Asphalt, BMW, and Deer...Oh My!
A Near Perfect Day - (audio format)
A last minute opportunity to spend the weekend watching the World Super Bike races in Laguna Seca presented itself. How could I turn down my first-ever motorcycle race? Packed and ready to go at too damn early Friday, I headed north toward Laguna Seca from Los Angeles, aboard a traffic-laden Highway 101. I elected the San Marcos Pass diversion (Highway 154), in an effort to dodge my Gaviota wind curse. By the time I reached the hilly section of the pass, it was just before 10:00 am. I breathed a smog-free sigh of relief, having left the congested morning rush hour traffic behind in Santa Barbara. Knowing I’d run into traffic throughout the weekend, I also left behind my Pelican cases, and tacked a duffel to my tail rack.
The section of 154 which I was currently on consisted of two paved lanes with a gravel shoulder on my left and a steep road cut on my right. I estimated the top of the tree-covered road cut to be approximately 10 to 15 feet. As I enjoyed taking in any scenery which didn’t look like the LA/Orange County border crossing on the 5 Freeway, I noticed two deer atop the hill on my right, looking down at me, less than 100 feet away while I travelled at speed (55 mph). One deer looked at the other, back at me, back at the road, and back to his friend. ‘Noooooo….don’t do it,’ I mumbled inside my helmet. Before I could finish that thought, all I had time to say was ‘shit’ as he jumped down in front of the bike.
As is typical with crashes, you seem to remember the moment immediately before or upon impact with a mysterious blank space occupying the good parts until the landing portion of the brain exercise. I was on my stomach, fully outstretched arms and legs like a jumping jack, sliding backwards/northbound in my lane, and conveniently in a position to watch the cars off in the distance on their approach. No slide slow of life flashed before my eyes; however, I did pass up some BMW parts as I was sliding, taking mental stock of what I’d be missing later. Once my asphalt joyride came to a close, I leaped to my feet and hightailed it across the opposite lane to the shoulder. My 2009 BMW F650GS was nice enough to know her place in the world and slide conveniently off the highway, just onto the gravel shoulder. No need to enter into oncoming traffic and attempt a dead lift. [She’s awesome like that.] I saw the back wheel up off the ground spinning, quickly hit the kill switch, and sat down for the obligatory WTFJH moment.
With less than a minute sitting down, I was greeted by an off-duty EMT, who immediately started barking orders to stay down. Indeed, I know the drill. Don’t bounce around without taking stock of all your moving parts. I sort of missed out on that moment when I decided running across a highway with potentially broken parts was better than seeing if the height of my Schuberth was just enough to hook onto the undercarriage of that SUV heading my way. As it turned out, aside from my pinky feeling like it was on fire, nothing was broken. By the time the second wave of passersby stopped, I was in good hands: two BMW motorcyclists driving a truck. By that time, the CHP was en route, the EMT departed, and it was Phil, Shel, and I surveying the damage to my bike.
Phil and Shel spared me the heavy lifting like the gentlemen they were and righted the bike. We walked around it several times, noting the low-side love marks to the passenger peg and engine cover, missing right-hand turn indicator (but with the leads intact), and the most obvious: the scratches to the BMW logo and plastic fairing. My TCI Products Outback Luggage System, usually sporting two 1520 Pelican cases, took the brunt of the slide and saved my gas tank. Forks seemed straight, control panel lit up, tires seemed unaffected. I had the guys stand off in the distance in front of me while I took her in first to see if they noticed anything peculiar at low speed. Totally weird feeling like the forks were bent. They assured me the forks looked fine and the bike from a distance tracked okay. It took me a few spins before I realized my standard riding position, hands at 9 and 3, needed to be adjusted to 11 and 5. The handlebar was bent and the clamp was twisted. Other than that, I was more than impressed with the way the bike held up during an accident and thought perhaps BMW should buy out Timex’s slogan and go with “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking” in lieu of “Feed your restless.”
The CHP arrived to file a report, which he recommended, and noted that in an accident involving an animal, such as a deer, your insurance company may not believe you if there is no evidence suggestive of impact with the animal. Off went my new friend Phil on a treasure hunt to locate the offending deer, and fortunately he found it lying in a ditch. Any doubts as to my riding abilities were resolved. After the CHP officer completed his report, I rode behind Phil and Shel in the truck in the direction of Santa Maria’s handful of motorcycle dealerships, hoping I could get those bars straightened out.
Fortunately after being turned away a couple of times due to a Seca-induced mechanic shortage, Bett's Central Coast Yamaha/Polaris Dealership’s mechanics were ready and willing to straighten me out…literally. I stole some ibuprofen, doled out hugs all around, hopped on the bike, and carried on. I’ve got a race to see!
