Watson On: Obstacles In The Road



Watson On: Obstacles In The Road

Photo by Chris Cornwell

Every one of us who rides should know the risks that are involved each and every time you swing a leg over a bike and head out. Aggressive, texting drivers and crazy traffic are just the tip of the iceberg, so you’re constantly forced to ride defensively. It often feels like everyone is out to get you and they probably are.

But there is another dimension to all of this because being a motorcyclist means you become a target for some very odd things. A few years ago I came around a corner to find that a produce truck had deposited its entire load of watermelons in the road.

The melons had broken free just a few seconds before I arrived so I was faced with what looked like massive, green cannon balls rolling all over the place. The first melon struck my bike’s front fender and the second clouted me on the knee. It was like being hit at 40 mph by a very hard medicine ball and for several days afterwards I had a purple bruise on my leg to show for the melon attack.

Watson On: Obstacles In The Road

Photo by Saffanna

All around my bike was a moving obstacle course of bouncing fruit.  I had to pull over pretty quickly and park my bike until the swirling mass of melons had come to complete stop. The guy driving the truck was apologetic and for the next few minutes I helped him kick the melons to the side of the road. Other drivers were less helpful and forced their way through the sea of melons glaring angrily at us for daring to hold them for a few seconds.

Another time, early one Sunday morning I pulled up at the lights alongside a young guy in a Ford Mustang who was playing loud music that was blaring out of the open windows. He looked across at me and nodded and had a cigarette between his lips. As the lights changed we both moved off together. He was clearly not going to hang around and accelerated away from me. A few seconds, later that cigarette he had been smoking came arcing through the air. It hit me in the chest and then fell down into my crotch trapped between the top of my bike’s saddle and my gas tank. That sort of thing – a lit cigarette butt – really focuses your attention when you’re riding and for me the carelessness of Mustang Man’s actions made me lose a little more faith in humanity.

My real pet peeve though is people who spit chewing gum out of the windows of their moving vehicles. I’ve had this happen to me a couple of times. The first occasion I saw the fat glob of spittle and gum come barreling out of the open driver’s window of a passing car I instinctively ducked making my bike veer across the lane I was riding in.

That previously enjoyed lump of gum still got me though and thwacked itself onto one of my saddlebags and sat there like a glutinous sticky lump of nastiness. I’m not a big fan of spitting in public places at the best of time but come on people doing this from your car seat, while in traffic, is truly disgusting.

The freeway always provides a near endless succession of interesting things that can have you off your bike in the blink of an eye. Pieces of exploded tire rubber really hurt when they are flung out from the rear of a vehicle you’re following. They’re also not a good idea to ride over. Ladders are mere obstacles to try and weave past, as you’re not going to have enough time to get your bike correctly positioned to ride straight over one. This means you have to take your life in your hands and dart into another lane and pray that you’re not going to hit the car that is now speeding up alongside you.

But I have to admit that a Queen-size mattress in the central lane had me and the other freeway users rushing for the same clear lane all at the same time. I and my bike just made it but it was close and I had to pull off at the next off ramp to calm down because it had scared me that much.

Watson On: Obstacles In The Road

Photo by Julian Nguyen

On the upside as a motorcyclist you do find some ‘interesting’ things in the road. In recent years I have stopped for a wallet complete with driving license and $76 in cash, which I think a fellow motorcyclist had lost. I handed it in to the police to return to the owner. I have found two hammers, a gremlin plush toy and would have stopped for a rather fetching baseball hat but was trying to overtake an 18-wheeler when I spotted it blowing around in my riding lane.

Many years ago I found my riding abilities really challenged when I came into a small town. There was a long downhill straight and then a sweeping left hand curve. A large truck had either ben traveling too fast or its brakes had failed. It lay on its side taking up both lanes of traffic. The driver was ok and standing by the side of the road waiting for the emergency services to arrive.

