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The Anatomy Of Falling On Your Sword


  • The Anatomy Of Falling On Your Sword

    Contributed by Whizbang

    The funny thing is, I remember thinking at several points during my trip from Minneapolis to North Carolina, "what if today is the day I'm going to go down?" No reason. It just popped into my head along the way. A couple of times. Here's three other weird coincidences:

    Before the trip I had just replaced my Alpinestars Gore-Tex Web boots with heavier duty, armored Alpinestars Effex boots.

    I decided that plain, 5-pocket leather jeans weren't enough protection for my legs, so I bought a pair of Xpert Nova sportriding leathers with padding in the hips and armor in the knees.

    I bought a first aid kit before the trip because that's just something you should have with you on long motorcycle ended up being used by myself and an EMT.

    It's like I was preparing to crash! What gives?! Did I will this into reality? Did I know I was going to crash? My girlfriend said, "you were just properly prepared for a long distance trip." Who knows. What I learned was that there are truly only two kinds of dragon slaying knights: those that have fallen on their swords, and those that will. I sure did.

    Deal's Gap. The Tail of the Dragon. US route 129. The road that winds out of Knoxville, TN, into the hills of North Carolina has teeth, breathes fire, and knows what scares you. 318 curves in 11 miles. And we're not talkin' sweepers. This is 25 and 15mph switchback, decreasing radius, and double-apex world. One mind-bending bend after another. It's all technical. You don't think, you just DO IT. Maintain your concentration at all times or you may find yourself enjoying the view from the bottom of the hills. If you're still breathing. People die here. There were 5 other non-fatal crashes on the day I'm about to describe, which is about average for a weekend day at The Gap. Who knew buying jeans could be so dangerous?

    OK, that was cheap. Go easy on me. I'm wounded.

    It took me 4 days to get to The Gap from Minnesota on my trusty steed, a 2004 Suzuki DL1000 V-Strom. Once there, I attacked the Dragon for 3 days straight. Every day improving my riding skills. When you're forced to lean your bike into extreme curves, you learn fast about what real traction feels like and how to use it. There is actual video evidence of my bike scraping pegs and kicking up sparks thanks to Josh and the tank-mounted digital video cam on his scorchin' Yoshimura-piped TL1000 (which he admitted was getting a run for its money out of corners by the torquey V-Strom. That's because I'm from the streets, bee-atch)! Josh was a member of the ragtag group of quick but safe experienced riders and/or hockey junkies from New Jersey and North Carolina I joined through invitation by member John Bryer, a man who has been known to say things like, "the FJR1300 is a really heavy bike." These guys were smart enough to divide themselves into two groups: slow and fast. Within the first 10 minutes of riding with them I knew where I belonged. Needless to say the V-Strom was keeping the pace with a beautifully salvaged Aprilia RSV Mille ridden by "Gixxer Joe" D'Amico of fame, Josh's TL, and a Ducati 748 piloted by a former road racer named Ron who has been known to say things like, "I'll just follow you. You're goin' pretty good."

    The Hurt Report, a study conducted in the late 70's/early 80's to analyze motorcycle crashes, suggests that the two most dangerous times in a rider's career are the first 6 months of riding as a beginner and a period between 2-4 years as a rider's skill and confidence increases. The key word here is confidence. When I left at 8:30am on Saturday, May 15, 2004, I was definitely confident. I had slain the Dragon at least 7 times over the past few days and was starting to feel like a good rider. Better than before. Better. Stronger. Faster. I had received compliments from men who had raced professionally. I'd ground down my peg feelers. I was turning into a cornering superhero. Turns out that swelling of the head puts undue pressure on the brain when you squeeze into your full-face. To reach the Deal's Gap gas station, where I was to meet another Beginnerbiker, the Triumph ridin' Abe, I had to go through a bit of the Dragon's Tail. Luckily, it was the easy bit.

    Yeah sure uh-huh right.

    The bike felt light and agile and I took the corners with vim, a word which sounds funny when used without its sibling, "vigor." There were 2 bikers ahead of me who were going at a good clip so I thought I'd catch up to them and keep up. This was my pre-major mistakes mistake - keeping up with someone else rather than minding my own line and pace. Keith Code warns of this in his book, A Twist of the Wrist. That book will be getting a reread. I knew something was wrong immediately as I entered the reasonably sharp, uphill, right-hand switchback. My line was way off. My entry point was too deep. The front wheel crossed the center line and I felt the adrenaline rush through my veins as I looked at the ditch on the other side of the 2-lane road - my first major mistake. LOOK where you WANT to go, not where you're GOING. Can't stress this enough. The rest happened in an instant.

