I like to think that crashing is a tradition as old as riding. The first poet Homer was writing about heroes falling off their ride back when democracy was still a good idea. Imagine a horse drawn chariot carrying Trojans and Spartans into battle as spears and arrows whiz by, careening off rocks and splattering their brains over the fields of Troy. Even the Egyptian boy King Tutankhamen was thought to be crushed by his chariot way back when Eagle looked at Eyeball on the walls of the pyramids.
And when the first bicycle was invented and some poor inventor’s apprentice was told to sit on the cross bar and go for a ride they must have been mortified. For a time bicycles were thought so dangerous they were illegal to ride in the city. Hell they even called them Boneshakers because they were made of solid wood and iron.
And so what happens when you add a motor to an already dangerous device? It gets twice as fun and twice as dangerous. In the 1910’s and 1920’s motorcycle racers on wooden race courses were being impaled by splinters from the track and spectators died from motorcycles launching off the top of the 45 degree banked walls earning the motordromes the nickname “Murderdromes."
T.E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia died from a motorcycle crash in 1935 even after surviving a sleepless 49 hour camel ride across the Sinai Peninsula. Bob Dylan almost ended his career in a crash driving a Triumph too fast through upstate New York hell-bent on quitting either his tour schedule or this mortal coil, and today you can watch so many dash cam videos of motorcyclists eating it on Live Leak it’ll make you question your humanity.
So when I went down a month ago and broke my collarbone I wasn’t surprised. Everybody crashes; it’s something that you just have to deal with. By getting on two wheels you are assuming that you will fall off. But a crash isn’t the end and falling off isn’t really that bad, it’s just a part of life.
I started reading about motorcycle crashes before I had even ridden my first bike, a compact V-twin Yamaha barely big enough to squeeze my 6’4” frame into. Out of morbid curiosity I wanted to hear about people’s horrible mistakes and the life altering consequences of high velocity impact. I figured if I could scare myself enough then I would either learn from their mistakes or just never ride a motorcycle and take up something safer like juggling.
But no amount of scared-straight reading could keep me from crashing. My first accident was caused by my bike stalling on a hairpin curve in fourth gear. The bike lurched halfway through the turn and I was ejected to the side and the bike nearly went off the cliff. Second time was low-sliding through a mossy water crossing. Third time was hitting loose boulders on a trail in the desert. I’ve gone down in marvelous places.
In an accident everybody wants to blame somebody else. The other driver did this or that or the road conditions were shit or something was wrong with the bike. There’s a million excuses for every incident, but you need to think about what you did wrong when you crash. Awareness of your environment could save your life. If I had better anticipated that car turning in front of me last month I wouldn’t have accelerated towards a green light, and I sure as hell wouldn’t have hit the front brake on a wet road.
Even if you don’t completely avoid the incident you at least want the best possible outcome. Low-siding versus high-siding, a broken collarbone versus a broken neck, etc. Minimizing your injuries is key but don’t let a crash get you down. After the crash you get up, you keep riding, and you change your ways. Riding a motorcycle is a beautiful thing and the freedom experienced from two wheels should not be given up for anything.
With the Hammer loaded up and a car full of pasta, cans of beans, and a box of beer, I was ready for a week at the "Rusty Can" with some friends. A desert escape from electricity, cell phone service, and the city. My imagination was taking me down dirt roads to hidden hot springs, spending days working in a ghost town coffee shop, and bonding with The Hammer in Big Bend National Park.
As I was on my way to "The Can," waiting for a hail storm to pass in Ozona (about 6-hours outside of Austin), Scott was busy crashing his motorcycle in an unfortunate accident, breaking his collarbone, crushing his foot, and doing some minor damage to his bike. (read about it)
Our weeks of desert bliss and adventure were turned to bags of ice, heat packs, one-armed motorcycle repairs, and sketchy two-up rides with me driving, no brake lever to speak of, and crooked handle bars. Thanks to some amazing friends, Scott's work engagements were covered and we had a lovely "Hovel" to stay in while Scott recovered for a few days.
In the course of the crash, Whiskers bent it's frame near the passenger foot peg, causing it to rip a hole into the aluminum swing arm. Additional damage was a broken weld on the foot peg, twisted handle bars, the brake lever busted about an inch from the master cylinder, and a nice gouge in the crank case. Relatively minor injuries to human and machine. A sling, a weld or two, new levers, and some ace bandages.
We were able to get the swing arm and foot peg tabs welded at a shop in Austin. We bent back the frame ourselves by ratchet strapping the motorcycle to a tree, and attaching ratchet straps to the bent portion of the frame and likewise to the truck. I used the bike and tree as leverage to pull the frame as Scott tightened the straps. It worked quite well, and took us about a half an hour to re-bend both sides of the frame.
Somehow Whiskers passed inspection with exposed wires to serve as a "functioning horn," along with broken brake and clutch levers. Gotta love Texas.
Safely back in Utah after visiting amazing friends and a short trip to Mexico, our next project involved a 1970's sewing machine - first fixing it up and then using it to make a new seat cover for Scott's motorcycle which had started splitting after years of hard use. Crocodile-skin printed vinyl. We took off the original seat cover and made a pattern (which didn't work), got frustrated, and I hastily eyeballed and cut out a new set of vinyl pieces. We sweated out some bullets and stressed about the difficulty of cutting the last of the fabric. Sewing that shit was not exactly straight seams - it was tricky - but all said and done our fears were put to rest and the seat looks and functions well.
A new aftermarket seat cover costs around $45 if you order it online. You still have to stretch and staple it. This alternative cost us $11 in vinyl and a couple of hours. An additional "advantage?" is that it's totally custom. Very one of a kind. Now that I know how to do it, I kind of want zebra print vinyl for The Hammer... But I will heed the wisdom of my grandfather and stay with the original red: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Next up on the agenda: Re-build the hammer (we took apart the engine and as we suspected, it was running on a performance high-compression piston which accounts for the need for 93 octane fuel and the frequent detonation). The cylinder has been honed by a local Harley shop in exchange for some beer, and we are waiting for new gaskets and rings in the mail. I still need to clean and put new seals in the valves, put in a new copper gasket (long-lasting and reducing the compression just a bit more), clean everything up, and break it in. I'm missing having a motorcycle to ride in the meantime.
In addition to the mechanics, I am making roll-top panniers out of Carhart factory seconds which will be waxed and painted for water resistance. More inexpensive, labor intensive, custom work.
Finally, the reality of picking up and committing to the road has hit me. The existential cliff has been jumped. The sacrifices have been weighed. We are all in and August will be here in the blink of an eye.