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.
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.
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.
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.