The weather was unusually awesome on New Year’s Day. It was more like spring than winter. My wife and I joined a group ride in Hendersonville, North Carolina, where friends and bikes of all types were aplenty. We were just entering that group rhythm, headed toward some of our favorite twisties, when it happened — and it happened quickly.
My wife, Sheri, was ahead of me on her bike, a Yamaha MT-03. As she entered the next curve at a “spirited” rate, she went down — and she went down fast. My bike hit the same sand that caused her to slide, but I managed to stay up. Maybe my BMW R1200 R’s traction control saved me, but that didn’t matter.
Time slowed down, my mind was capturing in excruciating detail everything that was happening in front of me to my wife and her bike. She was down and sliding, still holding on to her bike, tumbling and being dragged behind. I was helpless to do anything but watch — and do my best to not run into her.
We’ve all heard the statement, “It’s not if, it’s when.” The real question is do you believe that? Do you believe that if you ride long enough eventually you will be involved in an accident, or are the odds in your favor? Will you be one of the lucky ones who is never involved in an accident?
Unless you are brand new to riding, you’ve heard the acronym ATGATT, “all the gear all the time.” This philosophy of riding likely means something slightly different to each of us. Some even snub our nose at such foolishness and believe part of the thrill and enjoyment of riding comes from taking on the risk and feeling the wind in our helmetless hair and T-shirt. Others cover up with all the latest gear, airbag vests, armored jackets and pants or even leather racing suits. The bulk of us likely fall somewhere in between.
I have had the unique opportunity to ride with many different segments of riders and types of motorcycles. It’s interesting to me how the gear worn is directly related to brand or type of bike. Who do you see wearing clamshell helmets versus full-face helmets? Who do you see wearing full leathers versus high-viz Cordura? How about an airbag vest versus T-shirt and flip flops?
I’ve also noticed location often influences our gear choices. I personally would never consider riding without a helmet, but the mistress of the beach in South Carolina has tempted me into a T-shirt and no helmet. Big bike rallies like Daytona and Sturgis also seem to relax our judgment regarding protective clothing. Maybe it’s the peer pressure of watching other riders around us delve into the “apparent freedom” of less gear. Maybe we spend more time on our bikes at rallies and in turn become complacent. I can tell you from personal experience that wearing my full-face helmet at Daytona bike week made me feel like an oddity.
For me, it is no longer “if” or “when” but rather WILL it happen again? Early in my riding career, I low sided in my neighborhood with no helmet, just T-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes. Thankfully I was going slow, and the bike took the road rash, but I did manage to break my foot. I was lucky, it could have been much worse. A good pair of riding boots might have prevented me from breaking my foot.
I have also dropped a couple of bikes. One on a dirt road while being chased by a dog, the bike got stuck in a deep rut. I was completely covered up and spared damage with just some minor scratches to the bike. The second time involved a passenger, a steep hill and a stop sign. I just dropped the bike but hit my head hard on the grass. My helmet saved me from injury.
The other factor that seems to come into play is age. The older we get the better geared up we appear to be. Maybe the age factor is related to more disposable income, or maybe it is the wisdom that comes with age and riding experience, but I have to say my friends who wear airbag vests all have seen 50 years or better in their rearview mirror. With age also come longer healing times so perhaps that is a factor as well.
That New Year’s Day, all of this suddenly hit home hard.
My wife and her bike are sliding across the pavement, and I’m full-on braking trying to avoid her, doing my best to maintain my composure as I am all too aware that I may need to render first aid. We both wear Sena headsets and are in communication with each other, but all I can do is swear and pray at the same time. The sound of a bike going down through your headset is unforgettable, that scraping sounds like nails on a chalkboard but worse. My brain is being plastered with the visual and audible images of one of my worst nightmares, and I can’t do anything.
I’m watching her and the bike scrape across the pavement for what seems like an eternity. Our minds and bodies are crazy in how they react in times of heightened adrenaline. The colors appear more vivid to me, my sense of sight and even smell is heightened. My brain is making a memory I don’t want, and at the same time preparing me to be in survival mode to care for my wife. Her bike drops off the edge of the pavement and stops just short of going down a steep wooded embankment. Her body slams into the bike.
Everybody stopped. The ride stopped, and several folks came to her aid. Thankfully she was not seriously injured. We righted her bike, knocked off the dirt, made a few roadside repairs. We knew adrenaline was pumping and while no injuries were readily apparent, we also knew pain and soreness might soon arrive. It was time to call it a day and head home while we were both still able to ride.
Thankfully, the wife and I had adopted the ATGATT mindset when we started riding together, and we were geared up completely. Full-face helmets, riding jackets with CE Level 2 elbow and shoulder pads, gloves with protected knuckles, riding jeans/pants with Kevlar lining and CE Level 2 padded knees, along with riding boots.
The gear definitely made the difference for my wife. Her gloves, a brand-new Christmas gift, almost ground completely through the reinforced knuckles but saved her hands any serious damage. Her riding jacket from wrist to elbow, mostly leather, adopted some serious pad rash and fraying, but it’s still her favorite jacket. The leather riding boots did their job protecting her feet and ankles. They bear the scars of some road rash but are still her favorite boots.
Her Kevlar leggings took a tremendous amount of damage. From knee to ankle, the outer layer of the leggings was completely shredded but the Kevlar layer looked undamaged. If I have ever had a shade of doubt about the effectiveness of Kevlar, I am now a believer. Her helmet had lots of bumps and scratches but did its job well and protected her head. As you should with any incident involving a dropped helmet, it has been replaced.
My wife was wearing all the right gear. She was able to walk away from the accident and ride her bike home. Her left knee, which struck the ground first as she low sided, was bruised and sore for several days. We have no doubt the CE Level 2 knee pads made a difference.
The worst injury she experienced was a serious cut on the back of her right hand. She typically wears a charm bracelet. The friction of the bracket rubbing under her glove lacerated her hand. She no longer wears that bracelet when riding.
Our philosophy going forward is definitely “All The Gear All The Time. “Accidents happen quickly, and they happen when you are not expecting them to happen. Gear is relatively inexpensive, and I suspect if you need gear and don’t have funds you might be surprised what friends will give you just for asking.
David Todd’s YouTube channel BlueRidgeRider features a video of the crash as well as other travels in the Blue Ridge Mountains.