Thunder Roads Magazine MO/So. IL 2017-November - Page 16

Safety FIRST It was starting to appear as if the State of West Virginia had intentions on me being grounded for the night. As I crossed the state line from Pennsylvania, I noticed West Virginia had a rather less-than standard By Matt Thomason surface to their highway. While appearing to be a relatively recent overlay of asphalt on the road surface, I was surprised at how wavy the surface It dawned on me recently that I have been riding a motorcycle, of some was. I wouldn’t call it rough, but it wasn’t easy to keep a straight line going sort, for about 35 years. I have to say about 35 years because I really on my motorcycle. I found that particularly annoying. While rolling off my don’t know the exact age at which I started riding, but it seems to be a throttle and slowing my speed to accommodate for the change in road reasonable guess because I just can’t imagine Mother allowing my brother surface I sensed a different feel to the ride and handling of my bike. Pay- and I to ride our own bike before our legs could touch the ground when ing attention to your bike’s sounds and being in tune with the way your bike sitting on that bike. The day finally came where she relented and my feels on the road will save your bacon and backside. It certainly did in this brother and I spent evenings, weekends, and summers tearing around our case. While the waviness of the road did create for a little wobbling and own hundred-acre-wood home on our Sears & Roebuck motorcycle frame bobbing, it wasn’t enough to suddenly create the instability I was feeling in with a pull-start Tecumseh engine. Maybe you had something similar in the seat of my bike. It was as if my back tire suddenly turned to JELL-O at your youth. The braking system left a lot to be desired, but was fantastic 70 miles-an-hour. for locking up the back tire and sliding through the gravel in our driveway “Is this the road? This isn’t the road. What is happening here?” or the dirt on our trails through the woods. You see, to stop the bike, you In the couple seconds that I was processing all that, I found I had cau- would push down on the brake pedal and it would position a big wedge- tiously squeezed the clutch handle, checked mirrors and was checking for shaped piece of steel against the tread of the back tire causing so much traffic around me. It was a reflex. I didn’t even have to think about it, but friction that every stop of the bike was a sliding stop. It was especially fun I’ve had plenty of time to think about it since. My immediate thought was, doing that on the smooth surface of the sidewalk leading up to the front that this had to be tire failure, and of good friends who were killed several porch on the house, but our red-headed mother would scold us, without years earlier when a tire blew on their motorcycle, at highway speeds, mercy, for the black marks we left on it. while returning home from their dream trip to the Sturgis rally in South Needless to say, we went through a few rear tires before we finally out- Dakota. Motorcycle riding has inherent risks. That is one of them. grew that bike. But then, as I look at the bikes in my garage and the list of “People die from this. Don’t brake! Don’t die, Matt. Just don’t die. Umm... others that are on my “To Have One Day” and “Gosh, That Would Be Fun hazard lights. Don’t brake!” to Jump over a Dozen Cars” lists, I wonder to myself about whether I really Having no idea what was happening with my tire, if that is what it was, I ever outgrew it. pictured my wheel slowing down with brake application, but the tire contin- It was near Nirvana having all that land on which to learn to ride. There ued spinning at highway speed. While the brake system of my late-model was no traffic, no stoplights, and since we were on our own property, it was Road Glide is vastly superior to the steel wedge of my Sears & Roebuck easy to push the bike back home if something went wrong with it. More bike of yesteryear, anti-lock brakes do no good in that situation. Braking times than not, though, we would find ourselves leaving the bike sitting would surely mean catastrophe. in the woods to go find Dad and he would come help us recover the bike God pulled his puppet strings on me a little extra tight in that moment back to the house to fix whatever was wrong. Sometimes we could identify and kept me upright until I was out of harm’s way and parked on the gravel and fix the problem in the woods, other times we couldn’t. There were a lot shoulder. The road had a downhill slope and the roadside ditch was deep. of things that went into deciding whether to fix it where it was or whether to For all the detail I recall of when it first happened and the mental process- go get help. ing I went through roadside, I can remember none of getting off the road. I I started thinking about that old bike on a recent Friday evening while don’t recall dodging traffic. I don’t recall the feel of the bike as I leaned it to sitting on the shoulder of west-bound Interstate 70, just outside Valley the right. I don’t recall how long it took to get there. That just tells me that Grove, West Virginia. My bike was loaded down with luggage, tools, and it wasn’t me doing it. Draw your own conclusions, but start by looking at the other items that 35 years of experience and training have taught me to first word of this paragraph. have when riding. I was on the final leg of an 11-day ride up to Wisconsin As I dismounted my bike, I noticed a giant green roadside sign just up the and the “mitten” of Michigan, through Ontario, and over into New England. hill from where I parked. From the backside, I had no idea what it said, but The plan for that evening of the return trip was to find a warm, dry bed and for me, it was a sign of hope. At this point, I still had no idea what had hap- a hot meal in Indianapolis, and then make an easy ride in to home a day pened with my bike. My experience and training told me it was tire failure. early. I was really looking forward to that evening of relative luxury. Much Lying down in the ditch to assess the situation, with darkness falling along of this trip had been rain-drenched from a pesky cold-front that Canada with a light rain, and a convoy of tractor trailers roaring by, I was about to sent to chase me out of their country, followed by the remains of Hur- find out. ricane Harvey as it moved up from the Gulf of Mexico, up the Blue Ridge In the next article, we’ll continue the story and discuss the processing of Parkway, and out to sea. Instead, in a matter of seconds, I was 574 miles the options I had and how preparedness allowed me to get home, and live from home with an impressively-sized hole in the rear tire of my 900-pound to ride another day. touring bike. It was a cloudy evening, so there wasn’t a lot of light to see “...and HEY! Let’s be CAREFUL out there!” or be seen. It was getting even darker out as dusk was approaching, and so was another wave of rain. (Insert your favorite colorful metaphor here. I sure did.) When Everything Goes Right - Part 1 Thunder Roads Magazine 14 Thunder Roads Magazine 15