    Deep into the lean I knew the only thing to do was stay on the gas and lean harder, looking through the turn to keep the bike on task. I started to do that, but for some reason I questioned the rear wheel's traction for a millisecond. After days of going practically horizontal with the bike I suddenly didn't believe that it could lean far enough. Continuing to go wide my eyes once again darted toward the oncoming ditch. In that moment, I knew I was going to crash. "You're looking at the ditch, Whiz. You're looking at the ditch. Look through the turn. Look through the oh sh-" Then I experienced something I hadn't felt since my first 6 months of riding: rider freeze. I stopped doing anything right. I hit the brakes too hard - my second major mistake. The bike stood up out of the lean and I felt the front wheel bounce into the rocky side of the road. Suddenly the bike stopped moving forward, but I didn't. I closed my eyes tightly. Everything seemed to shake. The bike. My body. I flew through the air and landed with a thud, slide, and a sustained grunt, a sound which I remember hearing myself make as I scraped along the rocks. Something dug into my right side. I felt my skin get sliced as if by a cheese grater near my hip and my helmet grazed the ground. My right elbow took a hard hit, but the CE approved armor did its job. Just a minor bruise there. I don't remember feeling the bike slide into me.

    The next thing I knew was that I was lying on my back. I started thinking right away, so I knew I was alive. Plus I heard birds. "I crashed. I really crashed. Not just a bike drop. Not even a sliding low side. I just flew off my bike and landed in rocks on the other side of the road. Man, that sucks. I'll bet my bike is not doing well. How am I doing?" I moved my hands. "I still have hands. That's good. Man I like my Alpinestars gloves. Feet?" I couldn't move my right foot. "Not good." I lifted up my head. My right foot, thankfully clad in those new boots made of thick leather with internal molded plastic armor, was pinned under the V-Strom's rear axle. "Wow. She must have either flipped over or spun around. Jeez, I crashed pretty hard." I pulled it forcefully out from under the wheel. I started to sit up. "My side feels wet." I reached down and noticed that the road or something had torn through my T-shirt and scraped up my side pretty fiercely. Road rash. "Dude, I have road rash." You could see all the debris, dirt, and small stones embedded in my skin. Not pretty. I was dusty and grungy with pebbles and wads of dirt and grass stuck to various parts of my gear. "How did I get road rash with full leathers?" No zipper attachment, dummy. Plenty of armor and leather protection, but divided in two. Time to rethink my gear yet again. I tried to sit up, but was hit with waves of nausea and light-headedness. "Maybe I'll just lay down for a while." So I did for about 3 minutes until a motorist came by and saw me lying there. He was nice enough, but it was 2 passing motorcyclists who really helped me get the bike back on its feet. She was a mess. I was sad.

    Day 3 looked the worst

    If only motorcycles could heal...

    I won't go into the details of repairing myself or the bike which got me back on the road for the 1300 mile journey back to Minneapolis. Two words: looooooooong and paaaaaaaaainful. I would like to send out a thank you to Ken Wheeler, the man who dropped everything and got my bike road ready for $35. If the Dragon takes a bite out of you, Ken is THE man, blowtorch in hand at his motorcycle repair shop called simply Wheeler's. Thanks also to Karl L and everyone who helped me literally get back on my feet.

    One of the things I'd like to pass along to anyone who crashes is to take it easy and don't feel like you need to get up and move around fast. If it's a serious enough fall you'll go into shock, which is the body's way of forcing you to take inventory and sit still. My hands were still shaking an hour after I'd been sitting down with ice on my foot. Make sure you stay warm. Also try not to feel like a jackass. Despite the fact that I knew exactly what I did wrong and wasn't horsing around, I felt like the loser in the crowd. The bad rider. I was surrounded by motorcyclists who were gearing up and getting ready to tackle the Dragon, revving their engines and even doing wheelies up the road into the twisties. I was just the "guy who crashed." Never mind the days of amazing riding and a skill level which seemed to grow exponentially within a few hours of arriving at The Gap. After I went down I felt like I was just Crash Guy.

    "So since you're a relatively new rider and this is your first crash, do you think you'll sell your bike and quit riding?" asked an experienced motorcyclist stranger.

    The answer is yes. I'm selling both of my bikes. My YZF600R is already sold and the V-Strom next to go after it gets some work done.

    Why, you ask? else am I going to pay for the brand new dark blue 2004 Suzuki SV1000S I bought last month?

    Rider review is on the way. Quit riding? Hell no. In fact, I've already made reservations to stay out at The Gap next year. This time, for a week.

    That Dragon is goin' DOWN.

    Ride safe, people.

    • Chris H
      Chris H commented
      Editing a comment
      One overlooked asset for after a crash is U-Haul and Enterprise. Get a truck (regular pick up truck) and a trailer, one way, for a couple hundred bucks for your 1300 miles. Guaranteed to be a better ride, and much, much *safer* than trying to ride a bike with unknown crash damage (is that clip on cracked? Did you pull it off and check it deep? How about the rearsets, pegs, etc etc if you don't have a guy like Wheeler around? His shop is closed now, btw) and with damage to you. You're at a sloping stop intersection, you're stiff, your foot slips just an inch .... tip over!

      Truck and trailer, most have tie downs, or stop and any hardware store for a set (you'll have the truck, it's an easy trip now).
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