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9th May 2016

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On Crashing

I hit a tractor and muck-spreader on the way home from work, says Paul Friday. The bike is a write-off. I have bruises. Let me tell you about luck, crashing and stupidity...

I had been working 50 to 60 hour weeks for three months topped with three hours travelling time a day. I was late home again, with steak and a glass of wine ahead of me. Iím not sure if I saw the lights and indicators on the back of the tractor or if they were obscured. After a series of nice overtakes to leapfrog a line of cars, I was looking into the distance to check my last hop. The farm track is almost impossible to see.

These are all excuses. I did a really stupid thing and overtook a tractor where there was potential for it to turn right into a field.

It was my fault entirely.

I am an experienced and trained rider. I was on an A-road and doing no more than 60 (seriously Ė fast enough when itís bendy plus there are police camera vans regularly hiding in the laybys). I was doing all the advanced riding stuff about good sightlines and anticipation and I had passed multiple cars without them even noticing me. The type of smooth overtaking that makes a car driver think ĎI wish I had one of thoseí and then Ďthatís an old C-regí.

A long straight ahead. A big tractor and muck-spreader trundling along the road doing perhaps 30 to 40. Big tyres visibly rotating, no brake lights or indicators lit (see above). A layby on the left side but I can see into it and there is nothing waiting to pull out. Pull out onto the right lane, accelerate to 70. Get within a few yards of the tractor and think Ďheís slowing downí. The tractor makes a sharp turn to the right into a concrete lane leading across the fields. I brake very hard and begin to turn with the tractor. The front tyre locks on the loose surface, I can see dust and gravel spray out from under it and the bike goes down to the right. I reckon I hit the tractor at around 50mph. With hindsight, I hit the front tyre sidewall.

Itís amazing how powerless you are when you fall off. There was a loud bang, which later I take to be the bike hitting the road. I am aware of hitting the ground and all I can see is a blur of grass and sky. I actually went down on my right side in a low-side fall Ė about the best type. What could have happened is that I went over the top of the bike, head-first into the side of the tractor. Or I could have high-sided and had the bike follow me down the verge, ready to give me a little surprise when I stopped sliding.

The bike took a beating but absorbed enough energy to save me. The forks bent. The handlebars bent. The right footrest broke off at the hanger. The right pannier was crushed. The fairing, including the new centre section I had bought off eBay, had every panel smashed. These meant that the bike didnít crush my right leg into the road.

I went down pretty hard but because I had turned with the tractor I slid down the grass verge at the side of the road and not the road surface itself. Well, not entirely Ė I obviously slid across the concrete farm lane as my leathers are scuffed and the visor on my helmet looks like someone has been at it with an angle grinder. There were no signs, trees or telegraph poles on the verge.

This was the first time this year that I have worn full leathers. Up until now I have used a waterproof oversuit under a big yellow road-menders jacket. The weather report said that this was going to be a nice day, so the leathers came out. Big heavy things with armour in the jacket. Decent gloves and boots. Nice when the riding is free-flowing but a monster in traffic when the sun is shining and the radiator is blowing hot air over my legs. But I chose the leathers.

My left knee hit the ground or kerb hard enough to give me a large graze, even through the leathers. I went down with my elbows tucked in against my sides and my hands in front of my chest. Luck, not skill. I punched the ground hard enough that my wedding ring is oval. The fingers on my right hand are purple like over-ripe bananas. My gloves are abraded nearly through in a couple of places and a seam has started to open. The sole was torn off my right boot. My fluorescent waistcoat was torn to shreds at the right shoulder. I slid on the right side of my face, as the visor and helmet are ripped. The visor hinge pin was knocked off (but refitted perfectly when I found it in the grass).

I slid and rolled about twenty feet down the grass verge. When it all stopped moving I was face down. I laid there for a bit with everything hurting, waiting to see if the hurt got worse and if bits of me still moved. When I stood up there was a trail of bits of plastic leading to the bike, lying maybe ten to fifteen feet ahead of me at the side of the road, engine still running and rear wheel slowly revolving.

On Crashing Motorcycles

A couple of car drivers had stopped. I killed the bike engine and the tractor driver helped me get the bike up and tucked into the side of the road out of the way. They started handing me bits of plastic. They were great Ė they could not have been more caring. I was offered phone calls, a lift home, an ambulance and a bottle of water.

And the thing that was hurting me the most was my embarrassment Ė I am supposed to be an experienced rider with extra training. How did I make such a basic and classic mistake? Itís roadcraft 101: tractors turn right into fields and may not indicate.

Perhaps the counter to this is roadcraft 102: when you think you are good you are in peril, because you get cocky. Has anyone read Mick Bonesí book on Riding Motor cycles Professionally? He makes that point very clearly: when you think you have ninja road skills you will have an accident because you are too smug.

So I taped the right foot rest to the pillion one, gathered up the debris, thanked everyone, and when they had left had a good look at the remains of the bike. The pride was still hurting so I wondered if I could ride it home rather than make that phone call to the wife. I was facing oncoming traffic on the right hand side of the road, so the best thing would be to get the bike across the road and into the layby I had checked-out earlier. So I rode it across Ė faster than pushing and a good test of ridability. Thatís how I learned that the forks were bent. There was also a hole in the side of the engine that leaked oil.

So then the phone calls started. My insurance company has an amusing on-hold message telling me that the team know I am waiting and will be with me as soon as possible. After an hour I arranged my own recovery truck with a local company who turned up quickly and the driver was a long-time motorcyclist himself so knew how to manoeuvre the bike and strap it down. By this time my right arm and hand and left leg had stopped working, so he did all the work and even wheeled it into my garage and put it on the centre stand. Not something a non-rider knows how to do.

On Crashing Motorcycles
Back in the saddle, on ...

Me? Sore. After a bunch of x-rays I find I have broken fingers and a broken elbow. No cast, as the ends were not out of line and itís apparently hard to do. Big areas of developing bruises like a baboonís bum. But I am effectively unharmed. No head or spinal injuries, even if my wife did threaten to complete the set. The physio exercises recommended for my right arm include raising and flexing the elbow and bringing my hand close to my face. I have found a perfect way to do this involving a glass weighted with liquid.

This gives me time to reflect on my own stupidity and dumb luck. The bike is a write-off. Itís a 1985 BMW K100RT and the replacement parts would cost more than the bike is worth. So Iíll be breaking it for spares which could make back what it cost. The joy of cheap old bikes. I think I can call it a real classic because I commute(d) 140 miles a day on it.

We gain experience by making mistakes. If we are lucky we survive our mistakes and can reflect on them so that we do better next time. Iím in a very reflective mood at the moment. Iím off to do my physio exercises. The rest of you Ė be careful and dress well.

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