Posted July 6, 2015
I wasn’t just a racer, I was a street bike rider before, during and after my racing adventures. I had a few crashes during my miles of street riding. Here’s how they happened.
Crash One. The ditch.
When I was in high school a pal loaned be his motorcycle, a Honda S90, for about an hour. At the time my family lived in the small town of Oroville, CA. The town lies on the eastern edge of the Sacramento Valley about an hour north of Sacramento. The roads to the west are flat farm roads with 90 degree intersections, pretty boring. East of the town are the Sierra foothills with many nice curvy two-lane roads. I headed east.
I didn’t really know much about riding a motorcycle – I had sat of them in the Honda shop and read about them in magazines but never ridden one. I was doing well, really enjoying the ride on the sunny Spring day. However, toward the end of the ride I got into a left hand turn too hot and ran off the pavement.
It wasn’t really a crash, technically. I wasn’t going that fast on the twisty road and the bike didn’t even fall over, but came to an abrupt stop in the shallow roadside ditch. I continued on, over the handlebars, and ended up lying on my back, unhurt, staring up at the bike’s front wheel.
The only damage was to the rear brake lever, which had been bent backwards as it dug into the dirt on the side of the ditch, causing the sudden stop. There had been recent rains so the dirt was soft and there was lots of green grass to cushion my landing after the flip over the bars.
I didn’t want to tell my friend about hurting his bike so I rode to the Honda shop, bought a new rear brake lever and changed it using the really crummy tools that came in the bike’s tool kit. It wasn’t easy but I was able to return the bike in good shape. I never told him about the lever.
I wanted a motorcycle, needed a motorcycle, but my parents wouldn’t allow it.
Crash Two. The Sandy Corner.
Fast forward a few years. I was in college and had been out of my parent’s house for a couple of years, on my own. I bought a used Honda CB160 with money I had saved working during the summer. My parents had moved to Bakersfield by this time and I planned a ride to visit them. Nobody told me the CB160 was not a touring bike.
The short way to Bakersfield was 276 miles via freeway. I figured the freeway would be boring so I looked at a state map and decided to take Highway 101 south to Santa Margarita, then take state route 58 over the coastal hills to Bakersfield, making it more like 350 miles. It looked reasonable on the map.
Everything was fine on US 101, but when I turned east on highway 58 I found it was not the major state highway it looked like on the map. It was twisty, not well maintained, and lonesome. It would have been dandy without the bumps and potholes. I had travelled for about 30 minutes without seeing a single vehicle when I ran into some sand in a slow corner and low-sided. Don’t be hurt, don’t be hurt! I remember thinking as I slid to a stop on my side. I was thinking about the bike, not me. If it wouldn’t run I could be stranded for hours. Fortunately it was fine and I was able to finish the trip.
I took the freeway back home and it was boring. Holding the throttle wide open for hours to keep up to freeway speeds while fighting the wind is NOT fun motorcycling. I was sore after that trip and never took the CB160 on a long trip again.
Crash Three The Greasy Intersection.
I kept the CB160 for only a year, replacing it with a brand new 1969 Honda CB350. These days a 350cc (true displacement was 321cc, as I recall) is considered a beginner bike, but back then it was judged a middleweight, suitable for adults. I liked that bike and rode it a lot; see for example the page “One Spectacular Ride.” I had become a better rider but still had a lot to learn.
I was turning left through an intersection in town and opened the throttle in the middle of the turn. The rear wheel lost traction and I fell. It was a warm day and there was a lot of oil residue left behind by cars accelerating when the light turned green. It was a slow speed low side, no pain for me but the clutch lever was curled up.
Crash Four. Canyon.
This crash is the one that made me consider racing. I was taking one of my favorite lunchtime rides, Pinehurst Road through Canyon, a nice curvy road with little traffic. As I entered the route that day I saw a sign saying, “Warning, Road Closed 1 Mile Ahead.” I thought, OK. I’ll ride to where it’s closed then turn around and ride back.
I was riding slower than usual, watching for the closure. After well more than a mile I had seen nothing and assumed the road had reopened and they hadn’t removed the warning sign yet. I started riding at my normal too-fast rate. After another half a mile or so I rounded a curve and saw the barricades blocking the road. I just touched the brakes and bam! I went down so fast I didn’t have time to blink. I wasn’t braking hard as there was plenty of room to stop before reaching the barrier.
The bike made it through the fall better than I did. The front brake lever was broken but still usable and the right-side turn signals were scraped. I ripped my jeans and got some nasty road rash on my right knee. It hurt a lot. Ow.
Looking around at the site I saw that drivers had rounded the same corner, spotted the barricade and made a U-turn. They used the shoulder of the narrow road to make their turn and some roadside gravel had been scattered onto the edge of the pavement, right where I applied the brakes. The front wheel locked up because of the gravel.
On the way home, nursing my cut-up knee, I thought things over. I’d had a few close calls and a couple of slow speed tip-overs, but this was the first time it really hurt. I decided to take my desire for speed to the track, where I wouldn’t have to worry about gravel, oil, police, dogs, cars, etc. Tracks were safer than the street, I thought at the time.
Going racing did have the effect I wanted. I no longer felt the need to go fast on the streets and my street riding became much more sane.
Crash Five. Marin Circle.
This happened several years later as I was on my Ducati 750 Sport. I was riding up Marin Avenue heading into the Berkeley hills. There is a circle, not quite a round-about, where several streets enter; Marin, Del Norte, Los Angeles, Mendocino and Arlington. It’s different now but back then all the streets entering the circle had stop signs EXCEPT Marin Ave. Riding up Marin I would treat the circle as a mild chicane, just a little right-left-right wiggle and up the hill, continuing on Marin Ave.
One day a car came up Del Norte Street, stopped at the stop sign, and then proceeded right into my path. Yikes! I got on the brakes hard, almost got stopped in time, but just barely tagged the car in its left rear door. The car’s movement pulled the front wheel to the left and the handlebars right out of my hands. Somehow I put my foot down as the bike went left.
I was standing in the middle of the street, my bike on its side off to my left, and the car stopped a few feet further on. What the hell just happened? Why am I not lying on the pavement? It was one of those things that happen so quickly I didn’t know how I ended up where I was.
The bike was basically undamaged. The forks were twisted but not bent – I double checked that later in the garage – so I put the front wheel between my legs and jerked the handlebars until they looked straight again, and continued on my way.
That’s it, the entire lot, as far as I can remember. All those years and all those miles on the streets and only five crashes, and only one that caused any pain. There were a number of close calls, some that I remember with clarity and likely some that have been lost in the lists of time.