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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…

Checking the mirrors

Today marks the 1-year anniversary of this blog. Only one year, mis amigos. Wow.

In many ways it feels as I have been doing this for longer, because so much has happened in that year. And in another sense, because I am so obsessed with motorcycling, and love talking about it so much, it feels I haven't been doing it nearly so long.

I started this blog on 14 January 2013 because I was so consumed with thoughts of motorcycles and motorcycling I could no longer hold it inside. I had no one with whom I could share my passion (a), so I created this blog as a sort of mental dumping ground. Without it, I felt, I might go mad. As I said at the time: "If I felt this way toward a girl there would be incrimination; restraining orders would be issued. People would look at me with their best serious faces, speak in their best concerned tones and say: 'Chris, you are sick. Very, very sick. You need to get help.'"

The blog wasn't intended to be more than a little internet corner in which I could mumble to myself. I didn't imagine many people would read the thing, and I had no idea it would ultimately serve a major role in my finally fulfilling an 18-year-long ambition.

Exactly one year ago, I was 36 years old. I did not have a UK motorcycle license. I did not have a motorcycle. I had not ridden a bike since earning my Minnesota motorcycle endorsement in a YMCA parking lot in 1994. And my wife of just two months was less than enthusiastic about any talk of my changing the status quo. After all, we were drowning financially, we did not have a car, and I hadn't yet even bothered to get my UK driver's license (b). On the face of it, a motorcycle seemed impractical.

Today, I have both my UK motorcycle and driving license (c), and a bike. And in some small way I feel my marriage is stronger because achieving those things has shown my wife I am capable of not just having a big idea, but also making it happen. My life is quantifiably better. And this blog has played a major role in making it such.

One of the most obvious ways it has done so is by introducing me to you, the people who read. Thank you. Your advice and encouragement has been invaluable.

When I first started on this particular journey I knew just two people with an interest in motorcycles. However, both of them –– my brother and Lucky –– were (and are) living thousands of miles away in Minnesota. No one in my immediate circles had a bike, and, to my knowledge at the time (d), no one had even a passing interest in the machines. There is no bike scene to speak of in South Wales beyond a handful of casually racist middle-aged dudes in unflattering leather suits who like to hang out at roadside cafes on summer weekends. So, without you I would have felt alone and probably given up. Your reading and commenting and interaction has helped me to feel connected to the wider world.

The second most obvious way in which this blog has helped me is that it made me visible to the good people of Loan.co.uk, who saw a certain talent in my writing and offered to buy me a motorcycle in exchange for a bit of hard work on their website. In so doing, they changed my life, and I am endlessly thankful.

There have been all kinds of other highs and lows along the way; I've done my best to document them all. Here, though, are the standout moments from each of the months of 2013:

––– JANUARY: I was just finding my feet at this point, ordering all the jumping emotions in my brain into thoughts and ideas to be written. In so doing, and without realising it, I was giving shape to a desire that was hitherto too nebulous to really be acted upon. There's a lesson to be learned from this: if you want to do something, take the time to think how you will do it. Work out all the challenges and what you need to do to overcome these challenges. Then you can begin to focus on making the thing real. Of course, it also helps to have inspiration. And it was in January that I stumbled across a little YouTube video that gets me excited about motorcycles every time I see it.

––– FEBRUARY: With my motorcycle obsession beginning to take shape I, somewhat impulsively, signed myself up to do a CBT course. Short for Compulsory Basic Training, the CBT is the first of myriad steps toward earning one's UK motorcycle license. As a sort of guarantee against backing out, I surreptitiously bought myself a helmet. Because I didn't want to get in trouble, I hid the helmet from my wife, thereby causing myself several months of needless anxiety until its eventual discovery.

With a fellow student, the day I passed my Mod 1
––– MARCH: By and large, the month that contains my birthday and Texas Independence Day was one of triumph. Having earned my CBT the month before, I now succeeded in passing the theory and hazard exams, as well as the Module 1 exam. There are effectively five hoops one must jump through to get a motorcycle license in the United Kingdom (more if you are under the age of 24) and by the final days of March I had made it through four of those hoops without too much stress. I was nervous about the final hoop but felt relatively certain that, as with the others, I would succeed on the first attempt. I was wrong.

––– APRIL: Technically, I failed my first attempt at the Module 2 exam on 26 March, but the devastating emotional impact of that failure lasted well into the fourth month and beyond. That was a terrible day. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say there were a lot of uncontrollable variables working against me –– specifically, the weather and the presence of an examiner who was shockingly unprofessional –– and I can tell myself that, really, that attempt shouldn't be a part of the mental record. Like, you know, if a piano fell on Usain Bolt while he was running you wouldn't really hold it against him that he didn't finish the race. But self anger is a terrible beast, and the experience corroded me from within. Things got worse and worse, to the point that I started to hate the motorcycle training sessions I was taking. When I failed the Mod 2 a second time, I plummeted into depression.

––– MAY: I managed to pull myself together in part because a number of you were so kind as to comment or even drop me an email of support. I appreciate the hell out of that. I was able to build myself up and, on a sunny and warm (by UK standards) afternoon, finally managed to pass the Mod 2 exam. Again, with the benefit of hindsight, I have quite a lot of critical things to say about the whole process, both in terms of training and examination, but the positive to take away from it is that I now had my UK motorcycle license. It felt something of a hollow victory, however, because I couldn't put my newly earned license to use: I didn't have a bike nor the means to get one.

