Yes, The Old Bloke went down; albeit, as the title suggests, pretty gently. Actually, when it first happened, I wasn’t going to do a separate article on it; I thought I’d just write it up in the Blog section. But while it was, by “off” standards, a quite minor incident, any fall is significant; and for me it was a particularly major occurrence, because it was the first time in over 30 years of riding that I have put a bike down on the road! So it deserved a separate article. And to make it even more worthwhile, I’ll throw in a couple of other “fall” items, including a reader who suffered a minor fall, and a surprising amount of damage. A Saturday, late morning, the weather was great, so I went for a ride. I set off from home and it felt great to be on the bike. I hadn’t been out for a couple of weeks, due to other commitments, so it was good to be on the bike and in the warm sunshine. I’d ridden just 15km when it all went wrong. I got to a nearby town that has a busy intersection. There was quite a lot of traffic at the intersection, so I decided to take a short-cut. There's a back street that runs parallel to the highway. By going up this street you can miss the main traffic, and come back out onto the highway at traffic lights. I hardly ever bother going along there, but this day I decided I would. The disadvantage of this road is that there are speed-humps all the way along. On a bike you can avoid most of these by riding close to the gutter and going around the end of the hump. At the end of this street there's a T-intersection with another road that takes you back out onto the highway. At the intersection is another speed-hump type thing. Or a "speed-plateau" to be more accurate. You can get some idea of what it's like in the photo. It's quite high and slopes down pretty steeply towards the kerb. As I approached this, I started heading over to the left again, to ride around the end of it, except there isn’t an end; this one goes all the way to the gutter. So I straightened up. This put me slightly closer to the gutter than I would normally have been; although that didn’t matter, because I was turning left anyway. I got to the intersection, rode onto the “speed-plateau” and slowed almost to a stop, looking for approaching traffic on my right. I put my foot down, but because of the slope of this speed-hump thing, the road was a lot further away than I anticipated. So of course the bike immediately leaned way over. Trying to hold 245kg of bike and full tank of fuel upright was a struggle – especially for a weak old bloke like me! Now stationary, I tried to stick my leg further out to regain balance, but my foot hit the kerb, and the whole show over-balanced. The bike ended up on its side on the road against the kerb, and I ended up on my side on the footpath! I got up, feeling a bit shaky and disorientated. (How did I end up here on the footpath?). As is the way with these things, it all happened in an instant, and it took a bit of mental backtracking to work out exactly what had happened. I knew why the road had dropped away, but it took a bit more analysis to work out why I hadn’t got my foot out further, and why I ended up tumbling onto the footpath. I turned my attention to the bike, and reached the kill-switch about the same time as the bike decided it was a bit pointless to keep on running in that position! Yes, I had survived the incident okay. It didn't do the old back a lot of good, but I was alright; and unlike the bike, escaped without any scratches or marks at all. All I really felt at that stage, apart from my back feeling sore and tight, was a bit of soreness on my left hip, obviously from hitting the ground. There was no way I would be able to lift the bike up myself, so I looked around to see where I could get help. At the house on the opposite corner there was a guy working in his front yard, and he came over as soon as he saw me. He asked if I was okay, and then gave me a hand to lift the bike up. Well actually, I must confess that he did most of the lifting. With my dodgy back now feeling more dodgy than usual, I wasn't able to put much effort into the lifting-up process. Anyway, we got it upright and the guy was really nice. He asked a couple of times if I was okay (maybe I looked worse than I felt!), and offered me a cold drink. I said I was okay. I looked around the bike and there was surprisingly little damage. There were some serious scratches on the bottom engine-cover, but not much else. The Ventura rack had hit the kerb, and I think the top-box had probably hit the footpath, which was grass. The top-box was unmarked, but the impact on the rack had scratched it and forced the top section out of the mounting bracket. That was easily put back together and tightened up. There were some scratches on the end of the clutch lever, and some slight scratches on the mirror. And a couple of almost imperceptible marks on the end of the handlebar. No marks on the blinkers or any bodywork. With the bike upright and the rack back together, and everything else seemingly okay, I started it up (it started instantly), thanked my helper again, and rode away. I went around the corner, out onto the highway and pulled up. Time to calm the nerves a bit and further assess the situation. I noticed the fuel gauge was reading about 3/4, instead of full, which it had been; even though there was no sign of petrol having spilt. I thought through what else might happen to a bike when it's on it's side. (The last time I dropped a bike was back in the old trail-bike days – they were 2-strokes, and you expected to drop them occasionally in the bush). I didn’t think the fall would’ve been