A Ride through Paradise on the Road
It has been said that experience is that which allows you to recognize
what you are doing wrong when you repeat your mistakes. I've only come
to grief twice in my almost 50 years of riding, but both times due to
the same mistake; deliberately ignoring a color or texture change in the
road surface. The second time was only a week ago, in a gorgeous but
remote corner of our planet.
Last week I was in the fortunate position of being able to combine a
business trip to Brazil with the opportunity to take a 800 kilometer
week-end ride with a group of friends through some of the most
spectacular scenery on earth.
The unfortunate result was that I was unable to sit at the business
meetings that followed, in fact I am siting on two pillows as I type
this. I could see some of the meeting participants smirking every time
I stood up and stood against the wall, as if the old man could not take
it anymore, but that's not the case. I hit the biggest pothole I have
ever seen, on a rented bike with the most miserable suspension and
riding position I have ever known, at considerable speed. In fact the
bike has no rear suspension whatsoever in my opinion, it was a
"Boulevard Cruiser" to impress the girls at the Dairy Queen, and here I
was using it to ride through paradise on the road from hell.
To make a short story endless, I was behind a grinding truck, which was
weaving around to avoid the potholes, on the worst potholed road I have
ever seen. I saw an opportunity to blast past it, even though there was
a long gravel patch on the other side of the road. That's where I acted
like an idiot, I ignored a change of color/texture as a warning. I
lecture guys never to ignore this critical sign, and here I did it
myself. As I was roaring past the truck, I suddenly saw from whence
came all the gravel; a giant pothole, an elephant trap, a meteor crater,
at the end of the gravel streak, previously invisible because of being
the same color as the gravel.
Now, when faced with a crisis on a motorcycle, you have the instant
choice of only four actions, and you cannot combine them. Brake,
swerve, accelerate or do nothing. Some people talk about a fifth, lay
the bike down, but nobody really does that deliberately; it's a very
dumb move. Anyway, I could not swerve around that monster, I could not
swerve on gravel anyway, I could not brake nor accelerate on gravel
without losing it, I could not even cut the throttle because that's the
same as braking the rear wheel. I could not stand on the foot-pegs to
take the shock with my legs because of the lousy foot forward controls
seating position. So I held the throttle as is, and took it front on,
just sitting the saddle, fully expecting to die ignominiously next to a
greasy dirty truck on a back road of Brazil, surrounded by strangers who
would talk a few minutes about the idiot American and that would be
Well, the front wheel pogo'd out OK, but when that back wheel (or the
bike frame, or both, I don't know) hit the far edge of the pothole it
completely slammed the breath out of me and gave me instant vise-like
intense searing pain all over the lower half of my back. I knew I'd
broken something, later X-rays confirmed a significant compression
fracture of the lowest thoracic vertebra. But the bike was airborne at
this point, and when it landed probably 10 yards further down the road,
the second impact made the first one feel like child's play. How I kept
control I don't know, but I did, and got it to the side of the road
about 200 yards beyond the impact. The guy behind, who could not
believe I and the bike stayed together through the flight and landing,
said I lay on the tank for several minutes, without responding to them.
I don't remember. I was just glad when I saw my foot come of the
foot-peg and go to the ground, I knew I hadn't paralyzed myself. I
thought the ride was over for me, but after about ten minutes the
searing agony eased, and it just became ordinary fierce pain.
Now honor was at stake here. I was the oldest guy on the ride, turned
60 last January, and the only American. So I climbed back on; a
possible slight bend in the front rim, but no other damage. When you
have no rear suspension to speak of there is little to break. And
finished the 100 kilometers remaining. And rode all the 400 kilometers
back the next day. No bike of mine was going back a trailer queen
unless I was in a wooden box beside it. So I can't sit, and I'm not
sure I ever want to see another motorbike. A good package deal on all
six I own may await some lucky buyer.
The roads and traffic were bad enough that we took the only other guy
who was there renting a bike, who had not ridden for years, off his bike
after about 60 kilometers and put him in the follow-jeep and his bike on
the trailer. He would never have made it alive.
Pictures below show me standing in the pothole the next day, and also
the bike and it's ultra low saddle and foot forward seating position.
That position would have been a killer on an 800 kilometer ride even
without hitting the pothole. You can see my leather pants on the saddle
in an effort to improve the seating position. I am smiling only because
I am on pain-killers contributed by an angel, actually a dentist, in the
group. I am also riding in a T-shirt because of the intense tropical
heat, the Brazilians thought riding without protective gear insane. I'm
sure they were right. They may never invite the weird American again.
Don't ever ignore color change.
No matter where in the world you are.