Crashing Your Brains Out

Crashing. It’s amazing how time seems to slow down the moment you put a tyre wrong, not that it helps much. But the vagaries of the space-time continuum and its relationship to cartwheeling motorcycles wasn't the immediate conundrum rolling through my head as I lightly punched a hole in the earth. “Fuck me!” was the exact thought. How the hell did I just bin my new bike?! It’s almost 20 years and over 250,000 kilometres since the last time I went down on a road and it's certainly not something I thought was overdue.

Like most riders, my immediate reaction was not an examination of my freshly broken bones, or even any actual realisation that I was physically damaged in some way. No, first thing’s first, pick the bike up. The marrow leaking from my shattered skeleton could wait. At first glance at the bike I knew something was amiss, as the tyres were pointing the wrong way. Even in my slightly dazed state I knew that they were supposed to point down, not up, and as the pain started to quickly set in I realised that I was too damaged to rectify that on my own. So while I waited for some friendly passer by to stop and help me flip her over, I decided to retrace the road on foot and work out how the hell I just did whatever it was I’d just done. Lessons are for learning, after all. There’s lots of factors I could assign some blame to, but none that I shouldn't have had under control, so I won't even list them, and I bloody hate excuses anyway.

So, what did I do? It was a slowish ‘B’ road with a mild bend, with damp patches of pretty crappy road surface, and I was playing with the rear brake when I shouldn't have. I locked the rear of the AT for a split second (our bikes don’t have ABS or TC) and that was enough to screw up my corner entry and make things pretty hairy from there on. So now I had two options – settle the bike and pull it back down again into the corner and hope to ride it out on the shitty standard Dunlops I have little faith in, despite my entry speed and line being by now so bad that every instinct tells you it’s impossible, and that if you do crash it will be at about 90kmh. Or alternatively, pick it up and brake. Hard. Really hard. Then hope I can gather it all up and get the whole show stopped or turned before hitting that nice soft earth wall on the outside of the bend. Well, I'll never know if the first option would have worked. Instead I hit the anchors and washed off as much speed as I could before taking the bike off-roading and dropping it on wet grass and mud at probably 30kmh.

One of the interesting talking points to come out of this centres on our choice of Barkbusters hand guards with alloy frames for the bikes. There are two schools of thought on these, one of which we weren’t aware of when we fitted them. My friend Phil is in one camp, advocating for open flexible plastic handguards with no alloy frame. He seems to like thumping his KTM into trees and off cliffs and hasn't had cause to change his mind. His theory for preferring these style of guards over the ones with the alloy frame is that in a crash your hand can get caught between the bar and the alloy frame, and cause the hand or wrist to bend the wrong way and break bones, which it appears is what happened to my hand, which required surgery. Dave and I have always been in the second camp, favouring the alloy framed protection from trees that try to crush my freckled fingers, and the added bonus of not suffering broken brake and clutch levers during low speed offs in the dirt. Dave’s also a road racer and has the silly habit of holding onto the bike as long as he can in a crash (it's apparently something about being able to pick it up again more quickly and get racing again), so he thinks the added protection should be a good thing in stopping him from wearing his pinkies away in a lowside. If I'm honest, I didn't even know the first school of thought existed until Phil so helpfully shared his philosophy with me over a bottle or three of nice Aussie red. I have stubbornly remained in the second camp for now, and will refit the same hand guards again despite the realisation that my right hand snapped backwards as a result of the guards, but what are the odds of that happening again? No idea.

Despite a range of typical and boring injuries such as a broken collarbone, ribs, and hand, I feel quite lucky and fortunate. Like many, I enjoy the rush of speed and exhilaration that comes from fast things, and I have survived some stupid things in my motoring history. But to walk away with no permanent injuries from a crash at decent speed… Well, how can you not smile. I'm also lucky enough to have a supportive wife who likes engines, clutches, bikes and cars, someone who understands that shit happens sometimes. Many others don't have that support and are banned from riding the first time they stuff themselves into the undergrowth, as if they are somehow second in their marriage hierarchy rather than equal first. Others choose for themselves that motorcycles are not for them, and in those cases that is probably for the best. We are better off without such villainous traitors in our ranks.

This little experience has reinforced why I recently made the switch from road bikes to adventure bikes. Riding on the road is becoming less fun, because I'm always watching my speedo in deference to the ever present threat of Constable Plod, and the myriad of fiscal and incarceration tools at his disposal to ruin my life with, should I cravenly lust for any sort of actual enjoyment from riding a motorcycle on the road. This is why for the past few years I've been taking my old ST1300 on more and more bush tracks, despite it being totally unsuitable. Slower can still be fun on the dirt, and cops are rare out there. Getting lost is fun, discovering new stuff is an adventure, and it all makes me curious about how the early explorers did it, especially without motorcycles! It’s one of the things that prompted us to begin this project. So the insurance company has taken my bike and authorised the purchase of a new one, and I’ve grabbed the last standard CRF1000 available in Oz and I'm starting the kit up process again. Hopefully by the time my bones heal and tendons do their things again the last of my gear will have arrived and the next memory can be made.

The ride started out like this. Sweet.

And continued nicely, like this

And this.

But it ended like this...

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