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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…

Even worse than the first time

Until today I couldn't bring myself to write about failing the Mod 2 for the second time. And it still cuts me up to do so.

The Mod 2, of course, is the on-road test –– the fifth and final stage in the exhausting and farcically red-tape process of getting a motorcycle license in the United Kingdom. My first attempt at taking the test went horribly wrong and kicked me into an acute depressive episode that lasted almost the whole of the 10 days that one is required to wait before being allowed to take the test again.

Admittedly, said depressive episode was exacerbated by my not getting a job for which I had interviewed, and having my book rejected. These past few weeks have been hard, y'all. But last week the weather finally started to turn a bit. Still raining constantly, but not the bitter cold that had frozen my fingers and brain in early April.

The test was in Newport, which is a city I know a little better, and which has more recently benefitted from infrastructure spending. The Ryder Cup came to Newport a few years ago and the city went to the trouble to paint lines on its roads. It's still littered with completely illogical turns and junctions, but so, too, is every single village, town and city in the rest of Britain.

The straightest, most direct roads in this country are still those laid out by Romans almost 2,000 years ago. Everything else was almost certainly the result of some fella's drunken stumble home from the pub and no one has ever sobered up enough to straighten things out.

It baffles and frustrates me that motorcycle tests are not available in Cardiff: Wales' capital city. I know Cardiff and would not have to add a feeling of disorientation to the long list of pressures that are part of the Mod 2. But, of those cities and towns where the test is available, I suppose Newport would be top of my list. Both myself and my former partner have worked there.

The examiner, too, left me feeling more comfortable this time. He was agreeable in explaining the test to me and, most importantly, he had a radio that worked. We set out and the sun was shining. And the test went really well...

Until I came to a junction where I was supposed to turn left and the light suddenly went yellow. Instantly I assessed the situation: I took into account that the stop line was at least 30 feet away from the actual junction, and that I knew I was going to take the turn gingerly because it was at slightly sharper than a 90-degree angle, and that right behind me there was a dude I figured would almost certainly fail me if I got caught in the junction when the light turned red. I pulled hard on the brakes. I didn't skid, it wasn't an emergency stop, but it was a quick one and I ended up with my front wheel about 8 inches past the white line.

That's where I failed. And in my gut I knew it. I dropped my head a little, but quickly straightened up because the thing is: you haven't failed a test until they tell you that you've failed the test. In my Mod 1 exam I had oh-so-slightly dabbed my right foot on the ground during a stop and the examiner didn't even mention it. Perhaps, I thought, I would be able to ride through this error.

We rode on for another 20 minutes or so and I did really well. I was ticking all the stupid little boxes. And with each minute the test carried on I started to feel that, yes, I had pulled it off. After all, if the examiner really was going to fail me, why have me keep riding around?

"Well, first thing," he said, once we were back in his office and he was helping me to get the radio off. "Is that, unfortunately, you did not pass."

And I started to spiral from that point. I don't really feel like going into it. There was me staring at the ground, feeling sick. Then wandering outside and driving my fists into my head in rage and frustration.

This stupid fucking thing. This stupid fucking little goal that was supposed to help me lift myself up from all the other fucking failures of my life and I was incapable of pulling it off. This stupid fucking country; what was I even doing here? I have a fucking motorcycle license in the United States, where they've somehow overcome the great engineering feat that is building a fucking road that fucking makes sense. And they also have something else in my home country: fucking sunshine. Why in the Great Fuck was I bleeding money to jump through the biggest bullshit hoops ever devised so I can scrabble through the fucking wet and cold of this fucking mouldy rock of a country?

And on and on and on like that for the next several days. I felt so defeated, so upset. And ready to give up.

Comments

  1. VIKING HUG! Don't let the bastards win. /peptalk

    I'm pulling for you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Muchas gracias, dude. I got your email, by the way. I've just been to lazy to reply. I will do soon.

      Delete
  2. Chris:

    I'm pulling for you too. You know the old saying "Three times lucky" That's IT. Lucky 3, your next time you will succeed

    bob
    Riding the Wet Coast

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm hoping that will be the case. Of course, there is also the phrase: "Three strikes, you're out."

      Delete
  3. Hello mate,

    Just a quick word of sympathy.

    On the day my wife was passing her Module 2 (and passed) the other rider got blown off his bike, literally. Lifted off the seat by the wind. That was his 3rd attempt.

    When I went to pass my Module 2 the other guy who was doing it failed (I passed). He was totally gutted, especially considering the back story.

    Turns out he had been wiped out by a driver on the last training session on the eve of his Mod 2. He was with another rider in training, car came out of a junction in between the first rider and him and slammed into the car and the instructor slammed into him. Broken wrist, severe bruising, shattered confidence.

    He picked himself up over Christmas and booked Module 2 again. He failed it. Then booked another Mod 2 exam (which I was also on) and he failed again, this time for interfering with another road user. He was pulling out of from a minor road onto a major road and underestimated the speed of cars coming his way by the slightest of margins, just enough for the drivers to have to dab on the brakes, apparently. That's in a "20's plenty" zone too.

    As much as "they want you to pass" what they need to be assured of is that your decision making is sound. Your technique will always improve with time (almost whether you like it or not), your decision making is a different kettle of fish. It was your perception of lights changing "suddenly" that rang alarm bells in the examiner's head. Your body language gave away the fact you were slightly caught out. He failed you because in his mind you had not planned for the possibility of the lights changing. Whether that was enough to outweigh your good riding afterwards I would not know; obviously so in the mind of that examiner.

    I think the best bit of advice I was given from my instructors was this: "Good decisions are much better than bad decisions but both are infinitely better than not making a decision at all". In those particular circumstances it looks like you had ridden towards the junction with a plan in your mind to go through on the green. Then you had to suddenly change that plan and decided to brake (with a vehicle behind you). If your braking took you past the solid white line that indicates to the examiner that you had no plan and they will fail you for that for sure.

    All I can say is don't give up mate! I promise to you that it will be worth it tenfold. I would have failed my test several times on the way to the DSA centre on that day (at least that's what the instructor told me) but just happened to keep the focus long enough to avoid messing up during my test ride. I was also lucky to avoid any dramatic situations on the road.

    You WILL pass it mate, it does take a number of attempts to MOST people in this country so please don't be discouraged. I will see you on the road bud ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. I still feel just slightly that I didn't make a bad decision that day. Yeah, I stopped over the line, but the alternative was being caught in the junction when the light went red. The examiner, of course, saw things differently.

      Delete

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