A Cautionary Tale For Motorcycle Safety Month


The call came in early on a gray, wintry, February Monday morning. I was sitting at my desk preparing my activities for the day. It was the call that every motorcycle rider dreads getting- “Ken, it’s John.” Just the sound and tone of John’s voice told me this wasn’t going to be a happy chat. “Robert’s been in an motorcycle accident… it’s bad, real bad.” Those quiet words stabbed me like an icicle into my heart and sent a chill through my body that I can still replicate to this day. 

Robert is a friend, colleague, and the editor of a motorcycle magazine. I had just spent a few days with him at a Dealer Show. We ate and drank together, told stories, told lies, and did a lot of laughing. But this was no joke.

John went on to relate what happened. He and Robert were out Sunday morning riding through the canyon roads in the hills above Malibu. They were road testing a Suzuki Hayabusa for an article, with a chase vehicle carrying the cameraman trailing behind. Sunday morning traffic was light, and they were carving turns on some of the most beautiful roads in Southern California and looking for the best spots to take some of the action shots they needed for the story. 

They were on a stretch of road with some long sweepers that had a 50 mph speed limit, perfect for getting to know the handling characteristics of the bike and leaning it way over to test the lean angles. They were doing the speed limit. Robert was in the lead, with John about an eighth of a mile behind going a bit slower so the cameraman could test out some shots of him from behind. Robert went around a blind right-hand sweeper, only to find a propane tank delivery truck trying to make a three-point-turn right in the middle of this two-lane road. The truck was completely blocking both lanes of traffic. To the left, a shear rock wall. To the right, a narrow gravel shoulder with no guardrail protecting a steep drop off. There were no options to get out of this situation safely.

Nobody knows exactly what happened next, since John didn’t see the actual accident, only the results a few seconds later. Accident reconstruction experts couldn’t be sure if Robert had tried to stand the bike up and brake, as there were no marks indicating a locked-up wheel skid. But apparently he high-sided and flew off the bike, landed hard then skidded on the pavement about 40 yards into the truck, and the bike bounced into him after he’d come to a stop. 

He lay motionless and unconscious with shallow breathing when John got to him. Seconds after John called 911, a helicopter was dispatched, and within a few minutes, (which to John seemed like hours) Robert was airlifted to a hospital. When John arrived at the hospital’s trauma center, the report was grim. Massive internal bleeding, broken ribs, collapsed lung, head trauma, both bones in the lower right leg were broken, shattered elbow, and he was in surgery to find out what else could be wrong. 

When I got the call 30 hours later, they had removed Robert’s spleen, a portion of his liver, repaired a lacerated kidney, and he was in a coma and on a respirator in the critical care center. His condition was grave. It was obvious from John’s slow, quiet, and deliberate recounting of the story, that mine had not been the first call he made that morning, nor unfortunately, would it be the last. He had told me everything that he knew, and I didn’t want to bombard him with more questions. He said he’d keep me posted with emails on any updates.

Cycle Gear logo

Find great protective gear at a great price here.

As I put down the phone, my entire body felt numb, and I couldn’t choke back the tears. A million thoughts raced through my mind. Robert’s wife and family, who I didn’t even know, must be climbing the walls. He’s such a capable and experienced rider. He’s been a racer, has taken riding classes, and has done hundreds of track days. Heck, he’s the publisher of a motorcycle magazine for God’s sake! This isn’t supposed to happen to him. Of course, I know that accidents like this happen all the time. But it’s so different when it happens to someone you know. It’s so personal. Then, my anger began to build. What kind of idiot would think to make a three-point turn in the middle of a two lane road, so close to a blind turn? Because of his stupid actions, a friend of mine was lying unconscious in a hospital fighting for his life.

Then I began to think of the vagaries of life. If Robert had that second cup of coffee that morning, or if John had arrived a few minutes later to delay their departure, or if that truck driver had just exchanged some pleasantries with the person he made his last delivery to, none of this would have happened. He wouldn’t have given that truck a second thought as he passed it on the road coming in the opposite direction. I thought of all the little occurrences that happened (or could have happened) to all the parties concerned which might have altered the time frame by just a moment or two either way, so that this accident would not have taken place. It reminded me of the Thomas Hardy poem, “The Convergence of the Twain”, about the Titanic sinking. In it, Hardy mused that while men began laying the keel of the Titanic, “The Imminent Will” began to build an iceberg in a faraway ocean. And that no matter what man’s schedule was to launch that ship on its maiden voyage, it might have been inescapably preordained by the “Spinner of Years” that those two objects would meet at an exact  point in time and place with that tragic result.

I consider myself a spiritual person, if not a regular practitioner in an organized religious manner; but whether you call it “The Imminent Will”, or the “Spinner of Years”, or God, it made me confront the question of whether there is some higher force beyond coincidence or happenstance that influences daily occurrences. And if there is, I prayed that Robert’s time wasn’t up, because there was more he needed to accomplish.

