Poor poor Helen

I always thought that if I were to wipeout on my motorcycle I would have some warning.  My experience riding Shelley II in California taught me that I would always know in advance if I was about to drift over the centre-line or onto the shoulder after taking a corner too fast. 

A week ago today, I went down on Helen.  I had no warning whatsoever.  One second I was in complete control of the bike, the next I was down, skidding along the asphalt.  I went over so fast that at first I didn’t even realize what had happened.  I was lying on the road in a state of pure confusion.  I had just slid about 15 feet.  At some point, I must have become separated from my bike because it was lying on its side a few feet behind me.  It wasn’t until the engine cut out in a chocking sputter that it sunk in: I had wiped out.

<IMG src="/images/14229-13631/Knee.jpg”><IMG src="/images/14229-13631/knee2.jpg”>

I felt no pain.  My first thought was of Helen.  How badly was she damaged?  When I stood up, I noticed that my left knee had trouble supporting my weight.  I looked down at my leg.  My jeans were ripped and blood was oozing from my knee.  I ignored it for the time being.

I went to  Helen and pushed her upright and walked her to the side of the road.  I could tell right away that something was wrong with the steering column.  People started coming up to me, asking me if I was alright.  I guess it must have looked and sounded pretty spectacular.

The wipeout happened right outside the entrance to the underground parking lot of my building.  To exit the parking lot, you climb a steep ramp.  When you get out, you have to turn right and then left, because the entranceway to the parkade is at the bottow of a one-way U-shaped driveway (you exit on the right side of the U).  I had come out this way dozens of times before with no problem.  I had been riding fast, but not recklessly fast.  I had been going somewhere between 35 and 40 km/h.  I had come up the hill, and leaned right.  It was when I had leaned left that the front tire slid out and I went over on the left side.  There wasn’t enough time for me to even experience a split second of feeling unbalanced.

I retraced the course I had taken, looking for something that could explain how I could crash so unexpectedly.  Near where I had first gone down, I found a sheet of acetate (the kind used with old-fashioned overhead projectors) lying on the road.  It was certainly conceivable that hitting that piece of plastic would cause me to lose traction.  But I wondered how something so small could cause such a drastic loss of traction.

I would later find out from John (my mechanic at The Bike Yard) that small slippery things are capable of causing disasters because they get stuck between the tire and the road and get pushed along.  John has seen people go down after hitting a single wet leaf on the road.  They stick to the front tire at the point of contact with the road.  A three inch slippery leaf might as well be 30 feet long.  The same thing could easily have happened with that piece of acetate.

Near the acetate, I also found a big chunk of my windshield, and realized that I had snapped it cleanly in two.

<IMG src="/images/14229-13631/windshield.jpg”>

I put Helen into Neutral and got her started easily enough.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t kick her down into first.  The impact had bent the shift pedal inwards so that it’s downward motion was obstructed.  Also, when the handlebars were pointing forward, the front tire was actually pointing to the right.  There were some new scratches on the left side and the fairing was looser than it had been.  But “luckily” Helen’s previous owner had already gone down hard on the left side so there was really no new cosmetic damage.

Although I wanted to get her fixed right away, I had to park her until after my anatomy exam on Friday.  For most of the past week I’ve had a horrible limp and my knee has been stiff like an arthritic old man’s.  I had a full range of motion so I was reasonably sure that the pain was the result of a soft tissue injury and not torn ligaments, so I elected not to get it checked out.  As I write this, the pain in my knee is mostly gone.  In fact, I have just returned from Michigan where I participated in MedWAR, which is like “Amazing Race” but for medical students.  It required many hours of physical exertion and my knee took it rather well (although Advil and I became good friends).

Instead of going to the Pub after writing the exam on Friday, I took care of my baby.  I took off the shift pedal and beat it back into shape with a hammer.  I gave her a trial run, and was happy to find that I could successfully shift gears.  Next I turned my attention to the steering column.  I phoned John, my mechanic at The Bike Yard, and told him what had happened.  He told me not to take it to a dealership under any circumstances.  He said they’d change my steering forks, front brake disk, etc., and by the time they were finished it would cost me $1500.  He told me to instead drive up against a wall so that the front tire was braced and then turn the handlebars towards the wall until the wheel and handlebars were back in alignment.  This is exactly what I did and the effect was magical.  Apart from only having half a windshield, Helen is now back in great riding condition.

My motorcycle gear took a beating though.  My helmet has new scratches on it.  My beloved black leather biker jacket has scuff marks on it.  The fibreglass knuckle protectors on my gloves are significantly worn down.  But thanks to my protective gear, I came out unscathed except for my left knee.

<IMG src="/images/14229-13631/Glove2.jpg”><IMG src="/images/14229-13631/Glove.jpg”>
Left and Right glove.  After seeing my gloves, I’ve decided that if there is one piece of protective gear that I would never ride without it would be gloves.  My knuckles would have been destroyed.  I would rather ride naked with gloves than fully kitted up but gloveless.

Final Thought: If you’re still using overheads, switch to PowerPoint goddamit!


One thought on “Poor poor Helen

  1. Just what a mother loves to read to inspire further confidence in motorcycles. You need all your body parts to be a doctor I thought.

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