The Inevitable?

Yes, when it comes to motorcycle riding there is one inescapable fact.  There are only two kind of motorcycle riders, those who have had an accident and those who will have an accident.  That is also true of riding a motorcycle on the track at high speeds.  If you do it long enough you will crash.  If you don't believe that, you really have no business riding a motorcycle.

On the track especially, it's unavoidable because it's the nature of the sport to push yourself and your machine.  To find the limits of both.  And sooner or later there will be some combination of variables that will come together and you will exceed the limits.  The only question then is how bad will it be and will you be ready for it? 

And so, the odds have caught up with me and now I'm in the "has crashed on a track" category.

Sunday, September 17th.  The next to last track day of the year.  The track was Gingerman in South Haven Michigan.

I got up about 3:00 a.m..  Well, sooner actually.  As before most track days I wake up early and then I can't get back to sleep, so I just lay there with my eyes closed drifting in and out of some half sleep state until the alarm rings, or until I feel there's just no point to laying there any more.  Actually the plan was to get up at 3:30 and leave the house by 4:00.  That's earlier than usual because Gingerman is in the East time zone, so two hour drive and one hour time difference makes for early rising.

When I got up the first thing I did was to check the weather forecast.  There had been a threat of rain over the weekend.  In fact I had signed up for the trackday late because I wanted to make sure It wouldn't get rained out.  There was still a chance of rain in the afternoon.  Ah well.

As usual, I had done all the prep and loading the bike on the trailer the day before, so all I had to do was pack my cooler with food, tighten the straps on the bike, and I was off.

The drive there was actually pretty nice.  It had been a long time since I'd driven in the pre dawn hours.  There was hardly anyone on the roads.  I'd occasionally pass someone or someone would pass me, but the rest of the time it was just peace, quite, and the hole which the headlights punched in the darkness. 

When I got there the sun was just starting to come up.  The pits are on the West side of the track and I pulled into a spot facing East, got out and just watched the sky turn shades of orange and blue.  The weather was definitely going to be cooperating and it looked like it was going to be a good day.

I got the trailer and car unloaded and then took a walk through the pits.  Judging by the number of people I saw, it was not going to be crowded on the track.  I got through tech inspection, and by the time the rider meeting took place, which was much earlier and much shorter than usual, there were still only about 20-25 people total. Definitely familiar faces from the Grattan track in early spring.  Turned out that there was only one Advanced rider, so Intermediate and Advanced groups were combined and we'd be running half hour sessions rather than 20 minutes.  Sweet.  Turned out that one of the reasons the meeting was so early, and we got on the track nearly an hour earlier than usual, is because there is a local ordinance that from 9:00-11:00 in the morning no one could be on the track  Hey, they didn't tell us about that when we were signing up.

Although the riders meeting was short, one things sticks in my head now... something along the lines that it's not going to be crowded, so there's plenty of open track, and there's no reason anyone should be crashing... the ground is cold so take a couple session to warm up.  Wiser words were never spoken.

They gave the five minute warning for the Intermediate/Advanced group and I got myself suited up.   I  came up to the staging area and I was the only person there.  The track marshal there came over and asked me what group was coming up.  He wasn't sure cause they hadn't told him.  I waited for a little bit, one of the control riders came, a couple more people, and we were off.  I doubt there was more than five people on the track.  As I recall the order was a control rider, a couple other guys, and myself.

Turn one comes up right after entering the track, then a short straight, two right turns with a very short straight between them.  Going around those turns I could feel my tires slide a bit because they were still cold.   The second turn is tighter than the first so you have to slow down.  That leads into a longer straight where you can accelerate and keep accelerating through a left kink.  I then stayed close to the outside of the track and gradually slowed down because the next two left turns are progressively tighter and closer together. So, by staying to the outside of the track you're ready for the entry into the tight left. You never actually stand the bike up in that section, just lean more or less. Another short straight and then an increasing radius right hander, that really lets you accelerate out. There's actually a pavement joint line that runs with the curve about three feet or so from the inside of the turn. You definitely notice it when you cross it. You then have to quickly get on the brakes and take the next left hander.  Then a short straight, a 90 degree right that leads to the back straight, then brake heavily again for a 90 degree right, down the front straight, then brake heavily and early (because the road drops away a bit right before turn one and you can't really brake as hard as if you were on level ground). 

