Hey, stuff happens, right? My embarrassing moments seem to happen most often when people are watching. There is a learning curve to any sport, so when we ran instructor training programmes, I would ask those in attendance to tell the group “an embarrassing motorcycle moment”. There were always those who miraculously had never suffered the red faced times when their motorcycle fell over. I always started the shame stories rolling with something stupid I had done, and despite being involved in instructor training for over twenty years; I never ran out of stories.
Are you alright? Can I help you? I spent the morning polishing my ‘new to me’ dirt bike. My plan for the afternoon was to ride over to the pond and show off the bike to my pals who would all be swimming. After wolfing down some lunch that my Mom insisted I needed to eat, I rode to the pond and sure enough, the whole gang was there.
As it turned out, the buzz wasn’t about my new bike, but about a new girl who had just moved into the neighbourhood. Wow! I almost forgot about my new wheels when I saw Ann-Marie, a gorgeous blond with a long Russian last name that no one could pronounce. We had a very small neighbourhood–maybe twenty houses–so a new resident was big news, especially when she looked like Ann-Marie. The other under-fourteen- year-old walking hormones had all tried to chat her up, but I was the first person the new girl came out of the water to talk to. She was curious about my bike (and couldn’t have cared less about me). I managed to ask her where she lived and then got off my bike to show Ann-Marie where the trail started that led right from the pond to her house. When we came back, my neighbour was just getting off my bike. He and the other teen males, who had not been the “chosen one” to talk with the new girl, were smirking. Something was up, but I couldn’t figure it out. I fired up the bike and took off aggressively, and was soon on my face spitting out sand. The bike wouldn’t turn and it simply spiraled into the ground. My friends had locked the steering (on old bikes you used the key to lock the steering under the handlebars on the steering neck). I could hear the guys howling, which only added to the embarrassment. Then I heard a sweet voice above the laughter asking, “Are you alright? Can I help you up?” Ha ha! Their trick had backfired and despite making me look like an idiot, they had made the new girl feel sorry for me. Not such a bad embarrassing moment after all.
Pop Can: Many years later, I was riding toward a group of street rider instructors and their students. I had gone to get the needed keys, and all eyes were on me as I rode up on my 900 Custom. I saw a pop can lying on the ground, and for some dumb reason thought I would see if I could flatten it with my front tire. With a full fairing on the bike I couldn’t actually see the can, but I did manage to flatten it. Then my front wheel suddenly locked up. Did I mention that I was on a gravel parking lot? The front wheel pitched out and I just got my foot down to save the bike from crashing in front of over a hundred spectators.
When I checked my front wheel, the pop can had crushed around the wheel and then travelled up to jam between the tire and the front fender. I had to remove the fender to get the can out. Then I inspired more confidence by introducing myself as the chief instructor for the learn how to ride course.
Kick stands: Many of us who have ridden for a while have an embarrassing kickstand story, I have a few (you would think I’d learn). No one told me about hot pavement and side stands so I learned the embarrassing way.
I had ridden over to my girlfriend’s house. She was the girl whose father had promised to kill me if I ever took his daughter on my bike. We were just watching Happy Days when I heard yelling. Between the expletives I heard, “stupid motorcycle wrecking my driveway”. Running outside I saw that someone had knocked my bike over. Anger soon turned to embarrassment when I realized my sidestand had sunken into the hot pavement. To add to the mess, my bike had peed gas on the driveway; further endearing me to dear old dad!
So much for Happy Days!
Flexed arm hang: As a tall, skinny teenager I struggled to fit in and had trouble feeling comfortable with myself in highschool. I wasn’t especially bright in the marks category. I didn’t hang out with the football jocks and I didn’t like the chess club. The only thing I seemed to be able to do that warranted peer group praise was the flexed-arm hang. Not wanting to brag, but nobody in the whole school could hang onto the bar for as long as I could. Many summers of haying, and weighing only 130-pounds meant the teacher would regularly say, “Okay you can come down now”. The only other ego crutch I had was my motorcycle. Getting my license the day I was sixteen meant I could ride to school and avoid the bus, which I hated.
I used to practice balancing without putting my feet down at stop signs. I got pretty good at being able to stop and pause for a second or two before taking off again. A police officer wasn’t as impressed with my balanced no foot down stop as I was.
He could have just followed me into the school parking lot to chat, but instead took advantage of the siren, flashing lights and the pull-over spot light right in front of the highschool. My red face spread up to my ears and I could still hear the chuckles of all the kids passing by. Then all the buses pulled in. A police car and a victim attract lots of attention. “Hey, what did he do”, “Who is it?” I also heard, “I think it’s that skinny flexed-arm hang kid!” The embarrassment was worse than the three-point demerit ticket for running the stop sign.
