On a recent trip to Hawaii, I rented a Harley Ultra for my wife and I to tour Oahu on. Not a bad ride, but certainly not as maneuverable as my Triumph Thunderbird 1600 ABS. During my ride, I wanted to visit the Punchbowl National Cemetery so off we went. Enjoying the ride, I missed the turn and found myself going up a very challenging road (at least for a Harley) on a major hill named Tantalus. It wasn’t too long before I was negotiating the hairpins on a large Harley with a passenger and since I was already well into this, I decided to push on rather than turn the monster around on a narrow winding road. All seemed to be going quite well.
Well into the journey, I came upon a left hand hairpin curve. To the right, there was a car pulled over against the guardrail … the driver was sightseeing at a non-sightseeing curve. Between the edge of the road and the guardrail, there was a 2 -3 foot strip of grass. I slowed and as I approached, the dummy in the car put it in reverse then threw it into drive and pulled out in front of me. Not able to go into a blind left hand hairpin curve, I opted for the right. I narrowly missed the ass end of his car but was headed towards the edge of the pavement. The big Harley barely caught the edge, slipped off and tipped, jamming itself between the roadway and the guardrail. We both hit the pavement, but I was moving so slowly at that point (under 5 mph), there was no road rash at all. Unfortunately, my wife’s left leg took the brunt of the weight and she ended up with a torn ACL. The bike only suffered minor scratches on the left saddlebag.
A minute later, the guy who pulled out in front of me must have seen us lying in the road and he stopped and backed up. His first question was “Are you alright?”. His first statement was “I didn’t see you”, which is just another way of saying “I wasn’t looking”. Stupid, dumb cager! Of course, there was another dummy involved in this preventable accident … me.
Here are the things that I could have done to avoid this, proving that a lot of experience does not always translate into ongoing common sense:
- On a new bike (to me) I should not have been on such a challenging road. I should have paid attention to where I was, not missed my turn and therefore avoided Tantalus all together.
- Once on the road, I did the right thing and took my time, so I wasn’t trying to emulate riding The Dragon one up on a crotch rocket. However, when I saw the driver who was illegally pulled to the side of the road put his car in reverse, I should not have slowed … I should have stopped.
- Finally, as I played this back in my mind (over and over), I realize that as soon as I knew I was headed towards the rail, I FOCUSED ON WHERE THE BIKE WAS GOING, NOT WHERE I WANTED IT TO GO. This is so basic and I have been doing it correctly for years. However, in a tight situation, your brain has a mind of it’s own (get it?) and unless you fight it, it will take over.
So, the moral of this story … no matter how experienced you are and no matter how good you think you are, you really do need to practice the basics from time to time. In this case, I have been really focusing on looking where I want to go, even though this is normally an automatic reflex. I am, in a way, reinforcing the “muscle memory” in my admittedly weak brain. At the end of the day, we were very lucky and the silver lining is that this will make me an even better rider.
PS – another silver lining here … I was so depressed about this accident, I had to go out and buy a new 2014 Gold Wing