As an owner and rider of a large burly heavy motorcycle, I can attest that being sure-footed is not something one should take for granted, ever. I’d apply this same principal to any motorcycle that anyone chooses to ride. Which is why I am a complete advocate of the position that, regardless of what bike you own, you should be able to flat foot the bike when sitting still. If you can’t, you’re asking for trouble and eventually that trouble will find you. Because as you know, trouble has nothing else better to do.
Being of a tall stature, with an inseam that reaches my neck and other simian proportions I am in possession of, I have no problem flat footing any bike, therefore, my personal contact patch with the road is significant with both of my feet firmly planted on terra firma. This, in itself, is a huge benefit when you find yourself on your motorcycle in a position that requires you to back up. For those of you on trikes and Goldwings and other motorcycles with a reverse gear, you may now close this blog and move along to another motorcycle blog at this point.
As any rider of any bike will tell you, backing up is two things: One, a huge pain in the buttocks. Two: A huge pain in the buttocks. Which is why when we are able we will always park nose-out. However in many cases, parking nose-out requires one to back in to the desired parking space. If the terrain is agreeable, this is usually not a problem. If the terrain is full of slopes and such, it is best to seek a flatter space in which to park.
But this isn’t about parking, no, instead this is about that other thing that irritates us motorcycle people. Turning around in a tight space.
The dreaded “K” turn.
In my particular case, it was 40 feet from being disaster. On any given day, when I find myself in a position where I have to back up, I put the bike in neutral and go through the motions until I’m set to go forward. This day, however, I was seeking a place to turn around.
I had just finished putting an air conditioner in my step-daughters apartment and was headed home. I decided I would take the long way home. This long way home would include a 15 mile trip down along the Jersey shore, a couple of turns, another 20 along the shore and then the home stretch for a total of about 45 miles or so. 5 miles into the ride my wife calls and I take the call on my UClear headset.
“Where are you?” She asks.
“Taking the long way home.” I responded with a slight smile on my face.
“I’m putting dinner on the table. Come home.” She teased my belly.
“Okay, I’ll turn around and head back. Be there in 5 minutes or so.” I said and signaled to make a right turn.
The plan was to make 3 right turns and left to head back the opposite direction. As all plans go, this one was simple and yet flawed. I didn’t know the roads in this area really well and I assumed the standard thought process that if you make enough turns they will bring you back to where you started. As I said, flawed. I made my first right turn and upon seeing a street sign, signaled and made my next right turn. Sadly this second right turn put me on a Dead End street. But not just any Dead End street. A very narrow Dead End street that could easily pass for a driveway.
Ugh. Okay, I must turn around. I pull in the clutch and shuffle up to the left edge of pavement. Turn the bars and push backwards and after several small steps I stop and swing the bars the other direction. I shuffle forwards a bit more. Crap, I need to go back more. I swing the bars to the right again and push back. One step. Two steps. Three…. slip!!!
This is where the cartoon antics and comical gyrations take place at lightning speed.
The slip causes me to swing the bars full left at the same my hand comes off the clutch lever. This action throws the bike into gear as the momentum forces me backwards and adding a twist to my throttle hand, this naturally sends more juice to the rear wheel which, in turn, adds additional comic value to the hopefully unobserved scene. As the bike leaps forward, wheel spinning on the loose gravel, I try to regain my composure and control of the metal beast beneath me. The rear wheel grabs solid asphalt ever so briefly and adds a touch of speed to the scenario before slipping on the stones around me. Right foot in the air, left foot dragging on the ground, left hand flailing at the left grip, I lunge myself forward in the saddle. Miraculously, my left hand finds the left grip and clutch lever and I pull it in at the same time I squeeze the front brake. I’ve come to a comical halt less that 20 feet from the intersection.
My Fitbit watch is kind enough to inform me that I’ve entered Zone 4 of my workout. While its function is appreciated, it’s thoughtful timing is not. I check myself and my bike, catch my breath. Bike in neutral and off. Kickstand down. Deep breath.
I look behind me at where I was. The road was littered with stones and pebbles, littered everywhere, all over and I question why I never saw it. Give me a minute…. Breathe….
Heart rate has come down and I analyse the situation and what just happened.
The answer was simple. I was distracted by my need to turn around. I neglected to survey my surroundings before I engaged the action of the walking “K” turn. I failed to put the bike in neutral, I failed to move the bike to a spot where the road was clear of gravel. Although I didn’t think so at the moment, I was being impatient, I felt I needed to make the turn and make it now.
Further realization set in that had the momentum of the movement not forced the bike full left, I would have gone into a house just 5 feet off the edge of pavement. This whole comical scenario took place in the span of 5 to 10 seconds. Count it. 1001, 1002, 1003, 1004, 1005, 1106, 1007, 1008, 1009, 1010. In that amount of time I was able to get up from my chair and walk out of my office and into the kitchen fifteen feet away. To put it simply. Shit happens very fast and when it does, you need to think fast and not panic.
I am told by many that if you own a motorcycle, have owned a motorcycle, have been riding for 10 months, 10 years or all of your life…. this has happened to you at some point. Though not reassuring, it lessens the indignity of it. I’m not alone.
So the lesson here boys and girls is that if you have to turn around, if you have to back into a parking spot, if you have to do anything that is not going forward…. put the bike in neutral and check your footing.
If you forget to do these things. Hope no one is watching.