Look at that S-Curve go

3/4 Ton Jack

Well travelled
The Great Plains
Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear --

So a little background: I'd taken the MSF riders course, and the line at the time was that something like 70% of riders have an accident in their first two years, and I was determined to beat the odds.

I'd bonded with my spunky lil' Yamaha Virago 535, and had completed the MSF expert course just a week or two prior. The instructor was a track day hero and at least half the class were sport bikes but for some reason I'd impressed him a bit dragging the pegs (and half squashing my foot as they bent up) through the S-Curve.

As I pulled back up to the group he was giving me this mouth-half-open "Dude that was awesome!" kinda look, which I didn't understand and thought was excessive for a low-speed parking lot maneuver, but it still felt kinda good.

It was a beautiful clear fall day and I headed out on a 75 mile ride. I'd recently bought a Serious leather jacket (my 'Half A Cow') that it was finally cool enough out to wear, and some leather chaps (that I wasn't sure about) after learning in a cheap mesh jacket and jeans. "Fully geared" at last (although my combat boots, while sturdy and stompy, didn't offer much ankle protection, and the hard armor in the jacket, which I'd only been able to wear a few times before at night, had been too bulky in a car and so I'd cleverly taken them out and for some reason didn't replace before this ride.)

I took a road I'd never tried before, nice peaceful ride, almost no other cars, stopped in a small town about halfway there and walked a couple blocks up Main Street checking out the old store fronts.

As I was getting ready to get back on I dropped my helmet for the first time (rolled off the seat onto the street) - not sure if I'd ever heard any of the superstitions about that then, but I remember thinking, "Hmmm... that's not good. I'd better be more careful."

Around 20 miles south of there the mostly straight, flat roads around here presented me with a blind S-curve. I'd encountered very few of them in the wild, and the first one when I was just starting out had been memorable. Either there hadn't been a warning sign, or the excitement of the S-curve sign had blinded me to everything else, but while I think I was handling the curves fine, I'd somehow missed the message about the railroad tracks -- right in the middle of the S.

I was setting up for the second curve when I suddenly saw them, didn't like my chances leaned over across bumpy steel rails, and had to stand it up and brake. No cars and a smooth shoulder and I was able to bring it to a stop before I ran out of mown grass.
"Well it was a tricky situation but I guess I handled it alright. I won't make that mistake again! From now on S-curves get extra caution."

Which brings me back to the fall ride. A strange S-curve. I'm on the alert. I slow all the way down to the officially posted 25 mph curve speed. One of the things he'd stressed in the expert course was going outside-inside-outside through curves, maximizing visibility and getting the straightest line possible though it.

I did that great. Made it though the unfamiliar curve, took it almost out to the white line on the exit, still slightly leaned over but now it was not leaning to make the curve but rather to start moving back left towards the middle of the lane as I accelerated strongly out the back side.

Sun-dappled shadows made a bit of a strobe effect, and I was momentarily distracted looking at the grill of the large oncoming pick-up truck, which, for the brief moment before I completed my turn and he started his, was coming right at me.

Reminding myself to look away from the grill and avoid target fixation, I realized that one of the dark spots in the white line on the side of the road was caused not by the shadows of the trees, but by a deep half-circle where a Great White shark had bitten a chunk out of the side of the road - right in front of my tire.

Had that moment where time slows down and you consider and reject several bad options. My front tire skipped out of the hole like a missed free throw and flew off the side of the road. There was a semi-steep gravel slope for a couple feet there going down to the ditch (or rather a fairly flat, short grass shoulder with a gentle depression in it and a barbed wire fence on the far side. Some small sign on a T-post not far away.

I could try to turn quickly back into the road, but if it worked and I actually got traction on that gravel slope I thought I might shoot back into and across the lane just in time to catch a face-full of pickup truck.

I could try to stand it up and try to ride it out down the gravel and try to brake on the grass and mud, hopefully without hitting the sign or the barbed wire.

Both seemed like unlikely, though when I'm second-guessing myself, possibly better choices.

In the end I went for Plan C. That gentle slope and damp grass looked a lot softer than the truck, the gravel, the road, or the barbed wire. So we were taught that once you've lost control in a dynamic situation, hundreds of pounds of steel at hundreds of degrees is no longer your friend. I kicked and turned the bike down and to the right and went for a diving judo roll leftwards over the gravel and into the grass.

I hadn't been going that fast. I couldn't have been going that fast. The 6 weeks of judo I'd taken as a kid had served me well through the years. Tucking a shoulder and rolling I'd avoided who knows how many bruises, breaks and scrapes while running, rolling, riding bicycles.

Whoo. Between the added speed and that small slope, the landing spun me like a lathe. skygroundskygroundskygroundskyyy...
So far I hadn't felt any sharp impacts. I tried to keep my arms loose and curved in front of me. My only reaction was to think to myself, almost as an outside observer, "Wow, this is intense!" and as it continued I thought "almost ridiculously so."

