Street Savvy - Watch Your Back

MC Garage

It was supposed to be a perfect day. The weather was fantastic-just right for unveiling my new Triumph Bonneville SE. Especially since I'd just spent 10 months in a coma after an SUV blew a red light and hit me. But March 25, 2010, was even worse: A commercial dump truck mowed down 10 motorcyclists from behind at a red light, including me. Four died.

I was fortunate to come away with broken bones. I was quoted in the Arizona Republic as saying, "I'm not saying helmets would have saved them, but if I wasn't wearing one, I'd be dead." The impact occurred at such a high rate of speed that by the time the truck got to my number-three position, it was one big collision. There were no signs of braking until the driver had bowled over all 10 of us and hit a few cars up ahead. I guess being high on meth will do that do you.

I felt comfortable nestled in the middle of the pack, idling in neutral. Even if I'd had time to shift into gear, where would I have gone? There were six bikes behind me-I wasn't worried about trouble from that direction. So much for safety in numbers. The last thing I remember before impact was the group leader looking over her shoulder and yelling, "Look out!" That was the last thing she said.

I've had a lot of time to meditate since that day, and now have a pre-ride checklist. The three Bs: Bike, Body and Brain.

I was in the habit of shifting into neutral at a stop. I thought leaving my bike in gear would wear out the clutch prematurely. That seems so insignificant now. I remember talking with a co-worker about rear-view mirrors before the accident. Ineffective ones were a deal-breaker in his new-bike selection process, but that was the last thing I ever thought about. Not anymore.

Now I can't get on a motorcycle without highly visible protective gear. The black-on-black look was overrated anyway. I suffered an open tibia/fibula fracture in the accident when my right boot was ripped off, but at least I was wearing boots! Phoenix is hot in the summer, but I now throw the armored mesh pants on over my shorts, even for local trips. There's no helmet law in Arizona, but I wear mine religiously. I want to see more than my elbows in the mirrors of my new Sportster, so I'm looking for a longer-stemmed set.

Now for the brain: I pride myself on being a very competent rider. These days I focus on situational awareness, keeping track of all the vehicles on the road that could affect me. That day my mid-pack position lulled me into a herd mentality. Group riding may be a sort of brotherhood, but never trust someone else to be your eyes.

I couldn't wait to get back on a bike after that first accident. Nobody was going to take away a part of my life that makes me so happy. But getting back on the horse that threw me was a lot harder the second time. My first ride was terrifying: When an oncoming truck blew a rear tire right next to me, my heart nearly exploded as well! It's taken a while, but the joy of riding is back. I find myself smiling again, and starting every ride in the right frame of mind is half the battle.

One day, I'll be the rider I used to be. Meanwhile, I'm not solely focused on where I'm going. Knowing what's going on where I've been is just as important. Think about the big picture. Most importantly: think. My personal Motorcycle Awareness Day was even more relevant this year. As the bright yellow, green and orange T-shirts I had made to commemorate that fateful day read, "Can you see me now?"

Jason Anania has been involved in more catastrophes in the past year than most people endure in a lifetime. Still, his passion for motorcycling remains, and he's looking forward to life on his new H-D Iron 883.