I was riding my usual route into work today, thinking that the subject of this month’s column was all wrapped up and ready to write. Traffic was somewhat light as I rode in the number one (fast) lane on a winding three-lane highway at a casual pace. It was one of those situations where your mind can wander because the motorcycle and pavement aren’t demanding much out of you, and the automobiles on the road with you are seemingly far enough away that they can’t swerve into your space or cause you harm.
There was a 1960s-era pickup truck in the number three (slow) lane about 200 feet ahead of me. It was hard not to notice due to its nice paint job and polished wheels.
The problem was that my escape route was swiftly beginning to close because the spinning truck was headed toward the six-foot concrete center divider wall. "
As the highway swooped through a decreasing radius left turn, I saw the pickup truck lock up its rear tires (no ABS with that era’s automobiles) as its driver slammed on the brakes in order to avoid a car that had pulled out in front of it. I noticed the truck begin to oversteer to the left in my peripheral vision—and then it suddenly went into a full spin. With the truck quickly scrubbing off forward speed, the distance between it and myself closed rapidly—too rapidly to think about braking. And the spinning truck prevented any easy escape routes.
I had an instant to decide that getting past the spinning truck was my only option. The problem was that my escape route was swiftly beginning to close because the spinning truck was headed toward the six-foot concrete center divider wall. I went full throttle as I hoped that the Yamaha R1 would get me through the gap before it closed off and I was crushed between the truck and the wall.
I barely made it by inches as the truck slammed into the wall behind me. It was close enough that I thought for sure the bed of the truck was going to hit the rear tire of the R1; somehow I managed to escape unscathed.
When I arrived in the office, needless to say the original subject that I had planned for this column was canned. I wrote an email to my fellow motojournalists here at Source Interlink Media, telling them of my narrow escape but more to remind them that they need to remain vigilant at all times. Considering how many miles we ride during the year, our exposure to traffic hazards is much greater than the average rider, and I’d rather not hear of one of my co-workers becoming the victim of an errant automobile.
And the same goes for you readers out there. Remember, the situation before the truck going into the spin was basically calm and harmless; nothing threatening to put you into that heightened sense of awareness from adrenaline. The perfect scenario to be suddenly caught off guard by a rapidly unfolding accident that can swallow you up despite your initial distance from its beginning.
One mental exercise that I constantly practice when riding is to mentally go through escape routes should the traffic in front or to my sides make a threatening move. It takes but a fraction of a second to imagine, “What can I do if this car does this?” as you pass through traffic situations. And it’s helped me more times than I can remember when that car actually did do that.
Another hazard that bears mentioning is the increasing danger of personal-mobile-device-distracted drivers. I’ve had the unpleasant experience of being rear-ended by car at a stoplight (luckily ending up uninjured on top of the hood), so I always keep an eye on my mirrors when stopped, and always have an escape route should I see a car approaching from behind much too fast (in other words, don’t pull up directly behind the car in front of you). The same applies for coming to an unexpected slowdown on the highway; you need to keep an eye on your mirrors as you slow to make sure the vehicles behind you are paying attention, and try to have an escape route available as you slow.
Let’s be alert and safe out there, everybody. Wake-up calls don’t always end up with a happy ending. SR