I got to know Bruce through the web-site in 2008. He rode a Yamaha XJR1300, and as I was considering buying the same model bike, I emailed him to ask his opinions. His reply was most enthusiastic. He’d put up 64,000km on it, and said he rode it every day, to work and for recreation. Then, late in 2008, I received the following email from him. It read, “Riding home from work, far left lane of multi-lane road. Hi-lux going in the opposite direction, 3 lanes over, does a right-hand turn; goes between the line of stopped cars and cleans me up big time. 42 years of riding over for good! Leg broken in 2 places, knee also, right wrist. Hospital for 2 months, off work 7 months. The driver was charged with not making a safe turn and got a $200 fine. He drives away, I’m smashed for life! Be careful; you are invisible and they all want to kill you!” I was very moved by this. It wasn’t just the crash itself – which is horrific enough! – but it was the effects beyond that. Someone with such an obvious enthusiasm for riding was, to quote another reader, “a shattered man;” both physically and mentally. He wanted me to publish his story as a warning for others as to the dangers that await us out there on the roads. Now, this wasn’t the first time that a reader had written in with this type of warning. A couple of years earlier, Martin wrote telling me of a fellow who was 61 years old and who had a similar type of thing happen; but with an even worse outcome. The poor chap was killed. Like Bruce, he’d been riding regularly for about 40 years. Martin described what happened. “On this occasion he just popped down to the shops riding his pre-war restored BMW. A bus was stopped and facing him in the opposite direction. As he approached closer it apparently moved away and turned across his path.” Martin says that the BMW had it’s headlight hard-wired to come on with the ignition, just like modern bikes, but wonders if a modern quartz-halogen light might have made it more visible. Perhaps brakes and tyres would be an issue here too; no doubt the old bike wouldn't have had the same braking performance as a modern bike. But then, in many cases like this, the type of bike probably doesn’t make a lot of difference! Many years ago I witnessed a horrible incident where a car turned in front of a bike on a highway. The bike hit the car on the rear door with such force that it skidded the back of the car around by about 60 degrees. The rider lived, but was very badly injured. On another occasion I came across the after-math of a similar scenario in town, a car turning in front of a bike. The rider did a barrel-roll over the car but was unhurt, apart from a few bumps and bruises. And if you look at my Blog entries for April 2008, you’ll see I was faced with a similar situation, although thankfully not close enough to cause a real fright. So having people turn in front of you is obviously a big danger to be aware of! But back to Bruce. He explains his incident in more detail. “I was traveling east on a 3 lane road. I had a clear lane of traffic on my right and then a lane of stationery vehicles waiting to turn right 1 lane over again. The driver who hit me was traveling west 2 lanes over with an island between us, that is, 5 lanes away. He turned across between the stopped cars and nailed me. On impact, the XJR was broken in half at the engine mount points. (And me too!).” I had quite a few emails in response to Bruce’s story. I forwarded the contents of them to Bruce, but some points are worth mentioning. And so I decided to do an article on this. All extended sympathy and encouragement. Motorcyclists are nice people aren’t they! A couple of people encouraged him to work around any disabilities that might result from the accident. We don’t know the exact extent of his injuries, so it could be just a matter of time and healing before he is once again able to get back on a bike. But if there is some permanent disability, then there are ways around that. Rod mentioned an article in Road Rider magazine (late 2008) where a guy lost a leg, but now had a prosthetic and was riding a bike and sidecar. A trike was another suggestion for a permanent leg disability. Rod also mentioned a bolt-on rear section that transforms a normal bike into a trike. Barry owns a bright yellow Goldwing and says people still don’t see him! He related one incident where a woman turned in front of him. He blew the horn at her, she mouthed a “Sorry, didn’t see you,” then reversed into a police car! (Some people just shouldn’t be on the roads! But nice “poetic-justice!”). Doug is a retired police motorcyclist, and he’s seen – and had – his share of crashes. He says that where another vehicle has been involved, it’s mostly someone turning right in front of them. He says, “Most drivers (and riders) have great difficulty estimating the speed