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…

Living the Dream


I'm sitting in a hotel in Yorkshire as I write this — about 300 miles north of my home in Cardiff. Known as "God's own country" by locals, this region of England is rich in hills, curving roads, quaint villages and (when it's not raining) staggeringly beautiful sunsets.

I'm here to visit the factory where Alt-Berg boots are made. Primarily the maker of hiking boots, Alt-Berg also offers a handful of rigorously tested motorcycle boots popular among the Iron Butt/BMW-owning crowd.

Partially my visit is personal, seeking out a set of riding boots that meet my ambition to buy local. The factory is the only place to see/touch Alt-Berg's motorcycle offerings in person, and I'm the sort of old-school dude who thinks that's important. And partially my visit is professional, trying to determine whether there's a story to be had here and whether that story would fit on RideApart.

To the first purpose, the trip was a success. I ended up buying a set of Hogg All Weather boots, which will be made to order and shipped in the next few weeks. I got to wander around the factory where my boots will be made (amid a scrum of frightening machinery), and I got to meet Debbie, the woman who will be making my boots.

But to the latter purpose I question whether the fit would be a good one. The above paragraph is pretty much the meat of any story I might write about Alt-Berg — nice people making nice boots in a nice place — and it strikes me as perhaps a little too local for an international (often USA-focused) site like RideApart.

Riding back from the factory to my hotel, I got stuck behind one of Yorkshire's surprisingly numerous slow drivers (30 in a 60? For the love of Pete!) on a road where passing was not allowed. It started raining heavily and within a few minutes the not-Alt-Berg, not-waterproof boots I was wearing were soaked through. Wet, cold, frustrated and hangry (the factory visit had taken longer than expected and I'd not had lunch), I proceeded to throw a little tantrum in my helmet.

Harrogate, Yorkshire

For some reason I had decided to twist in my mind the whole purpose of this trip. I cursed the fact I had come here and that my story idea had met a dead end.

"What a waste of time this whole trip has been," said me.

Actually, I just thought that; it was an idea that flashed through my brain. But it was an idea well enough formed to have intonation — an intonation I did not like. There was arrogance in the thought, a sort of "I'm better than this" quality.

And instantly I felt stupid. I found a place to pull off the road, killed the engine, stepped off the bike and took a few deep breaths as the rain faded to light drizzle. In the distance, I could see the clouds breaking and radiant sun pushing through.

"You're riding a motorcycle, Chris...on a Wednesday afternoon," I reminded myself. "And, more or less, this is your job. Why are you bitching?"

This month marks the one-year anniversary of my joining the RideApart team, and moto-journalism became my full-time gig earlier this year. Although I have plenty of experience in other journalistic fields, I think it's fair to say I'm still something of a newbie on the moto side of things.

Though, from my past lives in television newsrooms and long-dead news websites, I know that one of the curses of a newbie is the fact that arrogance sometimes builds faster than experience. Which, I guess is more or less what happened to me on that ride. I had somehow managed to convince myself that I was an Important Person who did Important Things, and when faced with minor inconvenience I went all Stone Phillips on the road (a mentor of mine was a runner for NBC many moons ago and tells a story of the broadcaster losing his sh*t when she brought him a 7-Up, rather than the Sprite he had asked for).


But I'm not an important person, and I'm definitely not doing important things. I write about motorcycles, y'all. This is quite possibly the most ridiculous career a person could have. And although the pay's not great (I'd struggle to purchase any of the bikes I write about), I really have nothing to complain about. Even when a story idea comes to naught, even when I'm stuck behind someone's overly cautious grandmother, even when I'm hungry, even when it's raining.

Back in my hotel— fed, warm and dry —I felt stupid and embarrassed about the whole thing. But rather than keep it to myself, I've decided to write about it to perpetuate the embarrassment, to better crystallize the experience in my mind and hopefully hold it as something to keep me from pulling the same sort of nonsense again.

I'm living the dream here, and if I forget that fact I risk losing the sense of excitement that comes from getting to spend so much of my time astride a fire-driven dandyhorse. Which would be very sad from a personal point of view, and also negates my ability to do my job well.

So, yeah. I let myself temporarily forget how good things are. No one saw it, no one but me was affected by it, but I'm putting it out there on the internet so that, hopefully, it won't happen again.

Comments

  1. HAHA!! As usual, you slay me.

    When we were on the road and people would comment on my social posts writing, "You're living the dream!" and "Must be nice! Wish I could get a job like that. . ." blah, blah, blah, it would drive me crazy. On the days when the rain was pounding, I was tired, cold, wet, in PAIN and still 100 miles from our destination, I would think to myself, "Yeah, some dream." I would spend a goodly amount of time wondering how much they would "love to be" me at that moment. One particular day I was in so much pain and the temps were so high that I was barfing while riding. Open the visor, barf, rinse with my bottled water, spit, close the visor. I didn't want to stop. It just makes the day longer.

    So, I get it. You're human. Everyone has self piteous moments. I believe it takes someone special to stand back, correct themselves, and find some gratitude. Those are the happy souls who live rich lives. When just a cup of tea can make your morning wonderful then you are a happy soul, for certain.

    By the way, the first photo in this article blows my mind! Is that the same man who hid his first helmet from that same woman? HA! My, how things change is just a few short years, huh?

    Smooches,
    Smooches,
    Sash The Rude Biker Chick

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Re: that first picture. I know, right?

      Delete
    2. Seriously, Dude! I can't believe your progress.

      Delete
    3. Me neither, when I stop to think about it. I've been pretty lucky so far.

      Delete
  2. Lol, we'll put Chris. Every once in a while we need a reminder that sometimes life's inconveniences are really just that. A minor inconvenience and nothing more. I just found you last week and I'm really enjoying what in reading. Keep up the great work.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Love the new word "hangry", meaning hungry and angry. I get hangry too.

    ReplyDelete
  4. You did well Chris convincing Altberg to supply you with boots! They refused to sell to me mail order insisting I visit them (from Guildford where I then lived). So I have ended up with a pair of Alpinestars items and some excellent waterproof socks: Sealskinz medium weight knee length cost £27.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm not sure if you've posted a review yet on the Alt-Bergs (I'm working my way up your posts) but must say they are fantastic boots. I lived just outside Richmond, North Yorks for several years and had a pair of their military boots. I'm wearing RST bike boots just now but would without a doubt consider a visit to North Yorks to have them tailor me some new boots!

    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…