enough to twist the bars, (particularly considering how slight the marks on the end were), but I’d checked that anyway as I rode it and they were fine. I imagined the oil would still be okay, it’d just run back into the sump when it was lifted up. But I checked it and it was fine too. No, other than the fuel-gauge reading, and the cosmetic damage, everything seemed okay. I was feeling a bit shaken by the whole thing, of course. But, having established there was no other damage, and not wanting to waste the day, I perhaps foolishly decided to keep on going. Foolishly because, while the bike seemed okay, I may not have been! The soreness on my hip had gone, but my back was feeling pretty tender and might have gone into spasm. (It does that when it plays up). But I’d been looking forward to the ride and didn’t want to abandon it. Once on the bike and on the move again, I actually began to relax a bit. Maybe because the bike was purring along like nothing had happened; and the petrol gauge went back to reading full again too. I rode for about 25km but it was getting late so I thought I better stop for lunch. Strangely, I felt more unsettled when I got off the bike. I discovered the Panadol I had in my first-aid box was out of date, so went to a local supermarket. I also bought some anti-inflammatory cream. (I should’ve had some of that in the first-aid box too, and now have). I took the Panadol, applied the cream to my back, then had lunch. After lunch I continued my ride; not quite to the destination I’d originally planned, but still had an enjoyable ride. The next morning my hip, leg and shoulder were just slightly achy from rolling around on the footpath, but nothing more than would be expected. My back was stiff and sore, but hadn't become a major issue, which was what I'd been worried about. A couple of days and it settled down okay. I bought a lottery-ticket, attached a "Thank You" note, drove to the crash-scene and dropped it in the letterbox for the guy who helped me. As I explained in the note, I would never have been able to lift it on my own, so really appreciated his help and concern. And I took the photo of the scene above.
REPAIRING THE DAMAGE
Back home I looked around the bike a bit more and began the repairs. I touched-up the paint on the rack; that was easy. The scratches on the clutch-lever took a little more work. I first attacked it (very gently!) with an angle-grinder, using a fine-grain disc and just very light touches to sand the scratches out as much as I could without grinding too much off the lever. Then I used a fine-grain sandpaper, then 1200-grain followed by 2000-grain. The alloy is very soft and it took very little sanding to remove almost all of the scratch marks. I finished it off with a cutting-compound car polish which brought it up all smooth and shiny. There are a couple of tiny marks remaining, but you've got to look very closely to see them. To remove these completely would’ve taken more grinding / sanding, which I didn’t want to do. Up to that point it had worked out well, and I didn’t want to push my luck by going further. The repair on the clutch lever had worked so well that I tackled the slight scratches on the end of the handlebar. There were only a few very small marks anyway, but by using the sequence of sandpaper and polish I totally eliminated them. I suppose some people might’ve left the side-cover as it was, but I couldn’t live with seeing it like that, so that had to be replaced. It cost $86 for that little item! The scratches on the mirror are noticeable only if you look really closely. At $115 for a new one I'll live with it as it is. So, there it was, my first fall on the road, ever, in over 30 years of riding. As one of the senior staff I know at the local dealer said when I went to order the part, “You got off very lightly!” And I guess I did.
WORTH THE WEIGHT?
There’s no doubt that the weight of the bike was a factor. At a dry weight of 222kg, topped with a 21-litre fuel-tank that’s usually pretty full, there’s a fair lump of motorcycle to man-handle about. But the weight doesn’t usually bother me. I’m aware of the weight, but it’s not a problem. Well, not usually! And in this case, if I’d been on a lighter bike I might’ve still gone down; because of the particular combination of circumstances. There was one other incident, though, when I pulled up in a big parking area that had a sloping uneven surface. I was turning to the right slightly as I stopped and the bike kind of propped and tipped to the right; and leant over very steeply. I struggled to hold it and haul it upright again, but I did, just! And that's the thing. Normally, I hardly even notice the weight. It's only when things go wrong, or the road catches you out, that the weight becomes a problem. Then a lighter bike would definitely be easier to muscle out of the situation. The XJR is a heavier bike than I would've considered ideal, but the weight comes with the bike that it is. And it must be said that, in over-all motorcycling terms, it isn't overly heavy. When buying a bike you make your choice and live with it. It won't be the "perfect bike", (we've established elsewhere that there is no such thing!), so you live with whatever compromises it presents; and enjoy the things that made it your choice. Reflecting on all this, I thought about lighter bikes, like the Triumph Sprint I was keen on buying for a while. It's lighter, but with the sportier riding-position and the narrower bars with their steeper angle, I wouldn't have had as much leverage to hold it up. So maybe there wouldn't be as much advantage in some lighter bikes anyway.
BACK IN MY TRAIL-RIDING DAYS…..
