fault. I made sure to take his business card and contact information.

bar endMy focus then shifted back to my GS500E. With the help of bystanders I lifted the bike up on its wheels and slowly pushed it onto the side street to begin assessing the damage. A bit of fuel dribbled out the carburetor overflow but it soon stopped once the bike was righted. The right bar end was noticeably bent while the mirror had loosened after hitting the ground. The primary points of contact were the rear fender and license-plate holder and the turn-light assembly. The impact had pushed the plastic fender forward and up above the rear tire, but it was flexible enough to easily pop back in place.

After waiting a few minutes for fuel to circulate through the carbs, I tried to restart the engine. It took a lot of cranking and a few sputtering starts before the engine settled into a steady idle. Still shaken, I let the driver know my insurance company will be in touch and carefully rode the short distance to the office.

The Aftermath

The first thing I did after arriving at the office (and explaining why I was late coming in) was to call my girlfriend to let her know what happened. As expected, that didn’t go over well considering her pre-existing misgivings over my choice of transportation. After that I went to a local clinic to get checked out. Diagnosed with a minor wrist sprain, I turned my attention to the aftermath of the accident.

Ontario follows a no-fault insurance system, meaning I deal directly with my insurance company and not with the driver and his insurance company. Other provinces and states use a tort liability system where both parties and their insurance providers argue over fault. The advantages of a no-fault system are lower premiums and a quicker turnaround time for receiving benefits without having to go through a lengthy litigation process. The disadvantage is medical and repair costs are capped by the policy’s limits which may not be sufficient in some cases.

There are currently 15 states with varying degrees of no-fault systems. Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Utah, like Ontario, have some variation of no-fault insurance system.

Suzuki GS500E engine

I contacted my insurance company, TD Insurance, and filed a claim for the accident. My insurance provider asked for details about the accident and information about the other driver and witnesses. I was assigned two claims adjustors, one for the motorcycle and one for medical coverage. Both would contact me in the ensuing days to follow up on my claim.

In the meantime, I had to make my way to a collision reporting center to file the accident with police. This gave me an opportunity to test the rideability of my GS500 after the accident. The engine started up without a problem and I was able to ride without much difficulty.

As I continued to ride, I noticed more vibrations in both the handlebars and footpegs. The handlebar vibrations weren’t entirely unexpected given the state of the right bar end. The footpeg vibrations were a concern, though they only occurred at higher revs and were enough to be a slight annoyance.

At the collision reporting center, I recounted the accident and provided the information from the other driver and the witness to a police officer. A photographer then took pictures of any obvious signs of damage. The entire process was quick and simple, and I was in and out within an hour.

Assessing the Damage

I continued to ride the GS500E the next few days (after properly tightening the mirror) without issues beside the vibrations. My claims adjuster called the day after the accident and explained the next steps in the process. He told me I would not have to pay a deductible and my premiums and my driving record would not be affected by the accident because I was not the party at fault. He then instructed me to find a motorcycle mechanic – the choice of a shop was left to me – to assess the damage.

I decided on Snow City Cycle Marine, a multi-line powersports dealership known for its friendly staff. Snow City charges $98 for the damage assessment, but my insurance company agreed to cover that cost as well as towing, if required. I handed my key over and left, helmet in hand and hoping for the best.

1989 Suzuki GS500EIt didn’t take long before I got a report on the repair costs. It wasn’t pretty.

  • Clutch Cover: $187.51
  • Contact Breaker Cover: $52.88
  • Clutch Cover Gasket: $15.20
  • Exhaust Pipe Gasket x2: $14.10
  • Muffler: $756.20
  • Front Turn Lamp Assembly: $62.94
  • Fuel Tank: $601.37
  • Right Handlebar: $39.10
  • Handlebar Balancer: $37.97
  • Mirror Assembly: $61.45
  • Brake Lever: $26.43
  • Front Master Cylinder Assembly: $190.34
  • Front Master Cylinder Cap: $31.46
  • Crankcase Cover Emblem: $13.10
  • Service (est. 6 hours): $588.00
  • Waste disposal fees: $50.00

Grand Total: $2,728.05.

Ouch.

The total cost was more than the $2000 I paid to buy the bike. That can only mean one thing: write-off! My insurer, TD Insurance, will write off a motorcycle when “the estimated repair plus the salvage value of your motorcycle exceeds its cash value prior to the damage.” The price of the new exhaust muffler and fuel tank alone totaled $1,357.57, more than two-thirds the purchase price. I waited with dread for my claims analyst’s phone call, but I already knew the result.

Sure enough, I received the call confirming my insurance company would write-off my motorcycle as a total loss rather than pay to repair it. My compensation would be an actual cash value of $1200 plus tax.

Suzuki GS500E

At this point, I had two options. I could agree to the cash settlement and let my insurance company claim my bike as salvage, or reclaim my GS500E and accept the salvage value and repair it myself. My decision was made easier when I looked up the Kelley Blue Book suggested retail value of a 1989 Suzuki GS500E and saw it valued at US$1105, about $89 below my insurer’s offer, factoring the change from Canadian to U.S. currency.

Suzuki GS500E Right mirror reflection

And so, I decided to bid farewell to my beloved first motorcycle. I made one final trip to Snow City to reclaim my license plate and take some final photographs of my GS500E.

But worry not, faithful readers. I may have lost my bike, but this isn’t the end of the Motorcycle.com Beginner’s story. After all, $1200 would make a good start as a down payment …

Related Reading
Riding Safe: Crash Avoidance
Motorcycle Beginner - Year 2: Motorcycle Ownership
Motorcycle Beginner - Year 2: Buying Your Next Bike
Motorcycle Beginner - Year 2: Canadian Superbikes at Mosport
Motorcycle Beginner: I Want to Ride
Motorcycle Beginner: Buying Riding Gear
Motorcycle Beginner: Rider Training
Motorcycle Beginner Diary: What I Love About Being a Motorcyclist
Motorcycle Beginner: 2011 Honda CBR250R Newbie Review
Motorcycle Insurance: Mechanics of Insurance
Motorcycle Insurance: Casualty Liability
Motorcycle Insurance: Property or Physical Damage
Motorcycle Insurance: Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage
Motorcycle Insurance: Comprehensive Collision Coverage
Motorcycle Insurance: Final Thoughts
Motorcycle Insurance Buyer’s Guide
Motorcycle Insurance Basics

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