Allan's Crash Story

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Allan's Crash Story

Almost exactly two years after I started riding motorcycles, I had my first serious accident.

I was riding my 1996 Honda Magna southbound on California state highway 33 in Ventura County on August 28, 1999 at 4:00 in the afternoon. The road was just entering some really cool-looking hills with fun, winding roads, after being straight and boring for a while. The driver of the pickup truck in front of me decided I wanted to pass him, even though I didn't. He pulled off the road a little, and I decided that I should go ahead and pass him before he ran out of shoulder. By the time I got past him, I was going too fast for the sharp right-hand turn coming up. I ended up sliding across the left lane, off the road and onto the left shoulder.

(This is called a "low-side" accident, when you and the bike lean over and start sliding. A "high-side" is when the bike kicks you out of the seat and over the handlebars. That didn't happen to me.)

I slid for a while on my face and belly, and came to a stop lying on my back on the shoulder. My gear did its job: I had on a full-face helmet with face shield, heavy leather jacket, padded nylon riding pants, heavy boots, and leather gloves. It all got scratched and dirty, but I didn't break anything and I didn't even bleed anywhere. (What's behind the motorcyclist stereotype of wearing leather? Protection. Better to let the pavement scratch up some dead cow's hide than mine.)

My back took the most damage: all my back muscles tensed up to protect my spine, just like they're supposed to. When I came to a stop I was lying on my back, and I could feel that my back hurt a lot. I didn't know how bad it was, and when you're not sure of a spinal injury, you take no chances: I didn't let anyone move me or take off my helmet until the professionals came.

The guy I wiped out in front of turned out to be a former lifeguard, so he knew the emergency-response drill. He established that I was conscious and coherent, could breathe, could wiggle my fingers, and didn't have broken limbs. He sent someone away to get help, and generally ran the show very well. Ultimately the cops arrived, and an ambulance, and a helicopter. (This was in the boonies where the drive to a hospital would have taken over an hour.) I was flown on a back board to Ventura County Medical Center, where they established that I hadn't actually broken or dislocated anything. Just muscle and soft tissue damage.

My wife drove the six hours from home to the hotel where I stayed after they let me out of ER. (I already had a hotel reserved in the area because I was planning to stay there overnight anyway.) We tried to figure out a way to get the bike home the next day, but it just wasn't going to happen. I couldn't drive, and we couldn't get the car configured with a trailer hitch and rent a trailer before the close of business. We drove home instead, and a week later (Labor Day) I went back to get the bike from the yard where it had been towed.

This was the best ("least-bad") fly-to-the-hospital motorcycle accident you can imagine: no serious injuries, no blood, awake and aware the whole time, etc. A lot of things didn't happen: I didn't flip or tumble, the bike didn't spin around and hit me as we slid, there was no oncoming traffic, and I didn't overshoot the shoulder and slide down the embankment. I did get a faceful of dirt: somehow my face shield opened a little and acted as a shovel, scooping dirt inside the helmet. When I stopped I was lying on my back, and I had about an inch of dirt and gravel on my face. I must have looked pretty bad, but I could tell I wasn't too bad off.

Most of the accessories on the bike broke off or were damaged: the windshield, lowers, and both saddlebags were all toast. A lot of exterior parts of the bike got scratched and can't be repaired, only replaced. The left front fork tube was partly ground away, and the new Fat Tank got dented on both sides. I don't know how the bike went down on both sides; it must have bounced or kicked somehow. There is scratch damage to lots of stuff: the exhaust pipes, side covers, turn signals, even the headlight and speedo and tach capsules. That was all cosmetic, not structural.

The worst structural damage was that the steering stop buckled. This is a metal part welded to the frame that stops the front wheel from turning too far. This part separated and buckled, and put pressure on the fork lock mechanism, which in turn pressed on the front fork so it was hard to steer. Also, the front fender got bent. Even Magna owners might not know this: there's a steel brace hidden under that fender that stiffens the front end, and when it bends it stays bent. With this kind of damage, I couldn't have ridden away from the scene even if I wasn't hurt.

All the damage is fixed now. I want to put in a good word for Progressive Insurance. When the bike shop and I determined there was enough damage to warrant a claim, I called them. This was a Friday morning. By Friday afternoon they had sent an appraiser to the bike shop, and the appraiser gave the service manager a check for the estimate (minus my deductible) on the spot. I consider this to be very good claims service! When the shop found more damage (they missed the buckled steering stop the first time), Progressive paid up promptly on the amended claim.

Also, a good word for the folks at Honda of Milpitas for pulling the bike through. Pete, the service manager, did right by me.

At this writing (after three months) I am still a little sore, but nothing to complain about. Besides the muscles that run along the spine, I bruised all the same muscles you're eating when you have ribs for dinner. Those just need time to heal; big doses of Motrin and some chiropractic care are the order of the day. I mainly feel it when I go to bed at night: lying on my side and relaxing causes those muscles to complain, and in the morning are sore for about 10 minutes before I get warmed up.

Of course this whole thing has kind of spooked me, and also my wife. This isn't a career-ending injury or anything: we're both still riding. But she's leery of letting me range too far from home any more. Not for a little while anyway. And I'm riding somewhat less aggressively than I did before.


This page was last edited April 26, 2008.