I said I’d never fallen off on the road before, but yes, of course you do fall off occasionally when you’re trail-riding through mud and along rocky tracks and up steep rough-surface hills and so on. And so I did have a few falls off-road. The worst one I remember happened while riding along a narrow trail with tress on the left and a drop on the right. Suddenly the left handlebar hit a tree; and stopped. The bike didn’t. The steering snapped onto full left lock and the bike tumbled over sideways. I went tumbling forward, landing pretty heavily on the ground in front. That was the worst one because it happened so quickly. I was a bit winded by that one. I got a few bumps and bruises over the years, but nothing serious. Probably the worst injury I sustained was a burnt hand. A riding mate had taken me to a big trail-riding area. We’d just finished lunch, and he’d been telling me about a huge hill that hardly anyone had been able to conquer. It was very steep, very rough and very rocky. He said, “Come and I’ll show you, it’s just round the corner.” As we weren’t going far I foolishly didn’t put my gloves on. We rode around the corner and sure enough, there was this massive hill. My mate began riding up the hill a little way. His intention was to ride to a flat area not far from the bottom which afforded a better view. We reached the spot he’d mentioned, but I was on the wrong side of the track and didn’t realise until too late that we were at the point where he was stopping. Before I knew it, I was on the hill, the bike aiming up this almost vertical rough-hewn track. There was no where to safely turn, or even stop. So I kept on going. I was riding a Yamaha DT125 at the time, so the chances of me making it to the top when so many others, on much more capable machinery, had failed was always going to be remote. But I was doing okay and thought I might actually do it! But alas, after several challenging leaps over rocks and slithering across deep ruts, the bike reared up with the front wheel pointing skywards. I stepped off as the bike did a quick pirouette and came crashing to the ground. I came crashing to the ground too. Instinctively I put my hands out to break my fall; and my left hand landed straight onto the side of the motor! It took about two months for the striped burn-marks to disappear. The bikes never got damaged much either. The worst damage a bike sustained happened on the trailer! I’d returned home after a day spent in rain and mud. I’d untied the bike and was wheeling it back off the trailer when my foot slipped on the wet muddy trailer floor, and the bike toppled away from me. It landed on its side, the tank hitting an angled steel mudguard support. That resulted in a big dent in the side of the tank. I had to have that pulled out and sprayed by a panel-beater. So that was by far the worst damage – and it happened on the trailer! A READER HAS A STATIONARY FALL Martin had a similar incident with his Triumph Sprint ST. He wrote to our Questions page earlier in the year seeking advice on repairing the damage. He described what happened. “My foot slipped sideways on some gravel and try as I may I couldn't hold the bike up, and it ended up on it's side. I couldn't believe the amount of damage. Brake pedal bent up and inwards, and deep scratches on the fairing; and on both sides the chrome (plastic) strips broke off. "Of course when it comes to replacement parts the dealers see you coming don't they! Two plastic strips $140, brake pedal $179 and - wait for it, bottom section of fairing $999. If I claim on insurance the quote would be much higher (of course).” He decided to tackle the repair himself. “I ended up using the coloured polish from Turtle Wax; the one which incorporates that 'lipstick' filler which you rub on. I have one dag which can be seen if you know where it is but being close to the very bottom of the fairing on the inward curving section, you have to bend down to see it. The polish exactly matched the red colour and covered the fine scratches very well. I was not impressed with the filler though, the polish did not blend with it and you can see a difference in the colour where it has been used. Some of the lugs of the plastic "chrome" strips had broken and I super-glued the strips back into position, and this was very successful. The badly bent brake pedal I straightened, in fact I bent it a bit lower than the original and now my foot has less travel to reach it. Every person who has been shown the damage says "where?" So to have gone with the $1400 professional quote compared to my $18 fix would have been ridiculous. Next time I would test some different fillers until I found one compatible with the coloured polish. If successful this would make the repair totally undetectable.” Yes, it can happen to all of us. Even when we’re stationary! As I said above, it’s the unexpected that catches you. I was thinking about this the other day. Most of my driveway is comprised of two tracks. And they are about 30mm high. I usually ride up to the top of the driveway and adjust the helmet etc before leaving. When I stop, I put my foot down on the ground – which of course is about 30mm lower than the bike’s wheels. I do this without thinking; I know where the ground is, and there’s no problem. It’s when it is suddenly further away than you expect, or when your foot slips on a loose surface etc. That’s when it can get you. P.S. I got quite a few emails from readers in response to this article. It seems many of us have had a similar little "woopsie" from time to time. Click here to read some of their stories.
Click here to return to the front page. Click your BACK button to return to the previous page.