Riding Comes With Responsibility | Cat Tales

By Brian Catterson

In 27 years of riding streetbikes on an almost daily basis, I’d never had an accident involving another vehicle. Until one year ago. Riding a Ducati Streetfighter home from work one evening on Sunset Boulevard, traffic slowed to a crawl, so I started using the gaps between the parked cars in the right-hand lane to scoot by. As I approached a large, black SUV in the middle lane, the driver made an abrupt right-hand turn across my path onto a sidestreet.

Startled, I braked as hard as I could, the crown of the road causing the rear tire to slew sideways. Instinctively, I counter-steered into the slide and maintained my composure right up to the point that I hip-checked the SUV’s right-rear fender with a thud.

I didn’t fall, and neither vehicle was damaged, but when I rode up next to the driver’s window I could see that all of the color had drained from his face. Staring straight ahead, afraid to make eye contact, he apologized profusely for cutting me off. Much to his relief, I assured him that it was all right—no harm, no foul and all that—but reminded him that it could have been really bad.

Why was I so forgiving? Because deep down, I knew I shared some of the responsibility. If I hadn’t been trying to make time, I wouldn’t have snuck up in his blind spot. I had failed to adhere to my two basic rules of streetbike survival: 1) Expect the worst; and 2) Never go faster than you can stop.

I got off easy, but a couple of my friends weren’t as fortunate recently, and there are lessons to be learned from their mistakes. The first was riding home from having his bike serviced when an elderly gentleman made an illegal U-turn in front of him. My friend panicked, locked up the rear brake, flew over the hood of the car and spent the night in the hospital with cracked ribs and a contused lung. He also suffered some roadrash on his face, because although he was wearing a modular full-face helmet, he had the chin bar flipped up.

The police report blamed the driver, but debriefing my buddy it became apparent to me that he was caught off-guard with his defenses down, just one block from home in his “comfort zone.” He shouldn’t have been: Statistically most accidents occur close to home, because our days begin and end there. Moreover, because a car turning left in front of a motorcycle is the leading cause of collisions, he should have anticipated that happening. Thankfully he’s all healed up now and is awaiting delivery of his new bike, on which he’ll hopefully ride more defensively. I know it will have anti-lock brakes.

A few weeks before that, another of my friends was involved in a truly horrific accident that she was very lucky to survive. Late one night, she hit a parked car at speed and broke pretty much every bone on the right side of her body. She subsequently underwent numerous surgeries involving much hardware, bone and skin grafts and even a vein transplant, and it was 2½ months before she was able to get out of bed. She now faces months of rehabilitation and an uncertain future. The culprit? Demon alcohol. Statistically, nearly one-third of all fatal motorcycle accidents involve riders who were under the influence, so if you don’t drink when you ride you’ve already improved your odds substantially.

Prison is sometimes referred to as “The House of Bad Decisions.” In motorcycling, that’s the hospital.

Don’t go there.

By Brian Catterson
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