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Motorcycle safety: Avoid the asphalt luge

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio -- I refer to it as the time I did the asphalt luge.

For those who need a reminder, the luge is that sport where athletes slide down an ice track at high speeds feet-first, laying on their backs, atop a small sled.

While I was sliding along at high speed, feet first, lying on my back, I wasn’t on an ice track. I was on California State Highway 94, an eight-lane freeway in San Diego, and there was no sled between me and the pavement.

It was April, 1994 (yes, I’m old) and a moment before I had been on my motorcycle, doing about 60 or 65 mph. I would come to find out that my steering head bearing failed. Before I could form the thought that I was going down, I was doing the luge.

I don’t know how long or far I slid, but I had time for two distinct thoughts.

The first was being thankful for the heavy, leather motorcycle jacket I had on. The second, as I  looked between my feet and saw my bike sliding in front of me throwing off sparks, was, “My bike!”

I crossed from the far left lane to the one just right of it before I stopped sliding. As soon as I stopped, I jumped up and dove for the shoulder. Fortunately, the driver behind me had given me enough room that he was able to avoid running me over. Also, lucky for me, when I dove for the shoulder I didn’t dive into the path of a car. There was a lot of luck with me that evening. I didn’t slide into a guardrail or a light pole. I didn’t tumble or roll when I left the bike. There wasn’t a driver next to me when my body changed lanes.

I also made my own luck that evening. I was wearing that jacket. California freeways have grooved surfaces. Those grooves are still visible along the left sleeve and the back of that jacket. I had good, leather cowboy boots on. I don’t think my feet would have been in any shape for me to dive for the shoulder of the road if I had been in flipflops. And, of course, I was wearing my full-face helmet and quality motorcycle gloves.

As I stood up on the shoulder of the freeway, I was amazed to discover that nothing seemed broken. I had scrapes, but I was in one piece. In the emergency room that night, I was treated for relatively minor road-rash on my right shin and backside as well as a scrape on my knuckle. When I went to work the next day, the only sign of the mishap was a standard-sized Band-Aid on my finger.

There are two sayings I kept hearing when I was riding. The first was, “There are two kinds of riders: those who have laid their bikes down and those who will.” The second one was, “There are old riders and there are dumb riders, but there are no old, dumb riders.”

Both of these sayings have a lot of truth in them. If you ride long enough, the odds are at some point you will become separated from your bike in an unplanned manner. That does not mean you have to stop riding. It means you do everything you can to mitigate the danger.

For tips and tricks on how to keep you and your bike safe, there is Motorcycle Safety Day 2019 on May 10 from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Base Theater parking lot.