You Can't Plan Your Crash
Motorcycles ARE inherently dangerous. Like most things, not nearly as dangerous as people who are highly afraid of them would believe, but dangerous nonetheless. When a friend or loved one opposes your riding a motorcycle, it always comes from a good place. They are just worried about you, and don’t want you getting hurt doing something they deem unnecessary. These people also tend to imagine every motorcycle accident as something from an action movie - a 110mph fireball on the highway with sparks flying and the rider tumbles like a ragdoll and dental records are necessary to identify the rider.
But the truth is, I have read numerous reports that list a very high percentage of motorcycle accidents (something like 80%) happen under 25mph. Not exactly the Michael Bay action sequence most people imagine. Statistics also state that most riders at some point WILL go down. But since you can’t plan for it, it’s best to be ready and prepared so you can minimize the damage.
All the gear, all the time (A.T.G.A.T.T.) is a very common acronym used in the motorcycling world. There definitely is something to it. I have seen plenty of people say things like “should I wear my helmet? I’m just going down the road a bit.” as though that logic means anything. Somebody recently balked at me wearing my riding jacket because it was hot out. I replied “I don’t wear it to keep warm”. It's true, we all know the right answer when it comes to safety equipment but love to crowd source the wrong approval for our comfort/style.
Ultimately, we are all responsible for taking care of ourselves, and safety precautions are included here. We all choose our own risk mitigation, but as anyone can understand, A.T.G.A.T.T. is never the wrong answer.
Since it happened 17y ago and I have no photos to share to help explain, I won’t share MY accident story, but it is a lot like the one I WILL share today, which happened just this month to one of my best friends on a road trip.
My annual week-long motorcycle tour this year was in the Ozark mountains - this little slice of heaven covering the lower half of Missouri and the northern third of Arkansas. If you have never known it to be a great place for driving/riding roads, you’re not alone. It’s arguably my favorite place in the U.S. to ride, all things considered. One of those reasons is that you usually have the roads to yourself. So tell your friends, but not ALL your friends.
Anyways, shortly after RIPPING along what is still my absolute favorite road in the country, AR123 (see my favorite roads https://www.everydaydriver.com/single-post/the-road-s-less-traveled ) the five of us were on something of a “cool-down”, cruising through the back roads at a normal pace after scraping pegs and wheelieing out of corner exits just a few minutes earlier.
I was in front, and my friend Eric almost always rides next in order - just behind me. We have an intercom setup in our helmets, and the first thing that tipped me off was that my intercom alerted me that I had disconnected with the other rider. We have never tested range but we think it’s about a mile or so in open sightline, about half a mile or less when terrain is a factor. I heard the unit disconnect, I looked in my rearview mirror and Eric wasn’t there. No immediate worry, as I do pull away from him but usually not when we are riding in a completely normal manner. I waited 10-15 seconds and he still didn’t show around the last corner in sight. I immediately knew something had happened, so I U-turned and went back in a cold sweat of panic, fearing the worst about my good friend.
About half a mile back, I crested a hill and saw a scene down below. My heart sank. But it only took a moment to do a head count - all 4 of my road companions were on their feet, and their motorcycles were parked on the side of the road. There was actually a police officer already on scene (he had been driving right behind us by about ¼ mile). I assumed somebody got pulled over for speeding, but even that didn’t make sense, as we were not going fast through this area at all.
I came to find out that Eric had indeed crashed. In a blind left hand corner, hiding under the shade of a large roadside tree was effectively an oil slick in the middle of the lane we were on. It was probably a quart's worth of liquid that was THICK and still puddled up for about 35 feet and tracks dragged it out further to be about 100 feet in total. I genuinely didn’t see it myself when I went through some 10 seconds before he did. We aren’t sure why I wasn’t the one to fall first - probably because I (luckily) took a slightly different line, but that’s just my dumb luck. The start of the oil was hiding in the shadow - and while it seems pretty obvious in the photos below, those pics were taken to SHOW the spot - as we approached the curve it was barely noticeable at even just 25mph. The last one specifically shows the reverse angle - the slick starts JUST as the tree shadow seeps into the road, hiding from view.
As he turned into the left hand curve, the bike passed through the fluid on the road and immediately low-sided him on his left side as though somebody pulled the rug out from underneath him. Absolutely nothing that could’ve been done once it started. He slid on his side for a bit, the bike pirouetted as it slid to a different trajectory and Eric actually popped himself up to his feet while sliding - kind of like how a baseball player slides into 2nd base and uses the base’s edge to stand himself up as he stops. After shedding the last bit of momentum with a little jog-down, it had happened and was all over in less than 2 seconds. His first motorcycle accident/crash and he was back on his feet before the bike stopped moving. It all happened as luckily as possible.
It was about 2 minutes before I got back after turning around to return. It already didn’t look like the scene of a crash in just 120 seconds post-incident. We were all incredibly relieved he wasn’t hurt - and his motorcycle (albeit a bit scraped up) was 100% functional and basically fine.
He was wearing his gear, and it all did its job. His boots were scuffed up and ripped on the top where the laces go, but his feet and ankles were unscathed. His pants (Kevlar lined riding jeans) were scuffed up on his hip, but barely looked damaged at all, shy of one of the cargo pocket buttons being ripped off. His jacket had some rash on the left elbow and forearm - a quarter sized hole and melted plastic fastener on the sleeve being the biggest casualty. Gloves had some wear but not much, and his helmet never touched the ground.
The other saving grace was that his motorcycle was equipped with hard luggage and hand-guards - which kept the damage to the machine quite minimal - aside from a scratched engine cover and a slightly bent foot peg (shown) the bike was absolutely fine and rideable for the next two days to get home.
He was basically unscathed. Shook up a bit, sure and angry that something so random and seemingly minor caused this, but ultimately we rode away from the scene 30min later and rode for 130 more miles that day without problem (and 400 the next day).
His gear saved his hide, quite literally. Sure, it’s a bit cumbersome to suit up each time you head out, but he would absolutely rather that than skin grafts on his thigh, hip and arm if he were wearing normal jeans and a t-shirt..
You’d have likely thought that the aggressive shenanigans on an admittedly dangerous mountain road with zero runoff would’ve been the scene of the incident. You’d have also thought that crashing on a motorcycle would absolutely result in broken bones, a stretcher and an ambulance. Fortunately, not this time. We had a wonderful week on the road despite this incident, and we will all ride again.
Motorcyclists assume risk every time we throw a leg over, whether all of us recognize it or not. How you handle that risk is up to you. Be safe out there friends. Replacing a few hundred dollars worth of safety gear is far better than spending a week in the I.C.U. at a hospital 3 states from home.
A.T.G.A.T.T.? Yeah, because you don’t get to plan your crash, but you CAN play the odds and minimize the damage.
I write and I know things. I am also the resident motorcycle expert at Everyday Driver - check out the Cycle Report - www.thecyclereport.com - on our YouTube channel. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.