––– JUNE: Things didn't stay that way for long. Off the back of a post I wrote about the Harley-Davidson Iron 883 the folks at Loan.co.uk got in touch in May and put me to work. I'll admit to having always been suspicious as to whether the work would actually result in anything, but they proved to be better than their word and early in the sixth month I travelled to Cheltenham to collect my first motorcycle –– an experience so immense to me that I broke it into two posts. Here's Part I and here's Part II. It took me weeks to properly accept the whole thing had actually happened, and even to this day I feel as if I am lying when I tell the story.

––– JULY: The summer of 2013 was an odd one for Britain because it produced weather that was actually summery. Usually, summer in Britain is more a state of mind than a climatological condition; people just think it's summer and dress as such, but in truth the temperatures remain what they were in spring and will be in autumn. Not so in 2013. It was hot. And having a motorcycle allowed Jenn and me to properly enjoy it. In July we took our first of many short summer-day jaunts, a ride to Hay-on-Wye, where we ended up skinny dipping and being ogled by a youth group.

––– AUGUST: Jenn's initial resistance to my idea of a motorcycle had long since disappeared by the time summer hit, but our frequent trips to picturesque villages and the beach and so on helped to concrete her love for the bike. These excursions also helped me to slowly build up the experiences that make one a better rider. Of course, experiences are positives and negatives, and it was in this month I got to experience the utter embarrassment of dropping my bike for the first time. Fortunately, the damage was very minor and I learned to be a little more cautious in choosing where to place the bike.

––– SEPTEMBER: Things began to quiet down in the ninth month of 2013. The weather turned a little more British and trips to the beach reduced. I started what is now my winter routine of trying to get in at least one ride a week. Often these rides were taken on my own and that allowed me more opportunity to think about my riding. So, in addition to making sure I was getting out, I also started making sure that I regularly practice the basics.

––– OCTOBER: With the days growing ever shorter and wetter I took my first overnight road trip on the bike. I learned some valuable lessons about timing, planning and accepting the zen of being really, really, really wet and cold. Despite the extreme physical misery, and the frustration of dropping the bike again, this solo trip to North Wales easily stands out as one of the highlights of my year. As soon as I got back I started dreaming of future rides.

––– NOVEMBER: As I write this, it is pissing down rain and the wind is throwing things around on the road. It feels as if it has been doing this forever, but I know that, in truth, it has only been doing it since November. Which is normal for Wales. That weather makes pleasure riding somewhat difficult, so most of my rides in the penultimate month of 2013 were jaunts so short they weren't worth mentioning. But there was one beautiful, heartwarming day in which I rode out to a National Trust property just north of Bath. Dyrham Park has deep personal meaning to me and being there helped to remind me that, yes, I do actually like Britain –– an important reminder at a time of year when homesickness affects me most.


––– DECEMBER: And that brings us pretty much up to the present tense. Whereas I am today celebrating one year of this blog, it was in the final month of 2013 that I celebrated six months of having a motorcycle with a look at some of the things I had learned so far. Again, it is hard to believe that so much has happened in so little time.

Looking back on the first year of this blog, one thing stands out to me: I am incredibly fortunate. And looking ahead to 2014 and the blog's second year, I am excited to see what will happen. As I say, I am formulating certain road trips in my mind, but motorcycling has taught me that there are often far more interesting things –– things I have not yet imagined –– just around the next corner. I look forward to seeing what adventures the journey brings.

–––––––––

(a) "Passion" has to be one of the most overused words of the 2010s; I apologise for using it but couldn't think of something better.

(b) I had my U.S. driver's license, but if one is a resident of the United Kingdom for more than a year, one is supposed to get a UK license. I had at that point been living in the United Kingdom for 6.5 years.

(c) For those of you playing along elsewhere, they are separate things in the United Kingdom and can exist independently of one another. As opposed to the situation in Minnesota and most U.S. states, where one must first possess a driving license.

(d) After finally getting a motorcycle I discovered that most guys and even a few gals carry a latent desire to get a bike.

Comments

  1. Hey Chris - You had one hell of a year. Seeing your enthusiasm for all things motorcycle has recharged my own love for bikes. I can't wait to see what adventures you're going to have in the coming year!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Congrats on 1 year of blogging and almost 7 months of two wheeled ownership. May they both continue to give you great pleasure.

    Motorcycling is a mystical world that draws you in and won't let go. Not that we seem to mind.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It was nice reading this and reading through the associated links. It reminds me somewhat of my own experience, and also find the system very unfair. My Grandfather rode a Brough Superior on L plates in '51... and yet I was stuck on a 20 year old Honda CG125.

    Regardless, I no doubt think you are pleased that you had bothered, and that, with time you won't even care that you had to attempt the tests 3 times. Newport is a mess of a city and I hated every bit of riding through it, and most of your thoughts completely mirror mine.

    By the way, I'm in Lower Penarth if you fancy a ride out. I'm on the bike all the time and love exploring.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Chris:

    congrats on so many milestones in your life, most of which happened these past 12 months. You are definitely more confident in your riding abilities. Looking forward to more of your experiences and banter during the coming year

    bob
    Riding the Wet Coast

    ReplyDelete
  5. Congratulations for the blog almost you had completed one year and wishing you all the best for your future and liked to see some more adventure from you.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Chris, that's a great accomplishment! I've enjoyed following your journey and am anxious to see what this year brings. I enjoy your style and point of view. Congrats on an exciting first year. Always remember to Live Free and Ride Hard! ~Curt

    ReplyDelete
  7. Chris,

    Congrats! You've come a long way Baby! :) It's been fun riding along with you!!!

    Smooches,
    Sash
    www.SashMouth.com

    ReplyDelete

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