Highside! (The story of my life…)

Weather: 43°F (6°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

Battle-scars on my HJC. Tell me again why you don’t wear a helmet?

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.

Scarlet O’Baron’s first battle scars. They probably won’t be the last…

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 90° 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…

24 Responses to “Highside! (The story of my life…)”

  1. andy goldfine Says:

    No more extemporanious tests! Glad you are ok. – Andy

  2. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Andy: Thank you so much for writing in. Let me assure you that the “test” wasn’t intentional. But you know as well as I do that these things happen on public streets. That’s why I wear the best gear I can get, right?

    Ride well,

  3. combatscoot Says:

    I wondered where you’d been the past week. I wish you a speedy recovery. I bet the damage to Scarlet will be cheaper to repair than on a, say, Vespa.

  4. Bill Sommers Says:

    I’m sorry that you crashed and had to get a crappy 7.4 from that East German lady. Shes got issues.
    But seriously, you are one cat that I pay attention to, and I’m thankful that you and Scarlet were able to dust off, and continue on. John Wayne style.

    Have fun,

  5. Steve Williams Says:

    I’m glad you are ok. That diagnosis confirmed by your clear description of the event. Three cheers for helmets and protective gear. As John indicates the damage cost on a Vespa would be considerable though I have already decided that if I bang mine up I will leave the scars.

    Oil on the road is a nightmare. Anything on the road is a problem. I sat at a light yesterday as a woman poured a milkshake out the window. I felt like saying something but she is just one of many who deliberately or inadvertantly contribute.

    Riding in the country here my biggest road surface concern is manure. It is slick as oil and more common.

  6. Steve Williams Says:

    Oh, one more thing. I thought “High road” was the story of your life.


  7. Dan Jones Says:

    Every Thanksgiving I give thanks for a lot of special things, health, happiness, a great wife, food on the table, and all of the standard things. This year I’ll add to my list that you came through your highside without serious injuries.

    I see riders without protective gear every time I ride and hope I won’t have to be around to pick up the pieces. My biggest question at this time of year is how the heck can they ride without a helmet at 60 MPH in 45 degree weather and not freeze their brains?

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. And as they say on the cop shows, “be careful out there”.

  8. Sidewalk Dan Says:

    Glad to hear you are ok Gary. I had hopes of coming here and reading about the glorious weather we had Thursday and Friday – so I could live through you, as my girl has been up for a few weeks now. Perhaps you’d taken your family out – or went for a lazy ride in the sunshine.

    Instead I find a story about a highside – that dreaded M/C enemy. Lowsides – it’s almost as if you just sort of push the bike away – more or less. A highside, well that is a whole other can of worms. Alas, a highside on a scooter. That’s a first for me.

    Pain, as a SEaL with whom I deployed on a West-Pac was fond of saying, “is your body letting you know you are still alive.” By your own accounts – I’d say your body is very much alive. And then some…

    Once again, glad you are ok. Take it easy for a few days ok?

    Oh, how did the family react?

  9. jim Says:

    poop happens

  10. Bro Shagg Says:


    As all will say, glad you’re OK. One thing I learn with my incidents that are, thankfully, even less severe than yours is that as soon as I get comfortable with something, reality kicks in and gives me a nudge.

    Hopefully, your wife didn’t “learn” to not let Emmy ride with you anymore. I’m sure you are much more careful with her on the scoot.

    Semper Vigilans!


  11. SaltyDog Says:

    Glad to see you are okay, though maybe a bit shaken up.
    I”ve always been leery of riding when it’s wet out, but the incident
    with the oil on the road definitely gives me another thing to watch out for!

    Let’s hear it for protective gear—and wearing it everytime we ride!

  12. irondad Says:

    Isn’t that a sick feeling once the little birds stop singing in your head? Walking in what feels like chest deep Karo syrup back to the bike and still not quite believing it’s you in the lead role?

    I didn’t think about a scooter having enough mass to throw a rider off. I guess it’s like anything else if you swing it fast enough. Momentum versus mass and all.

    What’s more interesting is that you are sending a jacket back to Andy for repair after a high side. That makes two of the three original commuter blogs listed on the Ride to Work site. Steve doesn’t wear a ’stich. The ’stich is the common factor between you and I. You don’t suppose it’s the jacket somehow do you? Does Andy have some sort of remote “Product Test” control?

    Know what you mean about the drivers around you. Stopped for a wreck that had just happened the other day. Talk about a total disregard for others! People were zooming around the vehicles like they were wondering how the “victims” could be so rude as to have a wreck in front of them. God forbid they be delayed in their mad dash to go nowhere an do nothing. Despite the fact that it was just getting light and the roads were rain soaked. My bike almost got hit a couple of times. Even when the “official” responders showed up with lights and flares, drivers were zooming by and splashing the professional folks. I’m really starting to want to hurt people.

    Food for thought as it applies to our shared learning style:

    “Good judgment comes from bad experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” Will Rogers.

    Marines are too tough to stay down long. I’m just surprised you didn’t throw the ’scoot over your shoulder and carry her home!


  13. Buster Brown Says:

    When I was a kid still drooling over the Sears Compact in the catalog, and scarcely daring to dream about the 250 twingle, guys in the ‘hood started turning up with stuff like a Mobylette moped, a Honda 150 Dream, and a Vespa scooter (also available from Sears, badged as an Allstate). In fact for a little while there in 1963 there may have been three Vespas buzzing around. Not for long. Pretty soon there were three guys with their arms in a sling at one time. Those Vespas were the fast ticket to a broken collarbone. Hit some sand or a wet patch and you were down before you knew it.

