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Crashing in LA:

Accident Report:

By Paul Peczon

When you spend a lot of time on the road, you see a lot of accidents, and of course are more exposed to the possibility of being in one. It may sound strange, (although it is perfectly reasonable) but my biggest fear in the world is of being in a nasty motorcycle accident. The thing is that they are often of the life-situation altering variety, unlike car accidents, which are more often of the fender-bending sort. But they do happen, and many are actually not that bad.

This British classmate of mine Adam was recently T-boned, and broke his ankle. Cheech was sideswiped by some jerk not paying attention, and I was with him once when he went down on the low side slipping on oil. He wasn't too badly hurt either time. Going down the low side means, by the way, that the bike slips and you fall after it. Going over the high side, which means that you got thrown over the bike, is much worse. Ron dumped his VFR in the rain on a corner, and I myself slid on an offramp on sand.

It was actually rather surprising, as I imagine most accidents are. One moment I was casually giving the rig some throttle on the apex of an onramp, and suddenly I was still in riding position but Rex, my trusty GS1000 was sideways right next to me and gravity was doing its thing. I landed on my right elbow, my right knee, and skidded down the road on my stomach and side for a moment as I watched the bike slide down the road ahead of me, slowly spinning on its side. The underside of any bike is very dirty and unglamorous and one should never look at it real close when its moving.

There are three primary collisions which kill or main bikers. The actual collision of motorcycle vs. hard object only hurts the bike. The first potentially injurious collision is when the biker himself (or herself) hits either the bike or the aforementioned hard object. The second collision may happen many nanoseconds later when the biker hits yet another hard object after a brief airborne period which seems much longer than it is. This collision can be very spectacular, as those of us old enough to remember Evel Kneivel will recall. (Evel, by the way is still alive and his son, Robby is now in the bus jumping business) The third, and potentially most traumatic potential collision a biker faces is the one that happens when another vehicle driving in the vicinity runs over either the bike or the biker.

So any way, I thought about item number three, and used my remaining inertia to roll off of the road. And then, of all things, I checked my boots to see if they got all scuffed up. You worry about dumb stuff sometimes in the middle of crisis situations, but it always seems normal. The boots were pretty much, OK, but I had a minor boo-boo on my knee with matching access panel in my jeans. Leather saved everything else on my person. I ran over to get Rex off the road, and get this; one mirror busted, and an innocuous scrape on the case guard. Case guards are these steel bars that one can bolt onto most bikes, and I recommend them very highly.

One day a jerk in traffic swerved out of his lane to prevent me from passing. It was clear that he didn't want to let me by, but I eventually pulled up beside him, and asked him what his problem was. I expected some dyspeptic rant of malicious intent, and true to form he yelled some unintelligible gibberish about "You damn bikers." Veins stood out on his sweating balding forehead, but not on his neck, because he had no neck. I immediately saw that he had spent a bitter life corpulently feeling that nothing was fair and damned if some motorcycle gets to drive between the lanes while I gotta sit here, sweating and stinking. I let him run out of words, pulled up next to him, and shouted "Get over it, you fat crap!"

He reacted poorly, but immediately, by steering into me and punching the gas. I was on Rex, and I didn't get knocked over. I was a few feet over when I stabilized. I assumed that any damage the bike had sustained was basically a done deal, and I then bashed into Fatty, to put a dent in his front fender to match the one he had put into his door using me. Then I slipped the clutch and hammered down the road. Within seconds, I realized that I had been involved with some very bad testosterone behavior, and that if Neckless had been driving a bigger car I would have been road pizza at this point. The bike was fine, but I had not learned the real lesson of the day, which is to never call people in traffic "fatso."

Some accidents involve other people more than they involve you, and yet you feel like it was a personal incident. You know, the ones where you manage to avoid being hit through heroic maneuvering and lots of dumb animal luck. Or the really big ones that you actually see happen just because you happened to be looking at the right time at the right place like some kind of riveting cinematic experience. I almost got crimped like crust into a pie tin once last summer, and it was a little combination of all the above.