But that was only the first part of the problem. The next issue facing me was the truck had been carrying a load of live chickens. The impact had caused most of the crates on the truck to burst open and the road was now littered with chickens all trying to make a concerted dash for freedom. There were literally hundreds of them.

Watson On: Obstacles In The Road

Photo by Jennifer Louise

Trying to bring my bike to a halt amid a flurry of feathers, beaks and darting chickens was no easy task. I managed it somehow and sat there in a surreal world of escaping chickens wondering to myself why on earth I ride a motorcycle.

What is the craziest thing you’ve come across, darted around or been hit with on the road while riding?

  • Luis Fernando Ponce

    you say something like that http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=WbxGCBD-IBg

    • runnermatt

      There’s always that….

    • Benjamin Kuo

      Garfield Ave. onramp to 10 West… near my house. Hi neighbor!

  • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

    Wild turkeys can be as tall as four and a half feet, weigh as much as a sandbag, and generally cross the street in great numbers, single file so as to create a wall, generally in a blind turn, because turkey’s figure if they can see oncoming cars there must not be any.

    • Justin McClintock

      Wild turkeys are smarter than you would think. In college, I lived a few miles from campus down a pretty isolated road. I used to come hauling down the road in my truck and the turkeys would run out of the way. It’s like they knew I didn’t care and would hit them given the chance. Wouldn’t have hurt that truck. Then I got a Honda Civic instead. Come down the road in that, they’d just stand there like they knew I would hit them with that car since it’d tear the car up. Hate those freakin’ birds.

  • metalheartmachine

    A huge black gas grill in the left lane.

  • Kemal Kautsar

    just keep a safe distance ahead (5 seconds rule) and your worries wont mattress much

    • SteveNextDoor

      And if maintaining such a large gap causes someone to tailgate you, move over and ladder go around you.

      • Kemal Kautsar

        nah dude, i’m trying to insert pun, see? “mattress”? hahaha

        • Jorn Bjorn Jorvi


          • Kemal Kautsar

            dammit, i screwed up

        • E Brown

          Whoosh, KK. Big whoosh. :)

      • Adan Ova

        Just don’t chicken out and stop riding because of that

    • tobykeller

      Nothing really mattress

  • William Connor

    Not me but this may be the luckiest person on two wheels. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgqChIRJsX8

    • 200 Fathoms

      What the!

  • SteveNextDoor

    Why’d the chicken cross the road?

    Motorcycle! MOTORCYC–

  • tobykeller

    I have to dodge elephants on blind turns regularly here in Chiang Mai…

    • eddi

      If they’re handing out a prize here for best reply, I think you just won.

      When I was stationed in the Azores (Lajes Field) we were constantly warned about livestock in the road. I was driving a car then but it was still an issue. Cobblestone lanes with low stone walls and no shoulder, herds of cattle and sheep, but worst of all the oxen. We had two fatalities, one motorcyclist and one driver. The oxen didn’t survive either but they totaled both vehicles. They don’t charge, they just stand there or cross slowly right in a blind turn.

    • HellomynameisAG

      Totally you win.
      By the way, one of my favorite places in the world. Beautiful area.

  • zedro

    With a DS it’s a choice between jump it or dodge it. The mattress situation is a coin toss.

  • Strafer

    Was going down Wythe Avenue at about 15mph when a tree branch fell and hit me on the top of my helmet
    I was fine but i had to pull over and stop – the guy behind me was nice enough to stop to see if I was ok – he said it was quite a sight to see!
    Guess it was good to be hit when I had helmet on as I walk there as well -

  • msay

    Mostly animals. A deer killed my Ninja 650 a couple years ago. Turkeys and pheasants are the scariest though, they will normally walk across roads but when the car in front of me startles them, they like to fly at chest height across the road. They are some big birds and I don’t want to know what it’d be like to catch one at 50mph.

