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My 50 km/h lowside: a short essay ...

Discussion in 'General Motorcycling Discussion' started by jekyll, Mar 24, 2008.

  1. 23rd March 2008 (Easter Sunday)

    I thought my poor Spada was well and truly beyond these insults. In the year or so she's been mine, she's been dropped practicing full-lock U-turns; slid into the ground practicing an emergency stop in the wet, and simply fallen on me because I misjudged the slope of a parking space. I've found neutral instead of 2nd in the middle of a slow turn, revved the tits off the engine, and fallen over. It's been backed over by an SUV, because I failed to anticipate the driver's failings.

    I've had to straighen the clutch lever with a rubber mallet and a log. I replaced the mirrors (and the new ones are looking pretty scruffy). I've bent both the foot levers back into shape on numerous occasions. The handlebar ends have twinkling grazes through the paint I hid the last grazes with.

    Accounting for all the damage makes me fell kind of guilty, actually. And on one hand I'd hope the willingness to push it a little in 'practice' has made me a better rider - but each time I've lost control of the machine is a stark reminder: consistency and reliability take time to develop. I'm still new to this.

    Today I added a shattered brake lever and a more visibly grazed muffler to the bike's traumas. I got off with some torn jeans, and two circular patches of raw meat on my right knee - just weepy and painful enough to spell out how nasty it could have been at a higher speed.

    I was following a 4WD along McCarr's Creek Rd for the first time (inland of Newport, Sydney), at what I hoped was a reasonable distance. It's a 50 zoned stretch of undulating road with some beautiful tight corners, and though I stayed to the limit, I was steering very aggressively; I made a game of carrying most of those 50 clicks through each corner as I swerved around bumps and potholes; I'd enter each turn wide and snap the bike over as quickly as I dared, exiting tight. Pushing it a bit much for an unfamiliar road, you might say.

    A particularly tight right came along (with some tricky camber and a little loose gravel) and the bike just seemed to run out of lean angle. I'm not sure if the back stepped out or the exhaust pipe touched down first. There were loud scraping noises for a few seconds as hard parts of the bike (and my right knee and forearm) did the work the tyres usually do, and then the bike was on its side a few metres away from me. I was on my feet pretty quickly and spent a few moments just being confused, before walking over to hit the kill switch.

    The couple in the car behind pulled over and made sure I was ok, and were friendly and helpful. I wheeled it out of the corner and surveyed the damage. I need the machine to get to work, so I decided to drive it back home without a working front brake. It was a public holiday after all, and I couldn't see too many other options.

    The whole trip back was a study in heightened paranoia: doing whatever I could to get clear space ahead; and popping in between bus lanes and parked cars to try to let others by at a reasonable speed; and all the while trying to navigate by the best possible route for such limping progress. Double demerits probably helped keep everyone civil, but there was precious little of that relaxed, carefree quality of the morning ride out of the city.

    On the balance, this was both another "practice failure" in that it happened while I was intentionally "pushing things a bit" to hone my skills - but it was also out on public roads, with cars around and - let's be entirely honest - going fast enough to die if I was particularly unlucky. Say I'd come off on a left-hander, and slid into the path of an oncoming 4WD ...

    It's also worth mentioning that just a few corners before I came off, I noticed a green subaru come up a little too close behind; I pulled back a bit and rode much less aggressively until I'd communicated that "Hey, it'd be ace if you could give me some room here, thanks". This was the nice couple who pulled over and made sure I was ok ... but if I'd failed to account for their following distance when I did, they'd probably have spent that time looking under their Subaru with a flashlight and throwing up.

    So, some lessons to be learnt:

    1. Being followed

    Always "deal with" tailgating as a matter of priority, as soon as a situation develops - even if this just means slowing down and being on gaurd. What I perhaps should have done, given what I was up to, is pull over and wait for all traffic to pass, but I did enough to avoid being a hood ornament.

    2. Pants.

    Road rash is potentially really fuccking nasty. If I'm going to be travelling at speed, or pursue a greater than usual risk of coming off, I should be wearing proper riding pants with some abrasion and impact resistance.

    It's a lot less convenient to wear most riding pants than jeans for a variety of reasons: they look dumb, it's a lot easier and more socially acceptable to take off a jacket than the pair of pants you're wearing, etc.

    But, given the distance, speed and type of riding I expected to encounter when I left the house I'm an idiot for not wearing my textile pants. Buy another garment or two? Maybe. Change habits? Definitely.

    3. The nice man in the bike shop

    When the nice man in Beaconsfield Motorcycle Supermarket warned me to take it easy on the new rear tyre, he knew what he was fuccking well talking about. When I thought "So, it's only a rear tyre. The bald piece of shit I've had on there has been stepping out for months in the wet," I was just being a proper moron.

    Also, it would seem that travelling for a few hundred km through gentle curves and straights doesn't scrub in the sides of a tyre well enough to go bananas.