At one point I think I must have caught air or something, my arms extended a bit slowing rotation, ground and sky changed less frequently. I thought "Ah, it's finally winding down. That wasn't so bad..." then hit the ground and back to groundskygroundsky at speed for awhile.

Finally I ended up on my back not far from the fence.

"Well that sucked," I wisely commented to myself inside my helmet.

Since I hadn't felt any pain, after 3 or 4 seconds of self reflection I reached up and started taking off my helmet. (Don't do this, kids. Unless you're still in the middle of a busy highway, just lay back and take 5. Then take another 5. Ask a more objective person to count your arms and legs for you, if one is available. Adrenaline is a helluva drug.)

Modular opened and strap undone I decided the helmet made a decent pillow and kept it on, laid there a while.

Came to realize my pinky finger was pretty sore. Not terrible, but I'd definitely whacked it on something. Small shifting revealed a stabbing pain in my leg.

About that time someone came running up. Nice fella. Think he told me his name. Wish I could remember it. Naturally I told him about my pinky but quickly moved on to the important things - could he turn off the bike so the headlight doesn't run down the battery before I can hop on and ride outta here?

He tried. Did his best. Think he found the kill switch, but the bike was already killed. Never found that key. Ah well.
(That Virago had it on the side instead of by the gauges)

This has already gotten ridiculously long so I'll do the wrap-up in another post.
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3/4 Ton Jack

Well travelled
The Great Plains
So the pinky got better quickly. Don't think it even bruised. The pain in my leg turned out to be a couple of prize-winning sandburs that had magically gotten all the way down inside the leg of my chaps and were stabbing me just above the knee.

An ambulance arrived and I (once again wisely) refused treatment as I only had (now) an ankle that was a bit sore (but I could still walk on it without much pain. A nasty bruise, probably) and when asked about the inevitable collarbone fracture, gladly demonstrated I didn't have one by raising my arms above my head without pain and swinging them around. (well, not pain exactly. Nothing to make you visibly grimace if you didn't want to, but now that you mention it, something did feel... "not quite right" in the old collarbone/shoulder area...)

So when the dust had settled found out I had a level 1 separated shoulder and that nasty purple bruise on my ankle was revealed years later to have actually skelped off a chip of bone - still got a click in that one.

Bike broke off a steering stop and the bars put a decent sized dent in the tank. Tail pipes got jammed full of mud. The insurance company totalled it and I let 'em. Wish I'd known more mechanically back then. Other than the tank dent it didn't look too bad. Though I heard it did some pretty spectacular cartwheels so who knows. Wouldn't start, but that mighta been just because the battery was dead.

Biggest surprise was that helmet. Thought I'd done a pretty good sideways roll on grass mostly, but somehow got nasty gouges down the face like the swipe of a bear. Full face for the win.

Biggest regret (after losing my cheap yet largely pristine shiny and chrome first motorcycle pal and wondering if there might've been a way I could've ridden it out, even though I never liked the buckhorn bars that trapped my leg while limiting tight turns, even thought it was definitely just too small for me to ever be truly comfortable on) was my riding gloves. I loved those gloves. Fit like a second skin.

I had some gear protection so they asked to see everything I'd been wearing. Paid for the helmet. At the last moment threw in the gloves since they were the only other thing with visible damage (just the tiniest scuff on the outside.). I eventually found another pair of them on eBay, but it was never the same.

That's my story.
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Well travelled
Retrospection is a powerful tool. Super glad you weren't seriously injured and glad to hear another person used their judo skills to minimize injury. What's your next bike?

3/4 Ton Jack

Well travelled
The Great Plains
Retrospection is a powerful tool. Super glad you weren't seriously injured and glad to hear another person used their judo skills to minimize injury. What's your next bike?
Oh that was all like 10 years ago, and even then I jumped around to a few different times in the first couple years I was riding in a way I'm not sure I always made as clear as I'd like.

There have been several bikes since, but currently riding the Classic 350, with an old Yamaha XS850 triple I'm trying to get back in thr road when i csn find time to sort some electrics out.

Think I also missed giving the realization I'd had on those 70% actuarial accidents in the first two years: probably the most dangerous times are the first few months when you start, and towards the end of that second year when you're starting to think you've got everything all figured out and are starting to get cocky.

That's the most serious thing I've had, so I if I "learned my lesson" from that I got off lucky. Now it's just down to luck and watching out for those texting drivers.


Well travelled
South Wales
Particularly interested in the “click in that one”.

Not bike related but 21 years ago I managed to open a patio door over my bare toes one summer. As it was a family barbecue I passed it off with a “brave” remark such as “its only pain”.

Much blood from the top of three toes left stains on the decking but the bleeding soon stopped. I was left with a “clicking” in one toe.

Eight years later I injured my ankle, again not bike related, and at the A&E department the radiologist asked how I had managed to break my ankle and a toe.
Apparently the toe bone was in three separate pieces.

It still clicks 21 years later!
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