True Stories of How to Survive A Motorcycle Wipeout

Hands On

“It’s the one thing motorcycle enthusiasts don’t like to talk about. The dark truth is that when you choose the motorcycle lifestyle, it’s more likely than not that, at some point, you’ll get into an accident.”

This of course stops no one—including my husband.

I asked him to tell the tale of not one, but TWO crashes he survived and give tips to all you other hooligans out there who’re going to ride no matter what.

The First Crash

“It was Palm Sunday and I was on an afternoon ride with two friends on rolling foothill mountain roads when we decided to take some backroads to get lunch in a nearby town. One friend was familiar with the way and warned us that it could be sketchy at times, with blind curves and sand on the road, and to be more cautious than usual.

When traveling in groups for extended lengths, some riders occasionally like to change positions within the flank. After about three miles, I got a feel for the road and decided to take the lead after the next sharp bend. But my friend who was in the lead charged ahead up the long straight section that followed. Still determined to pass him, I sped up to 100 mph, got in front, looked up, and was immediately confronted with a 30-mph curve caution sign.

I geared down to fourth, hit both brakes, and leaned into the curve as hard as the bike would allow. I suppose I got my speed down to about 65-70, but that’s still too fast for a blind curve on a Harley sportster.

I’d almost made it through the curve, but my foot peg caught the asphalt. I came off and the bike laid down, skidded, and began to roll highside.

My bike slid off into the ditch, got entangled in a barbed wire fence and caught fire.

After I came to a stop from tumbling, I jumped to my feet in disbelief and saw that the friend I’d just passed also wrecked. He came off his Kawasaki 600 and ended up with a broken collar bone. I walked away with a sore neck and back, a three-inch gash on my left shoulder, and some moderate road rash through my denim jacket.

A fire crew and an ambulance arrived 10 minutes later and checked us out, though I wasn’t there when they dragged my bike out of the ditch with a tow cable. It was completely unsalvageable and broke my heart.”

The scene of the accident.

 

Back at it after giving it a rest for a full year.

The Second Crash

“On my way home from work, I was merging from the Pacific Coast Highway onto the 710 (a busy waterfront harbor area with freight trucks) and using a very short on/off ramp to join traffic when someone in a Dodge Ram pickup who was panicked about missing their exit cut right into my lane and sideswiped me.

I was bucked off my bike, slammed into the road, tumbled a few times, and then was back on my feet running and looking for my bike.

My motorcycle was STILL ROLLING.

It had somehow miraculously crossed all three lanes of highway traffic without hitting any other vehicles and was rubbing up against the center divider while still in second gear and running.

I caught up to it (also miraculously not getting hit by traffic) just as it came to rest against the divider. I turned it off, bent the handlebar back out, put it in neutral, and with the help of a concerned truck driver who had witnessed the accident and directed traffic to stop, pushed it back across the highway to the shoulder.

When I got there, I took inventory of myself. I was ok, but my foot was numb and my boot was ripped. The backpack I was wearing with my phone, wallet, work shoes, and thermos were all gone. We later found bits and pieces of some of my stuff strewn between exits all over the side of the highway.

It was a hit and run. The driver didn’t even stop to see if he had killed me. After the motorcycle cop arrived and gave me advice, I was able to ride my bike home with a dent in the gas tank, my shift lever broken off and the clutch handle sheared from hitting the cement divider.”

First crash road rash and second crash road rash. There’s still gravel from the first crash embedded in his skin.

Heather here. I’ll add that this particular crash happened a month and a half after we got married. He was late getting home, which was unusual. I’d received a call on my cell from a number I didn’t recognize and didn’t pick up, but had a flash of intuition and thought for some reason that it might be him.

It was. He borrowed the concerned truck driver’s phone to call me and let me know what happened. The motorcycle cop told him to get off the phone and not worry me. Thirty minutes later, he walked in the door, torn up, but alive and told me what happened.

Survival Tips

“Most of my advice will be proactive advice because there’s very little that you can do that’ll be reactive in the moment, but plenty to do ahead of time.

1. Buy yourself the right gear and be prepared for potential injury.

Casual riding clothes can be Kevlar lined and come with protective padding for knees, hips and shoulders. More race-worthy gear will be made of leather and have full padding.

Be visible or assume the risk. Things like reflective vests and bright colored helmets can improve your chances of being noticed in traffic.

In any circumstance when you come off your bike, you will experience injury—typically road rash at the very least.

Your instincts when you fall are to put your hands out. This alone makes wearing gloves a non-negotiable.

Just as you fall forward with your hands out to catch yourself, you’ll likely fall face first. That’s why it’s important to wear a full face helmet, rather than a cool-looking 3/4 or bucket helmet.

The denim jacket with the long slice down the left arm is from the first crash when he got his gnarly keepsake scar. The Superdry jacket is from the second crash, back all torn up.

2. Take a riding class.

Different states offer different safety programs to learn how to ride. For us in California, they’re offered by the California Highway Patrol.

3. Learn the specs of your bike.

Something as nominal as tire pressure can make your bike safe or dangerous. Also, any kind of leak is hazardous, especially an oil leak because it can make your tires slick.

Read your manual and become familiar with how your bike operates, like whether it’s equipped with anti-lock brakes. Make sure your motorcycle is properly tuned and maintained. Old brake lines and corroded parts, loose bolts or a cracked frame can be devastating, so have your bike regularly maintained and inspected by a knowledgeable person.

You’re putting 70 miles an hour between your legs. If you’re going to trust this machine, make sure it’s trustworthy.

4. Plot out your route.

If you’re unfamiliar with the route, heed the advice of people who are familiar with it.

5. Speed matters.

The faster you go, the more committed to that specific line of travel you become. This has to do with gyroscopic effect and is how physics works.

For instance, if you’re going 90 with plenty of room in your own lane and a car in any direction comes into that line of travel, the faster you go, the harder it is to escape that line of travel. You leave yourself no room for escape when you’re moving so fast.

6. Anticipate and possibly expect the worst.

A lot of motorcycle accidents have nothing to do with the expertise of the rider. They most often have to do with the carelessness of ‘cagers’ who share the road with you.”

The good news is that motorcycle accidents are survivable. Just do yourself and everyone who gives a crap about you a favor and be proactive in your riding approach. The Motorcycle Crate is one solid place to start. Otherwise, the only solid place you’ll be looking at is the four walls of a hospital room. I kid. ENJOY THE RIDE!

Photo cred: Anthony Hargus (cover image, pics 1, 5, 9, 11)

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