The remainder of the ride to Monterey was uneventful, for which I am thankful. Snagged some late day free parking and made gear check my friend at the track. I was able to watch the last couple hours of free practice before a late dinner.
By the time I was finally in a resting position (as opposed to go go go), I could ascertain that while at least my right side was sore, I would be just fine physically with my nifty bruise collection. All that adrenaline though at some point catches up to you and the reality of the situation sinks in. I was fast asleep, awoke from a dream, and ended up sitting in the bathroom crying for about an hour. I couldn’t really explain why except having the realization that a moment in either direction could’ve been the end of me. All that interaction with helpful strangers and mechanics and new friends didn’t really allow me to be anything but brave, so I guess all the doctor ordered was a good cry in a hotel bathroom, which like a good cup of coffee or a hot shower seems to cure just about anything.
I sincerely believe that the survival rate for every crash is equal parts landing and gear. That said, you really cannot control the way you land in every crash, so why not give yourself a fighting chance by wearing protective gear from head to toe? In my case, the landing was a perfect 10. I cannot explain how I managed to land like a cat, dragging my hands and legs against the highway and escaping with no broken bones. That 30-40 foot slide wasn’t exactly magical in recollection, but my Rev’It Levante Jacket and Legacy GTX pants, Held Air Hero gloves, SIDI Fusion Lei boots, and Schuberth C3 helmet protected me. I walked…well…ran across a two-lane highway and could not have moved that fast out of harm’s way if I was covered in road rash from head to toe.
Rev’It’s Legacy GTX pant with CE protection at the knees is made of 1000 denier (1000D) Cordura fabric, which is virtually the highest fabric weight/denier made by Cordura (ie., most dense per square yard of fabric). It served its purpose well and will sadly be retired. My right knee cap was a little tender from the landing and bruises decorate my right thigh, but no road rash to speak of and certainly no Cordura left in a few places. Based on connecting the bruising, I am partial to right side landings.
The PWR mesh of the Rev’It Levante jacket also held up really well considering how one would normally equate the notion of breathable mesh with less abrasion resistance (ie., less dense per square yard of fabric). The CE-rated protection in the elbows and shoulders definitely helped soften the blow to the ground and prevent road rash to some of my least fleshy parts during the sliding. Read about my pre-accident review of the jacket.
Despite my pinky being sore for a bit after being used as a friction brake across the highway, the Held Air Heroes (the Agadir, a comparable Held glove) "held" up well. I now know why they add extra reinforcement to the pinky fingers on gloves. It’s likely the most common finger to hit the ground in an accident given its placement on your hand, its presence to the handlebar’s edge, and vulnerability without any other fingers to protect it. That said, a good pair of gloves are a godsend, so when you find them, don’t be like me and NOT greedily stockpile extra. You will be kicking yourself when you realize they are discontinued.
Not even a scratch, a bruise, or a sore ankle was to be had beneath the multiple layers of protectionn on the SIDI Fusion Lei boots. We've had our fitment moments with the boots but in a crash, those details fade quickly. The replacement toe guards will come in handy since friction braking was achieved using pinky finger and the toes of my boots. Read about my pre-accident review of the boot.
It’s deer we’re talking about…what I consider to be one of the dumbest animals on the planet because they think that playing chicken with cars 10 times their size is an Olympic qualifying event. No amount of extra hi-viz gear was going to help me get noticed by a deer, but the oncoming cars certainly noticed. Not sure what the statistics are on how deer respond to honking, but honestly there was nothing more I could have done to change what happened in broad daylight…within short range…and despite eye contact, which felt a lot like staring into two empty, vacuous black holes, as if to say becoming jerky (highway or otherwise) was the greatest honor bestowed in life.
I could spend lots of time ruminating on the what if topic, but really there is no panacea for this problem. You just have to be aware of your surroundings and confident of your on-road emergency braking skills (or your ability to land like a cat).
It wasn’t more than a few podcasts ago I said point blank that I ride a relatively new bike in well-trafficked areas, rendering a tool kit dead weight. Many thanks to the deer for giving me a lesson in eating crow. In addition, a special thanks goes out to BMW for being the only manufacturer to adopt Torx as their screw God and making a pitstop to the nearest non-BMW-denominational dealership a virtual crapshoot as to whether or not their mechanics possess these #$%^&*@ wrenches in their garage. That said, I have an amendment to my travel light speech. Carry a Torx kit if you ride a BMW. I should have learned that in South America, but apparently my new-ish bike ego diminished the importance of that lesson.
All in all, I found myself in an extreme minority of circumstance: minor bruising to myself and the bike sustained in a crash which could've been MUCH worse by changing just a few parameters. No one wants to experience a crash story let alone recount one (and I'm thankful this one's finally over), but I am happy to be living proof of our pro-gear/ATGATT mantra and share this experience in hopes that at least one person will rethink their wardrobe as a result.