By Gerde Applethwaite
I was watching the Olympics a while back and the crashes of the downhill skiers caught my eye. The slo-mo replays of somebody biffing it on a downhill run have some resonance with a motorcycle get-off. You got to see the way in which the body automatically, in the absurdly brief time available, attempts to set up for the fall. Arms and legs splay akimbo but there is often just enough time to put out your hands or feet in a defensive posture.
The yootoobz be full of slo-mo viddys of motorcycle get-offs. They run the gamut from CCTV of Chinese scooter accidents on busy streets to wobbly Isle of Man TT high-sides or the fixed camera setups of weekend riders who go wide out of a turn on Mulholland. There is a similarity between many of the bike get-offs and the downhill skiing fly-offs. Basically, in both you have yer low-sides and yer high-sides. The low-side skiers (if they maintain consciousness and are fortunate enough to remain unbroken) are attempting to push against the slope in a braking maneuver. The high-side skiers, when slowed down enough, often have the look of an old slapstick cartoon where the poor boffo is swimming in air. Also the high-siders will put an arm down to broach the distance between themselves and impending doom. Its an automatic reaction – skiers do it, skateboarders do it, bicyclists and motorcyclists too. If you watch professional football you will all too often see a receiver on the edge of the field catch a pass and then step one foot out of bounds to maintain balance. The pass is ruled ‘not a reception’ because you need 2 feet inbound at the time of the catch. The better players have trained themselves to drag that second foot keeping 2 feet inbound and just taking the fall. It is counter intuitive to just take the fall. The football players earn 6, 7 and 8 figure salaries and train for this sort of stuff constantly but on the day they will still, instinctively, put that foot out to brake the fall or prevent it.
I recently wrote a post about road rash and one of the pieces of information I decided not to include in that post (not because I deemed it uninteresting but in a rare attempt at keeping the post brief) was Dr. Flash Gordon’s* information about the ways in which infection can cause serious permanent damage to your body. If you have a full thickness road rash on your hand or you have torn up the area around a joint be very careful; infections consequent to this can cause permanent damage to your hand. So there you are in mid-air in the midst of your soon-to-be expensive high side as you and your CBR part company and you reflexively (in the micro-seconds afforded to you) stick one or both of your ungloved hands out toward the approaching pavement. You snap a wrist or two, tear open the skin and then pivot onto your t-shirt covered shoulder; some sliding …. and you stop – let’s say partially under a parked car. Just for the purposes of full disclosure I should say that something similar happened to me. The details are a bit different: it was a parked semi-tractor trailer, it was raining, and I was all ATGATT’d out but the sense is the same – one second you are riding blissfully along and then somehow you are the star of your own brief, slo-mo, get-off cartoon.
In a low-side you will quite often not have time to pull your leg from between the side of the bike and the pavement. This is an ugly sandwich. Its the luck of the draw whether or not you break your ankle and mangle toes. It really depends upon where your leg just happens to be, the shape of the bike, the terrain of the road bed and, not least, your foot wear. The skiers often have time and free room to do that kicking, braking, steering motion but even if you could it will be of little avail to you with one leg trapped under your bike. Maybe in your low-side the bike slides out ahead of you or off to the side – that could be lucky. You see it on the race track frequently enough – Rossi slides on his back at 80 MPH and lives to sign autographs later that day. I mean it could be lucky if your chosen path did not lead toward an impact with something that will mangle you. Good luck. I find it somewhat comical when I see a guy on a sport bike wearing shorts and a t-shirt but he has frame sliders installed on his bike. He is aware that a crash might happen and he has taken the time to install something that will help minimize the damage to his costy fiberglass but he has thought not one wit about what will happen to his body in the same scenario. DOH.
Women, you’re not out of this either. You think your jeggings and cute boots will protect you in a crash? It is to laugh. The pressure on women to look good while doing anything and while being anywhere is crazy-making. It discombobulates any reasoned approach to the purchase of riding gear. When I commuted to work by motorcycle I wore an old Air Force flight suit, helmet, gloves and boots. I kept a pair of shoes at work. My commute was fully suited out in protective gear but underneath I wore my work clothes. A Joe Rocket Survivor Suit is my current kit and it does the same duty. I really didn’t care all that much how I looked on the bike although I like the look of the Joe Rocket. I wasn’t out there to look gooey nectar on my commute. These days I am astonished at the number of women who wear clothing that will do them less than no good when they are riding. She wears the helmet and a pair of leather garden gloves and no other protective gear. Believe me they will cut those pricey jeggings off of you in a heartbeat in the ER.
I used to like one particular Italian restaurant in San Francisco’s North Beach. The first time I showed up there to meet friends I was confronted just inside the front door by the maitre d’ who politely explained to me that there was a dress code and that my flight suit was not appropriate. I laughed and told him that I expected to check it and then started to doff the suit. Underneath I was wearing clothing acceptable to management and everybody was happy. It is possible to plan an evening out on the town and still wear riding gear that will help keep you safe – they are not mutually exclusive. The maitre d’ got to know me and would make a comic flourish out of welcoming me when I came in. It was fun for us both. Yes, my boots were a bit out of the norm but it became my look. Trust me, you can wear your motorcycle boots to the opera and as long as everything you are wearing is black you will get away with it just fine (note: boots with lotsa buckles can make a sound that is annoying to those sitting next to you.)
Take a look at the online videos of riders going down and make some reasoned decisions about how you want to look when you are the one staring up at the sky after a crash. Do you want to be she who is wearing very little riding gear and has to be carted off to the ER or do you want to extend the chances that you will not be carted anywhere and wear the ATGATT? There are ways to wear the gear that won’t inhibit your social life or your look.
*Note: Dr. Flash Gordon’s book Blood, Sweat and 2nd Gear: More Medicine for Motorcyclists is available from White Horse Press.