Friday, December 04, 2009

The Time I Crashed My Uncle's Motorcycle

My family moved to Germany for a couple years when I was sixteen. Our house in a horrid suburb of Minneapolis sold well before we were actually ready to move. My dad was already overseas, working, getting living arrangements in place and waiting for our stuff to arrive so my mom, brother, dog and I could fly over.

Since our house was sold, on closing day we relocated to a hotel for a couple days. I was surprised at how torn up I was about leaving town; seriously, I hated that stupid town. In hindsight, of course I was sad, I was leaving behind a bunch of friends. Having moved a great many times now, I've learned that I always make a bunch of new friends right before moving. So I was finally starting to feel accepted, there were some girls I liked, and I'd managed to get into a band (Dead Reckoning, we were called). I had to leave all of that behind. At the time, though, I couldn't figure out what I was so worked up about. After all, I'd been wishing we'd move out of that town since we'd moved back from Sweden two years prior.

Anyway, we moved out to my extended family's Zombie Apocalypse Survival Compound in Wisconsin for a couple months before heading to Deutschland. If you think I'm kidding, I'm not. Not much, anyway. My grandparents' house was, for all intents and purposes, a bomb shelter.

Which was pretty awesome and really explains a lot about me.

So, anyway, out in rural Wisconsin, my family's compound had about 12 acres of land on which to goof around, and I had very little to do except for mowing the lawn (a two day task). But in the pole barn was a glorious thing.

A motorcycle.

It was a 1960-something, blue and chrome Yamaha something or other, with outrageously loud exhaust and a knobby back tire (the front tire was original, I think). It had a two-stroke inline twin motor (pretty small) with a kickstarter.

I was an avid bicyclist, so the transition to a motorcycle wasn't very difficult. Plus, I had learned to drive on a stick-shift Ford Escort, so working the clutch held no mysteries for me.

I rode the hell out of that bike. If I wasn't mowing the lawn (a two-day task, remember) or digging through the wonderland of weird old stuff in the pole barn, I was riding that motorcycle. I got pretty good at maneuvering it, although I didn't know about counter-steering, so a lot of my turns were much wider than they could have been. I wasn't afraid to lean though - I scraped the pegs on the ground a lot.

In addition to not knowing about counter-steering, I also didn't know about not braking while turning. Which I think, although I'm not 100% certain, was the cause of my crash.

One day when the whole family was out, I was - of course - riding the motorcycle. As I rode past my cousins at about 25 mph, all of a sudden the Yamaha was just... gone. I think I had started to turn left, and I now believe I high-sided it. Happily, I was off-road on long, soft, cushy grass.

So, there I was, going 25 mph with no motorcycle under me. I had exactly enough time to realize I had crashed before I hit the ground, so the experience wasn't scary so much as very very surprising. I landed some distance from the bike, and immediately popped up again - chock full of adrenaline - and ran back to the bike to shut it off. The back wheel was still spinning. That was when I learned that a crash sounds like WHHHRRRRRRRRR-lub-lub-lub-lub-lub-lub.

My cousins, all of whom witnessed my Evel Kneivel moment, all together yelled something along the lines of "Are you OK?" One of them informed me I had flown off the bike. I didn't believe her, because the whole thing had happened so quickly, even though it had been a long walk back to the bike. My brother Noodles came running up to me, extremely upset, and sternly told me I needed to be more careful. He was 7.

I yanked the bike back up off the ground by the handlebars. The weight of the bike amazed me. It didn't seem that heavy usually! As I pushed the bike back to the pole barn, I noticed the handlebars were a little out of whack.

After all that, I inspected myself. I had scrapes running up the undersides of both forearms (I've still got a scar on one side), and my hands were tore up (no gloves), but I thought I was otherwise OK. The next day I would discover I had rubbed my legs raw under my jeans in a couple places, and I had quite a few sore muscles, but for the time being I was still buzzing from adrenaline and a new panic: what if I wasn't allowed to ride it anymore?

The threat of not being able to ride FAR outweighed my concerns about my injuries. I needed a plausible story. Fortunately, my mom hadn't been around to see the crash. She was out grocery shopping, I think.

So I went into the hillside bunker and asked my grandma if she had any big band aids because, you see, I'd tipped over the motorcycle while going five miles per hour. So, no need to panic, but maybe we should cover these huge, bleeding scrapes on my arms before I wreck the carpet.

Young people are stupid. Case in point - I thought that was a pretty slick lie. As if my cousins weren't bouncing up and down with anticipation to tell everyone I'd just wiped out and had a perfect three-point landing on re-entry.

Anyway, my grandma dug out some gauze and we wrapped up my arms. After a while, my mom came back and I told her, my arms now cleaned, wrapped and only a little gory looking, that I'd tipped over going five miles an hour. To her credit, she let me think she bought the lie, and just told me to let her know if anything started to really hurt.

I didn't ride the next day, because I was one sore, scraped up proto-biker, but the day after that I did. The handlebars were all out of whack, but everything else on the bike seemed fine. The next weekend, my uncle (who had experienced his own spectacular wipeout when he was my age on the same bike) straightened the bars and checked the bike over for any other damage. Then he basically told me not to kill myself and get back to it.

My uncle is awesome.

Looking back on that experience, two things amaze me. One is how stupid I was - I wasn't wearing a helmet (started wearing it the next time I rode, though), and the only reason I wore jeans was because the motor kicked off a lot of heat. The other thing is how lucky I was - I wasn't wearing a helmet, and the only damage I experienced was a bunch of scrapes.

I learned quite a bit from that experience. First, you won't expect it when you crash. Second, proper clothing can save a lot of pain and explaining. Third, "is the bike OK?" will probably be the first question any biker asks after wrecking. We can't help it.

And the last thing I learned was that nothing is as scary as the thought of not being able to ride. Rubber side down, folks.


Danny said...

Any biker or bicyclist for that matter that doesn't ask if the bike is okay right after a crash is seriously hurt. Asking that question is generally a sign that they are going to be okay at some point. I saw a mountain bike crash once where the guy didn't ask. In fact he was knocked unconscious. He woke up three days later and didn't remember who anyone was for a month. He had serious balance issues after that and never rode again. No helmet in that case either.

cpa3485 said...

Great story and good for the lesson portrayed. I like it that you said that the wreck was a total surprise. How very true I think in most cases. And I laughed when ygr first thing you wanted to know was how the bike was. Been there!

Lucky said...

Danny - Yikes. Head injuries are scary.

I am acquainted with a guy who crashed, apparently, and hit his head. He woke up in the ditch, alone, a small distance from his bike, wondering where he was and how he got there, and who was he again? He figured that the phone in his pocket must be his, so he called one of the names in the contacts list and got a ride from an extremely freaked out friend. About a month later he was back to normal, apart from being a bit traumatized from the experience. Lucky guy.

cpa3485 - Thanks!

Allen Madding said...

I really like your uncle. My kinda guy.


irondad said...

The bomb shelter would explain a lot. Were you in it when the bomb hit?

Universal question after any disaster. Are you okay?

Nice try at the crash story. Never worked for me, either!

Lucky said...

Allen - yeah, he's good people. I don't get to see him nearly often enough.

Irondad - Man, I was the bomb.

Sorry, couldn't resist.

irondad said...

No, it was my own fault. Groan.... I had to go and leave you the opening. I keep forgeting about that sharp brain under the Viking horns.

Racing Helmets said...

Hi friends,

I saw your site and read your nice story where you share your experience with us, finally, I think use of helmet is most important when ride motorbike. By using this we can avoid motorcycle crashing. Thanks a lot.