What I Learned From My First (and Hopefully Last) Motorcycle Crash

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What I Learned From My First (and Hopefully Last) Motorcycle Crash

This summer, I had my first motorcycle crash. Rather than chalk it up to experience, I decided to make it an opportunity to become a better rider. Here’s what I learned from my first motorcycle crash.

It was a beautiful summer day. I was on my way up to Santa Barbara to meet a buddy of mine and see my favorite band. Since the weather was so great I decided exploring was on the menu. Before taking off I made sure my bike was in working order, phone was charged, water bottle packed and that my friend knew I was hitting the road. I was ready for a mini road trip, complete with a detour into uncharted territory. Long story short, I ended up on a canyon road that was in disrepair. Instead of turning around when it became apparent that the road condition was deteriorating I kept going. In the middle of a very sharp corner I hit a patch of gravel concealed by the shade and dumped my beloved 2009 Triumph Bonneville. I was alone, without cell service, at the top of a desolate canyon in 100 degree heat and had just crashed my motorcycle for the first time.

Since my accident I have replayed it in my mind many times. I have thought about what I could have done differently, what I did right and how to prevent the same thing from ever happening again. To help provide more insight into my own mistakes I asked MSF instructor and RideApart contributor, Braden Poovey about typical first wrecks and how best to learn from them.

What I Learned From My First (and Hopefully Last) Motorcycle Crash

After discussing my accident with Braden, my suspicions were confirmed. My crash falls into the category of typical new rider wrecks. As Braden put it, “If I were to nail down one particular type of mistake new riders make (especially if we’re talking about sport riding in the mountains), I would say poor judgment in cornering speed and target fixation. Sometimes the target isn’t big like a car or a guardrail, but rather a sharp pothole or a bit of gravel. It’s amazing the insignificant stuff you can hit with expert ability when you don’t want to hit it but keep looking at it. Poor judgment in corning speed is just that. New riders often want to hit corner entry as hard and fast and possible and try to throttle through. If they overestimate too much, they have to chop the throttle (upsetting the bike’s suspension and making things worse), or brake and potentially have a low/highside.”

The cause of my accident is abundantly clear: operator error, pure and simple.

Prep:

The importance of proper preparation cannot be stressed enough. Although before leaving for my ride I made sure to check my bike, wear proper safety gear, and pack a tool kit with all the essential tools, I overlooked one vital step: route preparation. Being from Southern California, I am very familiar with the route from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. What I wasn’t familiar with was the canyon I decided to explore. Had I done an extra ten minutes of research I would have found this video which describes the road as a “bumpy and tangled strip of asphalt.” That description alone would have been a red flag letting me know Yerba Buena Road might be a stretch for my skill level at the time.

Lesson learned: having the right gear is great but avoiding unnecessary risk by doing your homework is even better.

Trust your gut:

After about five minutes on Yerba Buena Road I thought about turning around. I had not anticipated that the turns would to be as sharp as they were, or that the road might not be in the best condition. Feeling adventurous, I continued on my way, deeper into the canyon. Looking back this was my point of no return. I had a gut feeling, disregarded it and decided to try my luck.

Lesson learned: No matter how adventurous or excited you are, it’s not worth it. If the little voice in the back of your head is sounding the alarm, listen.

Don’t push yourself too far:

This goes hand-in-hand with trusting your gut. You are the only one with intimate knowledge of what you can or cannot handle. If you are feeling out of your element, take a moment and ask yourself: is the risk really worth the reward? I’ll give you a hint, it almost never is.  While pushing yourself a little bit past your comfort zone can be beneficial, going way past it can be catastrophic. In my case, it was hot, I was excited about the concert I would be attending later that night and I pushed myself too far. I put myself in a situation that I never should have been in.

When I asked Braden about being aware of your physical limitations he had his own personal example, “There was one time in particular where I had taken a trip by myself (normally I ride with one or two others) and was exhausted from lack of sleep and a heavy meal. I kept getting that feeling of riding over my head and ignored it. I ended up misreading my turn speed and almost drifted into a car in the other lane around a blind corner. It happens. The only thing we can do is learn from it, and be aware of our limitations (physical/mental) and be willing to cut a ride short or rest regardless of the pressure to finish.”

