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 would I do if I could do?

A 1990 Virago I saw auctioned on eBay.
I bid £400 for it but was unsuccessful.
And another thing is that I don't really like the look of sport bikes.

Oh, I should probably back up that train of thought a little since you're not privy to the conversation that's been running in my head the past few days.

In my previous post, I talked about the dead-end feeling of not having a bike, nor the money for a bike. I ended the post, though, with the observation that –– with a bit of effort –– I can probably dig enough from my very tight budget to have £500 by the end of the summer. I name that figure because it seems to be the watermark on eBay and BikeTrader for bikes that (allegedly) run. And, indeed, it is an optimistically low figure, with a more decent choice of bikes found at the £900 mark.

"Well, you know, if the bike actually runs, why not?" I've been asking myself. "The point is to be on a bike, and if it's a POS, well, that's just storytelling fodder."

Afterall, my first car was a rusted-out 1969 Ford F250 that I bought for $300. It held up for about a year before I sold it off for scrap. But a year is a year, right? And thanks to that old truck I learned a lot about working on cars because I had no fear of permanently messing things up.

In my present situation I don't need a bike for commuting; I don't need something I can depend on to take me to Spain or some such thing. Sure, I'd like something like that, I'd love something trustworthy and reliable. But reliability costs money and I don't absolutely need it right now. In my present situation, I probably wouldn't do rides much greater than 30 miles –– mostly down to Southerndown or up to the Brecon Beacons. Bristol occasionally, or perhaps Abergavenny.

My bank gives me RAC coverage for free, so if I broke down there'd be someone to come pick up me and the bike. And if the bike decides not to start one day, I live within pushing distance of a small motorcycle garage. With the most important thing for me at the moment being the simple act of being on a bike, why not buy a POS?

That's the argument I've managed to build up over the previous few days. Hitherto, I think I was too locked on the issue of quality and everyday reliability. In March and April I had interviews for jobs in Bristol and Swindon respectively, and imagined myself using a bike to commute. For that sort of journey I knew I would need something I could 100-percent depend on, and which preferably had antilock brakes. But with no such job opportunities on the horizon, I can shift my focus and dramatically lower my standards.

A 1982 Yamaha XJ650 rat bike advertised for £600.
Note the seat consists of electrical tape.
So, after a long conversation with myself I started dwelling at the bottom end of the classified ads, looking at what is (and isn't) available. Doing so has introduced me to a world of sport bikes from the late 80s/early 90s, and adverts so badly spelled as to be almost indecipherable. Old sport bikes, yo. Or bland all-rounders dressed up with sport fairing and terrible "sport" paint schemes. Honda CBRs, Yamaha Fazers, Suzuki SV650s, Kawasaki ZZRs and on and on and on. This is clearly the kind of bike that Britons like. Indeed, some refuse to accept there can be any other kind of machine; a blogger for Motorcycle News recently suggested a Victory Judge is "not a 'proper' bike."

(I now refuse to read MCN as result of that comment)

And certainly I can see the appeal of a sport/sport-like bike. When it's new. But when it's 30 years old, its fairing cracked and faded, its technology now awkwardly out of date, and its look so painfully stuck in a specific era, my emotional response is: "No thanks."

To me, those bikes just don't look cool. They don't meet the Chris Jericho test.

Chris Jericho is quite possibly the greatest professional wrestler of all time, and he said the key to his incredible success was developing a character that guys wanted to be like and girls wanted to be with. When I'm on a bike, ideally, that's how I want to feel. 

When I was learning to ride, in shop windows I caught vision of myself on the CBF600s my training school used, and I wasn't ticking the boxes. Maybe other people would, but I didn't. I didn't look sexy or threatening; if I saw me riding past, I wouldn't turn gay for me. Sure, I'll happily suffer such a fate if my bike's got ABS and 70 mpg. But without it, it becomes a thrift store Cosby sweater whose irony I am unable to appreciate.

So, I find myself looking at old cruisers. The pickings are incredibly slim. But maybe, maybe I'll find something. And then won't I look cool standing on the roadside, waiting for the RAC to come pick me up?

Comments

  1. Chris,
    We're here in Las Cruces, NM and went into the local Harley dealer to browse yesterday. Our dirty sport bikes sat out front proudly.
    I looked at Sportsters, which I've always coveted, in a new light. After so many miles on my Ninja 500 now, all I saw in the Sportsters were problems. Tanks too small, controls too far forward, handlebars too high. . . Maybe I was in a mood or maybe, just maybe, my tastes have changed. I've always been a little disappointed that I started with a sport bike and not a cruiser. There was this Yamaha cruiser I wanted very much. But Highway seemed sure this would be better and I trust his judgement.
    Finally, now after riding my Ninja Katie Scarlet for over 4000 miles (in 4 months) I really appreciate her. Dont be too sold on anything until you've ridden a few.
    I rode Highways Yamaha Roadstar for awhile, but at over 800 lbs, I just couldn't manage her well.
    Sometimes being a short chick sucks. But I love being a chick with awesome breasts, so it balances out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sage advice. I can't remember what bike I rode when I got my US license 19 years ago and since then the only bikes I've sat on were a Yamaha YBR125 (too small), a Honda CBF600 (cramped but tolerable) and a Honda NC700X (awesome). I like the look of cruisers but you're right that I have no idea whether I'd like the ride.

      Delete
  2. Considering how tall you are, you'll want forward controls to prevent your knees from getting sore. In that a case, a cruiser.

    ReplyDelete
  3. A lot of older sportbikes are anything but timeless, appearance-wise. Bikes like that are what flat black paint and gaffers tape*
    are for.

    Incidentally, I love rat bikes, but I personally wouldn't buy a bike someone else has turned into a rat bike, just like I wouldn't buy a truck someone else lifted.** It's probably great, but you never really know, and it could be real bad if it's not.

    Ride a cruiser and you'll know if you want one. My experience was that cruisers are fun, but the first time I rode a sportbike I didn't stop grinning for a week. But that's me. You've been on sportbikes/standards, so you know what the deal is with them. Try a cruiser, see if you can try a Bonnie (or Bonnie-alike).

    Then get the B.S.G. bike.



    *Don't use electrical tape on your bike. People do. They are wrong. Electrical tape gets sticky and nasty in short order. Gaffers tape is the business.

    **I wouldn't be in the market for a lifted truck anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Sorry for two consecutive comments...

    I just read that MCN post you linked to. The stupid snobbery and need for external validation among some motorcycling types blows my little mind. I thought we were rebels and non-conformists and stuff.

    Clearly he got fewer nods because he was on a cruiser/not-a-proper-bike and not because, for example, he wasn't seen in time or people just weren't friendly that day or maybe because he didn't nod first.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

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…