of a vehicle coming towards them. Combine this with the visual dynamics of a motorcycle – they are about one quarter the size of a car, with less large painted surfaces to help with visual awareness – and the situation is even worse. The only way around this is to learn to ride defensively; constantly asking yourself ‘have I been seen or does that driver know I'm here etc’ and increasing your buffer zone. Never assume that all drivers have seen you, and ride with the traffic rather than against it.” They are excellent points! Doug also had this to say. “Drivers are not out to kill motorcyclists, they usually just don't see us and, like I said, cannot judge distances that will be traveled by vehicles coming towards them. It happened to me twice on a Police motorcycle and I'm certain that the last thing those drivers wanted to do was run into (literally) a policeman!” Yes, it’s drivers being incompetent, not homicidal. He also said that he’d be surprised if Bruce doesn’t eventually get back on a bike again. He said, “The injuries will heal and the bad negative thoughts quickly turn into war stories over a coffee or beer.” We all hope that’s how it turns out for you Bruce! You might have noticed that I have particularly avoided using the word “accident.” Crashes are seldom “accidents.” As Steve said, this was caused by “the other fellow’s gross negligence.” Steve has a somewhat pragmatic view on the dangers of motorcycling. He said, “This is always a worry for me, but I long ago decided I am prepared to take that risk; and reduce it as much as possible by staying alert.” Yes, and staying alert is the approach we all need to take! Even so, as he says, “You can't eliminate the risk completely.” For Steve, that means subjecting only himself to the dangers; so he doesn’t carry a pillion. He says, “At least if the worst happens, it only happens to me.” In the article “A Scary Place” I mentioned coming upon the aftermath of crashes that, had an innocent motorcyclist been traveling along at that particular point when it happened, would have had very serious consequences! It was, as I said, a “there but for the grace of God…” type thing. The worst one, which we got to not long after it happened, was a semi-trailer that had lost control on a left-hand bend. The truck tipped onto its side and slid across the road, coming to rest against a grassy bank on the other side of the road. The photo on the left was taken from the point where the truck ended up. (And you’ll notice some of the debris and scrape-marks leading up to it). As I said in the article, imagine riding along that road (which I've done a lot of times!) in the direction the camera is facing, and finding a semi-trailer sliding on its side toward you at 100kph! Even if you saw it coming, you wouldn't know where to go to get out of it's way! So what’s the answer? Give up riding? The article “Would They Approve It?” was inspired by thinking about the inherent dangers of riding motorbikes. The fictitious character of Bazza in the story might not have helped the cause by the way he argued his case, but we all know that, by any standards of safety, if motorcycles were invented today they would not be approved as safe enough to use on public roads. Yet they are here, and at the time of writing this (early 2009), they are selling in ever-increasing numbers, as sales of cars fall. And the thing is, we love them, don’t we! There is just something about riding a motorbike (actually there are lots of things about riding a motorbike!) that just gets into the blood and keeps us throwing the leg over and getting out there! So that means taking the approach that Steve mentioned; accepting that the dangers are real, and doing whatever we can to minimise those dangers. The points Doug raised are good to keep in mind. And I’ve written a few articles, like “Staying Alive”, “Age,” “How Fast Should You Ride?” “One More Statistic,” and “Overtaking,” etc that are worth reading and keeping the points in mind too. The sobering thought though, is that no matter how good we think we are, it only takes a moment’s lapse of concentration and ….! And sometimes it doesn’t even take that. A big ute comes at you from 5 lanes away across traffic, and…. you don’t even see it until it’s crashing into the side of you! Yep, it’s a worry! And sometimes it worries me more than usual. Sometimes I think I should hang up the helmet while I still can. But I don’t. And I’m guessing you won’t either. And I hope that Bruce gets to pull a helmet on again one day too. So what should we do? Read and re-read the points that Doug mentioned above, and that I’ve mentioned in those articles, and try to minimise the dangers as much as we can. In fact, I think I’ll do that right now!
Best wishes for a safe return, to all who ride!
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