Running out of gas: I’ve run out of gas a few times. The most embarrassing time was during a Ride for Sight event. It was the early 80’s and I helped rent a bike for a pal, Big Bob, who had just entered our sport, but didn’t have a bike yet. I was so concerned about his relatively novice skills and watching him in traffic that I forgot that I was already on reserve. All my buddies were there, including my older brother, when my bike started sputtering. We were riding up Yonge Street with a parade of over five hundred other bikes. I had to pull over to the sidewalk, completely out of gas with no station for miles. It was very embarrassing and got worse when my brother pulled up and found out what had happened. His loud remark became one of those moments forever recorded in a group’s collective history. “Where is your little red instructor’s hat now, a**hole?”
Too much gas: Another gas-related embarrassing moment wasn’t so much running out of gas, but using too much! I was demo riding for the government in front of a van full of policemen who were training to get their license test signing authority. The 401 expressway was busy when I decided to illustrate a subtle error called “uneven speed”. I was slowly rolling off the throttle without a brake light and then speeding up.
After performing the error, I was preparing to exit the highway and checked my mirror. What I saw was a car whose driver had decided to exit at the last minute. The driver had cut in at a high rate of speed, right behind me and in front of the following chase van. The car was nose-diving under heavy braking to avoid smoking into me. I reacted by dropping two gears and grabbing a handful of throttle. What would have been an aggressive speed increase on my usual ride (an old BMW) was a little different reaction on the brand new Yamaha FZ1 that I was riding. The engine screamed and the bike stood up, wheeling skyward as I struggled to get the front wheel back on the ground with the clutch.
As demo riders we are supposed to be professionals and everyone in the programme, including the boss, had thought that I was goofing off doing wheelies on the expressway. It was very embarrassing.
Big, big dog! Have you ever been chased by dogs? I have related before how I was approaching a stop sign on a gravel road when a small horse with fangs ran out of the bushes and grabbed my rear brake foot. The panic front brake grab wiped me out and ended up burning the dog a bit with my four into one pipes. When I picked up the bike the dog vanished. Within minutes it seemed that half of my neighbours suddenly had to drive somewhere. Again and again I explained that there was this dog. I got that look from each person that said “sure there was a dog eh! A really big dog!” It was very embarrassing.
Wardrobe malfunctions: We were teaching a fun group of seven ladies how to ride. My co-instructor, Jamie-Lynn, took over so I could run in and change into riding gear. I was hurrying to get dressed when I realized that the zipper on my old dirt bike pants was having issues staying up. I should have switched to another pair, but thought I had the zipper fixed.
Jamie and I led the group around our farm in first gear and then stopped to teach gear changing. It was my turn to teach so I gathered everyone around to talk and to demonstrate shifting. I noticed the group was howling at my jokes that don’t usually get such rave reviews. Even Jamie was laughing hard and she had heard all the teaching joke lines a hundred times.
Good instructors help each other and Jamie was trying to signal me from the back of the group that something was wrong. If you forget to talk about the kill switch or something, then your co-instructor can hand signal you the kill the engine signal. That way you don’t lose face in front of the students and they don’t miss valuable tips.
Well, Jamie was signaling something, but I had never seen this signal before. Hang on… oh no! She was mimicking pulling up a zipper. Merely flying low was only part of the reason for the whole group’s laughter. It seems that when I tucked my motocross jersey into my pants, the zipper let go and a rather pointed portion of the white jersey escaped through the open zipper. I was so embarrassed that Jamie had to teach most of the lessons for the remainder of the day. I can now understand
Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction.
Stolen bike: Have you ever taken your bike on a ferry crossing? Most of the ferries allow motorcycles to pass all of the waiting cars and trucks in order to load first at the front of the ship. Then the sailors help you tie your bike down in case of a rough crossing.
I spent the sea time eating and taking pictures before heading down to the parking deck to ready my bike for disembarkment. You can imagine my panic when my bike was gone. A sailor and a crowd of other riders soon gathered around me, as I was loudly demanding that I be able to check into the vans and covered trucks to look for my stolen bike. The sailor patiently wrote down the description of the bike and where I had parked it. I was very frustrated with the wasted ten minutes when we should have been searching vehicles for my bike.
It was then that we heard a booming voice come over the loud speaker, “Would the owner of the blue Yamaha motorcycle please report to the parking deck at the bow of the ship?” Hey, I thought, I have a blue Yamaha. Hello, I am right here, what is that moron talking about? My bike isn’t here. Apparently, I was at the stern of the ship having mixed up the front with the back. I was very embarrassed to reach the bow to find all the other riders and crew waiting for me to move my bike so they could ride off the ship. Sometimes saying oops just isn’t enough.
Clinton Smout, Chief Instructor
Canadian Motorcycle Training Services