So, my first few time around I learned you have to brake early for turn one, go slower through turn three than two, accelerate through the left kink (turn 4), slow down for five, really slow down for six, accelerate hard through seven, than good brakes and quick transition left (turn 8), no big deal through 9, hard down the back straight, no big deal through ten, hard down the front straight.  I also learned I can do the whole track in second gear, which tops out down the straights, and there's really no point in shifting into 3rd, and still has enough pull for the corners.  The overall impression was that the straights are short and it's a tight, technical track.  Definitely the shortest straights of any track I've been on.

Thinking back on it I'm not sure how many laps I did.  I passed a guy or two and stuck with the lead control rider until he waved my by, but it was either one or two laps after that.  I came accelerating hard around seven, and realized I'd run out of track,  as I came off the asphalt I stood the bike up (grass is not a good place for leaning the bike).  I only got off the asphalt by a few inches, and because the next turn was a left, I was back on the asphalt... no problem.  I'd definitely had worse off road excursions.  But where I came back on the track put me deeper and faster into the turn than I wanted to be, but I had room. I started braking and leaned the bike into the left turn.

That was it.  The next thing I remember is a huge grinding/scraping sound, me hitting the ground, sliding, then me rolling/flipping several times, and then getting to my knees in the grass on the outside of the turn, facing the track, with my bike in front of me. I remember pain and heavy breathing, and thinking I need to get out of here before someone else wipes out and lands on top of me.  I walked away from the bike and the track further into the grass, then as the shock started wearing off, I decided I needed to get my bike out of there so no one else would hit it.  I went over to try and pick it up, but there was no way, my left arm was useless and I was in pain, I knelt back down and concentrated on my breathing. I saw the corner worker coming over, talking on his two-way radio. I had stood back up and he asked me If I was hurt.  I told him my shoulder was messed up and he radioed that in. Next thing the ambulance is there, and the paramedic is asking where it hurts, helping me take off my helmet and gloves. They  walked me over to the ambulance and I sat down in it. The paramedic shined a light in my eyes to see if my pupils were dilating, asking me if I knew where I am, and If I wanted to go to the hospital.   I told him I'd like to wait and see how I feel in a little while.  He was OK with that, so they drove me to my pit area, helped me get my leathers off my shoulders, checked me out some more, and had me sign a waiver.   I also got some Advil from one of the guys parked next to me, and the paramedic said I should take them for the next few days to keep down any inflammation and swelling.  I thanked them and they went back to their post at the side of the track.  But not before they asked the guys next to me to keep an eye on me and make sure I was all right.  Funny things can happen when adrenaline wears off.

Somewhere in there, while I was still in the grass next to my bike, I remember being angry with my self that I had done this.  I remember saying crap, shit, or something like that.  When I was walking toward the ambulance I took a look at the bike.  It didn't look good.  There's the upper fairing with the wind shield, the mid section, and then the lowers. The upper was cracked and the shield was completely gone, the mid fairing was still attached to the lower, but they were both ripped almost completely off the bike and that left side was muddy.  The tail section was also cracked with pieces gone.  I found out later that even the top of my ignition key, still in the ignition, was bent over.  I have no idea how you bend a key while it's still in the ignition.  I was surprised my lights and instrument panel seemed in tact.

Thinking about it now, I'm not sure how it was that the bike ended up between me and the track when I was in the grass.  The front tire slid out from under  me and I fell toward the inside of the curve, the bike was leading the slide toward the outside of the track, so how did I get in front of it?  The guy that was behind me said that my bike flew almost six feet into the air during it's slide and tumble. Did it stop, and I kept going?

