THERAPEUTIC RIDE - New motorcycle helps dad with stress ... or does it?

  • Published
  • By Bill James
  • 37th Training Wing Safety Office
Last year, my oldest daughter went out into the world on her own. Oh, I knew it would happen eventually. But after 18 years, seeing her pack up one day and leave the next was alarming. The total lack of preparation bothered me. Not hers. Mine. I knew she was leaving; I just wasn't ready for it to happen. I had to find a way to cope with my loss, so I bought another motorcycle.

Good therapy.

Knowing my wife has a soft spot for strays, I told her the bike followed me home. I said I would take care of it, clean it, take it out for long "walks," and even get it licensed. She acted like she was mad, but her generous heart was apparent as she gave me a blanket so I could spend a few quality nights in the garage with my new "pet."

While I obviously have a lot to learn about women, I also discovered there is still a lot I don't know about motorcycles. The "stray" motorcycle I adopted is considerably smaller than my other bike. It has two cylinders for 650ccs of engine and weighs a mere 363 pounds. Its biggest wind-blocking component is the headlight. ... That's about as naked as a machine can get and still have paint.

Of course, I took it to the range and practiced cornering and stopping techniques. Of course, I considered myself proficient in handling it. Of course, I proved myself wrong.

On my way to a friend's house to attend a going away party for one of our deploying troops, I traveled in a straight line at the posted speed limit. I saw a car heading toward me with its blinker on, signaling the driver's intention to turn left into a strip mall.
I covered the brakes just in case he decided to turn in my path.

He did.

I mentally patted myself on the back for my superior risk management as I applied both brakes to slow enough for him to turn safely in front of me. Then faster than you can say, "Man, I'm good!" the car behind him also turned left, putting us on a collision course.

This I hadn't anticipated.

We were so close I could almost swear I saw the Our Lady of Grace statue on his dashboard cover her eyes.

I applied increasing pressure to both brakes but noticed things weren't going like I imagined in my practice stops. First of all, while I was wearing all of the appropriate personal protective gear, nobody ever told me that it might also be a good idea to strap on an athletic supporter cup. But I was wishing I had as I was quickly and painfully introduced to the gas tank.

Next, I found myself staring at asphalt because the rear end of the bike didn't stay on the ground where it belongs. I craned my neck to reacquaint myself with the horizon and realized if I didn't let off the front brake I was going to flip over. However, I also understood that if I released the front brake to get the rear tire on the ground, I would hit the car.

Well, at least I was wearing clean underwear.

I eased off the front brake just enough to keep from somersaulting, but squeezed it enough to still slow quickly. The car crowded past, and I returned the rear tire to good ol' Mother Earth.

I arrived at my friend's house 10 minutes later. It was another 30 minutes before I stopped shaking.

The incident reminded me how quickly a fun moment can turn into a scary one. All of these moments, though, are an occasion to learn. I used the experience to reinforce the fact that if you buy a new motorcycle, you should take the time to get very familiar with it ... such as practicing your quick stops.

I also learned that while my newly independent daughter had left home, it wasn't forever. She returned for Christmas and kicked my butt in a video game of Rock Band and Guitar Hero.

I'm just happy that I survived my close call and can continue to witness the wonderful woman she is becoming.