Behind Bars - Motorcycle Crashers Anonymous

Up To Speed

Photography by Shasta Willson

"If you never fall down, you're not trying hard enough."-old skiing proverb
Hello, my name is Jack, and I'm a crasher.
"Hi, Jack!"

Neal, the service advisor at South Sound BMW, is a helluva good guy. That's really the only reason I don't blame him entirely. My rampantly tumescent ego prevents it being any part of my fault...

When I was the service advisor up north at Ride West BMW, Neal and I regularly swapped info to ensure that customers got serviced at proper intervals. Neal stocks my favorite Metzelers in 190/50-17, so I stopped into his Fife shop on my way to Oregon for Tire Set #3 at 7600 miles.

New donuts shoehorned into place, I yawned at his obligatory "new tires are slick" spiel, rode down the ramp and took a sharp left straight into the asphalt. Spankin' new tires slithered out like butter pucks across hot Teflon. My knee held for about 5 feet, then the bike left without me.

There aren't too many dumber crashes than a first-gear low-side in the parking lot of a motorcycle shop. Belonging to the company where one used to work...

I've known about "mold release" (actually, just slick new rubber) for about 30 years. I've warned hundreds of riders about new tires, just the way Neal reminded me. When those dummies crashed any-damn-way, I commiserated with them whilst secretly laughing up my sleeve, because what's dumber than that?

Hmm...

Seizing a ported Yamaha RD400 mid-corner while racing a hopped-up Dodge Challenger through Portland's Forest Park would be pretty dumb. Jumping a Honda Transalp across a downtown Seattle intersection, followed by a lurid stoppie transitioning into a backflip across the trunk lid of a right-on-red Buick-that could be considered sub-genius in some circles. Breaking my left leg (for the fourth time) after losing the front end of my Ducati 900SS on a painted arrow in a wet parking lot was so dumb, it qualified me for life membership in Phi Beta Crasher.

I am the last guy to whom you'd say, "There are two kinds of riders: those who've gone down and those who will." I am that guy who realizes there are two kinds of bikes: those I've already crashed, and those my friends won't loan me. Editor Catterson won't even let me look at the new Ducatis. I hear they're pretty.

I shoulda kilt myself on these here murdersickles decades ago, but crashing just never bit me badly enough to put me off bikes. I wear more scars on my face from disagreements over cocktails than on my limbs from arguments with pavement, dirt and rocks. Maybe my guardian angel wears custom leathers.

Blasting away from a lunchtime argument at Boeing Field, I endoed the Duc down Airport Way South near the Rainier Cold Storage plant. Brother Pete and I scooped the pretty red shards into a company truck and I finished out the workday before Swedish Hospital wrapped a cast onto me that night (another tibia fracture-yawn).

Near Washtucna, I discovered the season's first ice patch by high-siding a full-dress Kawasaki shaftie at 85. My rain suit exploded into feathers, but leather damage was light. I went deer hunting that afternoon.

The evening I met my brother's fiancée over fresh sea bass, my grand entrance to the porte-cochere included looping my Yamaha SRX600 because I forgot to include the plastic throttle washer when installing Grab-On grips and they ... well, grabbed on. When sporting a silver dollar-sized blister across the meat of one's thumb, the best part of tequila might just be the ice. Or not. My memory is a little fuzzy.

I generally align with the majority opinion on crashing: i.e. "it sucks." But crashing's not all bad. It rounds out your experience.

Turfing it occasionally clears your head, reminds you of mortality, demonstrates the limits of your tires/skills/suspension/gonads, and all that happy hokum. But mostly, crashing gives you stories worth telling. And re-telling.

Old geezers constantly wheeze on about that perfect road, that bike they wish they'd never sold, that time they embarrassed yon squidboy, etc. That's how we clear out the shop when we want the beer fridge to ourselves.

Crash stories hold more allure. Enunciated with the proper deadpan self-deprecation, a good crash story makes every rider present laugh with equal measures of sympathy and abuse. We share the memory of that gut-spike of adrenaline when the front tire goes away, and the deep-red embarrassment that lets you snatch up a foundered 600-pound superbike like it was a buck-and-a-quarter motocrosser.

Huddling around the campfire of ESPN races, we shoo back our fear with laughter. Humanity consists in trying, and failing, and getting up scuffed and better educated. If you never crashed a bike, you got bupkis to say about riding.

Hunter S. Thompson wrote, "It is that simple: If you ride fast and crash, you are a bad rider. And if you are a bad rider, you should not ride motorcycles."

Balls, Hunter. You-and your busted femur-knew better.

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