I like old sayings that tell more of a message than mere words. “That motorcycle wouldn’t pull a fat baby off a tricycle,” was how I once heard a Texan explain his bike’s lack of power. An old saying that I have been wondering about lately is “with age comes wisdom.” How old do I have to get before this wisdom thing happens? I would like to relate a few of the stupid things I did in 2007 with the hope of helping you avoid similar results.
I think that I should be a great rider based on my exposure to the sport. I have been riding for forty years (thirty-two) on the street. A couple of more seasons on the road should put me over five hundred thousand kilometers. I still take rider-training courses, seminars, read books, watch how-to videos and practice riding a lot. With my job there is also lots of exposure to safety reports, ideas, conferences and accident data. What bothers me is, if I am getting this old, with so much experience over so many miles; why am I still doing stupid things?
Stupid move #1:
I was teaching ‘Clinton Avoidance’ at a Michel Mercier’s Cruiser School. It was a really hot day to be in leathers standing in the middle of the racetrack. I was signaling approach-ing riders to swerve either to my right or left as I pretended to be the obstacle in their path. This particular group had some riders who really needed the practice. One guy in particular had struggled to grasp the push steering concept in the discussion segment of our lesson. I described how we would pretend that you see an obstacle (perhaps a raccoon asleep on the road) as you are riding along. It’s dumb to stop when you can simply swerve around small obstacles, so I explained how I wanted them to swerve first to their right by simply pushing out and down on the right handle grip. The ‘push right’ will initiate the lean to the right and the rest of the bike will swerve right. I recognized that glazed look of no comprehension with (let’s call him) Crazy Joe. Like many male students, Crazy Joe wouldn’t stick up his hand to ask a question (not wanting to look dumb). One thing I have learned about teaching is to ask the participant what you think you have taught them. What they learn is far more important than what you think you’ve taught. Some students will smile and nod and simply try to copy the other guy. I asked Crazy Joe which bar would you push on to swerve left. He responded that you don’t need to push…“just lean the damn thing over.” Yikes! Before letting them loose, I worked with Crazy Joe while he was sitting on his own bike and asked him to trust me demonstrating the little push to the right.
After hours of teaching in the hot sun, I was distracted by Michel’s voice suddenly yelling over my radio. I became distracted with trying to translate in my head his fast paced en francais conversation with Jean Jacque, the mechanic, when I realized there was a very large Harley bearing down on me. Joe’s eyes were wide and crazy since he was well past the pylon I had been using as the distance marker for the right or left signal. In a split-second decision I signaled left and bent my legs ready to jump. You can’t jump too soon or the target-fixated rider may follow you. It is a lot like bull fighting. I knew I had only time and energy for one jump. Luckily, Joe came straight at me and I leaped to the right. His handlebar grazed my jacket. Joe thought that I was simply trying to increase the degree of difficulty in the exercise by signaling late. “I’ll fool you, I kill me” is another saying that came to mind.
Teaching is very similar to riding. You must concentrate on the task at hand. A short loss of focus almost made me into a Harley fender ornament. If you think of the times you have had troubles on your bike, it is often precluded by a momentary loss of attention. My brother-in-law, who has many miles under his belt, used to yell, “Stop lolly-gagging around. Watch what you are doing and where you are going.”
Stupid move #2:
A short time later I was making a new phone message recording for our rider training business. I wanted the sound of a motorcycle running in the background and we didn’t have a portable phone. No problem, I thought I would simply ride my motocross bike up the stairs into the office closer to the phone. It was raining and I didn’t make it all the way up the wet stairs on the first try. Well, “if at first you don’t succeed… try, try again.” The little voice in my head said, ‘light it up and giv’er’ to get up the stairs. This time I made it up no problem. In fact, I may have been going a bit too fast. The bars cleared the doorway so I went for the brakes. Wet rubber, the front brake and our office floor didn’t like each other. A few customers have since asked why there is a big tire print on the office check-in counter. I smoked into the desk knocking everything flying. The resulting phone message was awesome, but my father would have said that I was “dumb as your hat!” I have since bought a portable phone to record background motor sounds from outside. Some ideas seem so good in the beginning.
Stupid move #3:
The third stupid human trick relates to a 1970’s helmet ad, “if you have a ten dollar head, buy a ten dollar helmet.” Fox Canada supports our rider-training program with nice discounts for our staff. Despite owning about seven helmets already, I bought the new V2 model when picking up some gear for the staff.
The very next day I had a day off from teaching so, of course, I went riding. I love to ride my old TY250 trials bike and exercise our Australian Sheppard, Tucker, at the same time. He is a great dog, but gives meaning to the saying, “a tired dog is a happy owner.” I knew that I wouldn’t be riding much faster than a mountain bike but chose to ride with proper gear on anyway. When I started riding trials in the early 80’s, most competitors wore a tweed cap instead of a helmet.
While riding in the forest I noticed a very steep ridge and a stupid little voice said, “I bet the TY250 would walk right up that steep hill”. No problem. I clicked the bike into forth gear and it climbed right up. At the off-road training course we teach to be aware that fallen leaves may conceal hidden obstacles. I remembered that lesson on the descent as my front tire found a hidden stick. Complacency with safety sometimes gets us in trouble. Crashing was the last thing on my mind since my plan was to putt along slowly with the dog. I relaxed too much and forgot about hidden sticks under the leaves. Most street crashes happen when we are the most relaxed, close to home on roads we travel a lot. Most people don’t plan to crash. So I try to be prepared, dress properly for the potential crash, not the ride.
