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The Crash

July 10, 2006

I was riding in Cleveland, Ohio, on I71 North bound, getting off onto Ontario St. The ramp is a tight decreasing radius turn. It was raining, and there was a car behind me. (maybe the worst of all possible conditions).

As I started around the ramp, I felt the back end slip. I was afraid I would go down if I kept going around the curve, and I could see a large grassy area if I went straight. So I just went straight off into the grass. Of course there's no way to keep the bike upright in wet grass. I wasn't going very fast and so the bike stopped pretty quickly.
Above is an aerial photo of where I went off.

I hurt my back (cracked ribs or a severely strained muscle) when I hit. It knocked the wind out of me, but I was able to get up right away and set the bike upright (funny how embarrassment will energize you). The engine guard on the left side was bent back into the floorboard. I kicked it and it straightened out pretty good. Put the bike in neutral and it started up and ran fine.

A cabby came by and asked if I wanted to push it up the hill back to the road. I told him I was hurting and wouldn't be much help, but he got behind and we pushed it up the hill. I said thanks and he was gone. (God bless that man!)

The squad showed up, then two fire trucks, then two police squad cars, then the medical squad supervisor. The cop in charge was a biker himself. He was wearing those motorcycle boots that come up to your knees, but driving a squad car (had the good sense to not be riding in the rain). When he got out of the car he said, "I just saw you up there. I just saw you."

The medic was filling out some form on a computer tablet and asked the cop something and he said, "No, I'm not going to charge him. He was being safe, its just really bad right here on this ramp. The rain, and its oily, its really bad. I'm not going to charge him." (God bless that man too!)

The squad supervisor was telling me he just bought a Virago, and the other medic felt down my spine and said to tell him when it hurt. When he got all the way down, he asked were does it hurt? I said it was off to the side and he seemed to be satisfied. Then the cop tells us about how he crashed on his bike last year when he had a flat tire.

The cop asked me where I was going, and I told him right up Ontario street. He said, "I'm going to follow you up there, and make sure everything's alright," and he did. (God bless him again!)

I sat through the three hour meeting, and by the time it was over, I could barely get up out of the chair or walk, but I didn't have much of an alternative. I didn't know if I could ride home, but I sure didn't want to leave the bike in downtown Cleveland or even sit around there and wait for someone to come up with a trailer to get me (brother Dean would have if I'd asked him). I thought I'd give it try.

It actually hurt less to ride than to walk, so I rode it home. I was hurting pretty good by the time I got home, but I made it (was in the rain most of time).

The bike has minor damage. The left side floor board got cocked just a little bit, the left side highway light got knocked loose and a small dent. As far as I know, that's it.


This event leaves me asking myself questions:
If I had just driven on around the ramp, would I have made it? Should I have not ridden knowing I was going to downtown Cleveland and there was chance of rain?

I don't know if I would have made the turn if I had just kept on going. I might well have if I hadn't panicked. Obviously, I was going too fast for conditions. How ashamed I am to say that. One of the things I did when I learned to drive a car (and I still do when I get a new car) and I had my kids do when they learned to drive, is when it snows, get to a parking lot and let the car slide. Get the feel of how it handles when it goes into a slide. But I don't know of a way to do that with a motorcycle without crashing. How do you learn what "loosing it" feels like without crashing?

It leaves me asking myself, should I have not gone in the rain? I could have just as easily driven my car. But if you live in Ohio, and you don't ride when there's a chance of rain (40% decreasing to 30% was yesterday's forecast) you won't be doing much riding.

I ask myself if I shouldn't have taken the bike, knowing I was going into downtown Cleveland, and I had a specific schedule that I had to meet (I did allow plenty of time - I still made the meeting on time). But I bought the bike with the intention of riding for work. If I only ride it when I'm not traveling for work, I won't be riding much either.

The accident was first due to my going too fast for my abilities under those conditions, and then due to lack of experience which caused me to panic. As much as it pains me to say that, if I'm honest, that's what it comes down to.


After thinking about it more, here's what I think happened:
As I started into the turn and I felt the back tire slip, I straightened up to prevent further slipping, knowing that I couldn't slow down by braking or closing the throttle. When I was straightened up, I could see that I was headed for the outside edge of the ramp. If I had just turned my head to the right and looked on around the ramp, I'd bet the bike would have gone there. But instead, I panicked and thought that I wouldn't make the turn, saw the grassy area as an escape route and went that way, thinking in my mind that I might be able to ride straight down the hill and get stopped. Of course there is no way to stop going down hill on grass and keep the bike upright.

Postscript Nov. 2006
Recently I had the opportunity to traverse this course again, although this time in my automobile. I slowed down to look at the curve etc. I noticed two things. The guard rail at the entrance of the curve showed several marks indicating that others had piled into it, so I'm not the only one who'd had problems with the curve. The second thing I noticed is that the road surface had been scarified to make is rougher or less slippery. It wasn't being repaved or even leveled, as the scarifying was very lightly done, not deep into the roadway. It was apparently to afford better traction, presumably particularly when wet.