There was a time in my life, late last century, when I lived and worked in the bustling cosmopolitan city of Sydney. We lived in the Inner Western suburb of Lilyfield, and I worked all over the city as a freelance Television Technical Director. My chosen ride at that time of my life was Robin Hood, the 1982 BMW R100RT that you can see in the photo above. Robin Hood was so named because the stunning green paint scheme was a colour known as Sherwood Green, and because it was always robbing me to support poor struggling motorcycle shops, in particular the local BMW dealer, where I maintained a first name relationship with the spare parts manager, and an ongoing back-order list of parts which, in the words of the spares manager, “we never hold in stock because they never wear out or break”!
Robin Hood was hellishly heavy, 260kg, almost as wide as a car, ponderously slow, and prone to stopping at inopportune moments, or just flatly refusing to start. It put out a whopping 51kW when new, but was probably lucky to be producing half that amount when I bought it. Its history was hazy, it had been thoroughly flogged by its previous owner(s), and it had been poorly maintained. I bought it inspite of all these things and spent the next three years slowly replacing or rebuilding pretty much everything on the motorcycle as the need arose. Like many decisions in my life it was one made with the heart and not the head, and like all of my motorcycles I loved Robin Hood and we formed a relationship made up of almost equal parts admiration and frustration.
Robin Hood and I had many wonderful adventures riding the city streets, and a surprising number of the footpaths, of Sydney. We also had some moments that were memorable for other reasons. One such moment has lodged itself firmly in my brain, and I swear that the following story is true in its entirety, or at least as true as I can recall!
There was an intersection not far from my home which I commonly rode through on my way to my various work places, it was on one of the major thoroughfares from the Inner West into the CBD, so was a very busy intersection traversed by all manner of vehicles. It was a gentle decline approaching a tight right turn onto a bridge to cross the old railway freight lines. I had ridden around this corner more times than I could remember, but on this particular morning, the Universe had other plans in store for the two of us.
I was running late for work on the morning in question. I would love to say that this was incredibly rare and uncharacteristic for me, but that would be an outright lie. Being unmarried, no children, no mortgage, and living in the inner city meant that had I had precious little time for the mundane realities of life, like getting out of bed and getting to work on time. So as I approached the intersection my mind was distracted by the colourful and original excuse I would be delivering to my colleagues when I finally arrived at work. It was OK, we were only producing television programs, it’s not like anyone’s life was depending on us.
As I approached the intersection I set-up the brakes and started gearing down, 4th, 3rd, now squeezing on the brakes, back to 2nd. I released the front brakes, looking now through the curve to see how much traffic was lining up at the next intersection, I tipped Robin Hood into the turn, and then it happened!
It is that strange moment when things are going very quickly, yet somehow, going very slowly at the same time. As soon as I felt the front wheel slide I knew that it was only going to end one way, the only question was how much it was going to hurt. Robin Hood’s 260kg hit the road accompanied by the sound of splintering fibreglass and the grating of metal on bitumen. Our sweeping curved trajectory of only a moment earlier was now a straight path with only one ending, the gutter. Robin Hood and I parted company as we slid across the road, thankfully I was at the back. We were both sliding on our right sides and I braced for the impact with the gutter. As I reached the gutter my speed had slowed to the point that my knees took the impact with the gutter and my momentum actually stood me up on the footpath and I was able to stop just before hitting the brick wall that was looming ahead of me. I turned around expecting to see Robin Hood lying in a smoking forlorn heap in the gutter but was met with a much, much stranger sight, no motorcycle at all!
In utter confusion I turned my head to the left and there was Robin Hood. Not lying in the gutter as expected, nor even on the footpath. Robin Hood had picked itself back up on impact with the gutter and with the momentum that its 260kg still maintained it was continuing East along the road towards the traffic waiting at the next intersection. “Come back here” I screamed to no avail. Vehicles behind Robin Hood were braking and swerving to avoid the riderless motorcycle, pedestrians had halted their usual city rush to watch the unfolding spectacle, and I too watched in what seemed like a waking dream, no, hang on a minute, a waking nightmare.
Robin Hood had been maintaining an impressively straight path within its lane but now as the speed dropped further it began to wobble, then to veer to the right. “Indicate damn you” I shouted as my motorcycle performed a lane change in front of the watching crowd. Would it make it to the other side of the road and stop there, or was its intention to ride off into the morning traffic and leave me where I was? No was the answer. Robin Hood had finally decided that the passenger door of a stationary car was the best place to end its one taste of true freedom, and it ended with a bang, or to be more precise, a stomach turning crunch and screeching of metal.
As I’m sure you can imagine getting hit by a motorcycle during your morning commute can come as a surprise, getting hit by a riderless motorcycle is probably slightly more disconcerting. I watched as the driver got out of his car and surveyed the scene, he looked around his car, no rider. He looked under his car, no rider. He even walked to the brick wall on the edge of the footpath and looked over the wall to see if I had been thrown off the bridge by the impact, but still no rider. When he spotted me some 300 metres away on the other side of the road his look of confusion changed to a look of, well, you can probably guess.
So why did I crash? Well the obvious answer was that there was diesel on the road surface, diesel left by a truck or bus as they took the right hand turn. But why did I really crash?
One reason was a lack of Observation, not seeing what was in front of me. Once I hit the diesel I knew it was there, but I should have been aware of it well before I reached the curve. Another reason I crashed was because I was distracted. I was thinking about being late for work, not thinking about what I was doing, not using a Riding Plan. Both of these skills are crucial to staying safe when riding and would certainly have made for a different outcome if I had been using them on this morning.
It might sound strange to say it, but I am grateful that I had this experience because it taught me some lessons that I needed to learn, but the only way we can learn from what we experience is by being able to recognise the part we play in what ever happens to us, and by taking responsibility for our own actions. Sometimes we just have to learn our lessons the hard way.
The Perpetual Motorcyclist
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