The 110 south out of LA is pretty tight, especially in the underpasses so on one hot smoggy summer afternoon I was just hanging cool in an actual car space, since it was too congested to lane split properly and I was just plain too hot to want to try real hard to get home twelve minutes faster. Contrary to popular myth, I don't always speed.

Traffic was moving along at thirty five, maybe forty bumper to bumper, and I was behind a large seventies era van in the two lane (second from the fast lane, which wasn't moving quite as fast.) I heard a very nearby tire pop or something followed by screeching and crunching metal sounds, so I immediately shifted position to the left of the van so I could see ahead and possibly split the lane. Wrong place to be, it turned out, because the car in front of the van was actively bashing into the car to his left, which was grinding into the guard rail. Maybe fifteen feet in front of me, this particular item was, mind you.

I immediately went into mental slow motion replay mode, and pulled a 90° right hand j-turn with the rear tire locked. I meanwhile was using the other half of my body to downshift two gears so that when I got to the other side of the van I popped the clutch at full throttle so that I did a another 90° turn, this time to the left so that I was exactly one lane over between the two lane and the three lane. I saw an opening ahead between the old junker on the right which had just finished sideswiping the car in front of the van. I would have a difficult time duplicating the maneuver now for money, but I think I'd try to do it again if a similar situatuation were to occur. Anyway, as I rocketed forward I felt plastic and glass hitting my jacket from behind where the car behind the van had plowed into it without even hitting the brakes, like the driver hadn't noticed until impact. I could have ended up being the middle of a meat and steel sandwich, but I shot out from the scene unharmed like a watermelon seed and suddenly there was no traffic, since the accident had effectively dammed the other cars behind it.

The whole time, of course, I wasn't thinking about death or dismemberment, but "damn, this isn't even my bike." I had borrowed it and I felt grim about the prospect of explaining the incident. You think weird things, sometimes. Of course, once I was out of the situation, I realized that I had somehow managed no avoid being turned into spaghetinni alla checca in a multiple car pileup on the famous LA freeway system. I switched out of slow motion mental mode, and I realized that my heart was beating hard like you read about in books. I pulled over to the side of the road a half a mile down the road and had the shakes for a few minutes. Lucky I get nervous afterwards and not during, I guess.

Very late one night I got hit by a drunk driver going on the wrong side of the street, but he swerved at the last moment, and I just fully locked up the back brake and sideswiped him. Again, I must stress the importance of having case guards. My foot was not mashed into paste because of the case guard, but after denting the whole side of his car, the case guard caught on his rear bumper and I was thrown into a slide of the opposite persuasion. I got the slide under control with a series of stylish S turns, and I pulled a U-turn to get the guy. This was at two o'clock in the morning, mind you, and it just so happened that the incident occurred right in front of Ahearns, a serious dive bar on Aviation Street, six or seven blocks from my house. The place was emptying out, and all the people standing in front and in the parking lot started applauding when I came back. No huge crowd, mind you, but all of a sudden over a dozen people were shaking my hand and telling me what an outrageous recovery they had just seen. Turned out the guy who hit me had been making a mad dash to make last call at the bar. His name was Patrick, he was looking mighty red, and he reeked of, I believe, Johnny Walker. He was on the verge of tears, and he apologized repeatedly for almost killing me. I checked the bike, and all that had happened was the crash bar was a little more bent, and the highway peg mounted on it had broken off. I told him to give me thirty bucks for a new one, and I told him he'd better think about this the next time he thought about getting behind the wheel drunk. He was tremendously relieved, and I got free beers at Ahearns for a few weeks until the bartender who saw the accident got fired. I suppose I could've made some money off it, but I didn't get hurt and I think enough suing goes on in this country without me adding to the mess.

Now don't forget - if you can get crash guards for your bike - do it.©1993 Paul Peczon
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