The guy behind me also said that when I ran wide on the turn, and came back onto the asphalt my tires were completely shiny... wet.  That explains it.  That few inches into the grass, which was still covered with dew, had gotten my tires all wet, and when I came back onto the asphalt and applied the brake, and leaned into the turn, I had no traction, and it wasn't like a dry tire slide where you have time to react and adjust, it was like ice, it just let go with no warning.

Well, I sat there in my pit area for a while, not really thinking about much of anything, just trying to avoid movement that would cause pain.  Then I called my wife to tell her the news and got about the business of changing out of my protective gear.  I was a bit surprised to see the holes in my leather suit.  At the left shoulder the leather was worn through in spots, which explained how I got a bit of a scratch on my skin. By my right forearm and elbow the suit was worn through, and also under my left knee, where I also had some scratches.  The knuckle guards (made of some sort of hard plastic) on the gloves were worn through on two fingers, and my helmet was scratched up on my left side. I figured I needed to start a "Wall of Shame" and hang these things up. 

Well, with the help of the guys around me, I started packing up.  My bike was still out on the track somewhere but I wouldn't get it until the mandatory two hour brake came up.  I walked around a bit and talked to a few of the guys at the track and the paramedic for a while.  He encouraged me to see my doctor, because it was difficult for them to say what exactly was wrong with my shoulder.  But based on the movement I had, he said it was encouraging.

Brake time came around and the paramedic found me to say I can just go out on the track and get the bike myself.  So, I got a couple volunteers, they sat themselves on the trailer, and I slowly drove out to the track and around until we got to turn 8.  The track crew had taken the bike across to the inside of the track and stood it up next to the corner workers station.  I pulled into the grass next to it and got my first long look at it.  Actually, it didn't look that bad, other than the cracked up bodywork, everything seemed in tact, even the things that typically go in a crash like footpegs, shifter, and handlebars.  It looked like the frameslider I had installed really took the impact.  The one on the left side was bent back and had quite a bit of material ground off.  And even the swingarm slider was all beat up.  The guys loaded it up for me and we went round the rest of the track and back to the pits.

When we got back to the pit I readjusted the hold-down straps, made sure everything was tight, said my thanks to everyone who had helped, wished them a safer day, and took off.  Let's just say driving home was no picnic.  It's a good thing I crashed on my left side, because my car is a stick shift and I don't think I could have shifted with my injured arm.  As it was, driving was this dance of using my knees to steer at times while shifting with the right hand.  Fact it's been like that for the past two weeks.  I'm finally getting to the point where I can get my left arm up on the strearing wheel.

I got home right about noon, managed to get the trailer in the garage, took another look at the bike, and left it there.  Haven't touched it for two weeks.

I figured it would be a good idea if I went and got a sling to hold my arm still, so my wife and I went to a couple different places, but we couldn't find one.  The medical supply store was closed on Sunday.  So, we figured I might as well go to the immediate care center, have them look at me, and see if they could get me a sling.  Well, after three hours... which I find ironic given that it's an "immediate care center"... they should rename it a "we'll get to you when we can cause we're understaffed care center".  But hey, it was better than sitting in an emergency room, and where was I going? It's not like I was going to be doing something productive with this arm.  I finally got in to see the doctor, they took some X-rays, and sure enough, I had broken my shoulder blade.  And a pretty nice, jagged, crack, right across the shoulder blade below the shoulder socket. 

Since then, I've had a C.T. scan and seen an orthopedic sports medicine doctor.  The good news is that although my shoulder blade is in three pieces, surgery is not required. As the doctor explained, it's surrounded by 14 different muscles, which means it gets a really good blood supply, which promotes healing, the other thing is to go in there and pin it or something would require cutting through all those muscles, and he said that's major work and recovery, and it may never be the same after that.  So, he and I agreed, we'll take the conservative approach.

Well, people have asked me do I plan on riding again.  Others have asked if I've thought about doing this in cars rather than on a motorcycle, cause in a car you don't pay with your body.  You make a mistake, you spin out, and that's that.  Hmmmm....  You know what I've been doing for the last couple week?  Searching the web sites for places that sell aftermarket bodywork to replace the messed up pieces.  I'm trying to figure out if I'll buy some finished, pre painted, panels or just primed and paint them myself.  Of course the only reason to really paint it nice would be if I was going to sell it.  Otherwise it just doesn't matter, wo we'll see.  One thing I'm sure of, I don't see my self not riding any more, and I don't see myself stopping track days. 

