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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…

Stepping up

That's me in the green sweater, wholly unaware of the fact I was in the shot. Not that I felt like smiling at that point anyway.

The picture was taken Saturday a quintessential roadside cafe of the sort that somehow manages to thrive in Britain. Greasy spoons of America were on their deathbed in my childhood; these days only a few still exist, surviving on nostalgia. In the United Kingdom, however, such cafes are omnipresent and beloved by their typically male, shaven-headed, high-vis wearing clientele. Andy, the main instructor of 1st Class Rider Training (and the person who took this photo) is a former police officer and quite perfectly fits into the category of "proper bloke," so it was a given we would take lunch here.

Myself and Nathan (the fella in the Alpinestars jacket) had been spending the morning getting comfortable with the school's Honda CBF600s, upon which I'll be taking my Module 1 test on Tuesday. Paul, sitting to my right, was our instructor and showed surprising faith in our ability. Within 30 minutes of getting on the bikes we were barrelling down the A48 toward Newport.

"National speed limit here, Chris," said Paul over the radio in my ear. "Pick up the pace."

I was in the lead of our wee convoy. I pushed the bike so the needle just tipped over 70 mph. The wind thumped my chest and nudged my helmet. All those YouTube clips of people crashing fluttered through my head. What blows my mind about being on a motorcycle is how a wholly familiar route like this can suddenly look different with the advantage of greater field of vision.

Then zip and turn and stop and start through the tediously un-intuitive streets of Newport to the Module 1 testing centre (there are only two in the whole of South Wales), where Andy had booked some time training time. And that's where I discovered I am awful at making U turns. 

Absolutely, utterly awful. I kept going wide, incapable of getting the bike to turn within the allotted 7.5 metres. Unfortunately, U turns are a part of the Module 1 exam.

Sitting at the cafe, after our training session had ended, I felt utterly defeated.

"What do you reckon my odds are of passing?" I asked Paul.

"Good, I think," he said.

"You're lying."

"Well," he paused. "But, no, really. Keep your concentration. It's not beyond you."

We took a circuitous route back to Cardiff, around and over Caerphilly Mountain, allowing a chance to calm down. Paul had done the same on my CBT, giving me a chance to pleasure ride at the end of the lesson –– allowing me to finish the day with a reminder of why I'm putting all this money and effort into motorcycling.

When we got back to Whitchurch High School, where the bikes are kept, everyone was keen to head home or to the pub in time to watch Wales utterly destroy England in rugby. But I pushed to use all the time I could. I stayed on the bike, practicing U turns.

And I hit it every time. Not all my attempts were pretty, some were comically awful. But what matters is they were all successful. Maybe Paul was right after all. Maybe I really will pass my test on Tuesday.

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