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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…

I wish I had been more aware

I got my Minnesota motorcycle endorsement in the summer of 1994. I was 18 years old and had failed to graduate high school with the rest of my friends, which meant I was feeling pretty low. The state of Minnesota is full of smart people; I read a statistic recently that 91 percent of the state's population has a high school degree. And every single one of my good friends had graduated in the top 25 of our class.

I always like to tell the story that, according to my final report card, I was ranked 416 –– despite the fact there were only 414 people in my class. And there was a kid in my class who thought he was Batman. No, really. He dressed up as Batman and referred to everyone as "citizen" (1). He graduated on time; I didn't.

So, my getting a motorcycle endorsement was primarily an act of proving to myself that I could do something: an easy, confidence-boosting win. To a certain extent, the motorcycle endorsement was an end rather than a means. I am not able now to get back into the mind of my 18-year-old self, so I can't really say how strong was my desire to do anything with the endorsement after earning it.

I know that I was a kid with a poor work ethic (and therefore very little money) who had no close friends with motorcycles or even any sort of mechanical inclination. No one in my circle worked on cars, they were too busy pretending to be arts-minded liberals (2). I know, too, that I was generally put off by the look and sound of sport motorcycles –– a stance exacerbated by the fact I lived amongst the slow-to-change latent racism of the Upper Midwest. As late as the 90s it was still very common for a dude to roll his eyes and complain about "rice burner crotch rockets."

On top of this, it was a time before the internet. So what I knew about motorcycling was incredibly limited. To the point of naivety so intense I was afraid to confront it. I never set foot in a motorcycle shop because I feared being instantly exposed as a fool. The only "shopping" for motorcycles I did was via classified ads in the Star Tribune. Which was rarely of any use to me because the ads were text only and I had no idea what the letters and numbers of a motorcycle's name meant (3). My best lead came via occasional Sunday pull-out adverts from Tousley Motorsports, where the tendency was to show pictures of "rice burners" at prices far beyond what I was willing or capable of paying for something I didn't really want.

Motorcycling seemed to present only two faces to me: 1) Dude in his 50s who is loping around on an enormous, expensive and shiny Harley hoping it will compensate for the fact he is fat and his penis doesn't work; 2) Dude on an ear-splitting sport bike who wears Oakleys and a backwards baseball cap. I didn't want to be either of those people. And I think that's why, or at least part of why motorcycling fell out of interest for me.

I wish I had been more aware, though. I wish I had been able to see that a bike is just a bike; it can be an extension of your personality if you want, but doesn't have to be the source of it. I wonder what my adventures would have been like.

A little different, I suppose. I used to do a lot of sleeping in my pick up.

–––––

(1) He was beloved. He always took it upon himself to break up fights by stepping into the fray and giving both combatants a good talking to. And it always worked. Both sides were so amused they couldn't help but walk away.

(2) Because I am such a contrary person at times, I annoyed my friends by listening to Rush Limbaugh all the time and daydreaming of owning an extravagantly large ranch in Texas. In my parents' storage area I still have the drawings of the house I wanted to build –– a large ranch home with a sort of grand hall in the middle that has huge doors on each side that can be opened to catch the wind and move it through the house.

(3) I still find that to be an annoying aspect of motorcycling. What's wrong with a name, for the love of Pete?! Call it a Bonneville or a Speedmaster or a Vegas 8, not a VT750 or VN900.

Comments

  1. Chris:

    I owned my first bike when it was not fashionable to be seen on one. Only Rebels and tough guys rode bikes. Back then, bikes were much smaller. A 250cc was considered a large bike. I started with a Yamaha 80cc 2-stroke. It was more the challenge of doing what others couldn't but originally no one had to prove proficiency with riding before actually riding a motorcycle. With your regular driver's license, you could basically drive anything. This was back in the mid 1960's.

    Later on around the mid 70's you had to take a proficiency test, sort of like your Module 1. It was in a parking lot, A few figure 8's clockwise & then anti-clock. A few shifting gears and a panic stop. Plus pushing it around to show you can handle the weight.

    My friend had a superbike, Suzuki X6 Hustler. It was fast. 6 speed 2-stroke. He loaned it to me for one summer and I did ride it a few times.

    Your time will come. You will pass with flying colours and hopefully soon be riding your own bike

    bob
    Riding the Wet Coast

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