Lesson learned: Know your limits.

Continue Reading: What I Learned From My First Motorcycle Crash >>

 

The gear that saved my bacon:

Roland Sands Ronin Jacket – My jacket took most of the impact and performed beautifully. I slid a number of feet on the roadway and it prevented me from sustaining any road rash or open wounds. After the accident I inspected the jacket for any rips or tears, much to my amazement the leather was barely scratched.

Biltwell Gringo Helmet with Biltwell Bubble Shield - I did not hit my head during my wreck but what I can say is that my helmet stayed securely in place, even as I jostled around.

JRC Maverick CS Gloves – These gloves protected my hands from road rash during my accident. However, they have no padding, so if my hands had received a more direct impact it is quite likely I would have experienced bruising or much worse.

  • http://metabomber.com/ Jesse

    Glad you weren’t more banged up. Thanks for crash testing that gear so that others do not have to. Since that first wreck, what was your next ride like?

  • phobos512

    My first and thus far only wreck happened in January 2009 as I was turning into my work parking lot the 2nd day back from 2 weeks of Winter leave. I was in full gear top to bottom for only the 2nd time as it had been gifts and sale purchases over the holidays. My rear wheel washed out and I low-sided, I slid for a few feet (low speed crash under 20 MPH) and the bike spun on its left side frame slider 360 degrees into a curb, which destroyed the upper fairing, windscreen, tank and tail fairings, as well as switch gear and rearsets. I later learned from the police was due to a patch of black ice that I wasn’t able to see in the early January light. It was 17F when this happened, one of the coldest ride I’d had (I had been riding for not quite 5 years at this point). My left glove was shredded from the insulation pads catching on the asphalt, and the left knee of my pants blew out right at the seams. Neither company stood behind their gear, shockingly. No discounts, no offers to repair, no ability to just buy a single glove. I thought the pants might’ve been faulty given how they failed at the seam but they were unwilling to even examine them. What I learned was, black ice sucks, and don’t expect anyone to go above and beyond. Also, don’t expect coworkers to stop and help you if they’re in the morning groove – several people I worked with drove right past me, even waving (they later told me they thought I was being ticketed, not that I had wrecked – guess powers of observation were lacking). Oh well.

    • NOCHnoch

      Glad you weren’t hurt. Would you say that the frame slider caused additional damage?

    • Piglet2010

      I am sure to get flamed for writing this, but if you had been wearing something from Aerostich they would have repaired it if feasible.

    • Mugget

      You shouldn’t be surprised that your gear got damaged. Gloves, pants, boots, etc. are all designed to protect you during a crash</em. What they're not designed to do is protect you from a lifetime of crashes. Don’t feel bad that your gear was wrecked and no one offered you discount replacements. Be happy that the gear did it’s job and you didn’t get hurt worse.

  • Chester

    I ride everyday, all year round. I’ve had 2 accidents both involved negligent drivers turning into me. The first time I was stopped in 2 lane traffic and a truck thought the gap in cars was his cue to enter traffic. I was in my now retired cruiser with little in the way of gear and walked away more injured than my most recent tussle where a car on the outside of 6 lane thoroughfare (3 per direction) suddenly decided to it was necessary to perform a u-turn across all lanes (there was a large no u-turn sign above the car that the police took a picture of with my destroyed bike in the car for posterity). I was travelling in the inside lane about 30mph and ended up with only some bruises and a broken rib, because of the protective gear I was wearing.

    Lesson: Even if you’re an amazing rider you can’t prevent other people from running you over. Plan ahead and all gear all the time.

  • http://www.eastwestbrothersgarage.com/ East-West Brothers Garage

    I had my first accident about a year after first learning to ride. It was my first group ride and I made the mistake of pushing myself to a point where there was too little margin for safety. When a woman driving a Lexus SUV decided that staying on the right side of the road in a corner did not apply to her, I did not have enough room (nor talent) to dodge further to the right so I went around on the outside and ended up high-siding on the gravel shoulder. Luckily, I was wearing full riding gear from head to toe and had no injury to my person. The bike had a cracked fairing and the front fork was out of alignment, but luckily, the speeds were so low at that point that the damage was minimal. Even my helmet had survived, though the shield attachment point had busted completely. One of the people in the group I was riding with gave me his sunglasses so that I had some eye protection and a couple of the riders escorted me a couple of miles to the nearest motorcycle dealership to replace my now torn right glove and to have the fork straightened. Luckily, I was able to ride the bike home that day.

