The Bike that Tried to Kill Me, and what I Learned from the Ordeal
Motorcycling is an inherently dangerous endeavor, and preparation is the key to survival.
About a year ago, my friend Steve came over to help me with an old bike I was working on, a 1969 Triumph T100. After we got the tune dialed in, we decided to ride it a few miles. I let Steve take the T100 first, and he handed me the keys to his 2003 BMW K1200RS. I had never ridden a Beemer before, so I had to familiarize myself with the German “cockpit” as we pulled out of my driveway and down the long, winding road by my property. With Steve behind me on the Triumph, we set off out through the countryside.
I was getting comfortable on his Bavarian bike, when suddenly I heard a snap, and a sudden weight shift to the right yanked me off the road and onto the leaf and pine straw-covered shoulder. Turns out, Steve had cinched down his panniers with bungee cords. One had snapped on the left side, causing the pannier to pop off with the remaining cord hanging on, the pack violently swinging down and behind the bike. That second cord held, resulting in the pannier slamming back and forth behind the bike, after pulling me off the road. All this happened in a split second.
Responding even before the fear kicked in, my brain and training overruled my instinct to grab and stab brakes, as I screamed in my helmet, “Don’t panic! Don’t brake!” I maintained steady pressure on the throttle, even as the bike jerked back and forth wildly from the dangling pannier (which amazingly never opened) and the tires struggled to find traction in the leaves and straw. I applied pressure to the left handlebar, shifted my weight left a little, trying to ease the Beemer off the shoulder and back onto the blacktop. After about 75 yards or so, I wrestled the Beemer back onto the road and brought the big, top-heavy bike to a slow stop, left pannier still dragging and banging behind. I turned off the key, set the side stand, and shakily stepped off, heart still in my throat.
My brain and training overruled my instinct to grab and stab brakes, as I screamed in my helmet, “Don’t panic! Don’t brake!”
Steve had been behind me the whole time, witnessing my near-disaster with his pride and joy. He quickly parked and jumped off the T100, running to me shouting, “I’m so proud of you, man! Unbelievable! You okay?!” As we examined and evaluated what had happened, I felt terrible that his side bag was all scuffed up. Steve replied, “It was my fault. I should have had it strapped on better. You saved that situation like a pro. I’m so thankful it wasn’t worse. Good job!” I was thankful too, that I didn’t go down, especially on a friend’s bike!
As I thought through the incident later that evening, I realized a couple of things. First, I was reminded how quickly circumstances can suddenly, dramatically shift from calm to chaos. I suppose that’s true with life in general. Whether it’s job loss, health loss, friend loss (three things I’ve each experienced in recent years), or any number of other disruptions we experience, if there is anything certain in this life, it is uncertainty. This is especially true on a motorcycle.
I also realized this simple truth: by not giving up, I didn’t go down. While my subconscious wanted to grab and stab the brakes, I overruled with years of practice, training, and mental preparedness. I was determined to ride it out, literally, and I found I could. Winston Churchill once challenged, “Never, never, never give up”, and I didn’t. I can save many, if not most, situations, if I will only respond correctly. That is a confidence booster.
By not giving up, I didn’t go down.
An old friend once told me, “If you believe you can’t, you won’t. If you believe you can, you will.” I now agree with that all the more. Sure, there are circumstances we face that we cannot overcome- on a bike, and in life. But for many situations, my friend is right. All the more reason to read, practice, and ride, to stay sharp and improve our skills. Track days, rider courses, coaching, and just seat time serve to keep us on top of our game, and ultimately, on top of our bike. Trust me, it’s all worth it.
*article first composed for our friends at Born To Ride.