Upshift | Behind Bars

Walking cast or riding cast? This wasn’t the first time I rode a motorcycle with a broken leg, nor will it likely be the last.

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Shasta Willson

Don't give me crap, okay? I've taken enough crap lately, and anyway, the limp's perennial, not permanent. Riders know that you tip over when you stop moving and sometimes before that.

It wasn't anywhere near my birthday when I led a short ride up the long, dirt driveway at Dad's house. Showing off, I slashed up the road on my Very Serious IT175. On that brilliant curve about a quarter-mile from the house, a long sweeper rewarding of smooth, crossed-up slides, I glanced back to check on my buddy who looked up to see me high-side straight into the forest.

It wasn't for sports that I wore Adidas high-tops for the rest of high school. Dr. Shenkar said I'd eventually walk straight, but I'd never run far. And no more motorcycles.

A fine surgeon, he was no oracle. The Swiss steel leg he bolted up had dozens of 10Ks and Army PT tests on it. It functioned for piggybacking children, toting rucksacks, jumping out of airplanes, mountain biking, and upshifting motorcycles, if I concentrated.

There are things worth concentrating on.

Not that it always came easy. I broke it again and again—once on a hard dab, once wadding a fine Ducati that surely deserved better, once under a Triumph, once just from running until "achy" turned to "breaky," and a few other times. One trait I share with Dick Mann is the ability to ride a motorcycle with a broken leg, and, so far, I've always seen the privilege of upshifting one more time.

Nothing holds true forever. It takes nerve to upshift when you're headed downhill, but you gotta hold your nerve.

One month before my 50th birthday, I walked fine and proud with a tall, young dog at my side, both of us warmed up without the whisper of a limp.

Two weeks later, I paid a veterinarian to kill my buddy. Not content to take his right leg and left eye, cancer was chewing Tucker's lungs.

One week before that birthday, walking dogless for the first time in too few years, I got jumped by a perfect stranger. No one died there, but I'd wear a shiner to my party.

One day before my party, I rode one half-block before auguring Pretty Wife's pretty bike into the pavement. One trait I don't share with Dick Mann is the ability to turn left on a Triumph.

Propping it up, I took a moment to exhale two-stroke-blue invective before motoring gingerly home to hobble inside, explain my very short trip, and check the damage.

In a message from beyond the grave, the bottom of the Trumpet and both tires were liberally slathered with enough Great Dane poop to ensure friction-free contact patches.

Descrying billowy puffs of arthritis, my orthopedist wants to fuse my ankle, cutting down pain and reducing flexion from "limited" to "none." Here's your nice, gray cane, Mr. Lewis.

I think not. If I'd known my dog would only make it four years, I wouldn't have given him more naptime; I'd have taken him for a thousand more walks. If I'd realized how fast humans wear out, I'd have done more hand work before tremors hit; written more books before my memory melted white as film in a hot projector; ridden more bikes, in more countries, with more friends.

One friend now signs every note with, "Ride while you can." Three-legged Great Danes and every real rider agree: That war cry beats hell out of whimpering "minimize pain." Pain accrues to riding, service, sports, parenting, love… And did I mention riding?

Not sure Pretty Wife will trust me with her Triumph again. The Beemers are down and that Rotax sports a real stiff shifter. So I'll lay low. Into the gym and onto the bicycle to circulate fluids, loosen up parts and then, the minute my bones slow their random crunching and popping…upshift.

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Nice article. My 89' PC800 slapped the ground in a right curve & took my leg out in the process bout 3 months ago in the foothills of the Smoky Mts.  As I layed there waiting for help to arrive, contemplating what the recovery time was gonna be & looking at my foot pointing in a direction it should never point.... I wondered what happened....... Pretty sure it wasn't from a dog though! Gravel maybe..... Ice & snow treatment from a couple weeks back...... Shoulda snapped some pics but just didn't have in me.

Anyhow.....1 Stainless steel plate & a bucket o screws later I'm back in the saddle - and that was the most normal I've felt in 3 months!  "Ride while ya can".  I like that. Thanks for the encouragement!
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