    • Lourens Smak

      I’ve had a big male pheasant that was probably scared by my motorcycle, take off from bushes on the side of the road, and he flew across the road passing just a couple of meters in front of my bike, at half a meter altitude, while I was doing 80km/h or so… that was a scary moment.

  • Michael Styer

    While riding the bike, the worst has been whole trees… riding in the Catskills one year there was a pretty nasty thunderstorm. We came up to the top of a hill where the end of the traffic was stopped and could see down in the valley where some trees had fallen and blocked the road. Cars stopped for almost a mile, but not one person out of their car. We rode up the empty oncoming lane, and the six of us parked our bikes and cleared the trees from the road within about five minutes. We got honked at and flipped off as if we were the reason the tree fell over, and our only thanks was when the municipal truck came out as we were getting ready to leave. He thanked us, talked about bikes and said the trees had been called in half an hour previous.

  • BillW

    Twice I’ve round a bend/over a hill to discover a large flock of sheep being driven down the road in the opposite direction. They’re no great respecters of lane markings. Once, it was in the rain, and the, er, “residue” left behind by their passing was very, very slippery. The herd dogs didn’t think much of motorcycles, either. While my buddy and I were pulled off on the shoulder to let the flock go by, one of the dogs came over, head down low, giving us the stink-eye. When he was about three feet away, a black sheep behind him took advantage of his focus being on us and reached over and bit him in the butt! The dog went nuts, barking at US, because clearly it was our fault.

  • runnermatt

    While following a stake-side pickup truck the passenger dumped his beverage out the passenger side window. I received a light spray of what I think was beer. Not being happy about it I considered saying something to them. Sarcastically thanking them for the cooling mist seemed most logical, but I decided that they didn’t seem like the most pleasant of rednecks and, if needed, my 250 wouldn’t be able to “get away” on the highway.

    Other than that I saw a mouse on the rear bumper of a pickup truck. The mouse jumped off at a stoplight.

  • E Brown

    One way to tell someone’s been riding a while: you no longer pull over and walk back to get a closer look at what nearly killed you.

    Most recent was this summer riding down Western Ave in Chicago,when I came across a shipping pallet lying in my lane. As Michael Styer mentioned below, you get NO love from drivers for removing a road hazard, even when it takes mere seconds. And I can’t tell you the amazed looks I’ve gotten from people I stopped and helped push their dead car off the road, like it’s the most unusual thing in the world.

    • Conrad

      That’s because Chicago’s primarily teeming with shitheads. When I ride out from Chicago to literally anywhere within 2-3 hours I have to remind myself that human beings are capable of being genuinely nice.

  • Dan

    Not live chickens, but I had a truck driver shower me with discarded fried-chicken bones.

    • jonoabq

      got the same on a bicycle ride in Virginia, not pleased

  • Chris Davis

    Maybe a ladder isn’t the craziest thing but it’s the scariest thing I’ve come across. Especially when the car ahead and to the side of you nudges it into your lane.

  • Rameses the 2nd

    I always keep an eye out for flying burittos.


  • Travis Zilch

    Cow/horse crap in rural indiana makes a nice slick spot mid corner. I’ve also ran across some wild turkeys that decide to flush from the brush just as you reach them and about take your head off as you ride by.

  • SniperSmitty

    This happens to me frequently because I ride in rural Tennessee. The most frightening experience I had was coming over a rise and being greeted by a cattle feeder blocking the ENTIRE road. I had to go off road to avoid it.
    To put this in perspective, this thing is 10 feet across and 600 pounds of cold rolled steel. Looks just like a carousel at a playground. Except waaay larger.
    I think I actually peed a little.

    • eddi

      I would ask what the @#$*&^ a feeder was doing in the middle of the road, but I do a lot of riding on rural roads. Somebody lost their tow rope there. Irrigation gear being hauled across the road at just head height was the worst I’ve seen… so far.

