Weather: 43Â°F (6Â°C)
“Some of us have taken it straight over the high side from time to time – and there is always Pain in that…” – Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
Pain indeed. People who drive around in cages expect to be exempt from pain. That’s why they have seatbelts and airbags and anti-lock brakes and full-coverage insurance… That’s why they drag two-tons of steel around with them everywhere they go. Pain, after all, is nature’s way of telling you that you should stop doing whatever you are doing, because it is Wrong.
So, you ask, if riding causes me pain, shouldn’t I stop?
Well, if you are going to accept that pure line of logic, then you need to zoom your lens back out a little and scrutinize life itself. Pain is a part of life. Life causes everyone pain, I don’t care who you are. If you are bound and determined to avoid pain, then the only thing you can do is to stop living.
Or, like me, you can accept Pain as a possible consequence of having so much FUN, and just get on with it!
Yes, that sounds about right, let’s start from there…
The one recurring pattern in my riding life has been an escalating series of steep learning curves. When I choose a motorbike, and a style of riding, I pursue it with relentless enthusiasm, until something happens which causes me to pause and evaluate my progress.
These evaluation events are known to some other people as “crashes”.
What a banal term. It suggests uncontrolled, unplanned encounters with the forces of physics. In point of fact, they are peak moments in my quest to understand Everything about the riding experience. They are cathartic in nature, similar to a religious or philosophical epiphany, and they need to be regarded as such in order to derive any benefit from them.
To do any less is to assume the role of Victim, and I refuse to do that. I take each one as a lesson, and proceed from there.
Last Monday, for instance, on our way home from work, Scarlet O’Baron and I had to run a few errands. These errands took us to businesses around Robert Street, in West Saint Paul.
Let me tell you about Robert Street…
Robert Street has more auto parts stores and garages per mile than any other place in the Twin Cities. This is where sick cars come to get well again. Sick cars, just like sick people, emit fluids. That sets the stage.
Coming out of the Menard’s hardware store parking lot, I wanted to turn left into the northbound lane on Robert Street. It was rush hour, and there were very few openings in the traffic flowing both ways.
Finally spotting a three car-length gap, I twisted Scarlet’s throttle to the stop and we shot across the road. As we entered the nearest northbound lane, we were accelerating through 35 mph. Scarlet is quick, as you probably know by now. We turned left, and that was when everything went sideways…
Things like this happen faster on a scooter than they do on a full-size motorcycle; smaller wheels, shorter wheelbase. If I had been on Frogwing, we would probably have low-sided, which is usually a much less dramatic event. But for some reason, Scarlet’s front tire held traction, while the rear spun up and slid through the oil recently deposited on the road.
Countersteering by instinct, I caused Scarlet to slide sideways across the lane. I even managed to get my boot on the ground to stabilize our slide, just like I have countless times on snow and ice.
But there was dry pavement, as we slid into the other lane, and we all know what happens next. Scarlet’s tires regained traction and she flicked me off her back like a mad bull in a rodeo. I landed hard on my HJC-helmeted head, and all the feeling went out of my body. I flopped onto the road like a sack of flour, and for the next few seconds could feel my helmet bouncing off the pavement as my body slid to a stop, abrading layers of Aerostich fabric in the process.
Now in a fuzzy state of slow-time, I imagined a stripe-shirted referee counting me out there on the side of the road: “…two….three!” -I tried to get up, but the damaged organism would not yet respond. I could hear the tires of passing cars spinning in the very same oil which had brought Scarlet and I to grief.
By the time the ref was approaching the eight-count, I was playing this silly movie in my head of a panel of judges, sitting on the curb, holding up cards that read 8.9, 8.5, and of course, that dour East German judge with her 7.4, totally unimpressed with my dismount. That really pissed me off, so I got up.
…And stood there, wobbling.
Three cars had now stopped, blocking both lanes. Five people had cellphones glued to their heads. Nobody said anything to me. They were probably taking pictures with their camera-phones to post for profit on the web. Finally, one guy got out of a car, without a cellphone, and asked, “Are you alright?”
“Yeah.”, I said. I couldn’t manage anything more. Then I staggered over to Scarlet. She was lying on her right side in the road, thankfully not leaking any fluids. I picked her up like nothing, the adrenaline kicking in, and pushed her over to the curb.
The judges had fled.
After picking up all the pieces, I quickly began to assess the damage.
The right mirror was shattered, and the footpeg I had made for Emily was bent down at a 90Â° angle. The bodywork was scuffed, as you can see in the photo, and the luggage rack was broken. Still, the controls were intact, and when I pressed the starter button, Scarlet came back to life as though nothing had happened.
But now we had another problem…
Not three blocks away, an ambulance was raising hell with lights and sirens, heading in our direction. By the time they arrived on-scene, I had removed my helmet and taken a few deep breaths. Then I walked up to the passenger side, and told the EMT “I’m alright. There’s no business for you here.”
He looked at me sceptically, and said, “Are you sure you don’t want us to check you out?”
“Nope, that won’t be necessary. But will you please tell the cops that there is oil on the road in that lane right there?”
He gave me a look that said, “Yeah… right.” I’m sure he had his own assumptions about why I had crashed, and I could tell that I wouldn’t be able to convince him otherwise. My scooter was RED, after all.
By now I could hear the clock ticking. The cops were on their way, and I didn’t want to be caught up in all the bullshit which could only result in an insurance hike. I mean, who do you blame for oil on the road? Nothing good could come from waiting around.
I rode Scarlet home, parked her in the garage, and closed the door. Then I went into the house, where I promptly collapsed in bed. My nerve endings were all abuzz, but there was no serious damage.
Next morning, I was sore all over. I rode Scarlet to work with only one rearview mirror, and went through the day in survival mode. You working stiffs know exactly what I mean by that. Luckily, I had Wednesday through Sunday off, to fully recover and bring things back into the proper perspective.
The lessons learned should be obvious, especially since I have “learned” them before:
1) ALWAYS be aware of the condition of the surface upon which you are riding.
2) When turning in heavy traffic, move to a controlled intersection where you won’t have to contest position with larger, rapidly moving vehicles. (you hope)
3) CONFIRMED: Always wear the maximum safety gear that conditions allow.
I’ll be sending my Darien jacket back to Aerostich for repair, as I know that it’s water-repellant properties are certainly compromised in the abraded areas. I’ll also replace the mirror that was shattered, because I already notice a blind-spot in my awareness of traffic around me.
Finally, I will maintain a heightened awareness, even on supposedly dry pavement, of the surface of the roads I ride. This will slow me down a bit, and that’s probably a Good Thing.
Maybe it’s time to get back to the study of Zen…