    What I learned from that crash is to always leave myself more margin for safety and to never allow myself to push so close to my limit of talent on a street ride. I find myself riding at a more relaxed pace these days and taking the time to enjoy the scenery. I was smart enough to have been wearing full gear that day and I fully believe that saved me from any injury, especially given that I went down on gravel. Your points about preparation and knowing your limits are ones that I take to heart these days and something that every rider should really make a part of every ride. It still makes me cringe when I see riders out there on their bikes with little more than beachwear on.

    Ride safe, everyone.

  • Ayabe

    Heard about issues with that jacket and the stitching coming apart leading to nuked elbows. Glad that wasn’t the case for you.

  • Kevin

    I’ve had a couple of low sides. The first was just plain inattentiveness and target fixation: I saw an obstacle in the road (turned out to be a pine cone) and fixated on it, swerved at the last second and realized I was right in the middle of a turn. Went wide onto the shoulder and slid out. The second was another left-hander, and the back lost traction over a shallow pothole. Just wasn’t paying attention to the road conditions.

  • Jack Meoph

    There is almost no back road in CA that isn’t cr@p. They have degenerated so bad due to budget cuts that the only repair that is made seems to be filling pot holes with substandard asphalt and filling the cracks with tar. This just makes them even more bumpy and slick. Also the roads are narrow, and the brodozers that everyone seems to be driving now throw gravel on the road all the time. There are corners on the roads that I ride that I know will always have gravel in them. Take a late apex whenever you’re riding on an unfamiliar road. AND SLOW DOWN.

    • Jack Meoph

      I’ll just add this: Take a late apex on EVERY corner when you’re riding the street.

      Also, I’ve had more “oh S**t” moments than I can remember while riding a bike. But in the decades that I’ve been riding the street, I’ve never went down. I’ve even hit a deer and stayed up, on two occasions. So you CAN ride an MC your entire life, and not crash. There are so many things you need to do and learn before that can happen, but it can be done.

      • http://metabomber.com/ Jesse

        + one million the “late apex” advice. Roads in New England are notoriously fncked, and this little bit of riding advice has given me the ability to see more crap before I have to ride through it.

    • SneakyJimmy

      You forgot to mention the morons that put oil on the road so they can “DRIFT”

  • Jason 1199

    Bubble helmet, faux retro bike, going to see a band playing In a basement and I’m guessing skinny jeans. Cause of accident: hipster using a motorcycle as a fashion accessory.

    • Kevin

      Not everybody is equally committed to ATGATT, which I think is a shame, but enough with the hipster hate please. Be nice, there are real people involved here.

    • Ayabe

      I was fully prepared to disagree with you until I clicked the link for that helmet, man……

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      We all start somewhere. I’m sure that even before you were busy posing with all 195 ponies, you were making a few mistakes with motorcycles.

      • Jason 1199

        I ride a klr in the city and the 1199 on day trips out in BCs interior. All the caribou I pass are really impressed :p

    • Nate Terrill

      Keep in mind, that those hipsters are bringing younger people into motorcycling. Yes, some will move on to the next “fashion accessory”, but I would bet you that a good percentage of them keep riding long after they no longer fit into skinny jeans. Judging by many of the recent ads, the manufacturers have taken notice and are working hard to get their piece of the coveted 20 something demographic.

      I would elaborate, but I need to go throw on my open face Custom 500 and fire up the Bonnie. :)

    • Justin Turner

      Jealousy.

    • Justin McClintock

      As I’m reading this I’m thinking, “Gee….somehow I doubt a KLR or DRZ would have had these problems….”

      And for the record, my first wreck taught me to pay more attention for ice on the road.

