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…

Europe 2015 pt. II


My ferry tickets have been purchased; it's actually happening. 

"It," of course, is my ridiculously grand adventure to Italy –– a motorcycle journey through seven countries, covering at least 3,000 miles. On my own.

I have more than 4 months to prepare for this epic ride, but already I can't sleep. At least I've taken the first and most important step: committing to it. On 3 July 2015, I will ride to the other side of the UK and board a night ferry to the Netherlands. Then, I'll spend the next few days making my way south to the Tuscany region of Italy.

I am planning to visit a friend in Saarbrücken, Germany, on the way, which explains the slightly odd route I've chosen. The Google machine insists I should get to the continent via ferries or trains that run from Dover, England, to Calais, France. But what Google doesn't take into account is the fact that taking the ferry to the Netherlands costs less, all things considered.

I'll be taking an overnight ferry and have booked a cabin for the journey. That in and of itself feels exciting and exotic. Far more so than just staying in a hotel in Calais, which was my original idea. And, as I say, it's cheaper –– even with breakfast thrown in. Not to mention the fact that the ferry inherently provides strong incentive to stick to a schedule. On the second day of the trip I should be on the road and riding to Germany by 8 a.m.

A nifty side-effect of this new route is that it means I'll be spending the bulk of my time in German-speaking countries (Luxembourg, Germany and Switzerland), which makes things easier in terms of language learning.

Just about everyone I've spoken to and everything I've read (thank you, Gary France, for your very useful European touring guide) has insisted I need not worry about learning the local lingo. The majority of Europeans are fluent in English, they say. And certainly that was true 20 years ago when I was hitchhiking across France. I have no reason to believe things are different now, but my years of living in Wales and knowing just how much people appreciate that I can speak Welsh makes me want to put in the effort.

Not too long ago I downloaded some German learning podcasts and have been listening to them on a daily basis. Obviously, I won't be able to discuss the meaning of life with Germans and the Swiss, but hopefully I will have enough of the language to at least show respect and get directions to good restaurants.

I've had someone suggest that when in Germany I take the time to ride the famous Schwarzwaldhochstraße, a particularly popular route for motorcyclists that conveniently leads to the Weltgrößte Kuckucksuhr, aka the World's Largest Cuckoo Clock. Because, dude, that is exactly the sort of thing to be checking out on a road trip. How could you even consider passing that up?

Weltgrößte Kuckucksuhr

I'm planning to go to Bern, Switzerland, at some point, as well, for the sake of swimming in the River
Aare, though I'll probably save that as something fun to do during the trip back from Italy. As my route slowly materialises, I can't help but also turn my attention to other facets of planning –– what to bring, how to bring it, etc. Those of you with a keen eye will notice something different about my bike in the picture at the top of this post. I've finally broken down and bought some hard panniers.

Frustratingly, I will probably need to get a new set of tires before I go, as well. At the moment, the Michelin Pilot Road 4s that I have on the bike are in really good condition, but they've already got nigh 4,000 miles on them and I know I'll be racking up at least 2,000 more miles before the trip. Considering that my European adventure could see me clocking as many as 4,000 miles (not to mention I'll be loaded down with gear) and I don't know how long PR4s are supposed to last, I'm thinking it will be wise to just get a new set shortly before I head out.

That's not a financially pleasant thought, but it makes more sense than pushing my luck and then finding myself having to get a new set put on in Düsseldorf. Similarly, I'm thinking it will be wise to invest in a quality sat-nav. I'll have to get one regardless, because my existing hand-me-down device only has maps for the UK and Ireland. I'm considering getting the new TomTom Rider, although it's stupidly expensive.

I'll need some physical maps, an emergency tire repair kit, perhaps a new visor for my helmet (the existing one is starting to get pretty scratched up), maybe a CrampBuster, and so on. Lots of little things. So many little things, in fact, that I'm not sure of what all I'll need. And I'm not sure what I won't need. The tendency when looking at such a daunting task is to over-prepare, to bring too many things.

I remember when I took my 3-month road trip across the United States back in 2009; I ended up hauling around a whole load of crap I didn't need –– too many sweaters and a pair of boots I never wore. In that case, I was in a car. So, it didn't matter too much. But everything I carry to Italy will be a thing I can feel the burden of: when I'm trying to accelerate, when I'm at a stop and balancing the bike. Logic says I should try to be as minimalist as possible but emotionally I feel a need to pack all the things.

As always, any advice you may have is greatly appreciated.

Comments

  1. Hi Chris, let me know when you are in the area. The world largest cuckoo clock, is a mere only a few clicks away from my home.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was hoping you might say that. I'll definitely get in touch; I'd appreciate some tips on where to ride in the Black Forest.

      Delete
  2. I bought my PR4's last July, and after 10,000 miles, they still look good, and can perhaps get another 4 or 5K.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, now that is very useful information!

      Delete
    2. Ah, now that is very useful information!

      Delete
  3. I have two panniers full of clothing I haven't used riding from Switzerland to Greece via the Balkans. Bring as little as possible. Hostels are more fun than hotels. GPS is handy but I have better experiences when I leave it packed and talk to people instead.

    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…