Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rite of Passage

I've heard it said there are only two kinds of bikers: those who have been down, and those who haven't been down, yet. In other words, it's not a matter of if, but when, you will drop your motorcycle, according to this bit of biker wisdom. Now, I'm sure there are plenty of longtime riders who have never been down, but, until recently, I took pride in the fact that I had never lost control of any motorcycle while riding it. My first bike, the Yamaha Virago, has fallen down more than once, but never while I was riding it (those incidents happened while the bike was parked or being walked).

When I bought my second motorcycle, the Harley Dyna Wide Glide, one of the things I liked about it was that it was in pristine condition and had never been down or dropped. I even rode it cautiously the first few months after I got it, since it was a much heavier and more powerful bike than my Yamaha. All was good, until this past Thursday.

I was having a bad day, and needed a ride on my Harley to blow away the stress. After riding about 25 miles, I decided to pull into a coffee shop for a break. As I turned into the parking lot, I couldn't decide on which parking space I wanted. At the last second, I decided I wanted the first space and turned my handlebars before I overshot it. For some unknown reason, I did the worst thing I could have done while making a low-speed turn: I touched the front brake. Before I even knew what was happening, my bike and I were both laying on our right side. It happened so quickly I did not have a chance to try to save the bike from going down. I was only going 5 mph or less.

From the first day I began riding in the fall of 2008, when I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation rider training course, the instructors drummed into our heads that you never touch the front brake during a turn, especially a low speed turn. You WILL go down. I was always conscious of that fact, and used only the rear brake on a low speed turn. There may have been once or twice when I found myself about to reach for the front brake during a low speed turn, but I always caught myself beforehand. Not so on this day - maybe I had too much on my mind, or maybe I decided to go for that parking space too late to maneuver safely, but whatever the reason doesn't matter at this point.

Fortunately, the only thing injured on me was my pride. I don't think anyone saw me go down, and if anyone did, nobody said anything to me afterward. After laying stunned for several seconds, I got up and spent a few awkward moments looking at my bike on the ground. More awkwardness ensued as I lifted my bike upright (fortunately, I had the presence of mind to lower my kickstand first so I didn't drop it on the left side). It's a 600-pound bike and not easy to lift, but now I know I can do it by myself, even with a bad lower back. The fall did wreck a pair of work boots I was wearing (the sole of my right boot got torn halfway off), but miraculously, I did not sprain or bruise my ankle or foot. In fact, I suffered no pain anywhere (I was wearing a leather jacket, leather gloves and helmet).

After parking the bike, I went inside for a hot chocolate. I wasn't ready to assess the damage just yet. My mind was still adjusting to what had happened. About half an hour later, I went outside to face reality. The damage could have been worse. The gas tank and fenders had not even a scratch on them, thank God. There was no damage to any of the engine or drivetrain components either, nor any fluids leaking.

The exhaust system heat shields and right mirror suffered the most visible damage. The right rear turn signal lens had popped off, but it snapped back on easily. There was very minor damage (nick/scratch/scrape) to the rear turn signal housing, rear brake foot lever, right foot peg and front brake lever, but those four items really don't look bad.

Another moment of truth came when I went to start the bike. I was nervous the carburetor might have been flooded when the bike tipped over, but it started and ran fine. No fuel spilled from the gas tank either.

But on the ride home, I did notice something seemed off with my handlebars. I took my hands off the bars and the bike rode straight, so after I got home and parked the bike in my garage, I took a closer look at the handlebars. My intuition was correct - the right side of the bars is farther back than the left side, when looking at it from above the handlebar clamp. I had to use a ruler to verify this - there is about 1/4" difference. I don't know if the handlebar clamp, bushings or risers got moved or bent, or whether the bar itself got bent. I'm guessing the bar is bent, but I will get some expert opinions.

For now, the bike is still safe to ride. The mirror, lights and brakes are fully functional. The damaged parts that sustained very minor damage are easy parts to replace, but since the damage to those parts is hardly noticeable, there's no rush to replace them. On the other hand, the parts that sustained the most damage, the handlebars and exhaust heat shields, are the more difficult and expensive parts to replace. They are also the parts I want to replace as soon as possible since they are most noticeable.

I'm mad at myself for making a stupid mistake, but my friend Mike Chretien, a longtime biker, told me not to beat myself up, saying, "it happens to the best of us."

I had hoped to use proceeds from the sale of my Yamaha to buy some accessories and upgrades for my Harley, but now, it looks like a good chunk of those funds will go toward replacement of stock parts that were damaged in the accident. As bummed out as I am, I have to look at the positives in this: a) I was not hurt; b) the bike can still be ridden and actually doesn't look that bad; and c) the damage could have been worse, especially had it fallen on the left side, where the primary cover is vulnerable.


  1. If that photo is the worst of the damage, that drop doesn't even count as "going down". Though, dropping your bike for the first time is always a heartbreak. Glad to hear you're ok though.

  2. Ken - It's inevitable, but the good news is nothing hurt but your pride. Have the bars and front end checked for sure - especially if you're not comfortable doing that yourself. Even a slow speed fall can twist the front end a bit causing handling problems - usually easily fixed by simply loosening and re-tightening the fork clamps. Bent handlebars I'd replace, but a few scuff marks? Hey they just add character in my opinion.

  3. Sorry you had a mishap with your scoot. I relate to feeling angry with yourself. It's pride that makes it sting so much, I know from experience.
    On the up-side. There are only two ways you'll ever get to know every nut and bolt on your bike. One is if you wear out the parts (hopefully there will be plenty of that too) and the other is if you break them. Either way, you end up taking the bike apart and learning how it's put together and that's a good thing.

  4. great blog and story, thanks for sharing. Glad nobody got hurt and dont worry about the exhaust, there is a ton of aftermarket harley exhaust out there, only an oppertunity to customize!