Skip to main content

What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

What happened

Hunter S. Thompson
Last time I wrote, I told of how I got my motorcycle license at age 18, but thereafter never rode. I had gotten my certification in a place with bad weather most of the year and I had neither the money nor storage space to own something I would have used so very rarely.

When I was 22 years old I left Minnesota for the slightly better weather of Northern Nevada, but married a woman who had a strong idea of who and what she wanted me to be. What she did not want me to be was one of those guys who zips around on a motorcycle. She was convinced I would get myself killed. And I wasn't able to convince myself she wasn't just a little bit right. Especially when she and I lived in San Diego, California.

San Diego is conducive to riding about 360 days a year, but it is home to countless military bases, which means a lot of people who make bad decisions involving motor vehicles. You may have heard that motorcycles have killed more U.S. Marines than IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. It is misleading statistic because the issue is not really with motorcycles but Marines. People who are trained to fight and die are, by nature, not going to be too precious about their own mortality.

San Diego has some horrific highway accidents. But the reason for those accidents is usually the vehicle operator rather than the vehicle. This kind of splitting of hairs, though, offers little help in the face of a wife's opposition. The issue was buried and forgotten. But then a few things happened.

When I was 30 years old I moved to southern Wales, where it almost never snows and where the roads are smaller and the traffic generally slower than in the United States. When I was 33 years old my wife left me. When I was 34 years old I drove from Minnesota to Texas and realised I love my home country. A few months later, I met and fell in love with a girl who was far more willing to accept me as I am, rather than as she wants me to be. When I was 36 years old I read Hunter S. Thompson's Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs.

Part of being American is holding the innate (and admittedly ridiculous) need for freedom. That's a word that gets thrown around a lot and I think it manifests differently for each individual. For me, part of being free is having the ability to get up and go, the ability to roam. In Britain I have no car - just my feet, my bicycle and public transportation to take me places. That's not enough. I am not free. I am not myself.

About three months ago I realised all this. The source of my unhappiness became clear. And it became clear, too, that a motorcycle could save me.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Ride review: Harley-Davidson XL 883 L (aka Sportster SuperLow)

Yes, as a matter of fact, it is like riding a tractor.
That's the criticism so consistently levied against Harley-Davidson motorcycles: that there is something agrarian to the experience. And I can now say from personal experience that all those critics are right. But I can also say those critics are leaving out a key piece of information, which is this:
TRACTORS ARE FUCKING AWESOME!!!
It's a tractor that hurtles forward with roller-coaster intensity, a tractor that goes really fast, a tractor that makes you feel like Brock Lesnar in a children's ball pit. A tractor from the Land of Bad-Ass, with which you can sow the seeds of awesomeness.
But let me back up a bit...
A few days ago, I decided to take the day off, solely for the purpose of getting a chance to ride around and finally make use of the free breakfast coupon sent to me by Thunder Road. As I was gearing up, I suddenly decided that since I was already heading west, I might as well push a few miles further and che…

Ride review: Yamaha XV950 / Star Bolt

Imitation, Charles Caleb Colton famously noted, is the sincerest form of flattery. If that's true, the flattery the Harley-Davidson Iron 883 receives from Yamaha's XV950 is enough to make one blush. Put the two bikes side by side, and the inspiration for the latter is undeniable. Yamaha claims its bike has a "new neo retro Japanese look," but that's clearly just nonsense –– lorem ipsom that was used instead of "totally looks like a Harley-Davidson Iron 883."
Certainly the XV950 –– known as the Star Bolt in the United States –– isn't the first example of a Japanese OEM adhering faithfully to the styling cues of America's best-known motorcycle manufacturer. The orthodox members of the Church of Jesus Harley Latter-day Davidson write these bikes off as "wannabes," and tend to be pretty dismissive of anyone who would dare consider purchasing one. But I'm going to commit blasphemy here and tell you that the XV950 is unquestionably the …

Ride review: Triumph Bonneville

"OK," I said. "I want one." "Well, you know, maybe you should ask your wife first." "She loves Triumphs," I said. "Still, Chris. You should give it a think. Go home, discuss it with your wife, give yourself a chance to think clearly. After all, this is one of Triumph's most popular models; there's plenty of stock available."
The voice of reason in that conversation was Drew, the salesman at Bevan Motorcycles. He was doing his best to talk some sense into me after my test ride of the 2014 Triumph Bonneville. I was wild-eyed and yammering like a teenage boy who has touched boobies for the first time. This, my friends, is what the Bonneville does to you. It is an instantly rideable, instantly enjoyable, instantly lovable motorcycle that surprises you in just how good a simple motorcycle can be.

The Bonneville, of course, is a storied machine that's been around in one form or another for 55 years. It is a classic. Partially b…