EVERY MOTORCYCLE RIDERS HAS HAD CLOSE CALLS. Which of yours were so close that you were in disbelief that a tragedy simply failed to materialize when it should have? (Write your experience below).
The events that have really been on the edge of life and death for me, are some of my most vivid recollections.
Yesterday I was riding home from some meetings in Los Angeles and got cut off on the highway. Of course this happens regularly to motorcycle riders. It’s happened to me so many times over the years that I don’t consider them worthy of comment. (If you ride every day – stuff happens).
Very few of these past experiences have been remarkably close calls – the ones I consider truly life threatening. At least for me, an event that requires a slight swerve, or minor unplanned braking, is typically not close enough to have really been life threatening. These are the kind of incidents where simple alertness prevented the majority of potential mishaps from ever becoming anything more than an inconvenience.
Much rarer still is biting the pavement, which I’ve done a few times, too, resulting in motorcycles crashed beyond repair and various personal (and painful) injuries. Although, in two of my street-riding crashes, they were not a result of someone cutting me off: they were classic rider errors on my part – more than 20 years apart – which were the kinds of experiences I needed to really establish a much greater respect for very defensive, safe-riding practices. (In my view, off-road minor mishaps are another matter altogether and simply part of the adventure).
BUT SOME CLOSE CALLS ARE DIFFERENT
But yesterday afternoon was one of those experiences that was so unique, that I felt inspired to mark the occasion with a few words and to see if others might have similar experiences.
To be as brief as possible, I was riding home on an 8-lane divided highway that has rain grooves, which are common in California. The temperature was mild in the late afternoon. The sky was overcast, so there was no bright sun in anyone’s eyes. Traffic was moving along at 65 mph, which was as fast as anyone could go, since the quantity of vehicles filled all lanes. Hence, I had cars relatively close on my left, right, behind me and in front of me.
The car on my left jumped into my lane so fast that it was only a result of some instinctive reaction that had me jam on the front and rear brakes so hard that I was partially launched out of my seat.
Traffic was moderately congested. The lane I was in was moving a little faster than the lane on my immediate left, and the guy did a sharp swerve into my lane to get in front of the car behind me. Unfortunately, I was in that same spot, and he did not see me. I was instantly aware that I was in his blindspot as he jumped into my lane without recognizing that he was going to sideswipe my motorcycle and turn me into a hood ornament for the car that was just behind me, on my right.
Instinctively, I swerved as far right in my lane as possible, without actually crossing into the next lane, but I could see there was not enough space to avoid getting hit.
Furthermore, as I was mid-launched off my seat with the heavy braking force, and with the right-rear-fender of the encroaching car actually underneath my fairing, while my front tire was tucked within his wheel well, my handlebars started shaking violently as I was simultaneously attempting to mentally plan my personal trajectory in hopes of controlling the ensuing damage right there in the middle of the highway. Amidst everything that was flashing through my mind as supersonic speed, oddly enough, the violent shaking of the handlebars seemed to capture my imagination as the most unusual element in this situation, while I muscled the bars to maintain some semblance of cooperation. But with all that happening instantly, there was no collision. In another split second my braking force allowed the offending vehicle to pull in front of me and I let off the brakes to avoid getting run over by the car behind me and the handlebars returned to their normal steady position. I pulled back into the center of the lane to give myself more space away from the car I was dangerously close to, on my right.
Realize that it takes longer to read these words than it did for this event to unfold from an immediate crisis to a mere “close call.”
SOME CLOSE CALLS ARE REMARKABLE
Part of what was remarkable about the event, for me, was how I was able to manage the moment with acute clarity and control, without any sense of panic. Heck, I’ve gotten more perturbed at folks who cut me off and made me swerve, but knowing that it was simply an inconvenience. In other words, in most cases I’m so confident about what is unfolding that I don’t even recognize a real threat, any emotion is simply a result of being irritated.
In this case I was quite aware that I had just survived something – something impressive – at least to me.
The uniqueness of this close call was such that I was left incredulous that a crash did not happen.
I did not have a sense of annoyance that sometimes might accompany my reaction to something that I was confident would not have turned bad. In this case, I had no such confidence. From my perspective, the crash appeared as a foregone conclusion and the real question was “Would I survive?”
In fact, I felt no frustration. Conversely, I felt a renewed regard for simply being alive. I was not pleased with this guy’s action, but I held no ill will towards him. Don’t get me wrong, my thinking towards such drivers is not always so high-spirited!
RIDING ON THE RAZOR EDGE OF LIFE AND DEATH
The point of all this, is that it appeared to me I was riding on the very razor edge of life and death, and I came away from it more respectful of life and living, rather than harboring an annoyance at the offending driver. That is what marks the occasion, to me, as something notable.
Traffic all around me continued on its way, and I don’t believe the vehicle that nearly toppled me had any awareness of what he just caused.
I just continued as if nothing happened and passed him a few seconds later.
Anytime some potential motorcycle mishap occurs, I mentally take stock of the moment and derive some lesson that often boils down to “What could I do in the future to avoid such a circumstance again?” And usually I come up with a plausible mental note for myself and chalk it up as gaining more rider experience.
In this case, there was not much of anything different I could say I’d do if this were to repeat. Obviously, we all do our best to stay out of the blindspots of other vehicles. However, when a rider is surrounded by this amount of traffic, one is likely to be moving through someone’s blind spot, on the left and/or right, at any time.
LESSONS LEARNED – HOW ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCES?
Hence, my takeaway lesson from the experience was the recognition that periodically practicing emergency braking was what saved the day. In other words, the instinctive and instantaneous reaction to this life-threatening situation was a result of some years of preparing for the moment something this close might occur.
In all probability, you are likely to have had a number of close calls, too. But have you had any that were so close that you were in disbelief that a tragedy simply failed to materialize when it should have? Leave your comment below.