Fast forward to the present. I’m delighted to report that Robert recovered. After nearly a dozen surgeries, several months in a wheelchair, and several more months of physical therapy, he was back on his feet, and back to work. He walks a bit slower, and with a slight limp, and he can’t straighten out his right arm fully. He jokes that it remains in a perfect riding position to muscle his sportbike through a tight right-hander. We recently spent another weekend at a Dealer Show, and it was just like old times. Thankfully, he has virtually no memories about that terrible morning. His first memory was about a week after the accident when one of his surgeons came to visit. He thanked his doctor profusely for all that he did to keep him alive. Then the doctor (a rider himself) soberly told him that none of his surgical talents would have mattered had he not been wearing his helmet – Robert would have been dead at the scene. And the fact that he was wearing full armored leathers was also important. The thick leather had been worn tissue thin in some spots from sliding on the pavement. If Robert had been wearing his typical Harley outfit of jeans, t-shirt and low-cut boots, he would have had worse injuries, and a horrific case of road rash. And in his body’s weakened state, the chance of infection from the road rash would have been high and life threatening by itself. Denim will disintegrate in the first 10 yards of a skid. After that, it’s all skin and flesh.

I share this story with you as a cautionary tale. While we’re in the midst of Motorcycle Safety Month, it’s a good reminder that bad things can happen on a motorcycle, any time, any place. So if your regular riding gear consists of a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, cowboy boots and a backward baseball cap, you might want to consider Robert’s story, and invest in proper riding gear. There are so many options to choose from between leather or fabric jackets and pants. All the dealers stock them. And all can be stylish, comfortable to wear in several seasons, and most of all, protective. There are also hundreds of full-face and three-quarter helmets to choose from.

As in years past here at Road Dirt, throughout the season, we will be testing and reporting on a lot of protective riding gear. You owe it to yourself, and your loved ones, to make the sport that you are so passionate about as safe as possible. Remember, even a big macho football player wouldn’t play the game without a helmet and pads, because of the risk of injury. A baseball catcher wouldn’t get behind the plate without his shin guards, chest protector and mask. Don’t ride a motorcycle without the proper protection. And encourage your friends to wear proper gear too. That way, you’re less likely to get the call we all dread, and your friends will be less likely to get that call about you.

Remember, don’t dress for the ride . . . dress for the accident.

Ride safe, and #RIDELIFE

Ken “Hawkeye” Glassman

*Top image by American Motorcyclist Association

Cycle World Athens



    I could have written a story Very Similar about myself! “ATGATT” has meaning!!
    Those who wear “Cute” little chrome “German Helmets” or “Half-Shells”… with NO Facial protection… I have to ask… How “Cute” and ‘Kool’ are you going to look, for the REST OF YOUR LIFE with NO CHIN or with your nose make of rubber and plastic because you slid across 50 feet of asphalt on your Face? My Brother hit a Deer, and went over the handlebars… ‘diving head-first’ onto the interstate… The Friction melted his face shield Permanently to the chin of his helmet.
    I was riding my ‘cruiser’ gently thru open country of north Texas one Sunday afternoon… when a keen-eyed Eagle spotted a jack rabbit at the edge of the grass… and set a DIVE from about 200 feet in a straight line for that Rabbit… and my helmet intersected that flight path at a point about 8 feet from that rabbit right as my helmet crossed that line at about 60 mph at eye level…
    I never saw anything coming — it was high in the sky above me off to my left. Fortunately for me, it was not a BIG adult-size bird. But I struggled to stay with my bike and get everything gathered back together… it felt like it was going to take my head OFF! Even with a “Full Coverage” helmet and screen.
    As some of the readers may know, Texas is a no helmet required (under some rider requirements) But I ALWAYS wore one!
    One Friday night, 2 couples rode to a Movie Theater on their bikes. {Experienced riders} And as they left the parking lot to go to dinner together, a truck in front of them lost a 10 foot 2×4 off the back of his truck… Both bikes hit the lumber at an angle and did NOT just smoothly hop over it… BOTH BIKES CRASHED at approximately 30-35 mph… but with NO HELMETS all FOUR Died at the scene…
    Last example… ME again… almost exactly one year after I ‘timed out’ of the Marines, on Labor Day Sunday 1974… I was going to the store to get some 2-stroke oil for my bike, for a ride the next day planned with some friends…
    But a Cage Driver decided he had sat at a Stop Sign Long Enough..! And he pulled out and turned to his left… and HIT ME HEAD-ON!!
    I went over his car, thru the air, as the motorcycle burst into flames, when the gas tank ruptured and dumped fuel on the spark plug below, and I landed in a broken heap on the roadway behind his car…
    50 years later… I am Still here, and still RIDING… but without ALL the GEAR No artificial parts would have been able to even partly repair me, and I would either be DEAD or wheelchair bound… Almost every minute of riding, my body hurts and my joints scream. But being in EXCELLENT Condition, and ALL THE GEAR is why I can still walk — although with a limp and a cane (“Hey! Buddy! You can’t ride no motorcycle with a CANE!! Oh Yeah..? Watch THIS!!”) But folks… I hope you enjoyed my little ramblings… BTW — I was ALSO a Volunteer Paramedic for several years…
    and I will NOT Re-Tell some of the calls I went to, when riders were NOT wearing full gear… as well as times when they were doing STUPID THINGS!! Even Sadder were the times when a rider did something Stupid… that hurt OTHERS! Sometimes it is not OUR LIFE we put at risk!!

    • Rob Brooks

      Floyd, you are a living testimonial to the advantages and life-saving potential of wearing proper riding gear. I am as well.
      Thanks for sharing your stories. Well worth the read.

  2. hawkeye

    Thanks for sharing your stories. Never get old hearing of good outcomes to BAD situations. Riding is dangerous enough, without worsening your odds of surviving a crash. Ride safe.



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *