The Art Of The Highside

Nothing teaches patience like crashing your first bike

motorcycle crash
What went wrong?Michael Koelsch

The Crash

The Virginia Department of Transportation had been kind enough to cut a collection of grooves in the asphalt, the kind that warn of an impending bend in the road. I ripped over them at the shallow end of fifth on my '82 GPz750 in a full tuck with the throttle pinned after passing three vehicles on a double-yellow straight. There wasn't space to haul the thing down before the 90-degree left. My visor filled with guardrail as I grabbed the brakes. Time elongated. I worked the rear caliper and tried to toe the line between traction and deceleration. It worked. Then it didn't. It's always surprising how quick a high-side happens, like a mid-conversation slap at a cocktail party. One moment the universe is playing by the agreed upon rules, and the next you're sliding through the gravel in a cascade of Kawasaki and pride.

The Scenario

It was day one of a 10-day ride from Tennessee to Maine, and my buddy and I were covering miles like men possessed. We’d been on the bikes since before dawn and hadn’t stopped for more than fuel and a Snickers in that time. It was hot, the valley floor baking under an August sun. When a pair of drivers turned a 55-mph country road into a 25-mph plod, fatigue and dehydration helped forge a molten ball of impatience in my gut. The heat from the air-cooled inline-four came clawing at my leathers, and when I finally spotted what I thought was a long enough gap to pass my buddy and the two loafing cars, I went for it. The moving air was a long and perfect kiss on my skin. The pleasure didn’t last long. I hadn’t been back in the right lane for more than a second when I rode across the grooves in the road.

The Lesson

Gambling the entire trip on a single, unnecessary pass was stupid. I was wound up with the excitement of breaking away from the office and not thinking about the days of riding ahead of us. The GPz was my first bike, and I’d been riding a little more than two years without incident. It was a perfect thing, the engine glossy black and the tank resprayed with blister-red paint from a Dodge Viper. The original Kerker pipes didn’t have so much as a scrape on them. Neither the bike nor I would ever be the same. Sure, it started up once I righted myself. Yes, I rode it all the way to Niagara Falls, but the GPz would wear the marks of that beating until I sold it—just as I still wince with the pain of torn rotator cuff all these years later. It’s a good reminder of how little patience motorcycles have for the foolish.