Playing Tag on a Motorcycle?
Motorcycle vs Car - a No Win Scenario
I have always loved motorcycles and want to share my experience with my first one. If you are familiar with motorcycles, you know that our modern bikes are far more sophisticated and larger than the ones available in 1972. I believe the largest manufactured bike at that time had a 750cc engine. There were several versions available; the top of the line model was called a CB750-4. Back in those days, that was a monster bike...4 cylinders and a lot of power. I recall someone I worked with a few years after that owning one and parking it outside. It was a beauty!
I bought my first bike, a 1972 Honda 175cc motorcycle, called a Scrambler. It was just like the top right photo except it was a deep blue in color, not red. Today, that would be considered a wimpy bike, and back then, it was pretty wimpy too! :) But it suited me since I could ride it off road if I desired and the gas mileage was phenomenal! I know I averaged over 70 mpg!
My friend had a custom build job, sort of resembling the bike ridden by Peter Fonda in the movie, Easy Rider. It wasn't as fancy looking as that bike in the film, but my friend did have the extended front fork and high rise handlebars, and of course as much chrome as he could load on it! I don't recall the engine size, but I know when he took off, I was often left behind....FAR behind! LOL
Protecting Your Bod From Road Rash!
Not only were the motorcycles very different in the early 70’s, but the gear also. Today, you can get a lot of ‘safety’ gear…from armored jackets, pants, and gloves to full-faced modular helmets with interchangeable visors for sunny or cloudy days. Back when I started, there was very little of that. Most wore leather jackets which are better than nothing and the choice of helmets was limited. I recall getting a Bell helmet, exactly like blue one in the photo, but was a bright green with a clear 'bubble' visor that protected my face from bugs, etc.
Now I had my motorcycle, my helmet and a few more items like gloves and such and was ready to roll...but wait, I had no real clue how to ride the doggone thing! Well, I got the 'crash' course, I always hated that term especially when they used it to teach me how to ride a motorcycle! Nothing like building your confidence right from the start! Well, teaching me to ride consisted of me getting on the back of the bike, having the salesman drive a couple of blocks to a church parking lot...at least if I got killed, I was near a church!
The salesman got off and 'instructed' me on how to use the throttle, the brakes, shift, etc. Well, I knew a little since I had driven a 3 speed stick on my mom's 1965 Rambler Classic, so that clutch part didn't give me any trouble, just have to remember the clutch on my bike was on the left handlebar grip. But shifting gears was another matter. I still remember the words...1 down and 4 up! The gear shift was a tiny little lever by my left foot and had to stick the front of my boot under that to shift up. No heel-toe shifter on that bike. So, when starting up, the bike would be in neutral and thank goodness there was a little green light on the speedometer that told me I was in neutral gear. Pull in the clutch lever with my left hand, step on top of the shift level to pop the bike into first gear, the '1 down' part, give it some gas, and hopefully not end up plastered onto the church wall or having me sail through a stained glass window. Luckily, I did okay and proceeded around the parking lot actually shifting up to 3rd gear....cool! But hey, what about stopping!!! Now that is a little tricky and if you don't do it right, well, road pancake would probably be a good description of a bad stop.
You see, on a motorcycle, your most powerful brake is on the front wheel and the weaker one on the back. I never could figure out the logic to that one. If any of you have ridden a bicycle with handbrakes, you know all to well that if you use the front brake more, your bike will stop and you can go sailing over the handlebars into your neighbors car...believe me, I know! The same thing is true on a motorcycle except if you flip over the handlebars, you have a few hundred pounds of motorcycle following you!
The trick is learning how to use both brakes together to avoid doing a flip on the pavement and ending up eating your bikes rear tire! It isn't as hard as it may sound, since I didn't have any trouble at all, but you have to remember to watch the front braking!!!
That was it...my motorcycle training was over and I was on my own! About 30 minutes and I was now 'road worthy'! Sweating bullets now since I had to actually go out in traffic and drive home, I was pretty nervous. At least the streets I took were not too bad, actually went out of my way to avoid the busy 4 lane roads. I would have been happy if the police made all the vehicles on my route home disappear! But I did make it home in one piece. When I took of my helmet, it was soaking wet from sweating. I was a mess coming home from the dealer by myself. Oh well, I survived my initiation and didn't wreak havoc on the way home
Today, there is much more available for motorcycle training. Most cities offer Basic and Advanced Motorcycle Safety Courses. These are usually provided by the MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation). When I took the course, the cost was about $200. These are often one to two day courses teaching you almost everything you need to safely operate a motorcycle and handle emergency situations. The class is usually about 12 people maximum, and it is a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on riding...usually with a small bike around 250cc. I took this class when I got a motorcycle after decades of not riding. In some states, if you pass this beginner's course, you don't have to take part of the motorcycle exam for a license! Not bad, huh?
I STRONGLY suggest taking this course even if you are a seasoned rider. There were things I didn't know that could save your life or prevent serious injury!