It's funny.  My mother called today to see how things were and I told her I broke my shoulder blade.  Of course, she was concerned.  Among other things she asked who's fault was it?  I kind of laughed and said well, it's my fault of course, no one else involved, and I explained what happened.  She said something along the lines of, "Well, I guess you learned a lesson.  An expensive lesson."  I guess that's the thing to come away with.  I do need to learn a lesson from all this, maybe several.  First would be, if I do run off the track regardless how minor an excursion, it may be a good idea to slow down, pull in, and check the bike over, just to make sure nothing happened while bouncing through the grass.  The other thing is, there really is no reason that should have happened.  As they always remind us, it's not a race, there's no trophies, we're all here to have a good time. I could have had a really good time on a really nice track on a really nice day, if I would have slowed down just a bit.  There's definitely a lesson in that.

So, it's two weeks later now as I'm writing this. I have some movement back in my arm.  I can actually do stuff with it. And I can sneeze.  Yes, it seems that my shoulder, and ribs (because the ribs are definitely sore too), would not allow me to sneeze.  When I got that itchy feeling in my nose, and took the breath... that's it.  The pain canceled any need to sneeze.  So, I'm sneezing again which is a good sign.

Well, I finally got the bike off the  trailer, got all the body panels off, and took a good look at it.  There's a piece of plastic that runs under the rear seat from which  two attachment point for the tail section are broken off. But that's not major because the tail section has four other attachment points.   Also, the upper fairing bracket, which is like a big Y, has the tips of the Y broken off, but all the mounting points for the fairing and mirrors are still in tact, so that doesn't effect the function, and it's covered by the fairing anyway.  So, don't need to replace that.

I washed the bike and kept looking.  There are a few electrical odds and ends mounted on the left side of the bike, they didn't look right.  I looked at a picture in my service manual and judging by the difference, it looked like the bracket that's holding these things bent.  I spent some time straightening that out and got it back to normal.

Well, I mounted the upper fairing temporarily back on the bike. There are a bunch of electrical connections to it, so it all needs to be hooked up for the electrical system to work.  Once that was done I turned it on, poked the starter button, and it started right up.  I let it run for a while and it seemed to run fine and the temperature was regulating properly.  Bounced the front forks, they seemed to move smoothly.

So, here's the wall of shame.  I took these pictures in the garage two weeks after it happened.

Let's start with the better side of the bike

The saddest part of it all is that I did all that metallic blue paint, I did.  Yup, sanded, primed, painted, clear coated.  I had plans to do some more blue on the upper fairing, maybe the tank and the tail, just to balance it all out.  Ah well.  The good news is, now I'll get to paint it all over again.  I'm starting to think black purple and yellow.

And this is the bad side:


Here's a close-up of the upper fairing:

Obviously that use to be where the wind shield was.  That black muddy thing right under the crack is the mirror mount.  There's a bracket underneith that use to extend up past the mount, but it cracked off when the bike landed upside down.

This is a close-up of the left side by the frame slider.

That is probably the reason I still have footpegs, handlebars, and a gear shifter, but the more I look at it, the more I think it's also the reason I don't have a fairing on that side.  The bracket got bent and it twisted right up into the fairing, causing the fairing to break apart.  Tradeoff I guess.

Here's a close-up of the case cover:

The lower fairing definitely saved that. Those are marks from melted plastic and they came off with brake cleaner. There was a hole in the fairing (shown below) right at that point. 

Then of course there was the damage to the protective gear:
Holes in leathers at the shoulder

Holes in elbow

Had holes at one of the knees too.  Also on the gloves, the hard plastic knuckles wore through.

And then there's the helmet, which isn't that bad really, maybe I'll send it back to the manufacturer to have them check it out and tell me if it's still good.  Of course, it protects my head, so why take a chance... I'll just buy a new one.