Yesterday, Friday, I was riding my Suzuki DR650SE through some residential streets on the way to the mechanic’s shop; they had my old van.
Anyhow, I was going down a perfectly straight stretch of road at the posted 30 MPH speed limit, oddly enough. Traffic was light, just a couple of approaching vehicles in the other lane. One of them was an old beat-up pickup truck with an old man in it, (older than me!).
This sucker turned left in front of me, without leaving nearly enough room. The SOB (sweet old boy) had the temerity to wave at me, as if to say “oops! – my bad!”.
I wasn’t precisely expecting his maneuver, but I was paying attention. I instantly hit the brakes and downshifted; the back wheel locked up for a fraction of a second, and danced to the right a little. Then the rear end of the truck passed in front of me so I had somewhere to go; I got off the brakes, cussed a little bit and went on. I was seriously annoyed that I had locked up the back tire – the tires are new, and I hate wasting rubber.
A motorcyclist is helped somewhat on reaction time by the fact that most of the time, your hands and feet are already on the controls. I can put my brakes on quicker on my bike than I can in my car.
What kept this incident from being a visit to the emergency room was the fact that I was paying attention to my surroundings. Wool-gathering while riding will get you killed – and I wasn’t wool-gathering. Also in my favor – I knew what to do without the need to think about it. I’m an experienced rider, and I’m comfortable with my bike – I knew how it would react to an emergency stop situation, because I had practiced emergency stops with it shortly after I got it. (This is a good idea for any motorcyclist – practice emergency stops – carefully).
Had I been half a second slower to react, I’d have hit him. If he had commenced his turn a fraction of a second later, I’d have hit him. If I’d been in a car, I probably would have hit him. Also note the slow speeds. If this identical event had happened with me traveling at, say, 60 mph, I would have surely gotten to see the inside of an ambulance. But I was only going 30 mph, to begin with.
Here’s the deal. A motorcyclist will face this sort of incident, probably several times a year or more, especially if you ride in traffic a lot (which I don’t). It pays to be alert.
Oddly enough, today at lunch I happened to learn about another motorcycle accident, which happened about a week ago.
The time was around 10:30 PM, on an unlighted country highway, at a ‘y’ intersection. A motorcycle rider, aged 27, was proceeding down the straight leg of the ‘y’ at high speed, reputedly over 90 mph. Another vehicle was sitting at the branch of the ‘y’, at a stop sign. He pulled out, and the motorcycle hit him broadside. The motorcyclist died at the scene.
I don’t know whether the vehicle that pulled out got any citation or not. I hope not, though. First, it is extremely difficult to judge the speed and range of a motorcycle that is coming towards you at night; with only one headlight on the vehicle, you don’t get the visual cues you do for an oncoming car. Second, the driver had no reason to expect anything to be approaching at twice the posted speed limit. The driver probably thought he had plenty of time to get out into the other lane.
The rider violated quite a few common sense safety rules. Speeding. In the dark. “It’ll never happen to me” syndrome. Not anticipating potential problems. Shucks, an armadillo would have taken this guy out – at 90 mph, he was outrunning his headlights. By that I mean, if a brick wall got in front of him, he could not possibly have stopped before hitting it – he wouldn’t have seen it in time. I mean no disrespect for the dead, but this poor young man died from his mistakes.
Motorcycles are a lot of fun, efficient, there’s lots of good things about them and I love them. But the learning curve is where things like this happen.
My sympathies to the family.