Exploring on 2 Wheels
Flash ahead almost 1 full year! Everything went well after my crash course on how to ride my nifty little Honda. Never did have any close calls, well maybe one or two fairly close ones, nor did I have to put the bike down. Since I was going to college and it was only about a 10 min. trip, I rode all year. Now if you ever lived in Missouri, you never know what to expect half the the time in regards to weather.
In the dead of winter, it could hit 60 or more degrees once in a while, but mostly it was just plain cold! Riding a motorcycle in 15 degree weather is not my idea of fun! I bundled up so much that I could hardly move, which was not wise since it limited my vision since I couldn't t turn my head easily. I had my trusty old Bell helmet with a clear face visor, and wrapped a blue-green muffler around my neck to keep the wind from going down my neck and freezing my zadoobies off! It was not fun at all, but at least it wasn't far. Even going 30 mph in 15 degree temps is unbelievably cold. It was downright miserable and thought I have to be nuts to be doing this. Of course, I was the only nut on the road with a motorcycle...and believe me I got some strange looks from other drivers. Even in the college parking area reserved for motorcycles, I was the only one there most of the time...duh! At least there were lockers available there, so after taking an hour to put all the layers of clothing on for a ten minute joy ride to school, I took it all off, crammed it in the locker and went to class. Then spend another hour freezing my tush off putting it back on to ride home! The only good thing I can recall about riding in the dead of winter was that I was the only student out of thousands that never had to worry about finding a place to park! LOL
Well, I did this over and over until Spring finally came and the more sensible riders started coming out. The semester ended in May, and it was time for some serious riding! Whoopie!!! Well, my good friend Frank and I rode together often. We met in a singing group and when he found out I had a bike, we started exploring the Missouri country side. As I said, he had a much larger bike than me...well he was a big guy and if he rode a small bike he would look like a clown! When he hit the throttle, he took off like a rocket. When I hit the throttle, the only thing that moved was the tachometer, followed by my speedometer that seemed to move in slow motion. Many times, Frank would be so far ahead of me that I didn't see him. I was full throttle finally passing 50 mph, etc. My bike was not made for speed, that was obvious, but could go off road if I wanted. Kind of reminded me of the Tortoise and the Hare story, but in this version, the Hare won every time!!!
We rode a lot without incident except me chastising Frank for taking off like someone shot him in the butt and leaving me behind...it was all in good fun. Then one day, my luck ran out and it was not only the end of my riding for a long time, but it almost took my life too!
Man, Motorcycle vs Ford Pinto
I can recall this day like it was yesterday. I can vividly picture this whole incident in living color. The day was June 13, 1973, and I am pretty certain it was a Friday! That should have told me something.
Well, Frank and I met at his home and were going to ride over to Illinois, to a small town named Dupo...(I call it Dumpo) since that is where tragedy struck. Frank had a relative over there that rode, so we set out to meet him there and the 3 of us would spend the evening riding on the back roads in Illinois. Normally, motorcyclists ride in a staggered formation, but since the roads were narrow and visibility wasn't good, we rode single file.
Frank took the lead since he knew the area well, then I was in the middle, with his cousin riding drag to cover our butts. Before meeting Frank's cousin, we both topped our gas tanks. The road we were on really wasn't a road, at least not what I would call one. It was paved, at least, but really just a bit over a full lane...this for 2 way travel. There were no lines painted on the road and no guard rails whatsoever.
The area here was fairly hilly, not flat as a pancake farmland that most of Illinois has. Since we were just east of St. Louis, some of the hills were pretty steep. Frank, as usual, liked to take the twists and turns a little fast..one of the pleasures of riding a motorcycle. It is fun as long as you are careful. Well, soon Frank was out of sight ahead of me...again typical! LOL Well, the road was very twisty and I was going downhill. I checked my speed since there was a little gravel on the road sometimes...a biker's most hated road hazard. I was doing about 40 mph, and just coming around a curve banking right. Before I knew it, I discovered a car heading straight for me! There weren't lanes since the road was so narrow, but it was on MY side. Talk about dropping a load in my drawers! On my right, was a deep drainage ditch and beyond that a formidable cliff of rock and mud...can't go that way. On the left was a drop off, or what I called a cliff of about 50 feet or more with lots of trees at the bottom. No guardrail either. So, I had 3 choices...all of them really sucked big time! One was go to the right where my front wheel would stop instantly in the drainage ditch, but if I did manage to get over that, I would be kissing a cliff wall and eating dirt and who knows what. If I went to left, I would be following in the footsteps of Evel Knievel...flying over this ledge and sailing 50' down and ending up impaled on the top of some tree with my bike joining with my body parts. The last choice, and the one I took was to try to get around the car before I kissed her grill! Not a good choice either, but better than the other alternatives!
