Last week, I took my Grom out for a ride around some local back roads, went into a turn a bit too fast (about 30mph is my best guess) and hit some gravel or similar road debris. I rode the bike down, landed with it on top of my left leg, and have a super gnarly bruise on my knee to show for it. My bike sustained a fair amount of cosmetic damage and I’ll need a new front rim. I’m also going to want to pick up a new pair of riding pants because while the armor survived completely intact (and my hips are pristine), I need to figure out exactly how I shredded the right knee when it was my left knee that was closer to the ground.
It was a huge lesson in how gear matters. Road rash is terrible, and it’s clear I would have had plenty of it had I opted for the common strategy of only wearing a helmet or only wearing a helmet and jacket. Jeans definitely wouldn’t have survived enough to keep my skin from being ground into the asphalt/concrete. And the vast majority of my bruising is where my armor didn’t cover. For an accident that ended up so minor, it’s easy to see how much wearing my gear made a difference, and how much more it would make a difference for a more serious accident. Even though it adds some time to every ride and has meant I’m less likely to take my bike out for a quick spin, it was totally worth wearing head-to-toe protective gear and I’m even more determined to always wear it in the future.
It was also a huge lesson in staying calm throughout a situation gone bad, and in how your memory will integrate with time and sleep. Over the last few days, as I’ve tried to figure out exactly what happened, I’ve been able to remember more details – details that have been borne out by the physical evidence after I’ve had a chance to take a closer look at it. The entire thing happened in only a few seconds, but it’s clear that I stayed on the bike instead of letting go or throwing myself off it or trying to reach out to break my fall. I also clearly controlled it as much as I could until it came to rest. Those actions almost certainly reduced my injuries and the damage to my bike. I have a pretty good idea of where I screwed up…and where I didn’t.
The last huge lesson I learned was one I perhaps did not take enough advantage of, so it might be one for you to learn from my mistake. People care and will help if you let them. My accident was one-vehicle/one-person, but I was riding with my partner and there was a car nearby. Of course, one would expect anyone you are riding with to come back and help you, but the car didn’t leave as soon as they had a green light. Even though I was able to move the bike off me and get up immediately, they rolled down a window to ask if I was okay and if I needed any help, and did not leave until I responded. A car turned around and came back a few moments later, obviously having seen me go down, to make sure no assistance was needed even though I clearly had another rider seeing to me already. It was almost an embarrassment of attention, and easy to brush off because I wanted to just get my bike back on the road and go home. It was also a reminder that most people are good people, and this is a reminder that you can say yes, you need that help.
Life is full of dangerous activities, and we can’t always control everything that might go wrong. We can, however, manage the parts that are within our control, and be honest with ourselves about what risks we are accepting. More importantly, we can embrace the joy that comes with doing difficult, fun, challenging, enjoyable, demanding, exhilarating, arduous, satisfying things. It’s not that we have to accept that harm might come to us because we want to do something that might generally be considered unwise, or that we have to lay down and let the world make us its victim. It’s that we can see clearly the upsides and the downsides together, that we can minimize many downsides, and that we can maximize the upsides. I laid my bike down at speed for the first time. It may not be the last time. But I’m going to find out because of how much I love narrowing down the world to me, a bike, and the road.
Besides, scratches and scars add character. I have most certainly devalued my pretty new bike, but it’s mine now in ways that cannot be intentionally created or duplicated. There is a story on my motorcycle, that will be with me as long as it is mine. More importantly, the time I spend healing my contusion will help me tell other stories: the one here, the ones in the conversations I’ve had with my friends about life and death and what matters to us, and the ones that we will create as I make decisions and and carry out plans that take into account what has happened and what could have happened. My life has been punctuated by another memento mori moment, bringing into sharp relief that tomorrow is not guaranteed, so what will I do with today?
This all was about riding a motorcycle, but I suspect you can all see how these lessons apply in other areas too, including pure, traditional self-defense.
Gear matters. You have to pick the gear that gives you the best odds of winning.
Skill matters. Better skill may have avoided the crash for me, but the skill I had was able to reduce how serious it was.
Mindset matters. When things have already gone wrong, panic won’t help. And after the fact, realize that you will need time to process. Among other reasons, this is why police and smart self-defenders take a few days before making statements about what happened and what they did. It’s not to make up a story; it’s to remember what the story is.
Joy matters. Don’t hide from something you want to do because of what could go wrong. Do it, because of what would happen if it goes right.