    As an aside, I recommend Beaconsfield Motorcycle Supermarket, especially for Honda owners. They do a decent job for a good price, and I've never had the suspicion they're spoon-feeding me bullshit. They also have most parts on hand, or can get them in quickly.

    4. Motorcycling is a performance art

    I've invested a lot of time and effort in becoming as proficient a motorcyclist as possible in the last year. I've read a pile of books, taken two courses, and spent a lot of time practicing. I've racked up around 16,000 km, and the vast majority of that has been in the inner city.

    I've been somewhat obsessed, and I like to think it's all helped to make me pretty handy on a bike. I'm far more confident at tight, low-speed manouvers (aka the Carpark Gymkhana ) than most fully licensed riders; my emergency stops have been among the best in the group in both training sessions I've been to. I can stop at a stop sign, look around and take off without putting a foot down. I can change my own oil.

    In short, my ego is always ready to get me into trouble, and from what I can tell so far it's going to be a constant tension for the rest of my riding career.

    And just as with learning to play an instrument, you can learn quite quickly, if you push yourself, to do some impressive and complicated things. With some more practice, you might be able to perform within a certain comfort threshold pretty solidly and with reliable competence.

    But as motorcyclists, we're like performing musicians: we can't just get it right most of the time. It has to be good, and hopefully great, every time we perform. Like a performing musician, you can't be straining just to play the song. For a start it'll sound like shit, and as soon as anything happens to push you out of your comfort zone - say the light show has you playing in the dark, so you can't see what you're playing - it'll all come apart.

    We need to be like an old jazz bassist, swaying gently with his eyes closed as he grooves with the drummer. He's not thinking about the notes he's playing; he's practiced the piece until that's automatic. He's not worried about playing in time, because he knows he can tap out a counter-melody in 5/24 time over what he's doing - without breaking a sweat - if he wanted to show off. If something unexpected happens, the guy's got so much in reserve you just know it'll get dealt with.

    Today's fucckup, mild as the results were, was a handy reminder: as far as I've come, I'm still the kid in his bedroom who can play Stairway to Heaven four times out of five without it coming apart.
  2. And this is why an unfaired learner is the best option :)

    Its good to see you come away with something everytime. I have a friend who has yet to crash and he is certainly not a better rider for it. Cocky but nonetheless still unwilling to push his bike to the limit, as he hasn't explored that limit.

    Crashing gives every motorcyclist a sense of the real life dangers of riding, but also introduces the notion we are not made of glass, and we can push ourselves harder, because we now know where to much is. I hope you avoid bingles from this point on, but the experience cannot be beat.
  3. summary:
    keep the aggressive riding for the track
  4. Ouch, sad you came off!

    I ride mccarrs a decent amount and the lower short 50kmh section (before it turns to 60) is full of driveways, badly parked cars and submerged/risen manhole covers. Its NOT a place to go fast. If you wait a bit until it turns to 60 (the 50 zone is very short) then you can open it up a fair bit. Being a public holiday and a sunday, at most times of the day there will be serious sunday driver traffic, alot of who don't use the road often and most with giant trailers or boats or at least a back full of kids. When its like this I don't bother overtaking.. in fact I try to avoid the road on weekends during peak times due to the amount of people 'sharing' your lane around corners.

    Glad you're ok!
  5. Good Point (tm).

    I've had some hang-up about taking a 250 to the track - it was a blast during training at Oran Park but I just figured I'd wait till i got a 600+ to do proper track days. I'm going to rethink that ...

    Phizog, thanks for the advice - all good to know. Hopefully next time I'll make it to the 60 zone :)
  6. Jekyll
    Glad to hear your ok and have learned from it. From the number of spills though I wounder if you have truly learnt.
    Having previously worked in the aviation industry it was well know that the safest time in your career is just after you get your licence as you are aware of your limitations and still learning your trade. The danger periods are as you gain confidence you start to take a few more chances until one day you are bitten on the arse. The way to avoid this is to be able to recognise when you are getting a bit over confident.
    I try to apply this psychology to my riding. As a noobie returning after many years absence I have noticed that even now I start to take unnecessary risks and I think to myself I don’t need to be doing this and so I pull in the reins. Hopefully I will continue to recognise the warning signs and continue accident free for years to come
    Because I have not had a crash yet mean that I’m an inferior rider? I would have thought that it makes me a better rider but not necessarily a more skilled rider. I would rather be like your friend who is unwilling to push the limits and not explore the limits unless you’re on a track. At least he will still be a friend in years to come.
    The safest part of riding is not in skill but in attitude. I treat every situation, every vehicle, every intersection every everything as a potential danger to me and every incident that has or may occur my fault as I have to be aware of the possibilities and not let myself get drawn into those situations. It is my fault if I get into these situations.
    I don’t need to take risks to enjoy my riding. I ride for me not to impress others. Hopefully with this attitude I will be enjoying my riding for years to come.
  7. Sorry about your spill, but hey, great write-up. Almost worth it, wasn't it, just for our entertainment? I snorted out loud at your description of that poor old couple who, on some parallel universe, are now looking under their Subaru with a flashlight whilst taking it in turns to upchuck.
  8. Not at all, I have no doubt that you are an excellent rider, my friend however is not. He is as I said, extremely cocky, and whilst he does not push his bike to the limits, he rides in a fashion that would suggest he really should be or should stop riding at all. He is constantly very aggressive on the road, very much a straight line man, but often fails to utilise many things such as high lean angles despite the speed he travels at, instead relying on heavy braking to get to a safer speed. Additionally, he takes many risks around vehicles that also share the road, and rarely obeys stop signs, a very big no-no on a motorcycle. It is in this that he does not know his limits.

