For me, riding a motorcycle has been relaxing, fulfilling, exciting and at times a religious experience. I began riding as a teenager, hopping on our Honda Trail 70 during family camping trips. There was no formal training given to the public at that time and all you had was the Motorcycle Handbook, courtesy of your local motor vehicle department.
I abandoned riding due to other interests but began riding again after joining the Police Department. I use to watch some of the guys arriving at work on their bikes, so in 1982 I purchased my first bike, a brand new Honda 650 Nighthawk for $1400. Still, without any formal training, I figured I could master it in no time. I did, or at least I thought I did.
I rode that bike religiously and did some trips from the Bay Area as far north as Eureka, Ca and far south as San Luis Obispo. I felt invincible and thought I was becoming a good rider until……….
A group of seven of us decided to ride to Yosemite National Park, a 3.5 hour ride from the S.F. Bay area. I had on a leather jacket, blue jeans, cowboy boots, gloves and a full face helmet. There was no mandatory helmet law at that time but I thought it prudent. I would soon find out the next day.
We had a great ride into the National Park. One of the guys had a scare when he passed a car as the Turbo on his Honda 500 kicked in and sent him into an unexpected wheelie. Other than that, it was shaping up to be a great ride. We took the Twisties up to Glacier point, taking the sweeping corners as fast as we could. I remember we took off our helmets for that stretch and made it without any mishaps. I felt I was managing my speed into the corners and accelerating and looking through them properly.
After exiting the park, we found a nice place to camp and ate a makeshift meal of cold beans straight out of the can, a nice cold beer and after we bedded down for the night. The next morning we awoke and ate breakfast prior to heading home. As we reached a section of Hwy 49 just outside of Colterville, Ca, it happened.
I was the third rider back as we entered a gentle, sweeping left turn with a yellow 30 mph advisory sign. It was a simple curve and nothing like we had experienced on the way to Glacier Point but something happened. In retrospect, I did not reduce my speed enough or gear down. I felt my speed was too much for the corner and looked at the right hand edge of the road. Big mistake!
Fortunately, the right side of the road was the mountain side and not the downside. I looked right into the depression of the dirt shoulder which followed the edge of the pavement and went right in. I was doing about 35 mph at the time and was stuck in the depression which was wide enough for a motorcycle tire. Trapped, I rode for a short distance when my engine block hit a rock, which pitched me forwards and back onto the roadway. I went over the handlebars and began flying towards the pavement. My last recollection before the big hit was seeing the asphalt from an altitude of five inches. It was amazing the detail I can recall and how the tiny pieces of gravel looked like boulders.
I struck head first with the top of my helmet and did a complete roll onto my hands and knees, sliding to a stop. The rider behind me locked his front brake and went down, nearly hitting me. After the dust cleared I stood up, seemingly unharmed. I went to what was left of my bike and saw that I had cracked the engine block, totaled! We pushed my bike to the gas station in Colterville, where I left it for later pick up.
Fortunately I was unscathed, as was the other rider who fell behind me. We pushed my bike to the nearest gas station in Colterville, awaiting it’s future. The most painful part was riding 3 hours home on the back of another riders bike. I vowed never again to be a passenger if I could help it. We rode non-stop and the 3 hours on my buddies tiny rear seat almost killed me. I was younger then and quickly recovered and as soon as I got home I grabbed my truck and picked up my former bike. I delivered it to the Honda shop and awaited the insurance companies appraisal.
What did I learn? First, I got $1,500 dollars from the insurance company. That was $100 more than I paid for the bike, so I learned I could make money crashing. Second, I learned I loved motorcycling. I turned around and bought a larger bike, a used Honda V45 Magna with 2000 miles on the odometer and a new helmet.
Thirdly, I learned that protective gear works. That was my revelation and religious experience. Ever since that day, I ride buttoned up even on hottest days. Thank god for modern perforated clothing and cool vests. Fourthly, I learned that where you look is where you go! And fifthly, how important training can be.
Two years following this incident, I was chosen to ride Police Motors and received 120 hours of formal training and did three years on the bike without incident. Since then, I attended a second police motor school with 80 hrs of instruction, a police motor instructors school with 80 hrs instruction, the 40 hour MSF rider/coach school and a 40 hour course on motorcycle collision investigation through Florida State University. I finished the last 10 years of my career on the police bike as an instructor and trained scores of Law Enforcement and civilian riders. I was involved in two on duty motorcycle collisions, one with minor injury and one without. But those incidents furthered my education and reinforced the need for protective gear.
The pic is one of the advanced motor officer training sessions I put on in Fremont, Ca. Officers are from the Pleasanton, Union City and Fremont Police Departments.
As a trainer, I was able realize how important training can be. Having investigated hundreds of motorcycle collisions, I feel I have a first hand insight on how and where accidents can happen and try to share that insight with others who ride. Other than a basic rider course, most riders receive no other formal training.
I highly recommend to those of you who ride, to absorb as much information you can and take what ever skill riding courses you can find. There is plenty of information on the web and in text and some Law Enforcement Motor Schools, offer riding courses which use the police motor officer training patterns.
With this website, I hope to offer you my views on safe riding which have been developed over the years with experience and training. I don’t know everything but I do know a lot and I am willing to share what I know if it will help others.
Riding a motorcycle is a diminishing skill set and if not practiced routinely, your abilities diminish over time. So if you are a fair weather rider, I recommend reading during the off season. It can only help keep you alive and healthy to enjoy your favorite pastime.
If you can only read one text, I highly recommend reading: Proficient Motorcycling: The Ultimate Guide to Riding Well by David L Hough. But these days, there is an abundant of good information out there.
I hope my experience can pursuade you to improve you riding skills. Good luck and be safe!