    It’s deja vu all over again. Those scooters will bite you.

    Glad you didn’t break anything, bud.

  14. Steve Williams Says:

    A remote control Aerostich test?

    I still have Aerostich gear on my wish list for future purchase. When I started riding again I was using some fuzzy economics when making purchasing decisions. I wish I would have gone with the Roadcrafter suit. Someday.

    As Buster Brown points out with the scooters and broken bones, back in 1970 I was seeing the same thing with my friends on Hodakas, Kawasaki F6’s and other small two-stroke dirt bikes. An assortment of injuries and bone breaks. Racing around stirp mines and water holes provided plenty of opportunities for us to push beyond our skills. I’ve remembered it all as happy times but man I wouldn’t want to do that now. My body can barely stand reading about Gary’s mishap.

  15. Mad Says:

    *Holds up a 9.0 score*

    Lovely half pike with a twist!

    In all seriousness I’m very glad you’re in one piece Gary and I sympathise; I loathe that feeling of disbelief and pain as you slide along the tarmac. I read somewhere that bike riders crash – on average – every 9 years but here’s hoping we’ve both seen our last ever. :D

  16. fred christiansen Says:

    I’m glad to hear you are alright. Being able to walk/ride away from a high side (in traffic no less!) is remarkable. It’s also a good reminder for us to ride in all the gear all the time (ATGATT). Heal up quickly.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  17. Bob Kunkel Says:


    Glad you’re okay…wondered where you’d been. I’d like to think those stopped drivers who were on their cell phones were dialing 911 on your behalf. For what it’s worth, I think cell phone usage should be illegal in moving vehicles, hands-free or not. Most drivers are bad/rude/distracted enough without any additional diversions.

    Take care,

  18. AZ Lucky Says:

    Glad you were just bruised and shaken, and not beat up too badly. Nice of the ONE guy to ask if you were ok. I bet he rides.

    Looking on the bright side, here is the opportunity I know you’ve been waiting for to get out the flat black paint bomb. :D

    Anyway, glad you’re ok!

  19. MatL Says:

    After reading through your incident — I gotta say “Ouch “, but I’m glad to hear you are OK — more or less. Again the brain bucket and the riding gear kept you from being a statistic and let you blog.

    My take awayl Lesson: Budget to purchase appropriate safety gear PRIOR to purchasing and/or riding.

  20. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Wow! I knew that, when I came back after several days away, there might be quite a few responses. But I never expected this.

    I hope you will forgive me if I don’t answer everyone individually, as I usually do. Time is short, and I’m still not 100%.

    My Darien went off to Aerostich to be repaired today, and I drove the truck to work in the rain. Yes, the truck is up and running now, so I don’t have to risk my life just to get to work anymore.

    Part of me is sad at this development, but it is only a small, irrational part.

    When my `stich comes back, I will ride every day that I deem it safe to do so; every day in which I can depend on some nominal level of traction and less than deadly cold. But for now, I am cagebound, in my little blue truck, with the license plate that begins with “UGG…”.

    How fitting is that? If I wake up in the morning to a horrible weather forecast, the first thought that crystalizes in my cranium is, UGG. Time to drive.

    Thank all of you for your support. I hope you are not too disappointed in my sudden onset of sanity. This could change at any time, ask anyone who knows me. But for now, I am going to do the responsible thing and curb my enthusiasm just a little bit.

    Bro Shagg, I have to tell you that I would never enter Robert Street, or any other main thoroughfare, during rush hour with a passenger. I would only cross at traffic signals. I am so much more careful with a passenger on board that you would think I didn’t value my own life. IF, that is, you were not a Rider, and if you didn’t know any better.

    When it’s only my own skin at risk, I tend to take more chances. Like most of you, I’m sure. But I’m not sure what that really means. I value my life, and I enjoy Living. But riding is one of the main things that makes living enjoyable. Riding, not simply travelling by motorbike.

    Well, I’m tired, and maybe I’m not making a lot of sense right now.

    This blog will resume it’s normal operations next week. I have a lot to think about, and another season of Winter riding to prepare for.

    If something noteworthy comes up in the meantime, I may post it. But it is time for me to reflect on what I want to do and where I want to go with my riding this Winter. I don’t want this to become routine. It’s time to explore new territory, and take a different approach.

    That’s all I want to say about it right now. Bear with me, and …

    Ride well,

  21. dark Says:

    Glad to hear you came out of it okay.

    Another reminder for us to wear gear and wait for the tires to warm-up in colder weather.

  22. Beaker Says:

    “…accept Pain as a possible consequence of having FUN…”

    So true – since my first “evaluation event” I now take this line of thinking. We all know it might happen, but riding is just too good to let a fear of Pain get in our way. Whenever I am forced to commute in one of those cage things and see a bike, Iam like a dog-at-a-postie, watching and just wishing I was the one in the saddle.

    A really good post – glad to hear you came out of it alright.

  23. seagullplayer Says:

    Sorry, just got caught up on the reading today, I didn’t read all the comments.

    1) Glad your ok
    2) Good thing you where leaving the hardware store and it wasn’t PBR pickup day, there may have been many more questions.
    3) Glad I wear a helmet more often than not these days, glad you advicate their use.

    There are Amish in our neck of the woods, I had a little run in with some horse you-know-what once… Slick as oil, but a lot easier to prove, just smell the tire if you have any questions…

  24. Biker Betty Says:

    Hi Gary,

    I’m so glad you’re okay. Speedy recovery on the residual soreness.