My descent began when the front end quickly washed out and I was catapulted over the bars down the steep hill. Luckily, I didn’t fall far as there was a big maple tree part way down the hill that stopped my unexpected exit from the bike. I hit the tree headfirst, followed by my shoulder glancing off it and I fell in a heap. I didn’t see stars and I knew what my name was. I even heard the stupid little voice (who’s idea it was to climb the hill) reassuring me, ‘no problem, you have your cell phone to call for help if we need it.’ My shoulder really hurt and I recognized the pain of a dislocation. My left shoulder pops out quite easily now after many previous stupid moves. It is a bit harder to put it back in so I lay on the ground for a few minutes and collected my scattered thoughts. I was amazed that I didn’t suffer any head issues. I had hit the tree hard with a resounding crack from the helmet. I had no signs of concussion, headache, blurry vision–nothing. My sister Linda would say, “no sense, no feeling.” There was no visible damage to the naked eye on the outside of the helmet. Not even a bark scuff. I still replaced it with another brand new one knowing that the helmet’s impact liner was partially destroyed from the bark sampling. The helmet had done its job protecting me. I was sad to have to pay for another new one but, happy that I was smart enough still to be able to write my name on the cheque.
How old is your helmet? Just normal use wears out the comfort liner so it won’t be a good tight fit anymore. The accumulation of many little knocks and bangs will diminish the helmets ability to keep your personality intact. All the experts say that we should replace our lids every few years. I have ruined many helmets and think of the replacement expense but I think it’s like tires, it’s just part of the cost of riding. My ‘hit the tree with my head’ experience wasn’t a total loss. I kept the ruined but mint-looking helmet for our bike show booth mannequin that we dress up in safety gear. You could say that I took the helmet off one dummy and gave it to another.
Stupid move #4:
Have you heard the phrase, “Penny wise, pound foolish”? In trying to save, I lost. Don’t get the impression that I’m cheap, but $100.00 worth of gas is still $100.00. How many of you would have tried to do what I did recently? I offered to return six youth ATVs to a local dealer and was loading them into my trailer when the stupid voice said, ‘Hey, the staff filled these all up with gas.’ Six ATVs full of gas amounted to a lot of fuel. It was only going to go stale sitting at the dealer’s shop all winter anyway, so I decided to siphon some out of each unit.
I have been siphoning since the gas caps were under car license plates. My buddy, Karl Foster taught me how. I have since called it my newfie credit card since my adoptive family, the Fosters, hailed from one of my favourite provinces, Newfoundland. Over the years I have bought a number of siphon hose contraptions that were much safer to use than the mouth over the hose option. I put one into use with the first ATV but thought, ‘this will take all day.’ Here comes the stupid part. I found a large diameter fuel line that must have been off a Kenworth. It was as big as a garden hose and I thought with it being so large, I would have to really suck hard to pull that volume of fuel through. Physics wasn’t my best subject in school in case you haven’t guessed. The next thing I knew I had swallowed a couple of ounces of gasoline. It was burning my face, mouth and throat so I thought I had better get rid of the gas I just swallowed. I stuck my fingers down my throat and was successful in vomiting up a volatile mass. Yikes! Wondering what to do next, I staggered to the office computer and googled, “swallowed gasoline.” The first medical advice was “do not induce vomiting.”
Joking aside, gasoline in your lungs can kill you. Apparently, I was only stupid enough to have swallowed it and after a few days I was feeling my usual self again. Please don’t siphon at home. There are all kinds of commercial siphon hose products available.
After so many stupid motorcycling moves, I was happy to start snowmobiling recently. My new Yamaha Vector arrived and I took it out for its first ride of the season. The 1000cc four-stroke sled has pipes coming out behind the seat and it sounds just like a big sport bike. I went down the ski hill of the resort we are located at and had a ride around before the skiers hit the slopes. Next, I ventured out onto the driveway and found glare ice. A thought occurred to me that I had to pay a cheque to the accountant as I was passing his driveway so the little voice said, ‘No problem; Lock up the brake and kick out the back end in order to make the drift turn into the driveway.’ I listened and it worked well until the locked up track hit some snow on the ice. The track stopped drifting and the momentum high sided me like a catapult. It was very entertaining to Mr. Kimble, the resort vice-president of operations, who was walking towards me as I slid by him without my snowmobile. I am sure he was thinking, ‘this nut is the chief instructor?’
I am a year closer to the big Five-O. I hope to get wiser soon. Perhaps wisdom for me will be determining when to listen to my little voice. Right now it is whispering to go work on my Shriner’s bike. Putting some polished parts back on will be the cycle therapy needed to cheer me up after such a long “stupid moves” self analysis. Perhaps the little two-stroke street bike will be my future salvation. I will get older, join the Masons and work my way up to the Shriner’s rank where I can ride my polished antique bike in parades. I hope I can find a fez that will fit over a helmet.