Crash Injuries | BEHIND BARS

The Rider's Rode Map: We can tell our life's story by the stitches and scars on our body.

Injuries have kept all of us off the bike at one time or another. Sometimes longer than others.

As maps go it’s quite flexible, always on my person, and highly water-resistant. These are its positive traits. It’s also torn up, faded, and has important routes rendered in invisible ink. Such are the less convenient aspects.

As so many maps do, it started off as a landscape of varied but untraveled spaces, onto which I inscribed my first route line in 1972 by taking flight over the handlebars of the most badass bike I’d ridden up to that point, a ’69 Stingray Deluxe with three-speed Stik Shift and whitewall Gripper Slik tires. Fondly do I recall my dad marching me into the emergency room with an acute case of protruding mandible and growling, “Stitch him up. I’m tired of looking at that bone.” Air-sea rescue pilots are not easily rattled.

Nor are hardheaded kids easily dissuaded. I was back on the ’Ray before they snipped out my stitches.

The next line of march was laid down when I looped a Honda 90cc “No-Terrain Cycle” and laid open my left thigh. No bones were showing, so I lay quietly on the living room floor for a while, holding an Air Force T-shirt over it. Forty years later that scar has shrunk to a couple of inches. Back then it mostly encircled my toothpick of a thigh. Direct pressure worked a treat. I chafed for weeks before I was allowed back on the puff-tired trike.

A few years later I threw a Yamaha IT175 and the flailing limbs of my teenage body off a gravel road and straight into the trees at 65 mph. Doc reported I was lucky to keep my leg and ordered, “No running or heavy loads. And no motorcycling!”

"You shuffle through summer in your robe and slippers, reviewing the map and thinking about when you’ll get back on a bike."

I paid back that overzealous throttle application with two high school summers—one when they bolted it up and the next when they took most of the gear back out. On days when the weather attacks I miss that bit of scaffolding, so expertly rendered in fine Swiss stainless steel. Although now resembling a Rawlings baseball, that leg carried me a lot of miles, through a bunch of countries, under some serious weight. And it still shifts the bike.

The burn mark on my left forearm cost me a full-dress Kaw and a rainsuit, but my leathers survived and Kawasakis are fungible. The one on my right ankle was inscribed by a schoolgirl in a well-insured Chevette. College drivers, no survivors. Allstate bought that shiny Suzuki, and I replaced it with a crusty old Britbike. Those are the safest since they’re so hard to start.

The knob sticking out of my lower back is owed to one of my favorite bikes ever, the trim little Yamaha SRX600S, a kick-only single graced with the voice of G-d on the third day of a celestial bronchitis attack. More accurately, my fractured and dislocated transverse process is owed to the Chevy S-10 that yanked out from a line of stopped traffic just in time to slap the bike down like a shuttlecock. I picked up the Yammie, rode her home, and limped around with a sore back for a couple of weeks. The fracture wasn’t diagnosed until years later. Youth is the best drug.

Broke my left ankle again on a magazine assignment, but it wasn’t the second time. Or the third. Both of those were Ducati kisses. My Tiger bite didn’t leave a mark, unless you count the bee swarms of random calcification that make X-raying my left lower leg a pointless exercise in enraging innocent radiologists.

Around Juneteenth, I got plowed by a car. I’m hardly the first. These things happen. Most times you pick yourself up, dust off your riding suit, and phone your insurance adjuster. Other times, you lie there in the street with your broken spine carefully balanced on the back protector, knees up, and doing your damnedest to breathe without moving.

When your sweetie shows up at the ER, you smile and flirt. You tell her not to worry ’cause you’re Superman…for about 20 more minutes until the adrenaline drains away and you remember you’re not Superman after all.

Mindful of what happened to the last guy who played Superman, you shuffle through a summer in your robe and slippers, reviewing the map and thinking about it. Wondering when you'll get back on a bike. Then, after a while, "if." To be continued...