Well, needless to say, I didn't make it, but I gave it my best shot! I only had seconds from the time I saw the car until we would meet. I tried to lay my bike down, which means I tried to get my bike between me and the car and try to get off! Since I had so little time to react, I didn't really accomplish that, but I did manage to move to the right side more, but it wasn't enough. We collided head on, both of us going about 40 mph. Well, the last thing I remember before passing out was saying "Oh my God", holding on as tightly as I could and hearing the sound of breaking glass and some other awful sounds. I am thankful I passed out! I really didn't expect to wake up either. Head on collisions are usually a death sentence when a car and motorcycle meet!
When I did become conscious, I was laying on the ground behind the Pinto. My helmet, which WAS tightly strapped under my chin was gone and several yards away. My shoes and watch were also gone and never did find out where those went. My bike was on fire due to the full tank of gas I just got, the flames shooting 10-15 feet into the air. If I had been trapped under or near my bike, I would have been cooked like a Thanksgiving turkey. The Pinto was totaled. I couldn't believe a very small motorcycle could wipe out a car! But it did! At least I got back at Ford for the crappy Mustang I bought from them once! I was told that I had hit the windshield with my head, flipped over the car, slid down the hatchback and ended up flat on my butt behind it. I can't believe I didn't break my back or neck!
Of course, I didn't care about that at the moment because I saw my injury right in front of my ghost-white face. I went ballistic when I saw my left leg. I am glad I couldn't move due to shock and my busted up leg. My left leg was so huge and swollen that I couldn't believe it. It looked like it belonged to a Sumo wrestler. My leg got caught on the bumper when I hit, and it really got torn up on my 'man on the flying trapeze' act over the Pinto. ! I couldn't even see my leg below the knee, but man could I feel it!!! Reality started to kick in and fast! I was bleeding like crazy from all the deep cuts from the collision and multiple broken bones in my leg. I couldn't believe the pain and wanted to pass out, but couldn't. Here I was, sprawled like a gutted fish in the middle of the road! We were really in the middle of nowhere, at least as far as I was concerned, and was scared out of my mind, though my mind was totally out of it!
Frank's cousin came up right after we hit, and Frank, when he discovered we weren't with him, doubled back and saw the mess. That is the first time I recall Frank cursing. This guy is huge and strong as an ox. Nobody in their right mind would want to clash with him, but in reality, he is a pussycat! Sweet and kind, well until this day. He cursed the Pinto driver up one side and down the other. I never saw him that mad in my life! Of course, I wasn't thinking great due to shock, but later found out that the driver almost nailed Frank before she got me, and should have been looking for more bikers since most don't ride alone. If she would have hit Frank, he would be with the Lord now. Somehow he rigged 2 gas tanks to his bike so he could ride long distances without refueling. The one tank hung right on top of his legs...no wonder he was mad. But his anger was mostly what she did to me...Frank was a great friend.
Well, to make a long story short, an ambulance arrived and I was taken to Belleville Memorial Hospital. The nurse said stupidly, that I might lose my leg, so immediately told them I didn't want to stay there and that I wanted to go to a hospital in St. Louis, where I live. They stabilized me and then went to St. Mary's Hospital in St. Louis. My parents met me there and I will never forget the look on their faces, especially my mom. She was falling apart and scared. I know I was scared. in fact, terrified. About a month later, I left the hospital. The only injuries I had was a broken left leg, in several places and a broken foot. No joint damage which was totally unbelievable. I had 2 metal rods put inside my leg bones to aid healing and the worst part was that I lost so much blood. The doctors were amazed that I didn't break my neck, have severe back and head injuries and other trauma, just a broken leg! The leg was a serious injury, but I thank God that the accident wasn't worse than it was. I didn't realize how close I was to leaving this earth for good.
What happened to the Pinto driver, you ask? Well, I found out that she was DUI and didn't have a valid license or insurance of any kind. Figures! Here she almost kills my friend and plasters me all over the Illinois landscape and find this out! Well, I was furious, of course. Illinois has very tough laws, so I learned they nailed her good. I normally don't like to see that, but in this case, I wanted justice. She destroyed my bike and almost wasted me at the age of 19 just for being stupid! She even had the guts to ask me if she could visit me. I politely, of course, told her a simple, courteous, "No thanks"
I got an attorney and we sued. Don't need to say, but we won big time! With the state of Illinois' stance on drunk drivers, plus the fact she was unlicensed and had no insurance, well, it was a piece of cake to win our case, especially when the court saw the accident photos and me looking like some experiment gone wrong in the hospital. I didn't want to ruin her, but I sure wanted her to pay for what she did to me and what she put us all through.
I didn't ride for almost 30 years...just didn't want to mess with it, but in 2006, the riding bug bit me...Hard. This time I got protective gear, took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's riding course and of course, my new toy....a 2006 Suzuki Boulevard C50 cruiser with everything on it! No more wimpy bikes for me..this monster was 800cc of fuel injected power! OK Frank, it is your turn to keep up with me!