    • Stephen Butt

      What is the deal with all the hipster hate man? What ever happened to different strokes for different folks? Besides, it seems kinda lame to call somebody out for using their bike as a fashion accesory when your profile pic is one of you decked out in a Dainese suit that perfectly matches your bike. Don’t get me wrong it’s an awesome suit, but I’m sure if you had no concern at all about the way you look you could have found a cheaper and more subtle option? Whether we admit it or not, we all want to look cool in our own way when we ride.
      Instead of hating on somebody for dressing different (a really hipster thing to do BTW) why not embrace the fact you both love to ride?
      To me this is no different that harley guys hating on sportbike guys or skiers hating on boarders, we are all doing the same thing…just relax and enjoy the fact the sport is growing :)

      • Jason 1199

        Vancouver has a huge Hipster population. I’m typically a “whatever floats your boat” person (especially bikes) but my personal experiences have been overwhelmingly negative with them from strangers to friends of friends, or whoever. It’s left me with a real hate on. I find the avg hipster to be a smug attention wh*re that spends a significant part of their day trying to look like his buddies. There are exceptions I’m sure, Sean MacDonald seems pretty cool.

        • SneakyJimmy

          I found your post quite entertaining and somewhat on the mark (that’s why its funny). I mean, isn’t that how Bob Dylan wrecked his bike? Additionally, the fact that one rides a bike makes a statement whether you want it to or not.

          Oh, and my first wreck happened because I drove over a cement culvert that with running water that was covered with moss. Worse then hitting ice, I was down before I could react at all.

    • Piglet2010

      Nothing wrong with the handing of a Bonnie, particularly the versions with 17-inch wheels. OK, it is not a race replica or supermoto, but neither is it a cruiser pig.

      Nb. I ride my Bonnie wearing a Hi-Viz Roadcrafter Light, not overpriced fashion jeans.

  • Luis Fernando Ponce

    I have had two learning experiences; 1. a week or two after I first ride my monster 796 I dropped in a Walmart parking lot and broke the brake lever and the right mirror, they are very expensive, so I learned to be carefully because the whole toy is very very expensive. 2. a very experiencied friend of mine die in a road that we rode every weekend, he had a lot of experience and all who knew him cannot explain how he could die that way, so I learned no matter what amount of experience you have you have to stay below your limits.

  • msay

    What I learned from my first wreck: While deer are most active at dawn and dusk, they will still dart in front of you at 130am. That and I got really lucky not be badly hurt. Lastly, the deer’s skull looks decent on my wall.

  • BillW

    “To help provide more incite…”

    You need insight before you incite.

    My story: A few years ago, I took a flight to North Carolina and spent three glorious days riding roads and fire roads on borrowed bikes. A BMW G450X one day, an F800Gs the next, and a KLR 650 the third. While I’m a well-trained and experienced street rider, I’ve had one day of dirt riding instruction and a couple of days of dirt riding before this, but everything goes well and I feel confident. Late on the third and final riding day (with one day off for rain), my buddy tells me I have to try his KTM 950 Adventure again now that he’s had the suspension worked on. He mentions it’s on “street tires”, whatever that means. So I get on the Katoom, on pavement. I rail up a set of twisties with a passing lane, leaving cars and most of the rest of the riding group in my wake. I am at one with the bike and I am a motorcycling god (in my own mind). Great stuff. Then our host and leader turns us onto a residential dirt road, smoother and more benign than any piece of dirt I’ve ridden in three days. I come up on the second turn, a tight right that dives downhill, faster than expected, and I roll off the throttle, expecting the engine braking I’ve been using for a few days now. It’s not there, for some reason. Panic ensues, my street experience takes over, and I grab the front brake. The bike went down instantly, and I broke my right collarbone. The good news is the bike had no damage to speak of (my buddy could still ride home to Texas), the hospital was only a few miles away, the ER was empty, it was the last day of the trip, and I already has a flight home booked for the next day with friends who could drive me home from the airport. Talk about bad things happening in the best possible way!

    Contributing factors to the crash: fatigue (about 5:00 PM on the last day of the trip), somewhat unfamiliar bike, overconfidence due to street pass and prior three days, switching tire types when switching bikes, failure to properly use the rear brake, and especially inadequate dirt riding experience. Maybe target fixation on the outside of the corner. I fell victim to what Keith Code calls “Survival Reactions”. Will I do better the next time? Maybe. I just got myself a dual-sport bike. I’m thinking of hitting Rich Oliver’s Mystery Camp to get comfortable with sliding the bike around. But at the very least, I’ll be more cautious.

