Barbed Wire Crash: What Went Wrong?

Lessons learned from real accidents

When I spotted the fence, I belatedly remembered that the stock dual-sport tires offered next to no purchase.Michael Koelsch

The Crash

What was a barbed-wire fence doing across this perfectly good dirt road? That was my question, and there wasn’t much time to answer. I locked the rear brake and squeezed the front lever as hard as I dared, but neither had much effect given the almost nonexistent grip afforded by fine sand atop hardpack. Acceding that a crash was inevitable, I laid the speeding dual-sport bike on its side with wheels lateral to the rapidly approaching barrier. The sacrificed machine valiantly punched through the wire (taking three wooden posts with it), and I slid through in its wake. Fortuitously, bike damage was limited to a sheared-off front fender and shift lever, while proper safety gear meant I was more or less unscathed. Nonetheless, as I shakily got to my feet—my brush with fate having been witnessed only by an unimpressed buzzard—I felt ashamed to consider that I might easily have been seriously injured and/or stranded, alone in the remote Nevada desert.

The Scenario

I was covering the Nevada Rally—a weeklong international off-road competition—and in order to photograph the racers on each day’s point-to-point route, I’d leapfrog them by making time on the highway. Once ahead of the lead rider, I’d spot a suitable random side route—typically a ranch dirt road—and use it to access the course, find a good photo spot, pull my camera gear from my backpack, shoot the racers, and then ride back to the highway and repeat the process. Locating a wide, smooth dirt road late one day, I upshifted to fourth gear and stood on the pegs, scanning the distant foothills in a search for dust—a telltale sign of riders on course. My speed didn’t seem excessive given the lack of terrain obstacles, but when I returned my gaze to the dirt road and spotted the fence, I belatedly remembered that the stock dual-sport tires offered next to no purchase in the conditions. Time to engage damage-control mode.

The Lesson

As usual, there’s no shortage of dictums that can be drawn from this act of folly, but here are a few of the most pertinent: Pay attention to where you’re going, and never make assumptions about the route; remember not to override your braking distances, and know that those distances can increase depending on conditions (stopping in time wouldn’t have been a problem on the asphalt I was riding five minutes earlier); and never ride alone in remote areas.