  • michaelse

    I like hearing these stories. I’ve seen the usual stuff in the road — ladders, stepstools, random pieces of lumber. On two separate occasions I’ve actually witnessed poorly-secured items falling out beds of pickup trucks. One was a mattress. The truck was in the far left lane, and somehow the mattress skidded across two lanes of sparse traffic without being hit. The other was a full-size refrigerator. Fortunately I was driving, not riding, and far enough behind to avoid it, so I couldn’t help but laugh as the fridge bounced down the road, plastic flying off it every which way with each bounce. On both occasions, the drivers stopped to retrieve their items.

    When I’m riding, I’ll stay far, far behind (or pass, if possible) any loaded pickups with tailgates down, regardless of how securely the load looks to be strapped down. There’s always that one in a thousand chance that the load will fall out, and you’ll be left flying towards a dinner table at 75mph, unable to react in time.

    • eddi

      I swear I once saw a pickup overloaded with someone’s worldly goods all “secured” with dental floss! OK, it was that cheap plastic twine. I had to go that way so I drifted back and put a cushion of cars between us.Even they didn’t tailgate him.

  • Slacker

    I guess my best one was coming down out of Berthoud Pass towards Winter Park (CO) and my buddy and I got stuck in traffic. Well there was a doe getting ready to cross the street and she saw a “space” (where my friend and I were) in the cars. Once the truck in front of me passed her she started making a run for it, and then realized I was about 12 feet from her before she and I both started applying the brakes… Ever heard a deer’s hooves scraping on asphalt? It’s an interesting sound.

    • Michael Howard

      “Ever heard a deer’s hooves scraping on asphalt?” It’s kinda similar to the sound of a helmet scraping on asphalt. ;)

  • Kyle

    A good friend of mine had a metal grate get kicked up by a car in front if him on the 405 in Seattle. He was on an 04 R6, and he ducked to try and miss it as it was careening towards his head. He was unable to completely dodge it, and the grate took off his right mirror and nearly shattered his visor on his helmet.

    If he wouldn’t have been wearing a helmet, it would have sliced his head in two. If he wouldn’t have ducked quickly enough, it would have taken his head clean off.

  • Roland Straylight

    Cats. The rumbling of my twin appears to cause stupid cats in rich neighbourhoods to charge into the road and flop down as I am trying to manoeuvre a laden bike into steep driveway. Conkers, why on earth do they plant horse chestnut trees so they hang over roads. Shopping trolleys are the worst though. Either inverted in the middle of the road or free rolling. Sometimes empty, sometimes full of junk, sometimes full of flaming trash.

    • HellomynameisAG

      Um do you live in Detroit?

      • eddi

        Conkers, trolley and flaming are the giveaways. Mr. Straylight is one of our English brethren.

      • Roland Straylight

        South Yorkshire. About as broke and run down as detroit, but made of small towns and villages that have grown into each other, and an almost total lack of centralisation. Still plenty of back roads through the hills and carrs (swamps) to make a motorcycle both fun and sensible transport.

  • jonoabq

    Within the last few years I’ve had near misses with a small bear, multiple deer, and a low flying turkey…the spookiest ever though was a middle of the road porcupine while doing speed limit + in southern colorado.

  • Adan Ova

    A cow, today, on a dirt road. I thought that the animal was going to stay there and I would pass by it’s side… but no. The thing just moved towards the only free part of the road, the one I was going to cross through. I pull the front brake a little harder than necessary and fell (with a passenger, for an added bonus (she’s right, thanks for asking!)). Now my hand hurts, my leg hurts, my gloves are a mess, one of the mirrors broke, I will have to change the rear brake pedal and the sliders I bought just bent (instead of, you know, protecting the bike (cheap plus time equals expensive, remember that)).

  • Blu E Milew

    I’ve had the car in front of me blow a tire (Violently), over-counter the resulting slide, and hit the left median head-on. Getting showered with tire fragments is no fun, he was alright though.