    My first off taught me all about maximum lean angles, and I have yet to repeat that mistake. I have found my safe limit in this respect, and will never ever exceed it again. Do you need to crash to learn those things? Of course not, you need never even come close. However, I have always enjoyed a more hands on approach to learning :grin: and even though I can aptly learn via others experiences, it cuts deeper, literally, to do these things yourself, both good and bad. My biggest fear is that my friend will be forced into a situation where he requires this knowledge, yet lacks in, and washes out as a result. I didn't mean to suggest in any way this was always the case, but it has being in my experience, and I hope your approach serves you well in any and all riding you do!

    Its always better to crash 100 times at 50, than once at 150.
  9. note to self:(if you see an '89 honda spada near you,move away from it)
    serously its good to hear your ok.we never stop learning do we?...
  10. I'm nowhere near an excellent rider but as you get older your pain threshold goes down hence my desire to go nowhere near my limits. 8-[
    Maybe one day I’ll find out what my limits are (we all make mistakes), I just don’t want to go there right now.
    As for your friend, some people have to learn their lessons the hard way. :roll:

    I just hope I don't crash at all. [-o<
  11. draggin or hornee jeans look the same as any other denim with afew more seams... I wear em to work everyday and people don't even know they're 'special jeans' :p
  12. I'll allow for you asking questions as well as jumping to conclusions. :)

    Good write-up, by the way.

    It doesn't matter how well your tyre is "scrubbed in" or warmed up - if there is gravel on top of tar and you are leaning well over you can expect to go for a tumble.

    Even around town a new tyre should be free of the preservative which makes it slippery within an hour (maybe half that) and by the time 50 kms has passed, especially if the pressure is not too high. Mind you, gradually building up is also a good idea, but make sure you do that on a good to perfect surface, not an unfamiliar road.

    Tyre heat removes the preservative. An over-inflated tyre possibly won't come up to temperature as well as a correctly inflated one.

    You didn't come off because the tyre was new, if there really was enough gravel there to help you lose traction, or if you ran out of cornering clearance without assistance from that gravel because you were travelling too fast for the conditions.

    This is the first time you have come off?

    Then if you remember the boundaries of performance you have learned, and only practise hard riding on known roads when and where it is safe, you might just be OK. ;-)


    Trevor G
  13. I haven't crashed for some time, and don't intend to again.

    I find riding within the limits to be far more enjoyable and sustaining. It's far less painful and less expensive as well.

    I think you should reconsider your "advice". Hopefully the average netrider will see past the froth.


    Trevor G
  14. Are you sure?

    Are you sure there wasn't something else involved other than exceeding the "maximum angle of lean"?

    That's quite high in the right circumstances, but with some gravel or water or oil on the road or poor tyres you could easily come off well below the practical limits of cornering "lean".


    Trevor G
  15. funny write up.

    made beating my eggs infinitely more enjoyable.

    and that's not a metaphor.

  16. Very rarely does a new rider crash by going too quick for a corner. There will be other circumstances or (mostly) rider error, but usually you can look back on your crashes and wonder how you ever crashed going so slow.

    That's my experience of it anyway.
  17. Yeah, it's a bit of a puzzle for me still. I think it's probably a combination of factors:

    • Recently fitted rear which hadn't seen extreme lean angles. I may also have abused the rear brake. I don't remember doing so, but either could cause the rear to slide around to the left, oversteering and helping to drop the right hand side of the bike until it touched down.

      Some isolated but largish pieces of gravel

      Elevation changes throughout the corner: both potholes and bumps, and a lengthways ridge between layers of road paving

      Road was off-camber

      Rider intentionally tightening the corner by steering acutely just for shits and giggles.

      Insufficient body weight committed to maintain ground clearance under the other circumstances.

      Insufficient braking before the corner and insufficient throttle through it; suspension was lower than it would have been under gentle accelaration, so hard parts touched down sooner.

    I probably need some one-on-one instruction and observation to make sure I'm actually doing what I think I'm doing, and will be booking some through Stay Upright pretty soon.
  18. That's a lot of words just to say you f*cked up, but not sure how. :LOL:
  19. Next time I crash, I'll make sure I get someone to videotape me doing it. It'll save a lot of pointless, confused explanations :)