Two of my friends hurt themselves in motorcycle crashes this weekend. Both crashes were their own damn fault. They're idiots. Here's how you can avoid being like them.
Both Greg and John (pictured, with the flower I brought him) are relatively new riders on their first quick bikes. Both are trying to do the right thing — they're wearing safety gear, they're trying to ride within their limits — and are just the kind of sensible, responsible guys that don't fit the typical squid mold.
So how'd they crash? Well, funnily enough, it was the same reason for both — gravel in a corner. Here in Southern California, that's a particularly common obstacle as our good roads typically run through canyons, with one side of the hill rising up over the asphalt. Stuff falls off the hill and onto the road. But, hidden obstacles in corners remain a common threat no matter where you ride. In England, it might be horseshit; in the Northeast, it might be wet leaves; down South, it might be road kill. Anywhere, it might be anything. The trick to not letting it spoil your traction and spit you off the bike is to avoid it.
Greg fell off his Honda 599 and I had to walk him through a roadside radiator repair over the phone. That was successful, so he was able to limp the bike home and nurse his cuts and scrapes. John took a more serious tumble on Angeles Crest Highway, landing on his hand and shattering his right wrist. On Monday, he got titanium hardware installed in it.
How could both of them have avoided crashing? Simple: by riding a little slower and trying to look further ahead. Like I texted Greg once he got home, the trick is to ride only as fast as you can see; you should always be able to bring the bike to a safe stop in the distance you can see ahead. If you want to go out and translate that into fast riding, it means slow in, fast out; enter a corner wide and at a conservative pace, then late apex and get on the gas once you can clearly see the exit. Doing that means fast riding becomes fast, safe riding.
That general approach — slowing down and paying more attention — is the overall key to safe motorcycling. No matter who you are or how long you've been riding, you're not as fast or as talented as you probably think you are. Obviously the safety margin of a very good rider is going to look a lot different from that of a newer one, but both riders should still be riding well below their absolute limits.
The key to becoming a fast rider is to get the point where you can go fast — drag knee, pull wheelies, whatever — well, well within the margins of your own ability.
And, this doesn't just apply to the hazards of riding fast on a country road on a summer Sunday. Slowing down and paying attention works equally well in traffic while you're commuting, in avoiding the most common car-on-bike accident there is — cars turning left in front of us — and in any other situation too.
Need any easy reference to know where the point of safe, skilled riding ends and dangerous shit begins? Any time you feel like you're going fast, you're going too fast. Back off, focus on learning and practicing new skills and, one day, fast won't feel fast, it'll feel safe.
As an aside on safety gear — both riders were wearing it, saving their lives — a large part of the reason John broke his wrist is because his expensive Dainese gloves weren't equipped with palm sliders. Through crashing many times myself, I've learned that it's not aggressive-looking knuckle guards that matter; it's hard, plastic protectors around the base of your palm and heel of your thumb. We humans instinctively try to catch our falls by extending our hands and palm sliders can shear off the kind of direct impacts that break wrists, sliding rather than catching the road. Why more gloves don't use them, I don't know, but until they do, I'll be wearing Racers, most of which do feature excellent protection in that area. John and Greg will be too, once they get back on.
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