  • Ray

    I once had an airborne mattress sail over my head.

  • Ray

    I’ve also had friends go down because they came across a swarm of migrating caterpillars in the roadway on a turn. Slick buggers. True.

  • Mr.Paynter

    Mostly stupid pedestrians, here in SA guys frequently run across Highways.
    I had a balloon waft out of a McD’s once and hit me in the facea few short months in to my riding career, I got such a surprise I nearly crashed but no one found it as unfunny as I did.

  • Chester Nodier

    I don’t have a story of my own,
    but I’d like to share one from my nephew. He was a test rider for a
    manufacturer in town. He had to test a bike on a long loop of rural roads. On
    this one ride he also had a passenger. He saw a truck with something hanging
    off the side coming in the opposite direction. As he go closer, he could see a
    bit more clearly and moved to the outside of the lane to avoid it as much as
    possible. Closing speed was over 100 mph. Just before it passed he yelled,
    “duck.” It was a local metal trash recycler. His haul of scrap included
    “something” that shifted in the bed of his pickup and hung out into the adjacent
    lane. He could hear it whistle over his head. It would be bad enough to come across this death trap in a car, but on a
    bike the result could have been gruesome.

  • Ben W

    Things that have hit, or nearly hit, me here in Dallas: Wood blocks/beams, styrofoam packing from a big screen TV, large chunks of semi tire tread, trash bags, rolled up carpets… good times!

  • http://metabomber.com/ Jesse

    Worst dodge to date was several years ago, when I had to dodge a christmas tree coming off the roof of a car. Thankfully I had left a good amount of space between us, when I noticed the tree waggling quite a bit.

    That was exciting, in a bad way.

  • eric

    A black bear near Jasper, Alberta. It was just about to step out onto the road, heard my exhaust, looked up, and (seriously) sprang backwards off the asphalt. Loud pipes save lives.

  • kentaro

    I frequently wonder while I’m riding on the freeway, What would happen if I hit a spent 18 wheeler tire? Does anyone know – I ride by those things so often I’m very curious as to if I would have any chance of not flying off the bike if I hit one of those head-on.

  • chupa

    A truck I was following had a ladder become detached from it’s rack. Thankfully, it was still hanging on by a twine or bungee. I was able to change lane and slow down to put a fair amount of distance between me and the truck. The truck was able to pull over to secure the ladder before it flew completely off. It would’ve been bad otherwise.

  • HoldenL

    Just a cat. Poor cat!

    But one time, driving a car, I was behind a pickup truck that was towing a trailer holding one of those round pots that hold hot roof tar. The trailer came loose and the thing went bounding off the side of the road. The driver didn’t notice and kept going.

  • Sid Widmer

    I had a guy in oncoming traffic loose two strapped together pieces of 4′X8′X12″ rigid insulation off his roof rack at about 60 mph that proceeded to fly into my lane like a giant hockey puck. Luckily I was driving my Ford Raptor and not my Ducati Streetfighter because I was forced to run it over. I hit it hard enough to knock my truck way out of alignment. All I kept thinking was how glad I was I didn’t take my bike that day.

  • Comic Chuck Ludwig

    I had a piece of sheetrock fall from the back of a pick up once on the oh-so-smooth BQE once. It fell straight out the back, caught some air and was standing up as I was barreling towards it. Thank Zeus that it fell flat literally seconds before I road over it. I thought I was going to slam through like a road runner cartoon, with my silhouette taking a cookie cutter chunk out. Lesson learned: don’t follow trucks with ANYTHING that could come flying off.

  • Sergei Petrov
  • ClawShrimp

    The close calls since I got my Contour cam: A gull and a truck tire tread. To be honest, I didn’t even notice the tread, but when I got to work a co-worker who shares the route asked if I’d seen it. Checked the camera, and there it was. I have also had close calls with a crow, wild turkeys, a duck, a pheasant, and a family of porcupines.