Submitted by Columnist Dirk Ellingson
I can’t really say my worst Harley-Davidson mishap was a full-fledged motorcycle wreck but the damage following my second tip over suggested I’d been in a mild crash. More from my motorcycle journal three years ago.
“At a stop sign with no cars in sight, the bike fell over, again to the left as in my driveway, but this time with much more damage. The left handlebar rearview mirror, non-matching tail light cover, and turn signal beneath shattered. The wiring is dangling. A little more of the clutch handle snapped off. Even worse, the footgear control appears lodged upward in an unnatural high position as if the five-gear motorcycle discovered an eighth gear. I could again pick it up but this time could not start it up. An off-duty police officer managed to find neutral and helped me push it home. A grueling trek of less than a mile but even mild incline hills made my heart pound from an undesired aerobic workout.” (January 8, 2017)
My neighbor JT, a master mechanic with an arsenal of tools and considerable motorcycle experience, arrived to save the day.
“Neighbor diagnosis was a bent shift rod or linkage that likely wedged the foot gears up into weird and high positions. I could find neutral today. All lights and signals work except the left rear which smoked upon testing. Once the offending busted bulb base was removed the fire hazard ended. JT suggested discount shopping for parts on the internet which I will investigate including the roll bars (I think you have to search under the more humiliating term crash bars) so I can try spending tens of dollars instead of hundreds.” (February 12, 2017)
I wisely invested in a roll bar. An engine guard kit. A crash bar by any other name. Metal side extensions that take the brunt of impact if you do fall rather than delicate lights and shifting mechanisms. My brother Eric was mortified from afar and yet now that I know what to look for, I see them on so many motorcycles. Roll bars are commonplace. Mine weren’t a perfect fit until JT welded the bottom brackets onto the frame.
“My wife Lisa saw JT tear out on the motorcycle last night for a test drive while I was at work. She was impressed with his skills. The rear turn signals are not a precise match but both function and now the left is a visceral reminder of my January tip over.” (April 4, 2017)
I stayed with familiar residential rides away from traffic that summer. A year after my class at Airline High, I finally ventured down Minden’s most traffic laden street.
“Firsts today include a portion of Homer Road (Minden’s main drag) and a traffic light over a slight hill I’d a nightmare of being unable to navigate some months ago. My skills haven’t improved as much as I hoped but I am slowly getting better and braver.” (September 9, 2017)
Then my unlucky month of January.
“Third tip over today, first in nearly a year. First to the right instead of the left. First while moving instead of stopped. First with the roll bar and first with no damage. Just hurt pride and a dirty roll bar. Taking off from my driveway I ran through some deep leaves that collected roadside and I fell in the neighbor’s yard. Leaves were dry yet still slippery.” (January 6, 2018)
I fell over one more time in the garage months later while the bike was stopped for not fully deploying the kickstand. No tip overs since. No more humiliating comparisons to Laugh-In’s raincoated Arte Johnson on his tricycle from my brother. Our new house meant higher speed treks along highway 531 to get to and from our neighborhood. And pesky dogs.
“Same spin twice around the block, same dogs in pursuit. Big brown is now attacking on the left turn where I’m most vulnerable near his house. Watching him on one side and the road on another made for too wide a turn and I was heading for a neighbor’s yard. I had driven on lawns before without turning the Harley over but today I decided to straighten the forks and stop before farming a yard so as to confront the dog and discern his true temper. Fortunately, he was more curious than furious and he stopped inches from the stopped bike to sniff at it. I didn’t kill the bike on my stop and just calmly shifted to first and drove home.” (November 27, 2018)
Beavercreek subdivision and its wandering pack of pups I’d characterize as feral if I didn’t see some collars and didn’t know their owners is a good neighborhood to practice evasive maneuvers. That doesn’t sound too adventurous but I’m no daredevil. Even if I lived in California where it’s legal, you wouldn’t see me driving the white line between cars stuck in traffic. No lane splitting for Timid Rider.
“I’m not the long mile adventure seeker and rides of over thirty minutes hurt my arthritic paws, yet I’m a motorcyclist. I plan to keep the bike.” (September 7, 2019)
The mean streets of Minden are much more dangerous on two wheels than four. If you’re in an accident whether your fault or not, you’re likely on the losing end if it’s a motorcycle versus a car. Eric used to ridicule mopeds for having all the disadvantages and none of the advantages of a motorcycle. He insisted that a motorcycle can get you out of as many jams as it gets you into. If you’re a good motorcyclist.
He must’ve been. Eric rode three decades with no accidents. And he took interstate trips. Rode the slab. Whenever I crest 50 MPH, I feel I’m doing something I shouldn’t at speeds tempting fate. Days that don’t strike you as particularly windy suddenly turn dangerously gusty.
I’m horrified by the proliferation of party lids, helmets covering the top of the head and partial sides only. They look cooler than the full coverage Bell helmets but they are not as safe. Statistically the facial area of most common crash impact is around the chin. The party lid provides no coverage there.
I roll around Minden but don’t think I’ve left city limits. Or if I did, just barely on highway 80 where Webster Parish meets Bienville Parish. I am an ultra-cautious rider. But I am a motorcyclist. I stay off the slab and don’t haul precious cargo on the back of my saddle yet I am a motorcyclist. I am Timid Rider.