Shrapnel

Story by Scott Dynes// Photos by Scott Dynes
December 1 2012

Sometimes you just have to thank your lucky stars

It was just after dawn, and I was riding the on-ramp to the QEW westbound from the 403. I had just moved into the centre lane, doing about 110 km/h and was getting ready to pass a transport truck hauling a 53-foot trailer, when I noticed a shiny blur move under the left side of my bike and then the high-pitched grinding sound of what I thought was a stone caught in the front brake disc.

I backed off the throttle to let the truck go past, and started making my way across the lanes to get to the right shoulder. I didn’t want to use any front brake in case what I thought was a stone might move and lock up the brake, so I eased on the rear brake, and once I was on the shoulder, I pulled in the clutch, hit the kill switch and let the bike roll to a stop.

I kicked out my side stand and promptly stood in a pool of oil that was oozing out from under the crankcase. Climbing off the bike, I looked underneath and saw a piece of aluminum sticking out from the crankcase and touching the ground just inches from my front tire. After taking several deep breaths and allowing my heart to resume normal rhythm, I called my wife to inform her that I had hit a piece of metal on the highway and was going to call a tow truck because I couldn’t ride home. As much as I wanted to check the extent of the damage to my Kawasaki Voyager during the 45-minute wait for the tow truck, cars and trucks were travelling by me way too fast, so I was not going to lie down on the shoulder, in case a rubbernecker veered over me.

Motorcycle Shrapnel The driver and I loaded the bike, and we made for my home. The flatbed pulled up to the front of our house, and my wife came out with a typical “what is that stupid thing going to cost us now?” look. My beloved of 35 years is not a bike person, considering them all “donorcycles.” She looked the entire machine over, and her eyes just widened when she saw the embedded blade. I’d like to say she reached for me crying and wondering how she’d ever live without me, but instead she started cursing that “damned bike” and the “damned stupid truck” that spun that wicked metal shard off at me and why hadn’t I driven the car that day? I felt so loved.

A piece of aluminum had run up beside the crankcase, shearing off the oil pressure switch (hence the pool of oil), over the exhaust cross member, over the swingarm and bent up with the point – missing the gas tank by just 5 cm – finally coming to a stop 2.5 cm under the seat.

In overall dimensions, the offending metal shard was 1.25 cm thick, 96.25 cm long and 20.25 cm wide, narrowing to a point with a wicked hook at the end. I now understood that the noise I’d heard was not a stone, but the wide end of the metal scraping along the road as I made for the shoulder. I was horrified to realize that had I used the front brake, I would have unknowingly driven the metal into the ground and possibly thrown myself over the bars, or it may have jammed into the gas tank or through my seat, as the portion of the highway where I’d had to pull over had rumble strips. The reason it took so long to stop was due to the oil being splashed up on my rear tire and brake, making it all but useless.

Removal of the shard involved raising the bike 10 cm off the ground, taking off the front bodywork, loosening off the header bolts and removing the tailpipes. At this point, I called in my expert mechanic friend Keith, who was able to re-tap the threads and reassemble the pressure switch. To date, there have been no leaks after 5000 km.

Showing off my trophy to all my friends, family and coworkers brought high fives from most, a few who wanted to rub my tummy for luck, and many who said I should have played the lottery that day.

I had intended to mount the “trophy” with a few pictures, but when I told my wife, I got a filthy look and was informed that this was not artwork, nor did it fit the decor of the house, and it was not going to happen. I’d like to think she loves me so much she doesn’t want any reminders of that awful day.

I’m sure that 40 years of motorcycle riding and defensive driving courses allowed me to keep my head in the game and make sound decisions even when faced with a potentially dangerous situation. It was almost anticlimactic until I bent down on my knee and realized how deadly this could have been. Jammed higher up, it could have resulted in a sliced leg, or lower, it might have meant being catapulted over the bars. I’m the first to admit there was a great deal of luck involved as well.

I called my insurance company, only to be informed that I hadn’t bought “flying debris” insurance; I didn’t even know this existed. I was lucky that damage was minimal, considering what took place. Police took the report but weren’t interested in pursuing it. The shard of aluminum looked to be a piece of junk from one of those open dump trucks that collect metal waste, which we all see cruising our neighbourhoods regularly.
Moral of the story? There isn’t one, but here are several thoughts. Drive safely, take the defensive driving courses offered, keep your bike in perfect operating condition and always be aware of your surroundings. Don’t wait until you have an accident to find out what your insurance doesn’t cover. Sometimes “#@*%” just happens.

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