Sunday, January 9, 2011

Motorcycles and Mayhem Part 1

I have loved motorcycles since I was about 13.  And, I bristle whenever I hear somebody ranting about how dangerous they are.  But, in fairness, many (probably most) of my life-threatening experiences have occurred on a bike.  Some were the direct result of my poor judgment, many were just freak events. 

When I was 15, I purchased a used Kawasaki G4TR "Trail Boss" motorcycle.  This bike was of the "enduro" variety, in that it is street-legal, but designed to be used off-road.  Of particular note was that this bike had a dual-range transmission, much like four-wheel-drive trucks.  With only a 100cc engine (actually 99cc, but marketed as a 100), this was the biggest bike I could legally ride on the road at the age of 15.  A popular (and legal at that time) off-road site near Benbrook Lake included a steep hill.  I would judge the hill to be at about a 40° angle, and about 100 feet 'long' (base to crown).  Most riders would get a running-start in first gear, approaching red-line and drive-hard to the top without shifting.  One day, I decided to try the low-end gears on that hill.  As I remember it, I hit third gear just before the bottom of the hill, and shifted to fourth about ½ way to the top.  I had enough speed at the top that the bike and I launched quite a ways into the air.  We landed in very loose black dirt, and immediately the bike was flat on its side.  Unknown to me, my buddy was close behind me.  So, as I'm standing there, trying to get the bike up-righted, I hear the whine of a 120cc dirt (only) bike being revved beyond its design limits.  I look-up in time to see the bottom of the bike as it tops the hill.  The first thing I noticed was that the bike had legs.  That is to say, the only part of the rider in-contact with the motorcycle was his hands.  "The Rack" could scarcely have stretched him to a greater extent as he desperately clung to the handlebar grips.  And, a critical observation at the time, was the fact that no part of him or the motorcycle was touching the ground.  Further, it seemed that within very brief moments I would be providing a landing cushion for motorcycle and rider.  To my great relief, I found that I misjudged his momentum, as he and the bike came abruptly to the ground, and slid to within an inch of my boot.  We quickly righted both bikes, and pushed them under a local tree before anyone else could crest that hill.

Some months later, we were riding a dirt road along a river.  There were three of us, and the road was deeply rutted from the tires of a truck which had driven the road when it was very wet.  On the ride back, my two 'friends' decided that a little bit of a race was required.  As we careened down the dirt road, I got pushed into one of the ruts, which, once entered, were very difficult to disengage.  The bike went-down, and when forward motion had ceased, I found my left boot pinned between the exhaust and the ground.  Well, it is surprisingly difficult to lift a motorcycle from a sitting position.  And, I found that nothing I did would allow me to extricate my foot.  So, I beeped the horn a few times...there was no response.  Some time later, my 'friends' noticed my absence, and one returned to look for me.  Now, whenever we cross paths, he reminds me of "the day he saved my life".

The Kawasaki probably served me better than I deserved, for what I demanded of it.  One day, I had been working on the bike, and I remember taking it for a test ride along railroad tracks near our house.  I had ridden this particular trail dozens, if not hundreds of times, and was well aware of several large piles of dirt which the path crossed.  In fact, I had used those piles for jumping ramps on many occasions.  On this particular day, I was paying more attention to how the bike sounded and felt, than where I was going.  I remember having my head near my right knee, listening for something, when I looked-up and saw the first pile.  I had been traveling a little too fast, and recognized my mistake immediately.  The bike completely left the ground, and via some mid-air manipulation, I was able to land the bike in a more-or-less straight line.  But, the second pile arose before I could fully recover.  Even so, I was able to land the bike better than I expected.  But, I was completely crooked when I left the third pile, and landed almost perpendicular to my direction of travel.  When I landed, I was immediately thrown from the bike, landing upon the forehead-portion of my helmet, and sliding for some distance with only the helmet touching the ground.  Meanwhile, the motorcycle had left the path in the direction opposite of the railroad tracks.  And, because of my landing, it was spinning horizontally.  Imagine a motorcycle center-line running through the front wheel, engine and rear wheel.  Further, imagine that center-line is an axis about which the motorcycle is spinning.  Well, while all of that was going-on, the bike encountered an old barbed-wire fence, and wrapped itself in several yards of 50+ year-old rusty barbed wire.  The wire cocoon was such that the motorcycle could not even be pushed.  About an hour, and many cuts, later the bike was freed of the wire.  And, although I'm sure I didn't deserve it, it started quite readily and saved me the additional embarrassment of walking home.

I had a particularly bad day the spring after my 16th birthday.  I had been working at a fairly up-scale restaurant as a busboy, dish-washer, kitchen-help, and all-around lowest-person-on-the-totem-pole.  The manager had resigned, and the owner had put the assistant manager in-charge.  The 'new' manager called me (at home) to come see him.  When I arrived, I was one of several people being notified that we were no longer needed.  Now, I won't claim I was the world's best busboy.  Or even the best in this restaurant.  But, I was very aware of who among the servers, cooks, etc, took their jobs seriously.  And, I could see a very strong negative correlation between those being released, and those who sat around the bar and chatted with the former assistant manager.  That is to say, the new manager was keeping his buddies.  I was miffed...maybe even peeved, and I rode home at too high a rate of speed.  At the end of this quite straight road, was a mandatory right-hand turn (enforced by a concrete curb), and ramp onto a major thoroughfare.  I slowed-down, and leaned into the turn.  BUT, somebody had spilled gravel on the roadway.  The tires hit the gravel, and the bike immediately laid-down on the right-side.  The tires hit the curb, and I was thrown across two lanes of traffic.  Forces of Inertia, Leverage, and immovable objects had instantaneously created an extremely effective catapult.  So, I found myself on the pavement, sans motorcycle, in the middle of the thoroughfare, facing what appeared to be a solid wall of automobiles doing everything in their power to stop.  God must have saved me that day, because I made it off the road before the cars reached me.

By-the-way, the restaurant closed about six-weeks later.

No comments:

Post a Comment