The Day I Quit Motorcycle Riding… Almost!

Follow the scrape line – shift lever scraping

It was a routine morning on July 5, 2013 at 4:30 as I headed out of my neighborhood to work. Nothing seemed unusual, but in the dark, trouble likes to lurk, waiting for unsuspecting folks.

I was one of those unsuspecting folks that morning.

It was a simple left turn to negotiate – I did it probably 500 times in the last 2 years. But that morning it was different. Conditions had changed and I didn’t pay the proper respect to the change. There was a new school being built across the street and the streets, too were being upgraded. There were construction cones everywhere forcing two lanes of opposing traffic forced to one side of the road. Not a big problem–normally.

What I failed to see, in the early morning darkness, was a 10- to 15-foot round spot of embedded oil on the ground (see picture) – directly in the path of my ensuing left turn.

I came to my usual complete stop at the intersection – both feet down, left blinker on. Look left; check, look right; check. Clear except for traffic plenty of distance for me to safely make the turn.

I throttled and feathered the clutch, accelerating as I turned left. Before I knew it, I was on the ground, facing the opposite direction–engine still running. I remember the distinct sound of metal scraping across pavement. Turned out it was the shift lever–which ended up twisted up and back about 90 degrees–that signaled a problem.

It took several seconds for me to realize what happened. And, of course all I could think about was the damage to the bike! Several cars went by without stopping. I saw one guy look out his window at me as he passed without stopping – I was laying on the ground at this point. A kind man stopped and asked if I was OK. I was shaken, but was OK. “Thanks, I just need to gather my wits,” I said to him. I thumbed the ignition kill switch and lifted the bike with relative ease – lots of adrenaline flowing!

I surveyed the damage – as best I could in the dark. The headlight assembly was pushed to the right, the left-side bar-end mirror destroyed, the shift lever mashed up and backwards. Seemed relatively minor. The problem was the shift lever – I couldn’t drive it to work – I really wasn’t feeling like I wanted to anyway. It was then I decided I was done with motorcycle riding.

I pushed the bike back to the side street and realized I could probably drive it home in 1st gear – so I did. I woke my wife and told her what happened and also that I was done riding bikes.

I took the van to work – 45 miles one way – and called the insurance company.

Why did I want to quit riding? It was a two-fold reason.

First, I had taken 3 levels of motorcycle skills training – up to advanced riding techniques – and thought I should have been able to negotiate this sort of problem.

Second, this was something that came out of the blue and in the dark – there was little I could do about it — which scared me. Even with the training, there were challenges I may not be able to overcome.

Bruise on left thigh (photo in mirror)

But, by the end of that day, I was done with that thinking. I have come to enjoy riding the bike so much that I couldn’t imagine giving it up. What I did was accept this as a great learning experience to prevent me from thinking my skills were better than I thought AND to help remind me not to assume the driving conditions are optimal.

I was fortunate to be riding at a low speed. Even so, I still had over $2,000 in damages and had a pretty solid bang on my left hip which left a huge bruise for about 2 weeks – see photo.

There was a silver lining – I was able to replace the stock mufflers with a set of British Customs predator pipes. Awesome, aggressive sound – loud pipes.

So this was my first accident on my 2011 Triumph Bonneville — the last accident I had was in 1979ish on a 1973 Honda CB 350 — that accident was my fault; this one was not. I’m back riding it, but admittedly, have incurred some caution riding in corners.

Do you have a story?