    • Jacob Moss

      Glad you made it out relatively alright. Thanks for sharing your story and catching that mistake!

  • Conrad

    Has anyone not crashed yet? If so, how long have you been riding?

    • Mugget

      I know of a guy who has never crashed. At least not as of about 3 years ago… at that time I think he had been riding for 7-8 years and currently had a Ducati Monster of some variety.

    • mbust

      My MSF Experienced Rider instructor said that he has not had an accident in his entire riding career, 37 years.

      • Conrad

        That’s awesome.

    • PaddingtonPoohBear

      I haven’t crashed -yet- but I came REALLY close a few days ago. I had just passed a car and was approaching a gentle curve. I met another bike coming the other way and got a little distracted waving at him so I hadn’t slowed down enough for the curve. I started drifting toward the edge of the road and I fixated on it. It was like a spell, for that few seconds I couldn’t help but keep staring at that edge and for some reason I totally forgot about “looking where you want to go.” I do remember thinking “why the heck am I still going so fast” and finally “this is going to HURT” as I drifted off the edge and went into some dirt alongside the road. Right after that I hit pothole and the rear end kicked out a bit and came back in and that seemed to launch me back onto the pavement somehow. It was pure luck that kept me upright and I thank my lucky stars that I didn’t wipe out.

      Oh, and I had also JUST ignored the little voice in my head. I had passed up an opportunity to pass that car a mile or so back thinking about just enjoying the scenery etc. Buuut I started to get greedy and think that the corners would be more fun going a little faster… Doh!

      Be safe out there!

      I’ve been riding about 8 or 9 months. I thought I’d gotten over target fixation but it seems that it can strike at any time. =(

      • Conrad

        I’m about to take the bike out of winter storage. Gonna take it nice and and slow. Your story was enough to give me sweaty palms. Target fixation is an issue at times for me on extra curvy roads. It gets bad to the point where i slow down and it just becomes boring. Riding is definitely a skill that requires a life’s work of practice. Ride safe, brother.

        • PaddingtonPoohBear

          I find that it helps to really think about what I’m doing – lane position, speed, etc. Try not to think about what COULD happen, that’s what almost got me into trouble. I try to focus on the center of the road or through the curve looking for potholes, gravel, etc. anything that might upset the bike.

          You too! =)

  • Piglet2010

    I crash almost every time I go to the OHV park. But crashing at moderate speeds in sand or soft dirt is almost fun.

    Crashing at the track is not too bad either if it is just a simple low-side.

  • Y.A.

    I have crashed more times than I’d like to admit and they were all my fault. Riding takes a lot of discipline and I’m not sure I have enough. You have to be really honest with yourself if you are going to ride a motorcycle. I might sell my bike next year and give it up for good.

  • Ernie Davila

    Funny how this words remind me of my own first crash: “Admittedly I got very lucky, I escaped with nothing more than a damaged
    motorcycle and a bruised ego. Looking back my ego needed some bruising.
    Not to say I was an overconfident maniac terrorizing the streets of Los
    Angeles but rather I was a newer rider who needed to be brought back
    down to earth and reminded that riding a motorcycle is a dangerous,
    skill-based activity.”

  • Mugget

    Don’t blame the road. Plenty of people have successfully ridden inappropriate equipment in out of the way places (for example GSX-R1000 along a rocky, potholed dirt fire road, for 3 hours in the rain). The key is riding to the conditions. If there’s gravel on the road, slow down so you’re sure you can handle it. If there are tight blind corners, slow down so you know you will be able to handle whatever is around the corner.

    If you keep thinking of “riding to the conditions” you’ll avoid lots of accidents. Note that the conditions include more than just the road – temperature, weather, tiredness/alertness/energy levels, bike, etc.

    I wish I had thought of my riding like that right from the start. It’s common for people (especially new riders) to categorise roads as “not a rider-friendly road” or “not a road for a newbie”. But all that does is setup incorrect thinking in the riders mind. Much better to be aware of the conditions and ride accordingly.