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13th July 2004

Opinion: Falling Off A Log - As Easy As...

Riding a bike is as easy as falling off a log. Especially the falling off bit, as Real Mart found out on the way back from Beezumph...

I'm getting the hang of this motorbike riding lark. After twenty eight years of continuous experience on various motorcycles ranging from the sublime (Yamaha R1 race bike?) to the ridiculous (An MZ sidecar outfit?), in weather conditions ranging from a finger freezing Snake Pass blizzard to a tyre blistering Autoroute du Soleil, and for reasons as mundane as commuting or as carefree as killing time, I've been around the block a few times.

These days I ride for work rather than riding to work, but I still ride for pleasure most of the time. Give me a quiet evening and I'll be out on one of my bikes. I'll go out to see if I can beat the ABS on a BMW (no), or to see how far the Morini will lean without touching down (still don't know), or to see if I can find out what happens to the B1052 when it gets to Linton (it disappears without trace).

I've done race schools, ridden off road, instructed learners, dabbled with advanced training; but I know that I've still got a lot to learn. If I'd needed proof of this, I got it on Saturday afternoon, coming home from Beezumph One-Three.

No, I didn't fall under a steam roller...

The A153 runs from Louth to Sleaford through varied Lincolnshire countryside, taking in the odd small town and village on the way. Cadwell Park lies at the bumpy northern end of this route but the whole road is a Good Ride; go fast and enjoy the swooping bends, or go slow and enjoy the view. I'd been going pretty fast until I got to the roundabout near Tunby, where streaming wet roads and a sprinkling of traffic had slowed me down to about 40. I was wide awake, my concentration was sharp, and I'd registered the red hatchback waiting to pull out of the petrol station as a potential hazard.

What I didn't expect was for the driver to wait until I was about three car lengths away before pulling out in front of me while studiously staring the other way. He was close enough to make swerving around him impossible, and anyway I had no idea what was coming the other way. I didn't really have time to wonder what to do next, because either instinct or reflex took over and my fingers unconsciously squeezed the front brake.

Normally you get a split second of warning as your front wheel locks up. In the dry you can hear the tyre begin to howl if you listen for it, and in the wet you get a curious sensation of free-fall as all the force slowing you down disappears (Indian Enfield riders will have to imagine the front brake cable snapping to appreciate this feeling). If you can get off the brake as soon as you know the tyre is locking, you can save it. Leave it a moment too long or miss the signals and the front wheel will tuck, and down you go. I know all this because I'm sad enough to go out and practice this sort of thing.

All that practice was a waste of time on Saturday. I was sliding down the road with bike on top of me before I even realised I'd touched the brakes; the road surface had some kind of slurry coating that, combined with the recent heavy rain, rendered it as slippery as an eel that has just got out of the shower.

I had plenty of time to appreciate this slippery-ness as I slid along on the wrong side of the road. I realised I wasn't badly hurt (yet) and had time to work out that it would be better for both of us if the bike and I parted company before one of us hit something solid. Kicking the bike away from me, I had time to admire the shower of sparks coming from underneath it before we ground to a halt, the bike some five yards further down the road.

There's a point in any road accident where the bad luck that puts you in the wrong place at the wrong time turns to good luck. I think if I'd had the front wheel grip to brake even remotely hard, I'd still have hit the car that pulled out in front of me; I was lucky that I fell off. Having fallen off, I was even luckier to slide across the front of the car rather than straight into it. And having slid onto the wrong side of the road, the Gods really were on my side when they ordained that nothing would be coming the other way.

Bought with my own money, and worth every penny.It gets better. Picking myself up and walking over to the bike, I discovered that not only had I escaped injury, but the bike looked rideable as well. Okay, the last third of the front brake lever was missing, the brake pedal was curled round to see where it had been, the right hand mirror was dangling limply from its socket and the edges of the faring and exhaust were scuffed, but it could have been a lot worse. My being under the bike when it landed saved a lot of expensive damage.

Picking the bike up (four short words to describe a lot of adrenaline fuelled sweating and heaving) and wheeling it over to the petrol station forecourt, I started to wonder about my own injuries. If I'd saved the bike, what had saved me?

Take a bow, Wolf Leathers. My thin nylon waterproofs were shredded and in tatters, but the two piece leather suit I was wearing underneath them had survived the slide with barely a mark; a bit of colour worn away at the knee, elbow and hip was the worst damage I could find. Better, the body armour that the suit came with had done its job perfectly, not only cushioning my fall to earth but preventing the weight of the bike doing me any serious damage.

These are good, but I'm glad I wasn't wearing them.To cap it all off, the driver who pulled out in front of me waited around at the scene until I was safe to approach, fully accepted the blame, gave me his details, and promised to pay for any damage. He could have (and many would have) just driven off into the sunset; although he'd caused the accident, he wasn't involved in it as such.

So what have I learned from this experience?

  • I'm a jammy git. I rode home, unscathed, from what could have been a very nasty incident.

  • This was a slow speed accident that didn't care what kind of bike I was riding, or how I was riding it. It could happen to anyone. Including you.

    Arrows show damage. What damage? Exactly. Perforations allow gasses to dispurse.

  • My Wolf leathers saved my skin, as well as my bones and quite possibly most of my bike as well. I've got a Cordura two piece suit that I almost wore that day; if I had, I don't think I'd have got off as lightly.

  • Even when you're down on the road and sliding, you can still influence the outcome. The bike spun through ninety degrees as it came to rest on the grass verge. I don't want to think about what would have happened if I'd still been under it at the time.

  • It's easy to become a statistic. If I'd needed an ambulance or called the police I would have gone down in the figures as a 44 year-old male on a modern and powerful 1000cc bike, and too many people would have dismissed me as a born-again riding a sportsbike I couldn't handle.

  • There are still honourable people out there. A cheque from the driver who caused all this arrived in the post this morning.

    I'm worried that I can't think of A right boot. Calm down, Jerry. Toe slider has gone awol, slider mount is scuffed, I can still walk.much that I could have done to avoid this accident, given that I was going to be on that bit of road at that time. If someone doesn't look, no amount of headlights and dayglo bibs will help - and if they pull out when you are closer to them than the distance you need to stop, you're stuffed. I could have 'read' the road surface better, I suppose.

    But I'm not downhearted. The other thing that arrived in the post today, the thing that got me all excited, was the confirmation of my place on the Morini Riders Club Trackday in September.

    Then again, it's at Cadwell Park, which will mean another trip up the A153…

    Lucky or just Overconfident?

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